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Attrition Warfare on the Bay

We were in the cheap seats, but we had a plan to improve the view.

August 4, 2010

What I didn’t learn last night, apparently, was anything from Andrew Campell’s recent story “Better Starts in Current,” because our starts in current only got worse.

The outgoing tide on Narragansett Bay was pushing boats over the starting line for last night’s Jamestown YC PHRF race, and even though we’d watched boats in the previous starts struggle to stay down, as the seconds ticked down before our gun, we found ourselves reaching downwind to dip below the line. When the gun sounded, the majority of the fleet was on the course side, and the RC hoisted the general recall flag.

The next start took place under the I flag, so we made a conservative approach on starboard, well below the line. Way too conservative. When the gun sounded, we were solidly second row, with no lane to escape.

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So we were off to a lousy start, and we had our work cut out for us. Fortunately, the wind was blowing, which significantly levels the playing field in our fleet. We decided to make it a war of attrition. We’d focus on keeping the boat on its feet, moving fast, and executing careful, controlled maneuvers. Hopefully, we’d pick off a few boats going sideways in the puffs.

The approach worked pretty well. We sailed just fast enough downwind to avoid the leeward-mark pileup, and we maintained a clear lane all the way up the long final beat. As we approached the finish, we were reeling in the lead boats.

When everything corrects out, we’ll probably end up mid fleet. But it was a learning experience, and what I learned was this (it has nothing to do with attrition): when your jib sheet keeps overriding on the winch, it’s not the sailing gods playing tricks on you. It’s because you ran the sheet through the ratchet block the wrong way. Remember that next time, dummy.

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