It Ain’t Over ’Til...

For the summer’s last trophy race, twice across Fishers Island Sound, I crewed for one of the newer teams in our International One-Design fleet--Elisabeth and Anders and their daughters Andrea and Astrid. In 35 years of racing near Fishers Island, N.Y., I don’t remember ever sailing in a breeze with more random shifts, puffs, and lulls. In the 3 minutes following the start, for example, I thought we were first, then last, then first again. That’s how weird the wind was. SW’s in-house forecaster, Ed Adams, had warned me: "Take a happy pill before any race this month. The water’s so warm, the wind will be very unstable. If you stress out over missing a shift or a puff you couldn’t have predicted anyway, you won’t be ready for the next one."

That must’ve been our secret--we stayed loose, whether ahead or behind. On the first leg, the southeaster prevailed on our side, and we rounded second behind J.T. We sailed low, straight down the course, while J.T. followed conventional wisdom and defended against the others in the traditionally better wind along the shore. At first he looked good, but when his breeze died, he and the others had to jibe out behind us. Our strategy of sailing as low as possible, directly at the mark, continued to pay off despite the mushy air and choppy water. We rounded a nun off Noank, Conn., 75 yards ahead, turned east, and drifted into a windless spot. Bruce and J.T. tacked west and immediately passed us. We tacked, too, but 10 minutes later, Brad was roaring past us to the east in a private breeze. By the time we got to mid-sound, all three had passed us.

My throat was bone dry from verbalizing every change in the wind and corresponding trim adjustment--probably because this occurred about every six seconds. I started to wonder if we’d be better off just setting the sails and leaving them. Holding up better than me was Andrea, who’d been racing in the club’s 420 program all summer; she was trimming the jib and coaching her mother, Elisabeth, on the near-impossible task of staying in the groove.

Approaching the weather mark, we looked for the southeasterly again, but it collapsed near the mark. Two tacks later we had slipped to a distant fourth and here came the Commodore, steaming out of the right corner to round immediately behind us. Going downwind this time, we had to sail two reach legs, and on the first we stayed out in worse current but better wind, which helped us hold off the Commodore and then pass Bruce. On the next reach, we sailed low again, staying up-current, and as the wind faded, we passed J.T.

On the final beat we closed to within a few lengths of Brad using the same easterly passing lane he’d used on us. When he covered us, we footed to his right, while J.T. crossed a few lengths astern to go left. The next puff and shift favored us, and we were able to force Brad to tack off our quarter. Unfortunately, we pushed him into a nice left-hand shift and he soon had a two-length lead again--until the wind shifted farther left and J.T. threatened to roll by both of us. Brad covered him, but then, of course, the lefty faded with 200 yards to go, and we got a 15-degree right shift with a puff. We tacked, just shy of the layline, and Brad had to duck us. Again the wind died, but we had the momentum to tack, cross, and hear the sweet sound of the finish gun--Elisabeth’s first.

Incredible! (Brad has another word for it.) Next time September rolls around, get ready to relax and have fun. You might finish last or first, but be patient and you might find your own private breeze.