Key West Log: The Art of Traffic Management

Avoiding bad air from the boats in its class was only half of Cool Breeze¿s challenge

Our Cool Breeze crew includes four sailors from Missouri, and four from the East Coast. As documented in earlier logs, we hadn’t practiced together very effectively over the weekend due to breakdowns and lack of wind, and then on Monday, we’d endured the pain of waiting around for a race that would never start due to lack of wind. On the plus side, during the time we’d spent together rigging and de-rigging the J/29, drinking water and Gatorade, applying sunscreen, and talking about feeble gradient winds, we’d bonded pretty well. This helped us today, even when things weren’t going quite as planned.

We didn’t sail a perfect opening race--to begin with, we had to dodge a fellow competitor’s surprise maneuver at a crucial moment before the start and ended up in the second row. Then, despite the best of intentions, we tacked five times on the first half of the first beat (usually to find clear air). The net result was that we rounded the weather mark well back in the pack. Fortunately, our downwind work was competent and our speed was good, and we moved up to 10th (of 17) by the finish.

Our absolute worst move in that race was shortly after the first weather mark when we jibed shortly after rounding and took aim on the weather mark that the J/80 and smaller PHRF classes were using, about 500 yards to leeward. When we got there, we hit a fence of 26-footers t setting asymmetric kites, bow to stern, with their long sprits extended. We jibed to follow the fence until space opened up, but found that the J/80s were all sailing much higher angles, which we had to match. Quickly losing at least half a dozen boatlengths, it took little discussion to agree on one part of the course we’d be avoiding for the rest of the regatta.

The art of traffic management turned out to be worth paying close attention to all the way around the course. With a 10-14 knot breeze and four PHRF classes plus 22 J/80s and our 17 J/29s on the same course, watching the traffic patterns made a huge difference in boatspeeds.

In the second race Billy and John aced the start (the former calling tactics, the latter driving) and with Billy on the main and Bud on the jib, we had excellent upwind speed. Downwind we were also fast, pulling up into second place behind Tomahawk, but then messing up our douse and sliding back to sixth as the breeze went soft.

This was a seven-leg race of about 10 miles, and with the breeze fading, our fractional rig (most racing J/29s have masthead rigs) became a liability against those with masthead genoas. Nonetheless, by keeping clear air most of the time upwind and showing solid speed downwind, we worked our way around the long course and finished a respectable fifth, tied for seventh for the day.

Two well-sailed 29s, Tomahawk and Hustler, finished the day on top with 4 and 5 points, respectively. I expect next time we find our way toward the front of the fleet they’ll be among the boats keeping us company. Our crewwork today kept improving, and our speed seemed competitive. Now if we can keep developing our Missouri-East Coast synergy (and sense of humor) as we did over wine and a nice dinner last night, we’ll hopefully be up there again on Wednesday.