Key West Log: Over Early, Shifting Gears

A big breeze starts the day, then fades steadily

If the saying is correct that you have to be over early at least once in a series or you’re not being aggressive enough, then several of us in the J/29 class checked off that requirement on Thursday. We also had the opportunity to practice the fine art of shifting progressively to a more powered-up sailplan. On the second straight beautiful race day, the breeze started at 17 or 18 knots and gradually dropped all day–down to 12 by the end of the first race and under 10 during the second.

In the first race, we didn’t have a stellar start on our boat, Cool Breeze. A boat close ahead was giving us gas, but not for long–it was recalled for being over early, as were four other boats. We found we had good speed after that as the breeze dropped a couple of knots; most of the other boats were flying No. 3s, and our decision to start with a Heavy No. 1 began to look good.

Bruce Lockwood’s Tomahawk flew a genoa also, which helped launch them to the first of two wins for the day. They didn’t gain much in the series, however, because the leader, John Esposito’s Hustler, finished right with them each time in second place, which nearly sealed the regatta for them. Tomahawk still has a chance to beat them for the week, but only if they win the final race tomorrow and Hustler doesn’t finish second.


We had a good first race, finishing 6th as we steadily powered up the boat for the lighter conditions. The rest of the fleet had all shifted to No. 1s with us by the third beat, except for one or two boats. Jay McArdle, skipper of Fast Lane, was one to lament sticking with the little jib for the last beat. “We lost nine boats and finished last,” he told me afterwards at the party; but then he shrugged and smiled, admitting it was hard to complain when the sailing conditions were so good. It probably didn’t hurt that in the second race of the day he’d been 6th, his best finish of the series.

In that race, it was our turn to pull the trigger too soon, and I’ll admit I was the one who encouraged John and Billy in the afterguard to “go for it” a little early. We made a pretty quick restart, then headed right for clear air. Again our speed was encouraging and we seemed to make good gains on the fleet to our left. However we held on a bit too long and, although we picked off a few boats here and there, our side of the racecourse didn’t turn out to have an advantage after all. That was kind of the story of the race for us, never quite getting back into the main pack of mid-fleet boats.

Wind wise, this was an eventful race as a big cloud drifted in over us near the end of the second beat and the breeze went totally soft. It came back on the run and then on the final beat, shifted right with some extra pressure. We were struggling to stay above 15th at this point, but fortunately, Billy saw the new breeze and we were able to pass a group on the left to finish 11th.


On our way in we passed Leo Bonser’s Breakway, a J/29 that, like us, has so far matched a good race with a not-so-good one every day. They’d won the morning races on Tuesday and Wednesday and picked up a third this day before finishing 12th in the afternoon, right behind us. As we sailed by, there was some good natured conversation between the two boats, and their skipper explained that he did fine sailing with a hangover each morning. His problem was the afternoons, when his headache set in.


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