Let the Racing Begin

Big breeze greets the three boats competing in the Mini Max class. Peter Isler reports back from Shockwave.

Racing began with a bang today for us on the big boat course. Luckily we’ve been practicing in some big breeze the last few days because Key West served up some more smoke in the second race, when we enjoyed great racing in 22-knot winds that had built from about 18 knots in the first race.

We have a three-boat class for the Mini Maxis, so it's a bit like a match race with one extra boat. Ran easily won both races in our class. They sailed fast and smart, always a good combination, winning both races by a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, Numbers and ourselves traded off second places. Sailing these big boats around a 2.2 nautical mile windward leeward course in 22+ knots of wind is a real challenge. To give you an idea, the downwind legs are about 9 minutes long, and the upwind legs are about 14 minutes. That doesn't give the guys much time to repack the giant spinnaker on the second beat! In fact, if it gets lighter, we'll not even repack the first spinnaker we use (since we have two A2 medium air spinnakers, and can use the backup sail on the second run) in order to get all the weight on the high side for the second windward leg. But today it was so windy we were using our A4, and we only have one of those, so three of the crew don't get to see much scenery after the first downwind leg.

Probably the most stressful time for me is coming into marks (or finishes) when the other fleets (we have four other classes racing on our same course – starting at 5 minute intervals) are also converging nearby. A great example today was the finish of the first race: a downwind finish on the far side of the starting line. We’re coming in on port gybe, flying along at 18 knots of boatspeed, aiming to thread the needle through a finish line that is about 5 boatlengths wide, and then I notice that the leeward gate for the other classes is almost directly between us and finish line… and a class is coming in for their rounding. Luckily, we just squeaked to leeward of the right-hand gate buoy, but I’ll have nightmares tonight thinking about that situation. If a boat from another fleet were to change from left to right gate at the last minute, and get us set up on a port-starboard situation, we’d be in a heap of trouble because if we were forced to gybe to starboard, we’d then have to take down the spinnaker to get to the finish line!

Interestingly, I was talking to our race officer, Ken Legler tonight, and he says that he employs a VPP-based program to help predict (and avoid) clusters of two classes like that. So I’ll hope his computer is working better than ours today. About 3 minutes before the start in the second race, our battery power got so low that the GPS turned off. That meant we had to do our prestart like the old days without the computer giving us time to burn to the line, and also meant we couldn’t navigate around some of the coral heads that can be an issue for a boat with a 16-foot deep keel on the right side of the course.

But all in all, it was a very fun day. Ran has laid down the gauntlet in our class, and it's clearly going to be a real challenge to beat them if the wind stays this fresh. But the forecast is for decreasing breezes the next few days (and getting warmer – maybe time for a swim after racing tomorrow!).