When it comes to buoy racing, today was my longest day. I refrained from using that for the headline out of respect for all the Allied soldiers (my grandfather included) who participated in the Normandy Invasion. That title is, in my book, retired. No day will ever be longer.
In 12 to 25 knots, on Day 1 of the New York YC Invitational Cup U.S. Qualifying Series (unofficial motto: the boats are half as long, the name, twice as long) we did eight two-lap races in Sonars and J/22s. By the time we hit the dock at 5:25 p.m., after winning the last race and finishing second in the race to the shore, I was completely spent. PRO Tinker Myles wasn’t kidding when he matter of factly replied, “As many as we can get,” to the question of how many races he hoped to get in.
One of the reasons I was eager to sail in this event was I knew how much effort the New York YC would throw at the regatta. I was fortunate to sail with Phil Lotz’ team, representing the host club, in the inaugural Invitational Cup last fall. It was an once-in-a-lifetime event due to the quality of the competition and the effort put forth by the NYYC and the regatta sponsors. Or at least I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This one is shaping up to be as demanding, and as rewarding for those that do well. I’m sure the second NYYC IC will be as good as the first, most likely better.
If you’re not familiar with either the Invitational Cup or the U.S. Qualifying Series, there’s a lot more of information at the club’s website. Essentially it’s a Corinthian championship for yacht clubs from around the world; 19 from 14 countries participated in 2009 sailing NYYC/Club Swan 42s that were equalized as much as possible. While each team was allowed one professional sailor in 2009 event, it’s all amateurs in the U.S.Q.S. and will be the same next year, save for the boat captain, on each NYYC/Club Swan 42 in the main show.
To allow more U.S. clubs the chance to participate in 2011, the NYYC created a qualifying series, which is being sailed in J/22s and Sonars—we sailed four races in each today. Twenty-four American yacht clubs signed up. We’re divided into two groups for the first half of the regatta, after which the top six from each group will move on to the finals, the bottom six to a consolation event. The top three teams earn a spot in the 2011 IC in Swan 42s. But the interest in this event, in this yacht-club-vs.-yacht-club-in-supplied-boats style of sailing, is so strong, it’s really not fair to relegate this event to second-tier status. The fleet includes America’s Cup, Volvo, and Olympic veterans, world champions, and the reigning Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.
After eight races, it’s hard to pick out any individual lessons. What I will most remember about this day is the importance of the little things. This is true for all types of sailing. But this style of sailing, in relatively small fleets of equalized boats with uniform sails, requires focusing on things like traffic management and speed comparisons. If you think the right hand side of the leeward gate might be favored, you have to start setting up for that as soon as you round the windward mark. Switching sides midway through the run isn’t really an option. Grinding back from a mistake (a hit mark, a foul, an OCS) is so difficult. In one race, we had a chance to attack a guy sneaking inside of us on the run. Jibe at him, force him away, jibe back slightly more secure. But we decided against it, thinking he was too far back to be a threat, with so little time remaining to the mark. He made the overlap with just boatlength or two to spare and it cost us a handful of positions by the finish. Lesson there: no more Mr. Nice Guy. Each point is too valuable not to protect it at all costs
You have to quickly adapt to an unfamiliar boat (and while the J/22 and Sonar are similar in size, the crew dynamics couldn’t be more different). And with everyone going the same speed, since the boats are all evenly tuned, there’s such a small margin for error. In one race we rounded the first mark first and finished seventh. Ugh. Fortunately we rebounded and won the next race by leading around all the marks. That was a nice way to end the day.
The net result of today is Team Ida Lewis is tied for fifth in our group. Full results can be found here. Top six is all that counts since everyone will start fresh for the finals on Friday. But being on the bubble means every team below us will be happy to tack on us tomorrow. So we’ll have to be on our game, and, after each race, on our calculators.