I found myself back at the MIT Sailing Pavilion this past weekend crewing at the Charles River Open Team Race. Having sailed this regatta some years ago and competed there at a number of college regattas since, I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for: good competition, some crazy wind shifts, and lots of races.
But there’s always something different that you just have to shake out once you get there. In this case, it was MIT’s new set of Fireflies.
Having never sailed the boats before, I got some insight before our first round robin kicked off from my teammates. Roll the boats early going into tacks, and not too much. The jib is tiny. Pull the centerboard up from the trunk, not through the blocks on the deck … Okay—can’t be so different from an FJ, right?
Not exactly. And I have the bruises to prove it.
The first few tacks my skipper and I went through were far too late on the roll and way too aggressive, which meant gallons of water scooped in over our rail. Turns out that less really is more. I learned to roll as soon as we started heading up into the tack and not to get too far outboard. By the end of it, I had a pretty good grasp on the lazy tack technique, motivated by the prospect of minimizing bailing and helped along by being a bit slower from the night before.
The jib is, indeed, tiny. And we were a bit confused about where the halyard was at first. The jib is on hanks, and the cloth actually comes out behind the mainsheet block so the skipper can adjust it easily: looser on the downwinds, but tighter upwind and in puffs. This also means that the rig tension doesn’t change.
Even with a new boat thrown into the mix, the game is the same. And that’s the best part. Twenty-six teams, over 200 races total, lots of sunshine, and a little bit of breeze made for a fun weekend on the Charles River. We sailed three solid round robins to end up as the fourth-seed going into the knockout rounds, where we got eliminated (and interestingly was the only round we sailed in MIT’s FJs). Coincidence or not, it just goes to show that different can be good. You can’t always prepare for everything beforehand; a lot of times, you just have to get adjusted on the fly. And sometimes that new element makes you more focused on–and thoughtful of–the techniques you tend to take for granted, allowing you to play the game in a slightly different way.
We found that the Fireflies turned on a dime, making some moves available that we wouldn’t have been able to pull off in an FJ. Close tacks going into ducks that would have been impossible in an FJ were doable. (This was especially helpful given that we were starting at the pin, which had a limited starboard-tack runway up the beat because the docks were nearby.) It also was easier to stop the boat downwind to play back and help teammates.
I’m still no Firefly expert, but I hope to get back in one for more team racing. And bruises will heal.