It’s been a lousy summer for surf in Rhode Island. To date, I’ve only brought my longboard down from its perch above my cubicle at Sailing World‘s office one time, and I only caught a few measily rides in the stank water off First Beach.
But today, I had my best surf session in years. And it took place on Lake Erie, in a J/22. After yesterday’s drifter of a practice at J/22 North American Championship in Buffalo, Lake Erie served up its finest today—big wind, big rollers.
The excitement of the first beat of the regatta was nothing compared to the thrill of the first downwind leg. We rounded the weather mark mid-fleet, popped the chute, and took off. The slightest pump of the chute sent the boat careening downhill, and it was all I could do to keep my balance standing on the windward rail trimming the kite.
We never finished above mid-fleet, and we made our fair share of mistakes—including a botched weather-mark rounding that saw us spend two painful minutes spinning in circles, trying to find a path to the starboard layline—but frankly, I could care less. Today, it was all about the thrill rides.
By the last race, we’d started to figure out our pump-surf routine. A puff hit just as a set of waves stacked up off our stern, and we went barreling down a monster swell. For a second, it looked like we were going to smash into the wave ahead, and I pictured myself catapulting into the headstay. But, somehow, we rode right up the back of the wave and down its face, the keel humming its approval. Those few seconds made my regatta. I can go home now.
So, what did I learn today? A couple of things, I suppose:
1.) In the big breeze, it makes life a lot easier to have the bowman trim the guy and let the spinnaker trimmer pump with both hands. I’m not sure if other boats are doing the same thing, but it certainly helped us tame the beast today.
2.) We’re not too far off the pace. Sure, we’re sitting in the cheap seats, but there were a few times when we found ourselves crossing tacks with good guys, and we weren’t losing ground. It’s not boatspeed that’s holding us back. It’s fleet management. Or something.
3.) That Joe Lauver has a Kung-Fu grip! For those of you who don’t know Joe, he’s our bowman (and if you’re looking to sell a used Comet, he’ll make you an offer). On one upwind leg, we sent Joe forward to free a tangled spinnaker sheet. He made it about halfway to the bow before an unexpected wave wiped him off the boat. From my spot on the rail, all I could see were Joe’s fingers locked to the toerail, holding on for dear life. I helped drag him aboard, and we went right on racing. But now I’m in trouble. I’m the only member of our crew not to have fallen overboard, and I know there’s no way I’m getting out of this place without taking a swim.