Thursday, July 28, 2016

2016 Thistle Nationals Day 3 Report

Races 5 & 6 were sailed in fantastic breeze, much like races 3 and 4.  The same Northerly breeze welcomed the fleet and racing was mostly in the 12-18 range - it really could not be more fun than what we have had this week.  We spent a fair percentage of the time at max de-power, doing all we could keep the boat flat.  The off-the-wind legs were a blast, planing more often than not on the reach legs and planing a good bit of the downwind leg in race 6.

All starts on the day were under the Z flag and both races started with recalls or postponements.  In race 5, our boat started close to the boat, feeling the odds were in favor of that side being favored at the start of the race.  It turns out it was and we were further helped by boats above and below us being OCS and turning back to restart - thank goodness for radios!  

The first beat was about  boat speed and holding serve by sailing the lifted tack.  Once you get to the top of the course and the laylines come into play we would switch gears to trying to minimize risk and get to the mark without being far on the wrong side of a late shift.  We rounded the first mark in the top 5 behind, right behind Phil Gordon.  We tried to do what always seems to pay off, which is play nice with those around us and just extend on the fleet.  Early in races we always want to get away from the fleet and live to fight with individual boats later in the race.

On the second beat the front pack was pretty clear and we are all able to sail our own races.  Our boat focused on picking our way up the lake and staying on the favored tack, going a little further at times to get to a puff or shift we could see.  The only times we would see someone lose ground is when they would try to do something different than the pack to make a gain.  It really seems like lottery tickets, you may win a little here and there, but over the average you always lose.  With a little boat speed and a little luck we were able to get to the top mark in first, barely ahead of Scott Griffin.

The first reach leg was status quo, but the real fun began after the gybe mark.  Immediately we were able to get on a plane and stayed there for long time.  It was probably the most fun leg of the day, as we didn't have any boats around us after extending our lead and were able to just sail the wind and the water.  One great tip is to make sure when big puffs hit that the skipper always drives down hard.  The boat will get under the sails and heel less and you'll also take off like a rocket.  Being able to do that is always faster than having to deal with other boats.  It's just so much fun planing on reaches in these boats.  We were able to stay conservative from that point on and win the race.

Race 6 was not nearly so straight forward for us.  We had a fine start and the favored (boat) end, but as so often happens, someone behaves a little differently than most and a boat reaching down across us took our lane away about a minute into the race.  We ended up in the very undesirable position of spending a lot of time on a massively headed tack while also already being one of the right-most boats.  The result is the fleet sailing up the ladder rungs without us, while also gaining leverage on us for the left shift we all know eventually will come.  

In hindsight, we likely should have sucked it up and sailed in a dirty lane when we were so lifted on starboard, but we got clear air and worked the right side to watch the left come in strong as we got further up the beat.  We rounded the top mark somewhere between 25 and 30.  Of course, the left shift comes in after we go around the top mark, but we were at least able to gybe quickly and get pressure that sent us planing down towards the leeward gate.  

Sailing in the middle of the fleet on the second upwind is really tough.  It's always a balance between which way you want to go and how clear of a lane you can get.  It's very difficult to stay conservative.  I believe that you do best in that situation by not doing anything crazy or high risk, just sail the numbers and puffs around you, and let other people take big risks and fall back around you.  

By the windward mark we were mid teens and the next two legs were some of the most action-packed we've had.  The pack we were in consolidated as we approached the gybe mark.  Kyle Finefrock, my skipper, tells me that when we went to gybe he had both hands on the tiller pushing as hard as he could to get the boat to turn.  When it finally did we snapped through 90 degrees and I was certain we would capsize with the spinnaker sheets dropped and the kite still pulling us over.  Only by pulling the guy around as fast as I could did we stop the boat from tipping over and our regatta from going down the bailers.  

Somehow, the boat came up and we took off on a plane again - inside all the boats that had room at the mark but created a huge mess and drifted to leeward.  The second reach was again tighter than the first and was a blast.  This time, boats kept trying to go high and mess with each other, which is exciting but extremely slow.  We were able to defend our position and get to the bottom mark in the top 10.  The beat to the finish was very active with tacking and splits but we were able to cross the line in 9th.  We were thrilled with that after the start of the race and to win the day with 10 points.  With 1 race to go we're in third place, 20 points out of 2nd and only 7 ahead of a pack behind.  The last day should be a lot of fun and good for the nerves.  

I can't say enough about the regatta here so far.  The weather and racing has been incredible, provided you like breeze and oscillations.  But the organization of the shore and food crews has been absolutely first rate.  The camping has been terrific as well.  If you considered coming to Eugene but didn't make the trip, definitely make the trip next time.  

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