BBS 2009 – Day 3, Race 6

Day 3, Race 6

Race six is a critical race.  If Tupelo wins this, it would be mathmatically impossible to knock them off first place as going into the sixth race, Tupelo had 5 points, we had 10 points, and the third place boat had 17 points. Our division started at 14:20 just a little after slack water (13:42 PDT) with possibility of early flood starting to fill into the South Bay. Usually the flood starts by a small counter current close to shore building up wider and stronger from the shoreline out.   Had this been clear in my mind, my tactical choice would have been to sail towards Alcatraz, but given it’s just at slack current,  I called to start on starboard and continued on starboard given it’s slack water.  Tupelo had also started on starboard, but was below us, buried in the middle of the fleet therefore they tacked to port soon after the start as did Bodacious.  What I had not realize at the time, is the left side is the more advantageous side because of the currents.  We continued to sail on starboard and soon noted that Tupelo had tacked over to starboard again to keep us in check.  Bodacious remained on port tack and is the only boat heading towards Alcatraz.  We reached the City Front, and begin trading tacks with Tupelo.  Tupelo was a formidable opponent in a tacking duel.  Her helmsman can tack cleanly and crisply without losing speed.  So with each tack, we were under Tupelo’s shadow as we worked our way up wind towards the weather mark.  In the mean time, Bodacious and Petard was beating to weather near Alcatraz and eating our lunch with the fleet at the City Front as we will soon find out…

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Tupelo was trading tacks with us and hugging the shoreline as if there was a positive current near shore.  The real situation is probably either neutral current or with a small adverse current developing close to shore.  Because our knotmeter and GPS is not calibrated precisely as to be able to tell this definitively, we and the entire fleet with the exception of Bodacious and Petard were short tacking as if it had already flood across the entire bay.  This was brought to light when near Fort Mason Buoy, we traded tacks with Bodacious and Petard which usually is way behind because they are rated slower than us.  This means that if the race is finished now, they would correct out against us as well as Tupelo.  This sets up an interest challenge for the fleet leader, Tupelo.  While we are the closest threat to their standings, they have a string of first place finish that they do not want to blemish.  So instead of covering us exclusively as before, they are now trying to cover both boats.  And since we both realized that the current was not what we had expected we knew we had to reassess the current situation. There’s an axiom that your strength going up the ladder is also your weakness on your way down.  This came into play as we sailed up to the weather mark near the Golden Gate Bridge.

So here’s the scenario:  Bodacious and Petard made out tremendously by sailing in the deep waters offshore – they know that the current is not as adverse as the inside going up from the start.  Tupelo realized that it was a mistake to have followed us inshore and now risk losing first place against Bodacious and Petard.  Not wanting to give up their first place streaks, Tupelo decided they need to cover both IE and Bodacious in order to keep their first place winning streak.  So what should Tupelo do in covering a split fleet?  Given the handicap ratings, IE had to give Tupelo time, but Tupelo have to give Bodacious time, so it was important that Tupelo cover Bodacious to avoid any further surprises.  This gave us a little breathing room to tryout different tactics.  We rounded the weather mark in second place with Bodacious following close by.  All three boats gybed outside to pick up more pressure and to cover each other. When Tupelo gybed, we gybe as well – keeping consistent with the strategy of sailing less distance and giving dirty air on the way back to the mark to encourage Tupelo sail a longer distance.  We rounded the Fort Mason mark just behind Tupelo with Bodacious following us closely.

It is now nearly 15:30, nearly two hours past slack water, surely, the flood is now pervasive throughout the central bay including the deep waters.  Is the current relief near shore less than the center of the bay?  No one knows for sure.  Tactically it’s anyone’s guess.  We do know that we should get some current relief if we head really close to shore simply due to shallower water and topographical back eddies.  So we continue to hug the shoreline based on our assumptions and in times of uncertainty, you try to find some basic principals to guide you.  As we rounded the St. Francis Yacht Club, I knew that our best chance to get out from Tupelo’s lead and make distance would be to sail on the inside of Chrissy Fields to take advantage of the lifts and gusts that frequently happens close to shore.  Besides, if there’s any current relief and/or counter eddies, we would likely to find it inshore rather than offshore.  Bodacious on the other hand, had success by going outside and it reinforced the mental model in their tactician’s mind, they headed outside after Anita Rock, with Tupelo Honey covering them.  This left us inside and closest to the shore.  As luck would have it, we had both counter current and tremendous lifts in the form of gusts.  It was extremely difficult to sail in gusty conditions and required us to put Ted down on the leeward side to constantly trim the jib as these puffs would be accompanied by 30° shifts and much too fast to be able to compensate by changing course.  Within a 1/4 mile distance, we went from being third place to being first in actual rounding on the weather mark.  We set the chute and aimed right at the Anita Rock buoy to prevent Tupelo from overtaking us or blanketing us. After we passed Anita Rock, it was a straight line drag race to the finish line.   We finished first with 24 seconds ahead of Tupelo but corrected out to 45 seconds behind.  While it was not an actual win, we took the gun as a moral victory after all the races.

As it turns out, our last and final race was cancelled due to lack of consistent wind the next day.  Today’s standing was the final result of the series.  We sailed a good series with consistency.  We had good crew work, minimal gear failure.  we made our share of tactical mistakes: (2 things comes to mind immediately:  1.) the tack inshore at Angel Island on Race 1; 2.) the windward beat of Race 6 on an early flood.), but overall, I felt we did our best.  Tupelo won the series because they have been sailing as a team for the last five years, their driving upwind is a little more refined and was able to go into power mode or point mode as needed.  Basically, they were simply more “dialed-in” than we were.  We had only resumed racing after 3 months of hiatus from a T-bone crash.  It’s also quite an achievement to have the mast tuned on IE as well as we had, but actual time on water in battle conditions was the critical element that we lacked in getting first in this series. We returned to the dock after the race was abandoned, we went over to Tupelo Honey as a group,  clapped and congratulated them on their well deserved win.  They in turn returned the compliment by stating that we kept them on their toes.  This was a good race series – I felt I learned a little more about currents in the bay and gained some experience in tactical calls.  Given this is the culmination of the summer racing, it will be next summer that I will be racing in the central bay with this caliber of boats and crew.  I am already wistfully wishing it is not over…

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