BBS 2009 – day 1, race 1


For the first race of the BBS, the race committee designated a course on the NC starting area for a double sausage with a final windward finish.  The weather mark was set just west of Angel Island with an offset mark and the leeward gate located just windward of the starting line.  Current was on a waning ebb going towards slack at 11:25 which means there’s more residual ebb current to the north and possible flood current close to SF shore.  The wind is around 12-15 knots but patchy in spots and it appears to be slightly lighter on the extreme right and left of the course, so the game plan is to start on starboard on the right side, then tack over to port before pressure drops and see if we can catch the remainder of the ebb in the north side.  I made the tactical call to start on the committee boat end on starboard to be conservative and not take chances so early in the series.  We had a tentative  start – about 30 seconds late to the starting line but the entire fleet was late to the starting line by 5-10 seconds.  Probably, everyone is a bit conservative at the first start of the race so the best start of the fleet was Hawkeye with only 3 seconds to the line, while Tupelo Honey was about 20 seconds to the line – all of us are having the first race jitters. (GPS Race Track)

Once we crossed the starting line, we were on pinned on the hip of Bodacious to leeward and Kuai to our windward quarter – not a particular brilliant start for the first race of the Rolex Big Boat Series regatta.   We manage to work our way upwind of Bodacious and clear of her air, then we work to climb out under the lee of Kuai’s turbulence.  After a few minutes of attentive pointing, we were able to climb up and position just ahead of Kuai and we tacked to port towards Angel Island.  We picked up a few lifts soon after tacking and improved our position over the fleet. Since most of the fleet is still sailing to the left, I called for a tack to cover and not to take a flyer quite so soon in the game.  Bodacious however decided to continue to the north and heading towards the lee of Angel Island’s Point Blunt.  When we approached Tupelo Honey on port, we were slightly ahead, therefore Tupelo Honey had to tack back to starboard to our lee and begin to climb up from leeward and give us turbulent air.  We tried to match pointing and speed but slowly, they were able to climb up closer and closer.  We tacked to gain clear air, but Tupelo Honey tacked as well to cover us.  While it’s too early for a match racing tactics at this stage of the regatta, it’s clear they wanted to keep us under their tab as potential threat.

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In the mean time, Bodacious is sailing by herself to the north of the fleet and picked up a few nice lifts to be the lead with a substantial distance of 150 yards at this point of the race.  Clearly the wind lifts near Point Blunt and even slightly after slack tide at the bridge, there’s still some residual ebb current still to be had.  But given Bodacious is on the outside of the lift, the rest of the fleet quickly caught up to his lead when we reached the lifted wind and we picked up a few nice shifts and our Skipper settled into a groove and we find ourselves in the lead heading towards the first windward mark with Tupelo Honey hot on our tail.  Bodacious, once leading by substantial margin rounded fourth.  (Tactician note:  inside position in an expected lift is sometimes more important than getting the lift earlier – particularly when there’s quite a bit of distance apart for leverage.)

We set the .5 oz  VMG chute soon after we rounded the offset mark and looked to see how we need to play the defense with the rest of the fleet following.  Down wind, a classic pattern develops:  Tupelo Honey is right behind us, therefore he keeps heating up to try to blanket our wind; We, in turn, heat up as well in defense to keep us in clear air.  The rest of the fleet, however, realizing they don’t have to sail so high, heads down lower to a more direct rhumb line route.  So the fleet splits with Tupelo and IE as the two outside boats having a mini-match race going.  Since we were the lead boat, the position is our’s to lose. The key is to find a reach angle that gives us speed over distance and not lose ground with the rest of the fleet while defending ourselves against Tupelo.  I knew that I don’t want to engage in a match duel so early in the game, but I do want Tupelo to sail a longer course than we do, so we would head down a bit to DDW course to entice Tupelo to sail above us, when she did, we would heat it up just enough so she would sail further to the outside and we would head down again.  In this slow tease, Tupelo is sailing on the outside of a circle and we are on the inside and we prepare to gybe as soon as we see Tupelo set up to gybe.  This way, we get clear air heading towards the leeward gate and in good position to round the left gate buoy.  Indeed, as soon as Tupelo gybed and we gybed immediately to follow: now Tupelo is behind by the distance separating us abeam when we were on the other gybe.  We kept our lead with Tupelo as well as the rest of the fleet as we approach the leeward gate and we were in good position for a port end rounding at the gate. We executed a nice “wide and tight” rounding and again led the fleet around the first leeward mark.

By this time, wind had pretty much filled in the race area consistently so we headed towards Angel Island without tacking towards Alcatraz.  By this time, we had a good groove on the upwind and picking up some distance against Tupelo Honey. By the time we reached Angel Island, we had a 10 boat-length lead before we tacked to starboard.  Tupelo Honey followed us along the shoreline of Angel Island but for some reason, she seemed more dialed in and was picking up distance from us.  We rounded Point Blunt Buoy and saw that the flood current has begun in earnest and I thought about tacking in towards the up current side of Angel Island for some current relief. But given this early in the flood, I didn’t think it would be that much relief and since Tupelo is still a safe distance behind us, so we continued towards the windward mark for the second time until we can judge the lay line with a little more certainty.  We tacked when it was clear that we were not going to lay the line, this way, we would have either a windward coverage of Tupelo and have a Starboard right of way should we have a crossing situation.  At this time, the Race Committee had set up the finish line with another set of inflatable marks, but in the heat of the battle, I looked at the pin mark of the finish line as the rounding buoy and called the tack over to the layline based on the finishing mark rather than the windward mark and overstood the layline by considerable margin.  So we footed off a bit and pointed to the correct mark with good head of steam in a close reach, hoping that we didn’t lose our lead boat position against Tupelo.  We manage to just “snuck” ahead of Tupelo given our starboard position and superior speed rounding the windward mark and had a nice long time to set up the chute for a hoist.  We had a nice hoist and had a good smooth rounding and picked up a boat-length just after the rounding. [ : : Lesson learned: 1.) don’t get to the layline too early as it is always harder to judge correctly so you either overstood or waste any good wind shifts; 2.) always try to stay between your competitor and the next mark.  We should have just covered Tupelo tack for tack and let the fact that they are a little better going to windward work itself out.]

My observation at this point is that our mark roundings are a little crisper than Tupelo’s as we tend to hoist and gybe a little quicker than Tupelo, this gave us a little edge down wind if we should engage in gybing duels or close quarter manuveuring.  We stayed on starboard gybe trying to keep Tupelo on our stern without blocking our air.  On this run, Tupelo was not as aggressive on trying to come up to block the wind and stayed closer to the rhumb line. We gybed when they gybed and had a pretty good angle broad reaching to the leeward gate.  We rounded the left mark gate with Tupelo following closely.  The fleet had stretched out a bit on the last run and on this leg, it’s now a parade of boats  towards Angel Island with us in the lead and Tupelo following closely. Once we tacked over to the starboard tack, Tupelo gained steadily until as we approached Point Blunt Buoy, Tupelo seems to be able to climb up to weather of us while still keeping up with her speed.  Since we needed to do something different, I called for a tack towards Angel Island to put us in tide current relief.  Indeed as the GPS tracks show, we had better than 90° angle going North and gaining distance against Tupelo.  But by the time we called the layline our angle to the mark suddenly took a header and we had a terrible angle to the mark.  To this day I cannot figure out what is happening with the current and the wind at the tip of Angel Island. I thought tacking into Angel Island would provide some relief (which it did), but when we tack back, we got hammered by the header/adverse current.  Can’t seem to figure out why…  Did the wind change here because of the topography?  Suffice to say, Tupelo gained back what she lost when we made the hitch to the windward shore of Angel Island.  Nevertheless we pressed on, asserted our starboard right of way on Tupelo Honey and tacked on top of them (albeit not quite as close as we should have to affect their wind).  Tupelo Honey went into their super point mode, we covered from windward, but was not able to finish before Tupelo cross the line.  They finished just eight seconds ahead of us.  The lesson for the tactician was this was the finish – I needed to be as aggressive as possible on this final tack to smother Tupelo’s wind and while our upwind skills were good, it was hard to beat a battle-hardened helmsman who can squeeze every ounce of power in a pinch.  On the other hand, considering that it was just a month ago, we got the boat out of the yard with an untested mast tune and slightly older sails than the one month new sails for Tupelo – we are at least keeping Tupelo on her toes on this first race.  There’s six more to go for the winning trophy.

Live tracks of all the competitors from the GPS tracking service.

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