Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mission Improbable

For Saturday's Anniversary Cup distance race, I again had race committee duty. Originally, "Twinkletoes" had been supposed to take the previous regatta's committee boat duty, but he'd been out of town at a wedding, so I wound up with three club regattas in a row to start, which cut down on my sailing time of late. Going into the weekend, "score" for the year was but 21 days of sailing -- plus who knows how many days of race committee and playing around on kayaks and such.

Saturday's regatta was made more challenging by the lack of committee boat crew and by the blustery winds, which were blowing and gusting in the twenty to forty-knot range. Our committee boat for the regatta was an eighteen-foot sterndrive powerboat with an open bow that had the unfortunate habit of taking on water in the steep chop.

Because we had eight boats registered for the regatta, and some of them were our larger boats and didn't usually race, starting them from the corner of the marina would have meant confining them to maneuver in a very tight space in strong winds with a lee shore immediately behind them. That didn't seem wise, so although we planned to finish the boats at the marina, the start would have to take place in open water a short distance away.

Knowing that anchoring would be a challenge, I doubled the anchors on the pin buoy before launching it, then made my way to starboard and upwind for anchoring the start boat. Because the anchor didn't look terribly impressive and only had a short length of chain, I added a "kellet" or weight a little way up the anchor rode, in hope of compensating for the short chain and giving the anchor a chance to dig into the bottom.

That was a nice plan -- but it didn't work. Despite my also paying out extra anchor line -- I had extended the anchor line by joining it to some extra line -- the anchor and 300 feet of scope proved far inadequate for the soft bottom and 70-foot depth. The boat dragged. Boy did it drag! Within 20 minutes we'd dragged past the pin buoy and were heading toward a lee shore to the east of the Rock Canyon Marina.

No more chain was available, and adding more weight wouldn't have been a solution -- too much weight and I, with no windlass, winch, or helpers, would have been unable to retrieve the anchor -- and the additional weight might not have kept the anchor secure, either. And, time was running out. More time had run out by the time I'd hoisted the anchor and its additional supplementary weight on board straining some previously stressed muscles and tendons in one arm, and gotten back to where the committee boat was supposed to be.

So, I decided to do my best to hover the committee boat in position under slow forward power against the puffs, gusts, and waves. That, too was tricky, because the boat wanted to head off the wind and point in directions where it wasn't wanted. If there wasn't enough forward power, the boat was especially likely to head off. But, if there was too much forward power, the waves would crash over the bow, making it even more likely that I'd spend the whole time getting drenched. Also, with too much forward momentum, the boat would move out of position, distorting the starting line by placing the boat end of the line closer to the windward mark, giving the line a boat-end-favor instead of making the starting line perpendicular to the wind.

However, the squareness of the starting line became a rather academic concern. With water splashing on my face and glasses, the boat bouncing up and down like a bronco and trying to fall off the wind, even being able to see the pin buoy required a certain amount of luck and took time off from all the other things I was trying to coordinate.

These included watching the time, trying to see my spray-coated watch through my spray-coated eyeglasses, raising, lowering, and holding signal flags, and blowing the horn. Now where was my sixth hand when I needed it? Of course, getting everything precisely just right wasn't quite in the cards; there was necessarily a slight bit of roughness in coordination. Nonetheless, I was able to se tup the line and course flags, hoist and then lower the postponement flag, raise the class flag, raise the prep flag, lower it, and then lower the class flag to start the race.

The racers weren't having much of an easier time of things from what I could tell, either. Some of the boats were under jib only, and crew even on the larger boats were getting wet. As a result, the boats started one by one, strung out over a large distance at the starting signal, and not in the usual competitive close ranks found during our typical buoy race days.

After the start, it remained for me to bring up the pin buoy and relocate it to a patch of water near the marina and set up shop at the outer corner of the marina. Despite the eight mile (nominal straight line distance) course that was supposed to be a distance race, I didn't have long to wait for the first finisher; within 90 minutes most of the boats had finished.


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