Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bristol Cup Regatta 2008, Rio Grande Sailing Club

Although the rest of the J fleet raced both days, Kachina only had crew on Saturday, so she missed the much better winds of Sunday.

Saturday's conditions were "challenging" -- and not because of rough weather. Indeed, it was a picture-perfect brilliant sunny postcard sort of day. However, it wasn't a great day for sailing, other than perhaps with the iron genny. When the committee boat crew dropped off the pin buoy, conditions were so light that we drifted around for a while to get a feel for what little wind there was. The breeze seemed to be coming from the WNW, so we set a starting line.

A bit more breeze built in, sometimes veering to the W and WSW, so we prepared to set a 3F or 2F ("half sausage") course upwind to the west and back for a downwind finish at the committee boat. With about 3-4 knots, racing a short 1.1-mile or so course looked very do-able.

Then the wind faded to some fraction of a knot, perhaps a whole half knot. Not good; even well-crewed boats barely had steerageway; the usable wind had only lasted for perhaps ten minutes or so. The postponement flag stayed up. There just wasn't anything to race in; nothing resembling fair sailing could be held.

After a while, a wind line began to build in the north, off the shore of Long Point. At first, it looked to be a strictly local effect, confined to the water near the shore. But, the wind area broadened and crept gradually closer. I began to have hope that this would be a real wind that would let us hold a race. I moved the committee signal boat back to the east to re-align the starting line for the hoped-for breeze. We signaled a short 4F course toward the Rock Canyon Marina and back, a nominal round trip distance of about 1.6 NM.

At last we got off the starting sequence and there was still some usable wind as the first boats crossed the line. The leaders were able to move up the course a few hundred yards and make their first tack. The breeze was quite light; these clearly weren't championship conditions and wouldn't have done for a grand-prix race. But, for club racing on a mountain lake, it was usable.

But, here, there, and everywhere, the wind was not building; it was becoming flaky and fading. It veered back to the west, putting the tail-end boats on a wimpy reach. The ripples faded from the water surface, leaving painted boats upon a painted lake with just the barest bits of breeze remaining. This was beginning to look ugly.

At forty-five minutes into the race, with the lead boats still a good way from their turning mark, so we made our move. Up came the committee boat anchor and on her motor; we detoured around the creeping fleet to the upwind mark and set a finishing line, displaying the S flag with two horns to signal the shortened course. All five of the J boats were able to finish the shortened course in under two hours with elapsed times ranging from 75 minutes to 102 minutes. By getting a boat to the finish within two hours, we'd salvaged a scoreable race and also, cleverly, gotten the boats close to the marina if they had had quite enough of the marginal conditions.

After the race, a tiny bit more wind got at least some ripples on the water, and most of the boats stayed around to practice light-air skills. The breeze faded again, leaving some of them back away from the marina, but some of the boats had motors, and conditions were exceptionally mild, with mild temperatures, fair skies, and few other boats out on the lake.

Race crew concentrates on getting everything out of the light air

A J/24 picks her way upwind in the fading zephyrs

J/24 and J/22 glide up the course


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