Tuesday, July 12, 2016

2016 RS Aero Atlantic Coast Championship

The inaugural RS Aero Atlantic Coast Championship (held in conjunction with the Newport Regatta, Newport RI) was a tremendously successful 3-day event, with 17 boats representing 7 states!

A clinic on Friday gave attendees a chance to get to know each other, share rigging/sailing tips, and dust off the cobwebs with practice starts and even a few practice races. This was followed by lunch (generously provided by RS Sailing's Todd Riccardi) then the Speed Run, for which we had a nice (if not record-enabling) 12-18 knots of wind. Max 10-second average was recorded by me in a 7 rig (13.5 knots, 14.2 peak), nearly 1/2 knot faster than my earlier run in the bigger 9 rig. Video of Judith Krimski & me: https://www.facebook.com/judith.krimski/videos/10209718704384017/
Sailing World Editor Dave Reed tearing it up: https://www.facebook.com/todd.riccardi/videos/10100504224552101/

If only we had that much breeze for the actual racing! Our circle was set in the lee of Goat Island, making for shifty, variable 5-10 knot wind and lots of tidal influence to challenge the fleet. We had five "9" rigs racing, which proved very fast in the light and variable conditions; most comments here will relate to my interactions with them.

Peter Shope (2015 Laser Grand Master World Champion), Christine Neville (2016 US Laser Olympic Aspirant) and Scott Pakenham proved to be quick studies, having no trouble beating yours truly to the first mark in most races. Christine and Peter generally had fine starts, while Scott played the shifts beautifully. I was a bit lax at the starts (those who read this blog can recognize the trend) and frequently had trouble going the way I wanted or taking full advantage of shifts as a result.

The Aero's incredible pointing ability, acceleration and speed when cracked off offers many tactical options not available on other boats. Shope loves to foot upwind, and in an oscillating breeze that was devastatingly fast. I had success at times using the Aero's high mode to hold lanes off the start and to stay in bands of pressure longer. 

There was plenty of experimentation going on downwind, with Christine most willing to sail higher angles in search of speed. The wind wasn't quite strong enough to plane while broad reaching, meaning those who stayed in pressure and pointed the boat more to the mark saw bigger gains. Peter was especially quick, gybing frequently and decisively going for bands of pressure and fast angles. I think many people gybed too soon after rounding the weather mark, keeping them in the lee of buildings to windward and boats on the starboard tack layline. I tried to soak down on starboard for a few lengths before gybing, and that generally went well.

Being pushed by such excellent sailors really helped me figure out some things. My big takeaway from Saturday was to sail with much less vang than I had in the past, both upwind and down. Of course, upwind in breeze some got dialed on, but the boat was just plain faster sailing with it a bit eased.

Later in the day the tide shifted, making the right side a bit less favored than it had been earlier. In one race this allowed me to claw back to 2nd from 5th or 6th at the first leeward mark. It definitely was a day to be decisive and patient, waiting for pressure and a shift before tacking!

It was also a long day, with 6 races being run by the RC and little time to regroup in between. Going into Sunday I led with 4 firsts and 2 seconds (6 points with throwout), Shope was in 2nd with 8, steady-as-she-goes Scott had 16 in 3rd with Christine only one point back. With an unlimited number of races to go and a second throwout looming at 12, it was anyone's regatta!

Sunday dawned a bit gloomy, with the wind more left than the previous day and definitely lighter. The course was now parallel with Goat Island, and there seemed to be a bit more pressure on the left upwind, especially in the earlier races.

Christine was on FIRE, having beautiful starts and fine boatspeed to lead at every mark in every race, sometimes by huge margins! Shope was OCS in Race 5 but rebounded annoyingly well to finish right behind me in 3rd. We had some very close racing, and from what I could see, the 7 rigs were TIGHT, often having 4 or 5 boats overlapped at the finish of a 30 minute race!

Christine's perfect Sunday scorecard allowed her to leapfrog Scott into 3rd, while I held onto 1st, 3 points clear of Peter. In the 7 rigs, Chuck Allen (collegiate all-American and North Sails rep) prevailed over Dave Reed and class stalwart Doug DuBois, who flew out from Park City UT to attend the event. Other notable travelers included Tony Corkell from Raleigh NC, Gregory Popp from Ormond Beach FL and Simeon Thomas from Colorado.

More info about the regatta and the boat on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/rsaeroclassnorthamerica/)
Class website: http://www.rsaerosailing.org

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