This morning the sun was out and the wind appeared to be lighter, with a forecast calling for no more than 15 knots steadily out of the West. A respite from the big breeze we have had for the last three days seemed to be in order!
My goals for the day were to not do anything rash. Conservative starts, loosely cover my main competitor (Liam Willis from GBR) if ahead, and fight like hell if behind.
Did my usual pre-race tide-check ritual, this time joined by aspiring junior sailor Chris from GBR who was quite quick downwind on his Aero 7. Did one 3-minute split (not the usual two) with Liam (the right paid handsomely), and worked with a few people getting their upwind settings right. Once it was set I got the compass bearing for the starting line, so prep was almost complete. In spite of the forecast, the breeze had built to a solid 13 or so by the 1pm start time, and as in previous days, continued to climb.
I love my Aero, but one thing it does not like to do, at 85 lbs all-up, is stay head-to-wind in choppy conditions. This makes getting accurate wind readings before the start difficult, especially with a digital compass that has built-in dampening.
Without knowing precisely where the wind is, one has a difficult time discerning minute differences between the ends of a very long starting line. The line was set at 185 degrees; the wind would have to be at 275 to be square (185+90=275). The highest number I got on the compass head-to-wind was 255, but it didn't have time to overcome dampening to go higher. A 20 degree favor to the left would be obvious, but I wasn't seeing it. In fact, it seemed the *boat* was favored a bit, so I initially headed to that end. However, my main competition (Liam) was gunning for the left side of the line, so (in conservative mode) I boogied down there to stay close, ultimately starting about 1/4 of the way up from the pin.
Sure enough, we got a bit of a left shift just before the start, and the pin paid handsomely. Liam soon tacked over and crossed the fleet, clearly tickled at his fine reading of things. I bumped along for another minute then tacked over in what seemed to be a little left shift and, with eyes on Liam, followed him out to the right.
Christer Bath (SWE) had no such competitive worries and just sailed shifts on the left to gain a commanding lead at the first mark! Matt Thursfeld (GBR) was in second and Toby Freeland (GBR) was in third. I rounded a distant fourth and got to work, gaining a good chunk on the first reach, then passing Toby and gaining heaps on Matt on the second. Rounding the leeward mark, the order was Christer, Matt, me and Toby, with Liam breathing down Toby's neck about 12 lengths back.
I had great height after the rounding and quickly got over Matt and was gaining rapidly on Christer. Sneaky bugger that he is, Liam tacked over to the left and got a bit more pressure and tacked back, trying to duplicate Christer's feat on the first beat. I could see he was pointing very high and going fast up there on port, so I tacked over to cover. It was soon clear I wouldn't be able to cross, so I tacked ahead and 7 boatlengths to leeward. Even that short hitch left paid, as Christer and Matt were now well to leeward on port but not in the same pressure. We stayed on port a long time, and I was able to leg out a bit on Liam, then tacked on the layline and just managed to cross him on starboard. He ducked on port and kept sailing another 4 or 5 boatlengths before tacking onto starboard for the mark.
I had called the starboard layline correctly except for one thing: the tail end of the 7 fleet. Several of them were to weather of me, and eventually started reaching down and taking my air. This, combined with the tide running with the wind, meant I now could no longer lay the mark, so I had to do two additional tacks. Liam, a bit further up, was in clean air and scooted around the mark a solid 10 boatlengths ahead!
Liam dove low on the run and I followed, letting the 7s sail a more direct, but slow, course to the leeward mark. I was better able to take advantage of a few swells that came through and reeled him in. If the leg had been another 50 meters longer I might have caught Liam, but as it was I rounded directly behind for the reach home. Liam went high, so I, with nothing to lose, went low. Liam was able to work over and ahead of a 7 in front of him while I was affected by its wind shadow, giving Liam the win by 3 or 4 lengths. What a battle!
The breeze was now quite solid. I had a good start and covering the left side of the fleet, had a good first leg. This race, unlike days before, had lots of tacking opportunities and Matt Thursfeld made the best of them, rounding close behind me in second. Catching a quick glance back on the firehose first reach, I noted that Liam was in 4th or 5th, well back. Whew. ;)
I pulled out a bit on Matt on the reaches and subsequent upwind leg, but he gained almost all of it back by calling the starboard tack layline perfectly (I, not wanting to yet-again be messed up by the 7s, overstood a bit). This time, the tide had changed and was going upwind, allowing him to sneak up where I was previously unable to do so.
I still rounded ahead and blasted off on the run, putting 20+ boatlengths on him before the leeward mark. A quick reach to the finish and another bullet was on the scorecard. Matt cruised in 2nd, while Liam yanked himself all the way up to 3rd.
The starboard end was favored for this start, and I got a great one right at the boat. There definitely were shifts to be played this leg and I favored left, but Liam came booming out of the right for a big lead at the first mark.
Factoring in the right shift, I went low on the first reach compared to Liam and gained a bit, then sailed higher than him on the second. He had trouble working up to the leeward mark in the latter 1/4 of the leg while I planed in from above. Liam was still ahead, but only by 5 boatlengths or so.
We sailed on port for a fair while, Liam a little lower, me a bit higher (hoping to get more left hand shift). Instead, the breeze went slightly right, so I tacked over. Liam tacked to cover, I tacked back, he tacked back, then I tacked left again. This time, he didn't cover. I had a so-so 232 angle--not great, but not enough to tack on. I stayed and stayed on starboard, seeing as high as 245 and as low as 232, but never the 230 I knew I needed to come back on.
By now I was getting quite far left, and very separated from the fleet. I had to make this work. A few things gave me hope: the 7s ahead on port were slightly lifted, and a puff was coming toward me from directly in front of my bow. As it hit I saw the magical 230. I dug in a few boatlengths, then flicked back onto port and a long sail back to the middle of the course.
The angle wasn't stellar, but it wasn't awful either. I just worked the boat really hard in the chop, going into point mode if the compass fell and footing slightly in the minute lifts. Liam had tacked back to starboard and was looking strong, but a few left puffs put me back in the game. This was going to be close!
As mentioned before, Liam was on starboard. It was clear he wouldn't lay the mark, and to weather of him was a clump of 7s that, if not laying the mark, were darn close. I had a decision to make: duck Liam, or tack to leeward and ahead, thereby staying closer to him.
I chose the latter. If I'd ducked him, I would have sailed into the wakes and dirty air of those 7s, and then would have needed to overstand the mark. By tacking to leeward I stayed close to my competition (conservative). We both had to do two tacks to get around the mark. I gained a little more in that last short section, but had some trouble bearing off onto the run and sailed a bit of distance to the right. At that point, Liam had a 10+ boatlength lead.
It hurt, but I sailed the extra distance by-the-lee to get to the left where Liam was. The waves were cleaner and I started to surf. I noticed Liam's vang and outhaul were still quite tight, while mine were both loose, giving me huge power that made catching waves easier. Liam strongly protected his left hand side. I noticed he was reacting to my boat position and that gave me hope: he's worried. He's paying attention to me, perhaps to the detriment of his wave-catching.
Sure enough, I kept gaining. By now I was close enough where my wind shadow could have an effect. We were zigging and zagging on the waves, often going in opposite directions, but each time we "met" in the middle, I'd momentarily affect his wind.
Soon, I was abeam of him. Still he protected the left looking downwind, even though we were well left of the leeward mark. I figured it was one of a few things: a) he didn't have a good handle on the gybing angle to the mark; b) he didn't know where the mark was. Whatever the reason, I was happy to capitalize, eventually heading up to a very broad reach that my super-full sail was able to accommodate. His flatter, more vanged sail couldn't compete, and I pulled ahead by a number of lengths by the leeward mark. Another quick reach to the finish, and I'd added my 9th first-place finish to the scorecard!
The RC is starting two hours earlier tomorrow (1st race at 11am), with no race allowed to start after 3pm. Unless we sail four races tomorrow, I have the regatta sewn up. After 13 races we get a third throw-out. My scores right now are good enough that I could skip 3 races and still win. BUT, if 4 are sailed, I'd have to count one DNS (number of race finishers + 1), which would give Liam the lead. SO, sail tomorrow we will, for the title of RS Aero 9 World Champion!