Growing up in Hawaii I usually practiced out in the ocean and big swells, but many of the big regattas were in a large, protected bay on the other side of the island. For a long time it was tough for me to make the transition from wave sailing to flat water. This past Sunday reminded me of my youth, and how important it is to adjust one's technique to the conditions at hand.
The day started out cool and bumpy, with a 12 knot Southeasterly driving in chop on top of some big wave sets that were at a slight angle to the wind. Tide proved a major factor, with noticeable differences between to two sides of the course, and the wind got progressively lighter as the day wore on.
In such conditions I try to sail very powered up--it's easy to get intimidated and put too much vang on, which depowers the rig too much. Also, a loose downhaul prevents the top of the sail from twisting off. The boat is challenging to sail this way, requiring VERY hard hiking at the tops of waves (where the wind is strongest) and when bearing off while working through waves. Only when I am truly overpowered do I start dialing in vang, and then only enough to make the boat manageable.
This sail setup, combined with hard hiking and torquing the boat through the waves, helped me keep the boat flat and moving compared to others. It definitely wasn't a day to be heeling over and pinching like in our more customary flat water--those guys just slid sideways into my wake, slower and ultimately lower.
I misjudged the strong tide in the first two races and was forced over. Fortunately, was able to quickly find lanes to stay in touch by the top marks. Downwind I tried to immediately get clear air and waves, usually heading to the left looking downwind. Once I had some room to work, concentrated on taking the few BIG waves left, then working back right in lighter spots. As the breeze faded and current switched to flood, I stayed more middle and it seemed to work out.
Getting clear air, and especially waves, downwind was critical. In one race Grand Master Amnon Gitelson rounded the top mark 2 BL ahead while I had Mike Curtin right on my stern. I managed to hang onto clear air, but Mike flattened the waves enough that Amnon was able to scoot right away from the two of us, gaining an additional, insurmountable 5 BL to win the race--congrats Amnon!
Racing was tight out there, with only 8 points separating 2nd from 6th after 7 races. Curtin sailed an awesomely consistent day to end up 2nd, Britt Hughes was 4 points behind in 3rd, and there was a three-way tie for 4th, Gitelson's bullet allowing him to prevail over a rapidly improving Brad Thompson and Mark May. Good downwind speed helped me claim 1st in 6 of the 7 races for the overall win.
How often do we leave something broken or ill-working on our boats? I had an equipment issue, one that sprang up last week: the vang was jumping its upper shieve, which made any adjustment difficult. Should have taken care of it after sailing last week, but instead had to deal with a cranky boat all day. I had compromised upwind speed as a result, and in a deeper fleet would have lost many boats. Gotta keep whittling down those excuses to lose!
Sailing is one of those things that one can do when nothing else would be appealing. The day looked kinda yucky from the comfort of home, but racing was terrific and it wasn't bad temperature-wise when wearing proper clothing. I hope to see more of you out there in the ensuing weeks!