Black Rock Yacht Club, Melbourne AUS
Practice race today before the World Championship starts tomorrow. I was the first to leave the dock about an hour before racing was to start, along with Aussie Michael O'Brien. We sailed upwind for awhile in lumpy hiking conditions then turned back to the committee boat; my speed was fine both ways. Then did the same with American Andy Mack as the breeze started to die. By the time we got back to the committee boat the breeze had almost completely shut off, making it difficult for those who left later to even get to the race course. The committee postponed racing about 40 minutes until the breeze started to fill back in from the same southerly direction.
While waiting for the wind I did some current readings and, contradictory to what locals swore, found there was quite a bit of current running. Tucked that bit of info into my head for planning the start.
The 9 fleet got off first, evenly spread along the start line. It looked like boats that were to the left crossed ahead of boats that started further right, so I decided to favor left.
It took two tries for the 7s to get going. On the first attempt Andy Mack won the pin (left) end of the line and I was the next boat up. Boats just to windward of us looked very solid, but were probably part of the large portion of the fleet over early, inspiring the race committee to bring everyone back for a second attempt.
This time it was Michael O'Brien who won the pin, with me just to windward and Aussie Rhett Gowans to windward of me. The breeze was still a bit light and the water very lumpy/choppy, placing a premium on keeping the boat moving by not slamming into the waves. There was JUST enough breeze for me to keep the boat going, and as Rhett (who is about 15 lbs lighter) started to move forward on me, I was tempted to tack away.
A younger me might have done it out of panic/frustration, but current me looked at the compass, noted we were still a bit lifted on starboard, and resisted the urge. Yes, Rhett was gaining a little, but tacking onto a header would have cost more than just surviving where I was.
As we neared port tack layline, the compass showed a smidge of left starting to creep in. I tacked quickly and took Rhett's stern by about a boatlength. He tacked a bit ahead and to windward, and bore WAY off to try to blow over the top of me--the game was ON! Again experience helped: instead of looking to see where Rhett was, I concentrated on getting the boat through the bumps by watching the water ahead (the noise of Rhett's boat going through the water told me where he was anyway). It was nip-and-tuck for a few long minutes, but I gradually pulled ahead, rounding the top mark first by a few boatlengths, with Michael close astern of Rhett.
The first reach was solidly on the beam, and I blasted away from the top mark hiking hard on a plane. I sailed a little bit low initially in a good puff, thinking I would use the ups to maintain speed in lulls. That worked well and I extended slightly by the wing mark, but spent too much time/effort trying to catch a wave after rounding and slowed way down, allowing Rhett to come roaring up from behind and pass.
Rhett and I had a good battle down the run, but he extended by a few lengths to lead at the leeward mark. We both rounded, then decided to withdraw from the race and sail in--no sense using up our energy on a race that didn't count. We had pulled ahead to a solid 10 length lead over the next few boats, with the rest of the fleet quite a ways behind.
Rhett is relentless, strong and knows his home waters well. It looks like the racing will be quite tight for the actual event!
Tomorrow the temperature is supposed to hit 109 degrees(!!), with a strong gusty northerly wind blowing down from the country's barren interior. Quite different conditions from today's southerly seabreeze--we'll see how things go!