San Diego NOOD
27 March 2011
I really quite like winter in the North East USA. The only problem for me is, it goes on about two months too long, and round about the middle of March, I am just itching to be back on the water and sailing again! So when Dave Berntsen of Weta West offered the free use of one of his boats at the San Diego NOOD, I jumped at the chance. I soon persuaded my wife that I would not get up to too much mischief ("No, Honey, it's NOOD, not nude...") and I was signed up.
I was looking forward to racing with the west coast fleet, as they have been racing Wetas for a couple of years longer than I have, and I was sure to pick up some good tips. But would I be able to teach them anything? Or would it be a humbling experience? There was only one way to find out!
I arranged with Dave to have a day of practice on Friday, and we were joined by several other Wetas on Mission Bay. The boat Dave loaned me was set up almost identical to my own, and was even the same color, yellow. The only change I made to the rigging was to set in a lot more mast rake. It was sunny, and the wind was a nice 8-10 knots, as we did some tune-up circuits around the bay. We were joined by Matt Bryant, who I know from the Corsair racing circle. Although he was sailing the Weta for the first time, I knew it would not take long for him to get up to speed. As we tuned up, I was surprised to find I had a bit more speed than Dave upwind - enough to send him scurrying back to the beach to experiment with more mast rake! Later, Bruce Flemming came out, and I tuned up with him for a few tacks. He was really fast on one tack upwind, but seemed to be pointing way low on the other tack. So I was feeling pretty good about my boatspeed, and I felt I was in with a chance.
After sailing in the bay for a while, Dave and I took a cruise out into the ocean, where they were going to set our race course. There was a long, sinuous swell running, and it was fun to experiment with sailing uphill and downhill, over the undulating water. Here, I had my first experience with kelp. I am used to catching a bit of seaweed, tugging on the boards and slowing me down a knot or two, but this kelp was different. Hitting a patch of kelp was like running aground! I had to keep an eye out for that stuff on the racecourse.
The next day, it was cloudy, and there was much less wind, around 3-5 knots from the SW. Luckily the tide was going out, so we had some help getting out of the entrance channel, but all the boats were late getting out to our race course. Once the wind direction had settled a bit more to the west, race committee set us a short course, half a mile, three legs with an upwind finish. I don't know why they set us an upwind finish for the first race of the day - we all have to sail downwind after the finish, so why not race an extra leg? In this light wind, the ocean swell did not feel so sublime as the day before. It felt like the boat was struggling to sail up the face of each wave, and I had to ease the sheets to almost reaching to get the boat moving. In the first race, I decided I liked the look of the right side of the course, but apparently nobody else did, and I sailed off all alone. Of course I should have stayed with the fleet, but I decided to go with it and see what happened. When the boats came together at the windward mark, I was... dead last around! But I actually made a pretty good comeback and finished a close third in that race. Never mind. To make up that much ground, I must have sailed with good speed, so I told myself to just stay with the pack, take no more flyers. Between races, Matt figured out that easing the forestay would give the jib more power, and he did much better in the next race, which the RC shortened to two legs. For the third race, the wind was getting really light, but it was still a close race. At the windward mark, a southerly current caused every one of us to have to make two frustrating attempts at rounding. After shortening that race as well, the RC sent us in, for which I was quite thankful.
On Sunday, I woke to the sound of palm trees rustling and halyards tapping. We had wind... lots of wind! It was forecast to build, as a strong cold front was approaching. The race committee decided not to risk going out in the ocean but to set two courses inside Mission Bay. I rigged some extra hiking straps, so I could reach my short legs into a comfortable droop-hiking position and headed out. The wind was about 20 knots to start with, and I felt comfortable as I put in a couple of practice runs up and down the course. But while we were in sequence for the first race, some much stronger gusts hit us. This was going to be a contest of survival! One boat had capsized already, with about four minutes to go. It was Matt, and once I saw that he was ok, I was secretly glad. A DNS for him would give me a good chance for a place on the podium! However, that wicked thought was instantly punished. When I gybed to head for the line, one of my main battens got hooked under the cap shroud. By the time I sorted that out, Matt had righted the boat and was back in the race, while I was late for the start. That was only the beginning of my problems in that race. First, my jib halyard jumped out of the cleat. While I was fixing that, my mainsheet came off the clew of the main; and while I was fixing that, the jib sheets tied themselves in an ugly knot. I was way behind, but I still managed to beat Dave, who apparently capsized twice in that race. Matt was sailing really fast, and was way ahead of us all. For the first two legs of the next race, I did a lot better. I rounded the windward mark close behind Bruce and Dave, caught them, and overtook on the downwind. I was so excited to be doing well, that I forgot that the leeward mark was coming up fast. I remember looking back and thinking, "Why is he furling his spinnaker already.... OOOPS!" Then I got my spinnaker in a big mess that took a couple of minutes to furl away before I could go back for the second lap. After a short rest, the race committee started the sequence for a third race, but by that time, the bay was covered with angry looking whitecaps. It must have been gusting close to thirty knots, which is more than I have ever sailed in the Weta! They abandoned that race before the start and sent us in, and once again I was thankful to be heading back to the club.
So that was the San Diego NOOD. I learned some good tricks for sailing in both light and heavy winds, and I don't think I disgraced myself too badly. I had a great time hanging out with the west coast Weta sailors in San Deigo. I look forward to sailing on the west coast again, and perhaps one or two of them might come over and join in some of our east coast regattas.