Monday, October 12, 2009

My First Dinghy Race!

Sunfish sailing
note to Tillerman & any sundry Tillerheads who might be stopping by - This is NOT a "less is more" post. This is more like a "More is more" post. Or maybe just more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and blah blah blah blah blah. In short, it's long. There, now that I've cleared that up:

So yes, as I mentioned, I went in my very first dinghy race yesterday.

How did I do? I didst suck mightily! Yea, verily, forsooth!

But somehow I still had fun, and an inkling that there might be a lot more fun to be had if I gave it another shot sometime.

First & foremost, I was just thrilled to get a third sail in before it gets too cold for me. In the past, the Sebago Cup, held in early September, has been the traditional end of the general sailing season. A few of the hardcore Laser racers would keep going for a bit longer, but as far as organized, scheduled stuff, it was Sebago cup & then done.

But this year Holly & Jim found themselves co-chairing a sailing committee that went through a growth spurt, and by popular demand, the racing season was extended into the fall with a Sunday series.

So when a Saturday morning plan fell through & left me with a free day for catching up on sleep & housework, and I started thinking that Sunday would be a nice boating day instead, there was that option.

I did need a very little bit of arm-twisting. The folks who've joined the sailing committee this year have been really enthusiastic about the racing. I had 2 concerns - 1. I didn't want to be the knucklehead who doesn't know the rules & fouls everything up & 2. the new sailors have not only been doing a lot of sailing, they've been doing a lot of work on the boats, and if enough of those people turned up, I sort of feel like they should have dibs. Besides, I was also thinking it would be a lot of fun to go out in my kayak & take pictures.

I got the arm twist I needed, though (thanks Tracy!). Today's picture was taken on board the good sunfish Love Child (so named because she's circa 1970-something), heading down the Paerdegat & out to the racecourse, and that was the only picture I took until I got back.

I was too busy getting my okole wallopped after that. Literally & figuratively. Literally, because Love Child hasn't got a hiking strap, and it was pretty windy, so I was hooking my toes under the coaming & I'm just the right height, hiking that way, the gunwale hits right at the sitzbones. I had plenty of "reminders" of yesterday's fun today - especially every time I sat down. BTW, I think I just figured out, halfway through this paragraph, how I managed to bruise one of my big toes. I was puzzling over that all day.

That was all expected, though. I usually come back from sailing on a nice breezy day with a crop of bruises I have no recollection of actually getting.

But I wasn't expecting the figurative okole-walloping. At least not quite as badly as it happened.

I wasn't expecting to be spectacular. But I've done cruises with these folks, and done a reasonably good job of keeping up, even though my inner kayaker always makes me pinch (inner kayaker can't let go of the notion that the best way to get to someplace is to point the boat at it and go, works great in a kayak, not so good upwind in a sailboat).

But somehow - sheese - yesterday I just ended up feeling like one big Sail Fail.

The course was simple - 2 marks with a starting line right in the middle. The first 3 races were all just once around, upwind/downwind/upwind to finish, last race twice around.

My first race wasn't really all that bad. OK, my start was laughable. People thought I didn't realize we were starting, I was so far back from the start. But really, I meant to be exactly where I was. The beginning of every sailboat race I've ever watched (or even been in) has been a source of mystifying wonderment to me. Here's all these boats sort of sailing around, in no easily discernible pattern -

and yet as the time ticks down, order begins to emerge & when the final horn blows, boom, there they are in a line as neat as half a flock of migrating geese.

start demonstrated by the Cedar Point Yacht Club frostbite fleet, who are just getting warmed up (so to speak) right about now!

Well, I haven't been sailing that much this summer, I've never really practiced manuevering in close quarters with other boats, and I didn't want to be the wrong-way honker who "fowls" everything up, so I took the chicken's way out & just started way, way back.

But it wasn't a bad race after that. I didn't get to the windward mark as efficiently as everyone else, but I got there; I did fine on the downwind leg & in fact caught one of the other novices who'd had something go wrong in his leeward mark rounding. Woohoo, my very first dinghy race & I wasn't DFL!

My starts got better after that.

Unfortunately, everything else got worse!

It wasn't even not knowing the rules. I was never close enough to anyone at the mark to worry about that; all I needed was the basics. Those, I do know, although you know what Tillerman was saying about DINGHY SAILORS SHOUTING in the comments? Well, I did get shouted at once but it wasn't quite the sort of shout that Tillerman was describing. One of our more experienced sailors was flying towards me on her Laser at a clip & trajectory that, if maintained, was going to result in a spectacular T-bone. Now, she is a good sailor & rationally, I knew she wasn't going to hit me, and I should have known that being on a starboard tack & her on port, I had right of way, but she was closing fast enough that I got a little rattled & started falling off - well, she saw me flinch & yelled "YOU HAVE RIGHT OF WAY!"

Oh. shoot. yeah! I knew that!

Actually that was a good shout because I'd gotten a little disconcerted about all the other boats around me & that got me to remember that, right, there are rules, and everybody out here knows them & as long as I was following them too, I could trust them not to hit me (and me not to hit them).

And as I said in the comments, I did manage to not break anything, or crash into anyone, or anything.

No. It wasn't the rules. I knew what I needed to know for where I was.

It was getting to the @*#&in' windward mark that was my problem!

As I said, the first race, I went a little wide. I thought I'd get better at judging where & when to tack. I didn't! Not one bit! I would be sailing along thinking "OK, I will sail to up there, and then when I tack I should be able to make it to the mark without tacking again", and then I would tack, and then by the time I got everything properly sheeted in...ARRRRGH!...I'd find myself on a course that was going to take me, like, fifteen boatlengths to the wrong side of the mark.

I would have suspected some clever hazing ritual for the newbie racer except that the role of the elusive windward mark was generally being played by Green Can #13, a channel marker unlikely to move unless encouraged to do so by a Coast Guard buoy tender with a large crane on board, or possibly a hurricane. Neither of those was present, so the conclusion I was forced to reach, as I found myself having a worse and worse time getting to it each time we went around, was basically the one I announced this morning -

i.e., I suck.

Certainly a different animal from a nice cruise around the bay, this racing thing.

I did actually manage to come in not-last twice. The second time involved someone capsizing right before the start.

My last start was actually encouraging. I was getting a little better sense of how fast the boat covered distance, and when we were down to the last minute, and I was heading towards the starting line & feeling like I was going to get there too soon, I just fell off a little bit & then came up & was across the line within a few seconds of the starting horn. Whee! I did something right!

But then, dunno, maybe it was the shock of finding myself somewhere towards the front, or the disorientation of finding myself without a lot of people to follow for the first minute, but somehow I managed to get more discombobulated than I had in any of the other races. This was the twice-around, and everybody else was heading in by the time I was trying to get to the blasted can the second time, and without other people to follow, and getting more and more frustrated, it took me forever to get there...and then there, I thought I was going to finally get it, just one more frickin' tack...and I looked over my shoulder to spot the leeward mark & discovered that Jim had hauled anchor & was heading over to pick up the mark. Oops. Yup, all racing was to end at 2, and it was 2, and so my last race of the day was converted from a big fat DFL to a big fat DNF (Did Not Finish).

And then it took me ninety-seven years (or maybe it was ninety-seven tacks, it was a LONG time, though) to sail back to the club. And I walked my boat under the bridge. See that bridge in the first picture? It's something of a point of pride among Sebago sailors that they like to SAIL under it. Downwind it's no problem, but upwind is challenging. Well, the wind was blowing pretty much straight down the basin, and the ebb was kicking in too, and I was tired and getting cold and decided that stupid Green Can #13 had provided quite enough challenges for one day and so I sailed over to the side, stepped out in the shallows & walked under the bridge, then jumped back in and tacked ninety-seven more times (or more years, or something) & FINALLY got back to the dock, feeling very, very Poky Little Puppyish.

But I did get back.

And you're probably wondering where the inkling of fun was in all of this?

Well, there was one half-decent race at the start.

There was one half-decent start at the end.

And in between there were some moments when I had the boat moving along quite nicely. As often as not, they'd end just as they were beginning (felt a bit like the Millennium Falcon not quite making it into light speed - oooh, oooh, here we go, here we GO, HERE WE chungchunkchugclunk...awwww rats) but the snippets were fun.

There was the realization that the rules of the road actually work. Not that I didn't know that they did, but it's a little different knowing that in theory & then actually seeing how they work when you're in the middle of a bunch of boats operating in close quarters.

And did I mention that it was a GLORIOUS day?

And then, at the end, there was an explanation of why everything had been so freakin' weird out there!

First clue was when Jim & Holly met me on the dock; Jim had been thinking of coming out to see how I was doing & Holly told him to just let me slug it out, and he did (and I'm glad), and Holly's comment upon my return was something like "So you made it, and now you've learned to curse the northwest wind".

And then there was a post race discussion, where Jim proceeded to describe the conditions & the sort of misery they could cause a sailor who didn't quite get what was going on - while Holly illustrated it on the chalkboard - and the amazing thing was how perfectly what he was describing, and she was illustrating, correlated with the absolutely baffling problems I had been running into trying to get to the windward mark!

Apparently the northwest wind is known around here for being one shifty bastard.

I had picked up on it being puffy, and hard to read, but you know how I'd said that the role of the windward mark was being played by green channel marker #13 at times?

It wasn't for the first race. For the first race, the windward mark was a Neversink race marker buoy.

For the second race, Jim decided to switch to the channel marker, because the wind had shifted.

Before the third race, the wind had shifted even further. Jim went out & moved the Neversink marker on past the channel marker to try to keep the course properly square to the wind. By the time he got back to the starting line, he said, the wind had shifted all the way back to where he'd had the mark in the first place!

So the green can just ended up being the windward mark for that one & the next one.

And that's why I was so completely fouled up. I was the unaware sailor & the course Holly drew on the board, showing the course taken by the boat of someone who lets the shifting wind draw them onto a course that won't work so well? That was the exact course I had sailed again and again and again until I just wanted to spit.

And then they talked about how a sailor who DID get what was going on could react to minimize the bad effects, and how a sailor who was really aware could actually turn those conditions to their advantage.

They didn't make it sound easy.

They did make it sound like something learnable, though.

Rough racing.

Great lesson.

Sure makes wish my Sundays weren't tied up for the rest of October, but there's always next year!

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