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Friday, April 8, 2011

4/8/2011 - The race is on

This weekend is Bayfest here in La Paz. The kick-off event for the weekend was the "Rock to the Dock" sailboat race. Racing is not something Luu and I have done, nor have we had any particular desire to do it. However, when Dave on s/v Kievit asked if we'd like to crew for him and Marge in the race, we said, "sure". He assured us it would be a laid back affair. Just a chance to go out and raise the sails and have some fun. We figure, "what the heck..."

So, yesterday morning found us boarding Kievit with our life jackets and an 8-pack of Pacifico in hand. The race was to start at 11:00 at Roca Lobos. This is the rock just off the opening to Caleta Lobos where we've spent the occasional night anchored. (BTW, in this case, "lobos" does not refer to wolves but rather to sea lions).

We left the dock shortly after 8:00 for the trip out to the rock. The wind, miraculously enough, was out of the south so we were able to sail out. Once we reached the starting line area, we milled around, jockying for position while waiting for the starting gun. There were 21 boats registered for the race which, apparently, was a record. Don't know if they all made it but there were a lot of boats out sailing around by 10:45.

Positioning for the start of a sailboat race is kind of a big deal. The idea is to have yourself just behind the starting line, going as fast as you can, when the starting gun goes off. It's really easy to go over the line early while doing this and you really have to understand your boat and the conditions, plus have a huge hunk of luck, in order to pull it off. Well, the stars must have been lined up just right because we were in the perfect position, going as fast as we could when the gun went off. Dave had things figured out perfectly it seems.

The race got off to an exciting start when we found ourselves right on s/v Eros' ass. I mean we were RIGHT BEHIND them. If it had been me, I would have chickened out and adjusted my course, but Dave stuck right in there and, before too long, Eros tacked away from us. This was not to be the last we saw of them.

There are lots of tactics involved in a sailboat race. After all, you have to rely on the wind. So, if you have to tack, you have to decide if it's better to tack often and not have to get too far off the course, or if it's better to go a long ways and then make just one tack. Where is the wind going to be? What if we tack too early and can't make the mark? What if we tack too late? Fortunately, neither Lulu, Marge, or I had to give any of this much thought. That's the skipper's job. We're just deck monkeys.

Here's a sight you like to see in a race; lots of sails behind you:

We stayed our course for a really long way. The boat ahead of us, Corina, did as well. But there were only maybe 3 other boats that followed us way the hell out where we finally tacked. But we got it just right. We came about and headed right for the entrance to the La Paz channel. We even did a little better than Corina who overshot the turn a skosh.

Once we got into the channel, things started changing quickly. Up to now we were the second boat in line; only Corina was ahead of us. And, if the wind had held, we may have even finished second over the line. But, of course, the wind didn't hold. Our nice south wind pretty much died shortly after we entered the channel. We barely made the turn around the second buoy. We were just sort of bobbing around, hoping the wind would pick up before we had to drop the anchor to keep from running aground.

Apparently, there was still some wind out where we had been because the other boast were beginning to catch up to us. They weren't actually close, by any means, but they were no longer just specks either. And, interestingly enough, a couple were flying spinnakers which meant the wind had shifted to the north-ish. Perfect for a downwind run to the finish line if the wind ever reached us. In anticipation, we rigged the 150% genoa. Dave considered the spinnaker but, with such a green crew, decided it was maybe not a great idea. The big genny it is, then.

We could see the rippled surface of the water indicating wind and it was coming towards us. Trouble was, there were a bunch of boats riding that wind towards us as well. Fortunately, the wind reached us before they did and we were off again. With the wind just over our starboard quarter, there wasn't even any need to rig a whisker pole.

Downwind we ran with the other boats in hot pursuit.

How's this for a bitchin' spinnaker?

The boat flying the seƱorita and the catamaran in the photo above that, eventually passed us. But they're the last boats that did. The boat flying the red, white, and blue spinnaker in the photo above is Eros. Remember Eros?

From here to the finish, it was basically us against Eros. The only special rule of the race was you had to stay in the channel. We were hugging the red buoy line (right side) of the channel as tight as we could. If Eros had gotten by us on that side, they would have blocked some of our wind. Dave wasn't about to let that happen.

It was now their turn. They were as tight on our ass as we had been on theirs at the start of the race. But Dave wasn't relenting. For one thing, he just didn't look back. That was my job: look back and report what was going on.

Finally, Eros must have realized they were not going to get by us on our starboard side, so they switched to the port side. We were sailing close enough to yell at each other for quite a ways. There were numerous times that I was sure their spinnaker pole was going to hit our boom. But it never did.

The finish line was drawing near. Now it was on! Dave kept hugging that red buoy line. Eros was coming slowly up our port side. Dead ahead, there was a little Contessa 26 sailboat anchored right in the channel, right in front of Eros. They kept trying to bully us into going further right so they could pass the anchored boat without having to veer too far off course. They kept insisting that it was our duty to give them room. Well, we had nowhere to go. We were right on the channel's edge and there were anchored boats just outside that edge. The skipper of Eros was pissed but, TS. He took what I thought was a reckless chance by passing between us and the anchored Contessa at full speed. Nothing came of it but it was awful darn close.

The upshot was that we crossed the finish line about 1/2 to 1/3 boat length ahead of Eros. That put us in 4th place overall and probably, on corrected time, 2nd place. Not bad, eh?

Lulu and I had lots more fun than we expected to. It was exciting but Dave never turned into the dreaded RACE SKIPPER FROM HELL that is so common among sailboat racers. We also got some good insight into how to actually sail our boat when we head north in a few days.

So, thanks Dave and Marge, for including us and showing us a darn good time.


Crazy Coyote said...

I must tell you that you did an excellent job of portraying the excitement of a close boat race. It is amazing how agressive some skippers can be with a very expensive piece of equipment because they are convinced that they have the technical advantage. Again, nice blog.

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

Sounds like a great time and so glad you beat the bullying Eros! Deck monkeys, that's what we want to be. We really should be some in the future, as I'm sure we could learn a lot!