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J35 Mid Atlantic Regatta, November 4,5,6, 2011

We sailed a three-day regatta out of the West River, hosted by the West River Sailing Club. Fantastic racing in a very broad spectrum of conditions. We hadn't raced in a year, and several of the crew were either novice sailors or at least novices to big-boat sailing, so we didn't expect to do well, but we improved with each day. Here's the blow-by-blow.

Friday - Distance Race

So, Friday was 'supposed' to be a windy day, 15-20kts from the north. RC got us off on a 24 mile tour of the upper bay, heading first north just about to the bridge near the Eastern Shore, then south to the mid-channel marker, then north to roughly Thomas point, then south again to the finish.

After starting, we headed north in about 15 kts of wind and choppy seas. Beat upwind to the first turn and put out stern to the wind. Flying a #3 and main, we were steady at about 8kts. Wind started increasing, as did the seas. In later parts of the run, we had 4 ft seas and closer to 30kts wind. We were regularly over 10 and hit 12+ occasionally, surfing on the waves. Got to watch some very spectacular broaches from the guys with kites up! But all good things come to an end, so we rounded the southern mark and headed north again.

By this time, the winds were in the upper 20s with gusts to the mid-30s. Seas kept building. We stayed with the #3 and full main, though it was flogging a lot. Probably should have reefed. Kept the sails open and steered to the waves. I was on my knees upwind so I could see over the crew hiking and better work the waves. Oy - at one point, being up high on the windward side and on a particularly big wave, I looked down and it looked like 15 feet down to the trough. I was thinking we missed a turn and were out in the ocean! But we had good boat speed and were catching and passing boats, working our way up to 3rd place. We were in sight of the next turn and tacked for it. As the boat rolled through the waves, our foredeck guy was launched - literally up into the air and into the water.

In a shot he was a couple hundred yards behind us. We spun the boat fast, one crew pointing at him, and rounded down, but we were going so fast we had to turn again. Too far away. Threw a MOB, but the wind just blew that away. Got the mainsail down to slow down and left the jib up for some steering; started the engine. Got really close to him on the second turn and stopped the boat into the wind. He was hanging onto the stanchions, being dragged under with every wave. Got a loop of mainsheet under his arms and hauled him aboard. At some point in that, he told me to stop pulling him I was breaking his arm with the line. I told him tough shit - I have splints! But we got him on board. He went into mild shock, so we got him below and warmed up, fluids, etc. Then wrestled the #3 down, which was in tatters by this time. The wind tore it apart. So we motored home. So, although we were knocking on 3rd place, we ended up DNF and no #3. But everyone safe and whole. I count it as a win, overall!

Saturday, 3 Buoy Races.

Saturday was supposed to be a moderate day with 3 buoy races. The winds were still howling from yesterday and the West River by the WRSC clubhouse was steady whitecaps. So the RC postponed for 1 hour. We bummed a #3 from Maggie - thanks - they had suffered hull damage overnight tied up at the dock. After the postponement, the wind was definitely settling down, so we all headed out. We tried out Maggies #3 for the sail out - nice shape.

The RC set us up just outside the mouth of the West River - easy access. The set up a 1.2 mile W/L course. This was a day for practice for us. We had 7 crew, but most were not experienced in this kind of sailing, nor in symmetrical spinnaker work. Winds were more moderate so we flew the heavy #1. Sails looked good but we had no real boatspeed compared to the other J35s. And off the wind, we were terrible - couldn't jibe, wrapped the kite around the headstay, etc. But we were learning. Got better as the day progressed. Nice to have 3 races to practice.

But something odd happened. On race #3 I was looking out at the fleet and the course was pretty much empty. Turns out many of the boats had some issue or another (one had a guy hit on the head with the boom - he's okay, but they left to have him treated). Seems like even the boats that survived Friday's gale had set up damage that appeared on Saturday. We ended up in 3rd for the day - not a great accomplishment, but I suppose I can take something from the fact that our gear and crew were still intact!

Back at the dock, WRSC held an Italian dinner and a DJ. Great after-race party. Left us in the mood for more racing.

Sunday: 2 Buoy Races.

Sunday was supposed to be a light-air day, and it didn't disappoint! We headed out on time. Forecast was for winds to veer towards the east and the south as the day progressed and they did exactly that. The RC got two races in.

The first race had plenty of air. We headed to the right side, expecting the progressive shift. But we tacked early, not sure why now, and ended up on the wrong side of the shift. We headed down wind last and couldn't catch up. We headed right more aggressively on the second beat, but so did the rest of the fleet. RC moved the course right to account for the shift. We were last, but ended up DSQ - we had rounded the gates incorrectly - in the big shift, I had mistaken the starting pin as one side of the gate and so rounded incorrectly. Oh well.

The second race was in really dying wind. But we did really well. I finally got my head out of the boat and concentrated on the wind and tactics. We were solidly in 4th going to the first weather mark, in 3rd on the first leeward rounding, then in 2nd on the 2nd upwind rounding. We rolled Maggie to take first. The wind was seriously dead now - one of the trimmers smokes and his smoke was the only way we could see where any wind was coming from. Maggie jibed away and we covered (they were in second). But a new southerly filled in and the boats on that side of the course got that wind first. We ended up 4th. But I felt great about our performance. Crew work was good. Tacks, jibes, hoists and douses were clean. We had speed with the best of them.

So all-in-all I felt the weekend was a success. We hadn't raced in a year (this event last year, in fact). And several of the crew were novices. My goal was to be better at the end of the weekend than we were at the start and we certainly did that. Ended up 5th overall - tied 4th with Maggie, but they had a bullet on Saturday so stayed ahead in the standings.

The WRSC RC did a fantastic job, especially on Friday - staying out in that gale, and on Sunday, moving the course continuously to stay with the progressive shift. Kudos to them. Great weekend.

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