The American Legion Yacht Club puts on a Sundowner series on Monday nights all summer long. May 7, 2012 was the first race of the series for the year and UCI fielded six J22s for the race. Wind was about 4 to 6 kt out of the southwest.
Our boat was the last one to leave the dock, and we had to sail as fast as possible to get to the starting area. We arrived with about 4 minutes to the start, and quickly figured out what end to start at. It was a downwind start, and the port end was more downwind, so starting somewhere near there seemed best. I didn't get settled and figure out a starting strategy, and ended up tacking onto starboard about 30 seconds before the start and trying to get some speed. There were two boats to windward, and the closer, faster one was Bruce Thompson. Bruce got a great start, hitting the line with speed at the right time. We got an ok start, crossing the line a few seconds after the start but with not much speed. Bruce was a few boat lengths ahead by the time we got up to speed.
Bruce seemed to be in better air, and his lead just kept stretching and stretching. I think at one point he was 150 feet ahead, while we had maybe 50 or 60 feet lead on three boats behind. But then, 2/3 of the way down the downwind leg, the wind dropped way off, then filled in from behind, which compressed us all as we approached the leeward mark. I was amazed that we caught up to Bruce, although we were not able to establish an overlap. Bruce went below his rhumb course to defend me trying to get inside. I told him it looks like he's below his proper course, and he tells me that the rule forbidding sailing below proper course to prevent a pass to leeward no longer exists. Some sailors you can't trust if they talk about rules on the racecourse, and some you can. I'm inclined to trust Bruce.
Meanwhile, though, Dave O' got an overlap inside (to the port side) of us, as we approached the mark. I went as low as I could, so that when we all turned toward the mark he'd be behind me. Didn't work though, so I was maybe 10 ft behind Bruce, with Dave O inside our boat.
On the rounding I went real wide hoping Dave would leave room for me to fit inside on the exit. I didn't go wide enough though, and turned downwind then sharply upwind to get clear of Dave's stern and get back to the inside. I tacked onto starboard as soon as I could, but had killed what little speed we had, and not much wind to accelerate with. Seemed like the whole fleet was getting by me, but we set our sails to the wind we had, and eventually we started moving on starboard.
This turned out to be a fortuitous situation, although I have to say it seemed like a complete disaster at the time. The wind was better out in the middle, and we had a little favorable current. I went out a ways from the shoreline toward the middle of the bay and tacked back to port. Meanwhile, Bruce was hugging the shoreline and, I think, never tacked from his close hauled port tack he'd left the mark with. It looked to me like I had gone too far, that it would be a close reach up the channel to Y mark, so I eased sails and sailed on the close-reach side of close hauled.
After a few minutes it dawned on me this was really a one-sided beat, and I was giving away distance, so I went up to close hauled again and we actually got a lift to where it appeared we might be ahead of Bruce. Then we got a header, and Bruce's lead became clearer. The boats behind seemed far enough back to not worry about, so I settled into following Bruce on the port tack beat and seeking opportunities to make up ground. As the beat tightened up in the channel, we had some traffic to contend with, and a few tacks to make up the channel to Y mark, and we got on the right side of some shifts and caught Bruce up a little. Meanwhile, Dave O was catching up behind us, as he made several better decisions on the shifts in the channel than Bruce and I did.
Bruce looked to me like he had tacked above the layline to mark Y, so I tacked just below his course behind him. Near Y the wind dies almost completely sometimes, and I was worried that this tack was a horrible decision, but the wind filled in and I was able to round without tacking again. More good luck. Bruce was on a dead run on starboard, and I wanted to get away from the light air near the houses of Lido Island, so I gibed onto port to get out in to the stronger wind in the middle of the channel. Bruce decided to go out with me and gibed onto port, and about the time he gibed onto port, I gibed back to starboard, and he followed suit shortly after. I felt like he was covering me, and I was glad to feel like I was on the attack, while he was playing defense.
We fooled around a lot trying to get some advantage with the whisker pole. However, it wasn't really a run, more of a broad reach, so the pole didn't really help much. We held position with Bruce about 3-5 boat lengths ahead of us then we managed to catch up to within a boat length as we approached the eastern tip of Lido Island. It was clear he was going to hug the shore, and I stayed with him until the wind got really flukey, then fell off about 30 degrees. It was a big gamble, but I figured following him would get me second place for sure, so why not gamble a little? I aimed to the closest point on the wind line trying to get to the better air quicker. By the time we were both rolling along with good speed again, we were about even, and when I tacked, I had to duck Bruce.
Then when we crossed again, he ducked us, and we tacked as soon as he passed our stern. I was worried at first that I had made a huge mistake tacking right then. Tacking sooner would have preserved my starboard advantage, and I was risking him getting into my lee bow. However, it worked out. Our bows were dead even for what seemed like an hour, although it was more like 30 seconds, then we squeaked ahead. Bruce said "It looks like you got me." I wasn't convinced yet, though. I managed to give him dirty air and no room to tack off, and built small advantage. Then when he tacked clear onto starboard, I tacked too, keeping cover. Ditto on the next tack, back onto port. We were close to laying the finish line at this point, and Bruce tacked off. I decided to call off the tacking duel and just sail to the finish line. I did have to take a short tack to finish, but by then had a comfortable lead.
During the whole race, and notably while we were tacking to cover, Alice's crew work was flawless, even though I often gave no warning that we were tacking. Kudos for her great crew work.
When heading for the leeward mark, I didn't try to cover Bruce's sails. I worked downward trying to clear an opportunity to break the overlap with Dave O, who approached from behind. I wonder if i should have tried to get on the high side of Bruce. I don't like to get into luffing matches though. If I had covered his sails from behind, he would probably have gone up to defend his wind. Might that have created an opportunity to get inside him? However, if i had got inside Bruce, without breaking the overlap with Dave, I would have been the meat in a leeward mark sandwich, which I really, really dislike. OTOH, that would have screwed Bruce, so I need to consider that kind of option later in the season when the points situation is clearer. For now, though, I think I took my best option, given that I was unable to get inside Bruce or break the overlap with Dave.
I can't believe, having sailed Newport Harbor for a year, that I would crack the sails on a lobsided beat. Aargh. That was really dumb. Won't do that again. Definitely important to have a "fast beat" mode though, where you're nowhere near pinching, and speed is maximized while still pointing. Ditto to be able to pinch really high without giving away too much boat speed: max efficiency. Bruce had his main looking tighter than mine, and I have to know when you can get away with that, and when you can't. Sheeting to centerline and having the traveler high definitely works in light air. When I sheet hard with the traveler centered, the leech seems overly hard, so maybe that's not a good idea. I wonder if sheeting to the centerline and working the traveler is a good idea even in light breezes.
We set our jib travelers for upwind while approaching the downwind marks. This helped us enormously to transitions smoothly to beating.