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Category: Racing Page 1 of 3

July 24, 2017 Race Report – NRN

Race: Ballard Cup Series III Race 1
Course in Shilshole: NRN
Crew: Ben L, Robert K, Jeff, Mike, Robert Dall
Winds: 6-13 knots (guesstimate)
Average Speed: 5.6 knots

This was a tough race from the very start. The race committee had a snafu after the flags went up and had to postpone the race, and when they resumed the persons running the flags, horn, and timer were not in sync. They did pick a great course however, NRN. Perfect conditions.

The starting line was a mess. Boats from other starts were in our way. We had to duck and gybe to get around and into position. Our position wound up being ok. We picked a better line than Figaro by far and we had a chance to push Blue Lullaby over early. Beyond was nowhere near the start line. All we had to do was pull in the headsail and rocket out onto the course. Therein was our first snafu. We should have practiced a few tacks before heading to the line. When we needed to pull in the sails and power up the headsail was a mess. We had two people working the sheet but the tailer put the sheet around the winch backwards. It took him a long time to resolve the problem and a long time to get the sail pulled in. Figaro and Blue Lullaby shot across the line and pulled way ahead of us. Beyond was right on our tail.

Once we got our sails set we took off. We blew past Blue Lullaby and were hot on Figaro. There was a bit of a flood against us so our tactic was to head out on starboard towards the middle of the Sound and tack into the beach as soon as possible. We tacked in and could not get in sync with the headsail and stalled out. It took a couple minutes to get us back up to speed. We went into 12 feet of water before I spun the boat out and back over to a starboard tack. The idea was to get out of the current and ride the wind off the beach up and around the point. The headsail sheet was again wrapped around backward…. boat stalled out and we lost several more minutes powering back up. Surprisingly we were still ahead of Blue Lullaby and when we took off again we came within a couple boat lengths of Figaro.

Figaro tacked in and we kept shooting out. When we finally tacked in we were well above Figaro, Blue Lullaby was astern, and Beyond was still struggling near the starting line. Something happened on this tack that caused the headsail to go out of control and we stalled out again. Stalling on tacks really hurts us. We probably lost 6 minutes each time we stalled while finangling the headsail and waiting for the boat to power back up.The next couple tacks we were much better in sync. Robert Kirkman also had me spin over slower to keep pressure of the headsail a bit longer so the tailer could get more in before grinding was needed.

We drove hard into the bay towards Spring Beach. Only a couple times did we drop below 6.2 knots. Billabong is having some issues with pointing, partially from loose rigging and now backstay adjuster, but primarily due to a big Dacron headsail. We had the sail in tight on the winch but it was still billowing way too far out. The main was in tight to help with pointing but it caused heavy helm, which ultimately acted as a brake for the boat. If we could have gotten the sail shape better we would have been faster, pointed higher, and overall more efficient.

By the time we hit the beach and tacked back out we were dang close to the mark. The tack was much better than the others but we still lost a lot of speed. We would have been at the mark with Figaro with a clean tack. When we got up to the mark we got a bit too trigger happy and tacked early which caused us to go further away from the mark and require another tack.

Downwind we were pretty quick. The spinnakers were certainly faster than us but we held our own pretty well on a reach. Figaro was ahead but we were chewing up the distance, Blue Lullaby was far enough behind that we had her clinched, I could not even find Beyond.

As the wind shifted when we came to the edge of the bay we decided to put up the whisker pole and turn downwind more. Figaro had already done this. It took a long time to get the pole ready and up which lost us use of the headsail. When the pole went up it was on the wrong side of the boat and we had to turn away from our course, build speed, and gybe back out onto the correct course. During all this Figaro disappeared and Blue Lullaby pulled slightly ahead. Beyond was on our tail.

As we came around Meadow Point I called for the pole to be dropped. But of course after it was taken off we got the wind shift along the beach and wished we had kept the pole up. We cruised right up next to the beach in 13 feet of water. We struggled the final bit as spinnakers mucked up the wind around us to be 3rd across the line in our class and 4th on corrected time.

Though it was a rough race we learned a lot. Every week we are getting ourselves dialed in a bit more. Much more of this and we will be getting first places. To give you an idea, Billabong  is the fastest rated boat in her class by far. She was designed as a Transpac racer so she is fast. The only boat we should ever be worried about is Breeze and she has not been out racing this summer. Figaro and Blue Lullaby should never be a threat.

What we did well:

  • When the sails were set we drove hard and fast.
  • Weight was distributed well across the boat.
  • Communication increased across the course and we worked hard to get dialed in together.
  • I replaced the main halyard and it was much easier to get the sail up.

Opportunities for improvement:

  • I need to improve my crew training and direction giving ability.
  • We need to understand the whisker pole and how to use it downwind.
  • We need a downhaul on the whisker pole to control bouncing, flatten the sail, and catch more wind.
  • On tacks the headsail crew really needs to work together well. The tailer needs to pull like a banshee to get as much of the sheet in as possible and then help the grinder keep the tail in so they can go faster and not need to put it in the cleat.
  • I need to work on speed of maneuvers based on conditions and crew ability.
  • And the usual mechanical items: Rigging tuned, backstay tensioner, less stretchy headsail, replacing worn gear, etc.

July 10, 2017 Race practice and boat improvement notes

No race today to allow boats to participate in Whidbey Island Race Week.
We were not part of the race week so a few of us got together to do some practice.

Crew: Ben L, John P, Keith H
Winds: N 15-20 knots

Winds had been light and from the south all day. Right before the normal race time they switched from the north and started blowing hard. The West Point buoy registered 15 knot winds when we went out, when we were coming in it registered 18 with bigger gusts. We had waves rolling in from the north  that we were slamming into on an upwind starboard tack. Wave heights are harder to estimate but I think they were about six foot waves.

I had intended on giving us a legitimate course to follow but the high winds and pounding seas altered that plan. Instead we took the time to do an equipment shakedown test. I have not had Billabong out in these conditions before and it was a great opportunity to poke around the boat while John helmed, and helmed us very well. Throughout all maneuvers John kept the boat steady and charging through the water.

We put up a full main and the 140% genoa on a starboard tack, which put us bow first into the waves. Billabong was furiously pounding through the swells. Anything not held down in the cabin was quickly on the floor. After getting everything up and trimmed for the conditions I sat back to look at the rigging. The leeward side was slack, not something usually too concerning, but in this case both the inner and outer stays were swinging wildly. I crawled up the deck to look at the mast and from the side it looked like a noodle. The baby-stay, which I understood to be critical in heavy winds, flopped around like it was not connected. From the bow looking back the top of the mast flopped from side to side with each wave we pounded through. This was not good! The stress on the mast alone was intolerable. Too much more and I was afraid she was going to give way and snap in half. I crawled back to the cockpit to confer with John, we needed to reef, now.

We pulled the headsail in till it was about a 110% and moved the sheet cars forward to compensate. John said the helm instantly felt better. The mast was still pumping some but not nearly as much as before. We held that configuration for a bit and as I was adjusting the leeward genoa car my feet (which were on the toe rail) went into the water a couple times. We needed to reef the main as well.

Reefing a main can be an interesting proposition, especially in higher winds. The old adage many sailors live by says, “Reef early and often.” What that means is when the weather looks like it may get rough you set the sails before it gets to you. This makes the boat safer and more comfortable. We now had the prospect of reefing a big mainsail in winds around 20 knots. Luckily one of the previous owners rigged Billabong with a mainsail reefing system that can be operated from the cockpit. Unluckily I took out one of those reefing lines to install a vang line.

Reefing Billabong requires the handling of three lines: main halyard, fore reefing line, aft reefing line. The main halyard and the fore reefing line are controlled from the cockpit, however the fore reefing line has a hook on it that needs to run through an eye on the front of the main. I went forward and put the hook in place and we were able to pull the front of the sail down. That accomplished I again had to go forward to the mast to pull down the aft reefing line, which runs through the boom and comes out the front into its own jam cleat.This was the line that was previously run to the cockpit. It sure would have been easier to have it back there on a winch.

The boat stabilized and even sped up. It is amazing how reefing, which is the process of making the sails smaller, can actually make the boat go faster in bigger winds. Ultimately it comes down to boat control. With all the sail up we struggled to maintain control of the boat as the same speeds. With the sails reefed the boat again ran comfortably and we had control. Ironically, through this entire endeavor we had a Coast Guard rescue helicopter circling us waiting to assist if we got into too much trouble.

The sail was a great learning experience. Keith is a new sailor and got to experience managing a boat in trying conditions while John and I who are both experienced in those conditions got to learn about Billabong herself. Afterwards we went to Sloop Tavern for a beer and a recap. Here is the list we came up with:

  • The rig could really use some work. We could have held more sail but the looseness of the rig made it sloppy and dangerous. The forestay is so slack it looked like the genoa was curved.
  • Need to setup a backstay tensioner. This would help with flattening the headsail going upwind quite a bit. After a good tuning of course.
  • Till the rig is tuned we need to reef at 15 knots of wind.
  • Static topping lifts suck – We knew that but it really worked against us in high wind. Billabong needs a rigid strut to hold the boom up. If we continue to use the topping lift maybe we need to tap the spare (I think) line in the boom to make it somewhat adjustable.
  • We might be able to convert the two reefing lines into a single reefing line by using the aft line and running it through the fore reefing point eye. To control this from the cockpit we still would need another clutch on the cabin top.
  • The furler drum needs maintenance. It is not spinning as well as it should.
  • The battery box in the engine compartment came loose during the pounding. We need a better way to secure it.
  • The raw water pump belt may need to be replaced. It was not spinning when we started the motor.
  • And perhaps most concerning, the rudder post is leaking. Normally not noticeable, when the rudder is being worked hard water splurts out of it. I am hoping all that is needed is for the packing to be changed. This should probably be done with the boat out of the water though.

Overall a great learning experience. Even though conditions could have caused us some serious problems we recognized and compensated for them quickly. Everyone on board stayed calm, focused on what needed to be done and we all had life jackets on. We now know some strengths and weaknesses to address in the boat too.

June 19, 2017 Race Report – NBMBN

Race: Ballard Cup Series II Race 3.
Course in Shilshole: NBMBN – Shortened to NBMB due to lack of wind
Crew: Ben L, Robert K, Keith H, David S
Winds: 1-10 knots (guesstimate)
Average Speed: 5 knots

  • 3rd in class
  • 5th in series (Missed the first race and got a 7)
  • 59th overall
  • Results link

We had an interesting downwind start for this race right into a strong ebb. From the start line we had to fight our way down to the B mark against the ebb. Typically when doing this you want to stay near the marina breakwater to get out of the current as much as possible and that is exactly what we intended to do.

After Figaro forced us to gybe.

At the start we gybed onto a port reach and smartly crossed the start line headed right into the breakwater. Figaro and Blue Lullaby started on the other end of the line on starboard which gave them right of way over us (No idea where the rest of our class was). We were scooting along well when Figaro (who had ultimate right of way) decided to bring Blue Lullaby up and force us to gybe over again to avoid a collision. We executed it cleanly and accelerated away from Blue Lullaby.

Bye bye Blue Lullaby

Once we were far enough ahead of Blue Lullaby we turned down and went wing-on-wing. Figaro stayed on a reach and we scooted past and beat her around the first mark.

Looking back at the fleet after the start

On the upwind leg our mark was the Meadow Point buoy. With the tide now at our back and the wind picking up we streaked out on a long starboard tack. Our strategy was to head out till we could turn and come back in on a single tack just about the time the tide turned slack. We had a bit of a snafu near the mark with another boat fouling one and nearly fouling us which allowed Figaro to sneak ahead. We caught her and passed her a few minutes later when she tacked into shore way too early. Possibly trying to stay closer in for the tide, but with slack coming up we were not concerned about it pushing us away from the mark.

Blue Lullaby

When we tacked in our fleet was far behind us. As we got within a couple hundred feet of the mark the wind got light and shifty. A big header pushed us down away from the mark and we had to tack up to get back.

After rounding M we needed to head back to B. The plan was to hit the breakwater and gybe around behind the committee boat. We shot inside and the wind died… We were far enough out front that the rest of the fleet saw what happened and stayed outside. The wind filled outside first… We gybed over and struggled to make our way back out. That allowed Figaro and Blue Lullaby the opportunity to stay in the wind and sneak by. Womp womp.

The committee boat pulled anchor and reset the finish line at the B mark. We nearly caught Figaro again when our wind died and Figaro was able to slowly float across the finish line. Blue Lullaby as well.

Because Billabong owes both boats time the best we could hope for was 3rd place after the corrections and that is what we got. Our real time behind Figaro was 9 minutes as we slowly bobbed our away across the line, 14 minutes corrected time.

Overall we had a good race. If the wind had not died on us inside I have no doubt we would have crossed the line first in our class. I think corrected time would have put us 2nd behind Figaro. We had a couple snafus with getting the headsail around and in that lost us time but the crew is learning! As I improve in tactics, boat handling, and ability to direct the crew we are gonna start smashing the competition way (Until Breeze shows up again…)!

June 12, 2017 Race Report – NMBN – Light, Gusty, and Swirly

After months in hiding Billabong has finally poked her nose back into the racing world! The rebuilt motor purrs like a kitten but what that boat really likes to do is sail and sail fast.

Race: Ballard Cup Series II Race 2.
Course in Shilshole: NMBN
Crew: Ben L, Robert K, Keith H
Winds: 0-8 knots (guesstimate) gusty and swirly
Average Speed: 2.7 knots

Robert let me helm the boat which surprised me a bit being as this was our first time out together and he knows I do not have much experience helming a big boat in general, let alone racing it as well. I think I did a decent job. I tended to overcorrect and reacted too quickly but I think that will get better with a couple more times out as I get to feel the boat better.

At the start winds were probably about 5 knots (wind speed indicator is busted, another project 😉 ) with a significant flood coming at us. We knew we wanted to head in to the beach and I mistakenly picked our start about 2/3 up the line away from the beach thinking of a port tack start. Most of the class started next to the committee boat which put them closer to shore and more out of the current. It also meant that when the wind completely died right after the gun went off further out they were able to eke their way up to the beach and tack back out to the M mark. We had nearly caught our class (On your tail Figaro!), even with the extra 2 tacks, when the wind died on our position. Anarchy, Blue Lullaby, and Figaro all coasted around the mark as we watched the rest of the fleet thunder down on us. It was a float fest for a while as everyone watched a wind line slowly come down on the fleet. We were all bobbing near the pin. Water Street, a Cal 24 which is much lighter than Billabong, took off and we were right behind her! We could hear the crews behind us leap into action and start calling out commands for spinnaker hoists and leeward space as they jostled for mark room.

We cleared the mark and headed down to the leeward B mark. We were making pretty good time just on the front edge of the wind line on a beam reach. We caught and passed Water Street. They are friends and I may have tossed out a few friendly jabs about their spinnaker handling skills. No offense guys! You did great! Winds were really shifty and we went from pointing at the locks to Bainbridge and back again several times, all without moving the sails an inch. At one point we fell into a hole heading towards Bainbridge and watched all the spinnakers go cruising past only to die a few hundred feet past us. We noticed the wind clock around nearly 180 degrees before they did and took off again.

Nearly the entire fleet wound up at the leeward mark together. It was a complete cluster. Crews were fending off other boats all around them. We managed to skirt around the outside of the cluster and were nearly around on a port tack when Water Street came charging through on a starboard tack and forced us to turn down. Mark thought he could sneak through and force everyone out of the way since starboard has right of way but he got pushed away from the pin and had to do a 360 to get back in the game.

The leg back from B to the finish was a smooth (nearly) upwind sprint. Boats were crisscrossing everywhere but nobody interfered with anyone. At one point a boat on starboard came pounding up toward Billabong as were were on a port tack. The smart maneuver would have been to turn down and go behind. Robert was busy with another line and could not let out the main for me to turn down so I spun up! One of those over corrections. I parked us in a hove to position and lost us at least 4 minutes of time…whoops! I am more familiar with Breeze and that boat does not like turning down with a tight main. Turns out Billabong could have done that with ease and lost hardly a beat. My motto though: If I am not winning I am learning!

We came in at least fourth, maybe fifth after time correction to Frog Prints due to my spinning blunder. Overall though I would count it as a good race with a shorthanded crew on an entirely new boat to me! Bigger and better action to come in the future I am positive.

2017 Final Goosebumps race on Tatonka

It was a blustery and rainy kind of day. Winds at 15 mph with gusts of 26 mph according to the on land weather stations. Into this went five intrepid sailors on a 24 foot boat…

Actually, the weather was perfect for us sailboat racers. We are a bit of a crazy lot. Our skipper, Heather, picked up a bright yellow San Juan 24 named TaTonka near the end of summer and this was her entry into the racing scene.

Armed with five racers on the boat we decided to deploy the 152 genoa. I was flying the main loose with the genoa driving, and overpowering, the boat. Since we had probably 70 years worth of racing experience on the boat we thought we could handle it but it was sure a handful.

As we jockeyed for position with the other boats coming up to the start line I heard a snap and turned to see Heather staring at a length of broken tiller she was holding in her hands. We had no steerage and with the strong gusty conditions and an already overpowered boat we were are risk of becoming wildly out of control and endangering other boats. What happened next was accomplished so quickly that the writing of the paragraph took longer!

When I turned and saw Heather holding the broken tiller thoughts of all the bad outcomes flashed quickly through my head along with possible solutions to avoid them. We needed to get under control FAST! I cried out, “BLOW THE SAILS!” as I ripped the mainsheet out of its jam cleat. Our illustrious genoa trimmer reacted just as quickly as me by blowing off the genoa sheet. He then hopped over to the stub of a tiller remaining and tried to manhandle us into submission. Heather leaned over the stern and dropped the outboard motor into the water.

After blowing the mainsheet I hunted for the halyards holding the sails aloft. By the time I found them and ripped them out of their jam cleats the other two crew members who had been ballasting the boat on the cabin top were in position to yank the sails down as quickly as possible. They too saw what had happened and positioned themselves to quickly control the situation.

As the sails fell to the deck I was able to look up and around us to the other boats in the fleet. Amazingly we did not endanger or even come close to fouling up any other boats starting with us! From the time the tiller broke to when we had the boat under control and were motoring away from the fleet it could not have been much more than 30 seconds! It really pays to have an experienced racing crew onboard.

We were standing there looking at each other in amazement of what just happened as we slowly motored back to Tatonka’s slip when Heather said, “I have a spare tiller in the cabin.” I looked at another crew member who just said, “Find it!” I found replacement tiller and tossed it out onto the cockpit. Sensing success he also  instructed the other crewmen to swap out the headsail to the 100% jib while I was searching for a toolbox. We had the tiller and headsail changed out in no time and turned around to get back into the race!

We slid across the start line amidst cheers at our amazing turn of events. My watch said we missed the start by seven minutes. That is a significant amount of time to make up.

As we swept around the race course we attempted to identify our competitors and inch up on them. We may have been seven minutes late to start but we were amped up at this point and ready to take on the world. The wind strengthened and died out, the rain came and went in varying degrees but we never stopped pushing ourselves and the boat.

We crossed through the finish line feeling good about ourselves because we passed one boat. It was a slow cruiser but we did not care. Seven minutes late and we passed someone! After putting the boat to bed we joined the other racers to learn the results.

We placed 15th out of 22 boats!

That means we caught and passed 7 other racers out there!

We were giddy!

Fantastic accomplishments when you consider we:

  1. Broke a tiller
  2. Had to change headsails
  3. Installed a new tiller
  4. Missed our start by 7 minutes

Oh, and not only was this Tatonka’s introduction to racing with Heather as owner it was also Heather’s first time helming in a race, ever.

Well done Tatonka crew, well done.

2017 Final Goosebumps race on Tatonka

The fearless crew of TaTonka

2017 Final Goosebumps race on Tatonka

I promise the old green guy is a lot younger than he looks ;). Camera perspective

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