Rails In the Water

Wednesday May 30, 2012

After checking the weather report to make sure I’d be ready to go straight from work out to the yacht club for races I noticed that things were probably going to be very different from what they were last week.  On the night of my first race temperatures were in the low 80’s with winds under 5 knots.  Then checking weather.com today the hourly report was forecasting temps to be in the low 60’s with winds reaching 15 knots.  Knowing there was a good chance I might freeze my butt off I packed my foulies in a bag and wore a fleece lined top to work.  After speeding out to the lake once again I found that gettng there at 5:45 did not leave a lot of room for parking on the street and almost went all the way back to Torresen’s when I spotted one available spot left on a side street.  Grabbing my bag and a case of beer I promised Tom I’d bring since he supplied drinks last week I ran through the parking lot.  I knew the boat wouldn’t leave the docks until 6:00 but I also didn’t want them waiting on me.  Getting to the very end dock again I saw Tom and Shannon waiting in the cockpit along with two new faces.  After being introduced I ran below deck to get my beer in the cooler and slip my foulies on over my jeans.  Coming back up we waited for the last people to arrive which was only Rob and Jules.  A little bit of a smaller crew then last week but there were still seven of us and that would be plenty.

Getting our assignments Shannon was put on the spinnaker halyard again and I was to assist one of the new guys Pete will all the lines at the bow.  Motoring out into the lake towards the start we didn’t have any of our sails up yet but all the other boats did and they would zoom past us heeling over so far that their rail was underwater.  I was hoping I’d get to experience doing that tonight on Island Dream since it’s always something I’ve wanted to do as a crew member but did not want to be the one in charge of the helm when it happened.  As we came closer to the start which was half way down the lake the five minute warning sounded.  Tonight our division would be starting first and we needed to get ourselves in position stat.  Rounding other boats we were just raising the sails when the one minute warning sounded and had barely gotten ourselves in place when the final horn sounded and it was time to go.  Immediately Shannon and I were directed to sit on the high side of the boat, the side that wind was coming over.  It didn’t take us long to start shooting out toward the first marker and begin to heel a little ourselves.  At first it was just a slight tip and then it went further and further until we also had a rail in the water.  This is exactly what I had been wanting to do forever!!  It felt like I had been initiated into the club of cool kids and was finally a racer.  Not that I was doing anything more than sitting my butt on a deck while keeping out of the way of everyone else, but it was still thrilling nonetheless.

I had no idea where the first marker actually was since the course had changed from what it was last week, and since anyone aboard who knew what we were doing was already busy doing something I didn’t want to bug them and just watched where the boats in front of us were going.  They all appeared to be headed to a spot kiddy-corner across the lake from where we started although with the sun also lowering near the direction we were headed it was impossible for me to pick anything out of the water.  Along the way we did a few tacks because to get the best use of the wind and weren’t able to make a straight line from the start to the first marker.  Every time we turned and the jib would be pulled over to the other side it would extend way past the lifelines before being sheeted back in but would get stuck on the outside of the lines when it needed to be inside which meant someone would need to lift the foot of the sail over.  A pretty easy job in itself except that tonight by the time it was trimmed in to where it needed to be the boat was already at quite  a large heel.  Since I had skirted it the first time after we took off from the start I decided that could be my job for the night.  So after a tack when everyone else was scrambling to the other side of the boat I’d stay on what would now be the low side and wait for the jib to be trimmed in so I could bring the foot of the sail over the lifelines.  When I had completed the task the boat would be healing so far that my toes would almost be in the water.  It’s a good thing Island Dream has a large gunwale (pronounced gunnel and is the upper edge on the side of a vessel) or else my foot would have slid right off the boat probably taking me with it.  So then after managing to keep myself on the boat I needed to find a way to the other edge which was a little tricky and had me imagining what rock-wall climbing might be like.  ‘Ok, if I stick my foot there I can get a little leverage to push myself up a bit and my arm might extend enough to grab that hand rail at which point my other foot can be moved to this spot and then I can make it over the coachroof which will act like a wall behind me to keep me in place.’  Each time I was able to do it without much issue but I had to laugh at the fact that if Matt were there watching me he would be freaking out because  he knows my clumsiness better than anyone here I’ve just met and would be positive that these actions done by me would leave me in the water.  I’m starting to think that my hard work sanding over the past few months may have really paid off in upper body strength though because if I were doing this same thing a year ago I probably would have ended up in the water.

As we got to the other side of the lake I could finally see the marker and the other boats rounding it and immediately putting up their spinnakers.  Shannon was in charge of raising and lowering again while Pete was in charge of connecting and running the lines.  As we did one last tack and rounded the marker Shannon began to pull on the hailyard to raise the sail.  As far as getting the head of the sail to the top of the mast it went up fine, but there seemed to be an issue where the sail itself was twisted and would not unfurl to open itself to the wind.  When things like this happen it’s immediate cause for concern because spinnaker sails can rip or tear easily and are not cheap to replace.  Steering off to the side and kind of taking ourselves out of the race for a minute we worked on getting the twists out, not really sure what was causing it.  After a few minutes of pulling and gently working the fragile sail it filled with air and we raced off again.  There were however a few issues again when we tacked and the spinnaker didn’t transition over to to the other side easily and had to be worked again. The boat was slowed down and Rob rushed up front to try and get it to pass on the outside of the furled headsail.  Once it came over the wind just didn’t seem to be catching it right and we lowered it back down and decided to continue for the moment with just the head sail.  Up to the point we hit the first marker we had been doing pretty good for position in our division, even with our last minute start, but now because we had to pull ourselves to the side a few times while the spinnaker situations were handled we were starting to fall behind.  And this moment here is why I’m so glad I get to race on the boat I do.  There was no yelling about what was going on and no blame being placed on anyone for not doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time to keep us in the front of the pack.  All we could hear from Tom is ‘Everyone’s doing a great job, keep it up!’

Apparently the only markers being used for the race that night was the one we started at and the one on the opposite end of the lake.  Headed upwind for the second time Shannon, Pete and I fell back into the positions of riding the high side with me pulling in the foot of the jib after a tack.  Rob would point out strong gusts on the water and could count down to the second that they would hit us and our heel would increase even more.  On our second downwind run the spinnaker went up without hassle and easily moved from side to side when we needed it do.  There was one more slight issue when not too long after we made our second downwind turn when there was a loud noise as if something had broken.  The three of us at the front of the boat turned around to see that the boomvang had just popped clean off the mast!  Still learning about what can go wrong on a boat I thought this may be a huge issue, especially with us sailing in slightly heavy winds, but the now dangling lines were just tied off to the side and Tom goes, ‘That’s ok, I’ve been meaning to replace it’.

Having no more major issues for the night we rounded the initial marker for our last upwind stretch to the finish.  I know we didn’t place that night, or what place we even took in our division, but just like last week once that horn blew to signal us we were done the whole crew cheered and high fived and hugged.  I was given the opportunity to take over the wheel while heading back to the yacht club which should not be an issue at all since that’s where I always am on our boat but this time I was a little nervous since these were sailors that knew how to point the boat into a direction best suited for the wind instead of having their husband mess with sheets while they pointed whichever direction they felt like.  I managed to get us back with pretty full sails and without running into anyone which is always a plus while the guys worked on dropping the main.  I did hand the wheel back over to time when it came time to dock still I still have never done that before and heard Tom can be like Captain Ron while he goes full speed toward the dock and parks it perfectly.

Just like last week the cooler was opened and most of the girls starting pulling out a Lime-a-Rita while I rooted around for a cold Leinenkugel.  Since I had not chilled the beers before bringing them and they had only been in the cooler for a little over an hour most of them had not chilled yet, but dang it I was going to have a Berry Weiss weather it was cold or not.  Sitting around the cockpit and passing around bags of Chex Mix we all relaxed and unwound.  About 2/3 of the crew occupies their winter months with skiing while they can’t be on boats and had some good stories to tell about winters past.  There was also talk from Jules on her past experiences with the Chicago to Mac race and how fun it can be as well as all the parties that go along with it.  It’s something I really wish I could experience but since we’ll be leaving for our trip about 10 days after that race I don’t think I can afford 3-4 days away from home and the boat with all the last minute projects that will need to be done.  Maybe a few years down the road when we come back?  All this talk of parties helped my first beer go down quickly and even though this is only week two it wouldn’t be a race night without a Lime-A-Rita for myself so I pulled a nice chilled one from the bottom of the cooler.  Rob wanted to try one of my fruity Berry Weiss drinks and even though his wasn’t very cold either he was a very good sport about it and even did the uplifted pinky for us girls to laugh at.

Week two of racing was another success in my book and it’s beginning to be something I look forward to all week long.  I’m so happy I started this year at the beginning of the season and I get to experience it hopefully 7-8 more times before I’m racing my own boat through the Great Lakes and down the Atlantic.

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