(write-up by Randall Rasicot of Flight)
The RYC Great Pumpkin Regatta lived up to its reputation again this year. For the buoy racing Saturday, 148 boats registered in 14 One Design classes and 8 PHRF divisions on 3 courses. For Sunday’ s traditional pursuit race either way around Angel Island and Alcatraz, 173 boats signed up. Thinking I should get the boat in ahead of the crowd, I went to the club and put Flight in the water Friday Afternoon. It was already too late, boats were rafted up all over the harbor and the confusion was rampant.
Returning in the morning we found Darren had brought Downtown Uproar over from TI during the evening and rafted up next to us. There was no hurry to get out, as there was not much sign of wind with postponement certain. For the first time this season we needed the motor to leave the dock, a sign of conditions to come for the weekend. The good sign was that the motor actually started after months of neglect.
We headed of out to get some practice on the Southhampton course and made our first incorrect assumption of the regatta, heading toward a committee boat on station at Southhampton. When we got there we found that the “committee boat” was actually a fishing boat. Then we noticed Downtown and half the fleet had figured out that the Southhampton course was actually a couple miles east of Southhampton. Shut Up and Drive and Woof were out as well and soon were all in the same part of the Bay.
The Race Committee planned a course with the start line below the leeward mark so there was no chance of start line restriction confusion from these SIs (unlike Sarcoma Cup race two where Woof was the only one to get it right…).
The first race eventually started in light winds. Downtown and Shut Up gained an early lead. By the final leg the wind died off further and soon there was enough of a shift that we set the kite to get to the upwind finish line above the upwind mark. There was there a delay as we all made the long commute back to the start in light wind and ebb.
The wind came back in race two for very unusual SF Bay conditions. Moderate winds, shorts, tee shirts… This must be how it is to sail in other places, just way too pleasant to be SF Bay sailing in J24s. The highlight of the race for us was the downwind leg playing with Woof the whole way. First we were ahead, with Woof right on our wind. We tried to push them up, but they outsmarted us and got ahead. Realizing two could play that game, we pulled around their stern and did the same, getting back ahead at the leeward mark. Meanwhile, Downtown and Shut Up were sailing great in a battle for first and second.
For the last race, we returned to more normal afternoon Bay wind into the low twenties and the crews were back in their normal element. After a start where we found ourselves with the genoa wrapped on the forestay, port tacking the committee boat, we made up for it with a less than ideal set at the upwind mark. As a result, we were delayed making the early jibe the rest of the fleet had made ahead of us. As long as we were already there and behind, we decided to take a flyer and stay right. To our surprise it actually worked and we found ourselves overlapped with Shut up at the leeward mark.
Results of the day where the same in all three races, Downtown Uproar first, Shut Up and Drive second, Flight third and Woof fourth. This masked how close it actually was and the conditions made for great day for racing.
Evening festivities moved between the Dead Man’s Party at the club to Deception rafted up in the harbor and back. In addition to finding the usual company of Jasper, Peter and Steve on Deception, we found Mike Arrajj from TMC was there as well. We all attempted to ignore that Mike was dressed as a Detroit Tiger. The great news is that Mike has bought a 50 footer and he is moving aboard. Plans are already being made for overnight fleet raft-ups with our new mother ship next season.
Sunday lived up to its prediction of even less wind than Saturday. This left plenty of time for the pre-start floating party that is Great Pumpkin. One boat had a coffin mounted on deck and RYC had hired a Jamaican band on board Sugaree which lead a conga line of boats through the fleet as we drifted about. Much time was spent working the trivia quiz, debating rig settings and deciding if the Pumpkin Beer really compares with Sierra Nevada. The first bottle is not a good test, needs several samples.
Luther showed up with a friend to do the race double handed on Little Wing. It certainly did not appear to be a day where full crew weight would be an advantage. It was not until after 1:00 that the fog advanced in from the gate to create pressure around Alcatraz. Given the general confusion on the radio about how to recalculate the start times after postponement, the RC decided to wait until the 2:00 to start us. Their theory being that we would be more capable of adding hours to our individual start times, instead of doing the complex math involved with adding minutes. The bad news was that no time would be added to the DNF time of 5:00 (RC did not want to inconvenience those setting up for the awards or chance the unthinkable potential of doing awards in the dark). We now had 3 hours to completethe race instead of 5 with variable wind and a 4 knot ebb as the afternoon proceeded. Several boats did the math and retired once this was announced. They probably just wanted to get back in time to see if the Giants would sweep the Series.
General wisdom was to go counter clockwise around Angel and Alcatraz to get through Raccoon Straights in the early ebb instead of fighting strong ebb there at the end of the race. The problem with that strategy was that there was still no wind in the straights when we finally started at 2:00. Seeing this, we decided to go clockwise, as did Little Wing, counting on the wind filling in in the straights by the time we got there. Both Shut Up and Downtown stuck to the original strategy hoping it would fill in there sooner.
We had a great start on the port side of the line and took a hitch up early to get into the main current, which initially worked well. We soon realized though, that Luther’s wisdom of just staying on Starboard was paying off, as the current kept lifting Little Wing up to meet us as we cracked off further and further to make the leeward side of Alcatraz. They got ahead as we rounded the island, but remembering how Shut Up had gotten back around us there during Octoberfest, we tacked early straight towards Alcatraz and the current carried us around and now we were the ones getting better advantage from the current lift on the ride to Angel Island. We were doing well at that point being the fourth boat to round Alcatraz. We kept looking to see boats coming the other way out of Raccoon Straights, but none were to be seen. Gordie Nash came past in his highly modified Santana as we were rounding Angel Island and we followed him to the left side of the straights into better current relief. We even picked up two pumpkins dropped in front of us by the RC as we flew down the straights with plenty of pressure in the kite. This was going really well, it was looking like a great overall finish was in the cards.
In the back of our minds though, we were really starting to wonder what had happened to Downtown and Shut Up. Later we learned that after painful progress most of the way up the Straights in minimal wind, Val had one of those sailing nightmares. Shut Up was sucked towards the rocks on the side of Angel Island by the current with no wind whatsoever. He tried to set the anchor, but could get no purchase at all on the steep rocks that drop straight down into one of the deepest parts of the Bay. Giving up, he mounted the engine but it wouldn’t start, finally deciding to call for help, he grabbed the radio and discovered it had given up the ghost. As Val and crew were thinking the next step was to get off the boat and onto the rocks, they looked up to see that Darren was heading towards them under engine. Downtown was able to pull them away with just a few minor scrapes on the newly re-finished hull. They both retired from the race and Val is in the market for a more reliable engine, bigger anchor, new radio, paddles…
As we left the Straights and headed to the rounding mark off the Richmond breakwater, we saw Gordie and a few other boats heading way left instead of the direct course to the mark. After the usual extended discussion with the other 4 tacticians on board the decision was made to sail the shorter course. In hindsight, we will follow Gordie in the future. The wind soon started dying and the boats to our left always had more wind than those to the right. The closer to the mark we got the worse it became and the more boats came in and parked with us.
I finally remembered Luther’s advice from 3 Bridge Fiasco when we were similarly parked under the Bay Bridge together. Luther pointed out that a J24 will make progress in no wind if you just sheet in and point it where you want to go. Sure enough, as I was remembering this, I looked to my left and there was Luther going past us in Little Wing, sails sheeted in pointed at the rounding mark. From there we stayed within a few boat lengths of Little Wing as we rounded the mark, and could see the finish a few hundred yards ahead when the clock struck 5:00.
Final result was that only 29 boats out of 173 entries were able to finish. Of course, as we motored back into the harbor the breeze filled back in. Thirty minutes more and I am sure the majority of the fleet would have finished. The J24 fleet is hoping Darren is filing for redress so at least one J24 will be among the finishers.
So ended the Fleet 17 2012 season and my first year at the helm. It’s been a great year with great support from the fleet and we are looking forward to Saturday’s Fleet Banqueteque at Jasper and Robin’s. Then, on to midwinters and winter boat projects to get ready for 2013.