Big Boat Series
|by Daniel Forster|
It would be fair for you to ask, how can the JS9000 be in the Big Boat Series? When did a 30' boat with less than a 6' beam become a big boat? The answer lies in that we are a fast little sportboat and a few other sportboat owners had been lobbying the organizers to create a sportboat division. They were granted a division last year for the first time, though we didn't participate. But this year we signed up, with the encouragement and excitement of my 'traditional' crew, Andrew and Rob.
It would take a few hoops to get us entered. The majority of the division wanted to race under ORR rating instead of PHRF. Personally, as long as it provided for competitive racing I was happy with either choice, but I do believe that the ORR rating resulted in tight results. I also like the fact that ORR allows for multiple ratings based on the course type, which I believe its critical for sportboats, as our downwind speeds can be dramatically higher that our upwind speeds. After a few rounds with the rating agency, the designer and evening of measurements, we got the rating just two days before the first gun.
Although this year wouldn't be an ideal year for our boat we signed up anyways. Not ideal because all of the racing would be done with the current flooding into San Francisco Bay. This means that the upwind legs would be longer and the downwind legs would be shorter. For the characteristics of the JS we much prefer the reverse, an ebb current into the bay which would make for shorter upwind legs and longer downwind ones. But that wasn't enough to keep us from racing. Conditions in SF Bay in September are usually the type of conditions we like with 15 - 25 knots of wind, so as my friend Tom says, "Boogity Boogity Boogity, Lets Go Racing!"
Took a few weekends to prep the boat, elbow grease to buff and polish the hull with multiple applications. We had a nice new suit of mainsail and jib, and a couple of A2s, and A5 and a Code 0 in our arsenal.
This is a grueling regatta with 4 days of racing and 7 races in total, with courses around the 15 - 20 mile range. Though the goal was to have our own sportboat division, some sportboats didn't sign up until the last minute. So instead of racing in a class of 7 similar boats, we got grouped in a 14 boat division with J-111s and J-125s, boats much larger than us. This would make the starts problematic for us.
Race 1 (10th)
Not a good start, literally. Breeze filled in early for our first start. It was already blowing around 12 -15 knots with a forecast calling to build up during the day. It was the first start and though I set up for a conservative start, but I set up too early near the boat end. I had some room to leeward and tried to close the gap when another boat tried to come in and hook us, but to avoid risking going over early and giving up all my leeward room I came up too early and allowed the trailing boat in. Now I was trapped between a 40 footer to windward and a boat right on my leeward hip. With everybody pushing hard, I thought we were all over the line early. In the mayhem the boat that hooked us last minute call a protest on us for not giving them room (which I thought was aggressive and premature). I was pretty sure we had been over early and in the chaos we couldn't hear what boats the RC called back. So we started the first race with a return to the start line and taking a penalty. Not the way to start a regatta. Nevertheless, we worked hard on our boat speed and tried to be smart about our strategy around the course. But being the slowest boat (upwind) of the division we quickly got disconnected from the rest of the fleet. We will learn quickly to get over the frustration of not competing boat for boat, and rely on the rating system to do its work. We got a disappointing 10th place.
Race 2 (4th)
I was determined to redeem myself from the bad start on the first race. I would have to find clear air and a lane, downwind of any boat that could point higher than us (which is mostly every other boat). So I approached late from the pin and tacked below the early starboard boats. Most of the fleet was on the boat side of the line so we were in a much better position. It wasn't an ideal position since the right side of the course was favored, but at least it would give us a clear lane to the first windward mark after everyone flopped over to port. This worked pretty and though we would round the windward mark last (this will be a common theme), we were still connected with the fleet. And on the first downwind leg we would close the gap significantly with the rest of the fleet. We had great downwind speed. The second upwind leg, would take us all the way to Pt. Diablo outside the Golden Gate, for a fast downwind finish in the city front, right in front of the club. Though that upwind leg to Pt. Diablo was an arduous 7.5 mile procession, we got lit up on the downwind run to the finish, and claimed a 4th place in the race (only 1 sec out of 3rd).
This great downwind run and the good result greatly lifted our morale for the rest of the weekend to come. We can compete.
Friday was a roller coaster
Race 3 (2nd)
I was in a better place on how to put us in a good spot on the starts and we were feeling pretty confident in our ability to compete after the second race. We were pumped to go out and push hard. In the moderate conditions we had solid boat speed and we called the tactics properly. We ended with a 2nd on this race. At this point we were starting to believe that we had a chance to podium. One of the J-111s and the Melges 32 were pulling away from the fleet, but if we could keep thing clean a 3rd wasn't out of the question.
Race 4 (12th)
With the forecast calling for a buildup, I elected to go with our smaller jib. It had payed up in the previous afternoon. But soon after the start the wind started to drop and we began to loose boat speed. We also stripped the cover of the jib halyard from it rubbing with something down below and we started to loose jib halyard tension. For an over 5 mile upwind leg this will prove disastrous. The fleet just ran away from us. By the time we rounded the windward mark I was determined to switch back up to our larger jib. As we set up on downwind run back to the Berkeley Circle, Rob went forward to work on the jib change. Our jibs are hanked on, and the deck is probably a foot wide by the headstay so the bow guy is VERY exposed up there. By now we had crossed to the North side of the Bay and the wind started picking up dramatically. We were close to our lay line but I wouldn't jibe the boat with Rob on the foredeck as we were running at 16 knots. As soon as Rob got the small jib down below we did our jibe but at this point we had overstood the leeward mark. At this point we didn't have a headsail hanked on and we are screaming at 18+ knots towards the leeward mark. Rob grabbed the big jib and went to work while water and waves tried to throw him off the boat. By now I was regretting my call to change jibs, I was confident that Rob could do it, but it wasn't a smart call, and throwing Rob overboard would certainly put an end to the day's racing. It got close a couple of times. Somehow he managed to keep the sail on the boat and get it hanked on while hanging on. With the big jib up, we doused the spinnaker early and reached back to the mark we overstood. The next upwind leg was probably the low of the regatta. We now had the wrong sail up again, we had lost time by overstanding the mark, Rob was justifiably pissed about what I had asked him to do and we had another long upwind leg back Pt. Diablo before the finish. To cap it all, a few hundred meters from the finish line we had to punch through some ferry wakes that went straight through the tack of the spinnaker, making our A2 explode into shreds. We cleaned up the mess and limped to the finish on white sails.... With a spinnaker in the dumpster and brand new jib halyard on order, and the fact that we didn't catch any of the good action on video, it was a good thing it was Mt Gay night at the club. Dark and Stormies were flowing.
It blew!!! At dawn it was already blowing 20 knots across the bay with the forecast building to 30 knots.
Race 5 (11th)
We probably had our best start of the regatta. It was wild at the start line with the winds in the low 20s and all the boats on our division reaching fast up and down the line. I had planned for a boat end start, second row if necessary, but by being slightly late we nailed the boat just a few seconds after the gun with a clean lane. As you know by now it was another long beat against a building flood. Though we went to play the cone behind Alcatraz, many boats went above Alcatraz taking advantage of the last of the ebb/slack on the North side of the Bay. That move payed up for them and the stretched out a bit on us. Our new jib halyard was great, holding great tension on the nuking conditions. We used our A5 since it was now in the solid 20s and that was a great sail for us, catching up boats on our first downwind run, until, our tackline soft shackle broke. We brought the spinnaker down, but by the time Rob was able to retrieve the tack line from the sprit it was too late to reset. We lost quite a bit of ground with this breakage and ended with another disappointing finish. This result would surely now put us out of podium contention.
Race 6 (6th)
In between races, even though the forecast called for building conditions throughout the day the wind significantly dropped to the low teens while we waited for our next start. Even though our small jib had served us well in the morning race, I decided to switch up. I didn't want a repeat of poor upwind speed during our long legs. This will prove to be the wrong call, as minutes before the start the fog started to roll in over the South Tower of the Golden Gate, and within 15 minutes it was now blowing a solid 20 - 25. It was still mostly flat water (because of the flood) so I could still depower the boat, but it would have been faster and definitely more comfortable to have the smaller jib up. The RC had called for a very long race (over 19 miles) so this would be brutal. Luckily they shorten course and finished us after the second downwind run. Lets talk a little bit about that second downwind run. It was a run from Blackaller to Blossom. It started with strong conditions at Blackaller which prompted us to put our big A2 kite up, but it built up to the high 20s by the time we reached Alcatraz. The starboard leg from Alcatraz to Blossom is probably one of our most memorable to date, with the boat completely lighting up. I talked a bit about Rob heroics on the foredeck on previous races. But on this race, in these conditions, is where Andrew shines. I wouldn't want anyone else holding the spinnaker sheet. The combined knowledge that we have of each others tendencies and the characteristics of the boat allows us to push to the edge. On this run we were holding 19 - 20 knots of boat speed, when a puff hit us and launched the boat. I'm not sure I had felt that acceleration before on the boat, and a quick glance to the knotmeter showed a surprising 23 and 24 knots of boatspeed. We hadn't gone this fast on JetStream before, and this without any wave (surf) assist. After this results didn't matter as much. This is what we had come together for, and we were satisfied to be pushing ours and the boats boundaries.
Race 7 (4th)
Last race. Everybody is pretty sore at this point. But the night before we had a great dinner and drinks with our friends and crew of the Flying Tiger, so we were all in good spirits. This would be a long bay tour and we played it conservatively again, sailing our boat and minimizing mistakes. We finished with a nice A5 broad reach into the race deck of the club, with the fleet of Pac52s on our heels. It was a good end to the weekend.
- Consistency. Especially in a large fleet, just can't allow big mistakes like bad starts and/or penalties. Though we race often, the caliber and number of good boats on the same line is not something we get exposed to often in some of our other racing. Understanding the potentials of the boats and crews around you is critical.
- Upwind sail selection. Time-wise, we probably spend 80% of the time going upwind. Races will be won on the upwind legs. In anything above 15 knots it is almost impossible (well possible for a few, but not a smart choice) to do a headsail change on the JS on the downwind legs. So we need a sails with wide ranges as the conditions can change dramatically during a 3 hr race. With our new larger main, I think we have a good setup for 15 and under with the #2.5 jib, and also a good setup for 20+ with our #4. But in the 15 to 20 range we are too powered up with the larger jib and painfully underpowered, particularly in the lulls, with the #4. So we might need to invest in a proper #3 for the mid range.
- Currents. Though by now I think I have a fairly good understanding of the currents in the Bay, at least in two (maybe 3) upwind legs I didn't play them optimally. We missed going deep into Sausalito for relief, because I was tempted by a header to tack back into the Bay. That didn't pay up. I also missed going above Alcatraz from TI to a mark near the city front during the beginning of the flood.
- Sail the boat. Particularly in fleets with a wide rating band, and especially on the slow end of the band, it was critical that we just sailed our boat. After the first few minutes from the start we just needed to focus on us and our boat. Trying to match anyone else's angles, etc, just had us going slower around the course. Sailing our boat for the conditions kept us in the game.