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The Mighty Duck (dodge) #4.

This is part 4 of my Duck Dodge racing diary. Previous installments are at

What a night and what an improvement over last week! Winds were forecast at 5 to 15 knots, from the southwest, which differs from the lighter north and northwest winds we were used to for the races. We did the usual "eat dinner and rig the boat" during the motoring to the lake. I only had one crew with me, my friend Scott. 

I had complained about handling problems last week, so i wanted to experiment this week. I moved every piece of heavy movable gear up into the bow to keep weight a little more forward. That, combined with one less crew in the cockpit, made for a much further forward center of gravity and probably a further forward center of lateral resistance. I also finally bolted on my main rudder - I had to this point been using my old spare, while I refinished and made some improvements to the new one. The old one was so worn that it had a lot of backlash. The new one feels great. It weighs quite a bit less than the older one, plus I put stainless and aluminum plates at all the wear points, which should protect the finish and keep it feeling tight for a long time. 

I have been slowly reading Tom Whidden's book "The Art and Science of Sails." Tom is president of North Sails and has a few America's Cups under his belt, both as sailmaker and crewmember. This book is heavy on the science of sailing (including things like wind tunnel tests), and it debunks a lot of what we take for granted in sailing (for instance, air does NOT speed up in the slot between the jib and main). The book has prompted me to make a few changes. First of all, I've added many more telltales. I also rigged the boom as low as possible this race, in an effort reduce induced drag. I won't get into the technical discussion here of this type of drag, except to say that high aspect sails, rudders, and aircraft wings are built that way in an effort to reduce induced drag, and Tom says its a major factor of total drag.

We checked in at the committee boat (quote: "Oh yeah, we remember you!") and saw that the race was a little different this week. We would start into the wind heading southwest to "Triples", had a long downwind leg to near the I-5 Ship Canal bridge, then over near the Aurora bridge, and back to the start. Heats 1 & 2 were to take the course twice, but my heat and the dinghys were only doing one lap. 

Warmup was uneventful, and we used the time to play with sail trim. A large cruising catamaran showed up. Man, those things are weird looking. It reminded me of a Star Trek Klingon warship. 

The higher winds made for an exciting start in the first heat. I think a bunch of boats made beam-to-beam contact while fighting for position at the start. Eventually, they split up again. One of these boats had a powerful stereo system, and someone cued up Wagners "Ride of the Valkyries" (some of us know it better as Elmer Fudd's "Kill da Wabbit"). It was definitely an appropriate soundtrack for the start. 

I didn't want a repeat of last week's "Eric Johnson's 'Kill da Committee Boat' " so I stayed a little less aggressive at the start. We probably didn't get across the start line for nearly 4 minutes after our horn, but we had a lot of wind and made up time quickly. We missed the committee boat. :) I spent a lot of time watching my new telltales on the jib, and found that left to my own devices, I was stalling the jib frequently. The telltales really help it getting the trim right. I still need to add more to the main. 

I was also careful not to pinch too high upwind, but maintain a constant angle relative to the wind and keep the speed up. I'm somewhat convinced (now, after doing some reading) that my excessive leeway at the start of the previous race was that I was going too slow by pinching too high, and had stalled the keel. 

As usual, the wide range of boats in my heat made it so that the field spread out fairly quickly, more so this week because of the ample wind. The Flicka "Erika" with which i had often been competitive had a great start and we never threatened her during this entire race. Another beige Flicka was slightly behind me.

The upwind leg was mostly uneventful except for some nervous moments encountering downwind traffic. We had to tack a few times. I don't know if it the weight forward, the lesser weight in the cockpit, the new rudder, the added attention to jib trim, or the increased winds that did this, but our tacks were just perfect, all night. They were smooth, fast, without a hint of the boat wanting to bear off too far after the tack (a problem I frequently encounter). I was very pleased. 

We rounded the upwind mark, giving it a wide berth. The next mark was dead downwind. We hung the sails out wing-and-wing. After a while the beige Flicka rounded the mark and was gaining on us. I wondered if we might get to the mark faster gybing downwind on a broad reach instead of a dead run (in an effort to get more apparent wind and some lift) but we chose to keep running. I tried to fashion a whisker pole out of an oar, but it didn't really work. What did help was running the jib sheet outside the shrouds on this leg; I normally run them inside. The Flicka continued to gain on us downwind, but slowly. We even cranked the daggerboard up part way in an effort to reduce underwater drag, but I don't think it helped much. 

Another thing that did help keep the Flicka off of us is that towards the end of this leg, the 1st heat boats were coming down on their second lap, with kites flying. These were "Masked Man" who won the fast heat last week, and "Wall St. Duck", a gorgeous newer boat that was always fast and took second place in the fast heat two weeks ago. I took advantage of our right-of-way (being overtaken) to wander a bit to encourage these craft to come between myself and the Flicka, then once they were in between, we drifted back ahead of them, making them cut off the Flicka. It seemed to work - every time we did this we gained some relative ground. As Wall St. Duck passed us, I think the foot of her spinnaker was nearly as high up as the top of my mast. I had serious fears of her fouling her gorgeous spinnaker in my mast, but her crew skillfully kept it at least a couple feet away.

We rounded the I-5 mark. Normally, this next leg would be a reach, but Gasworks Park was in the way, so we had to tack upwind a time or two to clear the point. I started getting a lot of leeway again, which surprised me because the boat has handling so well today. I bore off in an effort to pick up speed and de-stall the keel, but it was not helping. Suddenly I remembered the daggerboard - it was still up a foot or so from normal. We lowered it and were off. By this time the Flicka had passed us by quite a bit and was upwind, working her way up to where she could clear Gasworks. We decided to risk cutting across the shallow water near the point, instead of taking the time to tack to get into safer, deeper water upwind. 

We were on a close reach by now. I fired up the depth sounder and scott read off the numbers to me. "14" we kept going. "10...9...8" I started computing in my head how shallow we could go. "7" ... the thoughts of going aground or tangling seeweed on a lee shore right in front of the spectators did not appeal to me... "8...9....10" Whew! we cleared the shallows, and decisively got ahead of the Flicka again, who looked like she tacked out of the wind and into some traffic. 

Our gamble really paid off. Now we were a hundred yards or so behind a San Juan 24 (I love the lines on those boats) that wasn't sailing too fast, but I never until now had illusions of beating a 24-footer. She went real wide around the "Aurora" mark, and looked like she was a little stuck in irons. We kept gaining on her. She eventually figured it out when we were pretty close and got going better again. We rounded the mark too and were on our final upwind leg to the finish. The wind was really blowing at this point. Scott kept lookout while I studied the wind vane and telltales. The wind was shifty, so I took advantage of every lift I could get to gain valuable inches upwind. The SJ24, while ahead of us, wasn't pointing as high as we were.

One thing I've learned since racing is that keeping tacks to a minimum keeps your speed up, so all day I was making as few tacks as possible, and using a lot of lake. Finally, the committee boat was at our beam, and we made a final tack to beat to the finish. We had a favorable wind shift about the same time we tacked, so we really picked up speed into the finish. The SJ had made some bad decisions on this final leg and was minutes behind us, as was the Flicka. 

It was nice finishing our race (we're 2-for-4 now), and satisfying beating a larger boat. Victoria handled beautifully all night. I think the weight distribution had a lot to do with it, because I've had trouble tacking in the past even when there was plenty of wind, but tonite I was 100% satisfied with our tacks. 

Racing is making me a better sailor. It has given me the inspiration to find ways to eek out more performance from my potter, and makes me much more aware of proper sail trim. 

Since the faster boats had to do two laps and we had a good run, some of the 2nd heat boats hadn't finished yet, and no party had started. We took the opportunity to practice a bit, plus I wanted to mark the "Triples" mark (which was also nav buoy) in my GPS. We go up there, and marked it. A boat with the familiar Catalina 25 logo on the sail was messing around with some sort of fancy water cannon, and took a few shots at us. 

Scott is a strong guy, and while we had no fancy weaponry, we had a bucket. He surreptitiously loaded the bucket and on the boats next pass, as they attempted to wet us, he sent 2 1/2 gallons of water dangerously close to their cockpit and they broke off hostilities :)

We played a bit downwind, experimenting to see if wing-and-wing or raching downwind would yield a better VMG. It was undecisive, but we'll experiment some more. We didn't do a complete second lap, but rather furled sails and joined up with the raft that was forming. 

The party was fun. We tied up next to the same Hunter we tied with last week. It turned out that these were the ones flying a Catalina 25 mainsail. We experimented with pulling the end of the boom way high with the halyard instead of clipping it to the backstay. It looked silly, but it worked great. It was much easier to talk to folks in the cockpit, and to move from boat-to-boat. It made it much easier for people to cross at the cockpit instead of the fordeck, where they invariably would step on my forward hatch which irritated me, so it worked well. We checked out some boats we hadn't been on before, including that huge Cat with tons of deck space. 

Most of the larger boats took off, but the Hunter, our Potter, another sailboat, and a small motorboat remained tied together for a while longer. I went belowdecks for some chips in the other sailboat and talked to some people for a while. Some time passed and I looked out a port, and we must have been making several knots. I was afraid the raft broke up without me on my own boat! I climbed outside, and the entire raft was moving at several knots upwind. Two of the boats had fired up their motors and since nobody had a hook out, drove us a bit upwind. It must have looked funny from shore. 

We did this a time or two, then it got real late and we split up the raft for good and had an uneventful ride home. 

 -   ICQ#966008

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