I was invited out to race this season, every Wednesday night on a 28 foot Laser keel boat. Yes, Laser built a keel boat! And am I’m slowly making my way up the sailing crew ranks from my rail meat role. Here are some highlights from the year.
The most important lesson this season is that it’s never as hard as you think it is to get out onto the boat. Most nights the thought of packing up driving an hour to the marina to get a little bit of time seems daunting. But once you get into the rhythm and turn it into a scheduled event it’s easy and enjoyable.
Wednesday nights are the best for sailing. Despite it being commonly referred to as “Windless Wednesdays” having it mid-week makes it feels like a mini weekend. Driving to the marina with a neighbour, who also races on the same boat, gave a chance to talk (aka bitch) about work for a while. The moment we arrived in the harbour work is forgotten and we now concentrated on sailing.
Learning the ropes
I think I’m proficient as a cruiser, but there’s so much to learn from racing. Reading the weather, trimming the sails, running a spinnaker, gaining a little extra speed by adjusting the weight, positioning for a good start, etc… I’m a slow learner, but this season has taught me a lot! A huge thank you to the crew of the boat for being patient with me!
Prepping the boat involves putting out the blocks and lines in the exact same place they always are so there are no surprises when we use them. This took a bit to learn as the spinnaker requires a lot more lines than I’m used to.
There’s a lot to learn, figuring out how to run the spinaker, and adjusting it for a jibe. Getting used to where to stand and where to sit, just trying to stay out of the way. You pause to take in the view.
Then you hear “weight high!” being shouted out by the skipper. Back to being rail meat.
When our family cruises we like to be very far from other boats and busy harbours scared us. Racing has definitely brought up my confidence in sailing close to others. Is that a line dragging in the water? shhh… wait till the race is over
There were a few memorable mistakes during the season.
Getting the Genoa sheets ready for a tack then trying your best to snap the Genoa tight as quickly as possible as we come about. Several times slipped and messed up, in lighter winds learned not to go crazy with the number of wraps. Made one mistake of not locking in the sheet tight enough and saw the line slip on the other side of the boat as I was sitting on the high side.
As we round the mark prepping to raise the spinnaker I took on the halyard monkey role. Wasn’t as easy as I thought. First couple of nights I ended up with snarls and got myself caught up. Then figured out a good spot to stand and a better method for hauling in the halyard as fast as I could. And also realized I’m rapidly getting old, at beginning of the season I did something to my thumb and it’s still sore to this day.
One time the foredeck crew accidentally attached the halyard to the foot of the spinnaker and I promptly hoisted it up sideways. Fun problem of trying to re-run the lines properly with the spinnaker bunched up on the deck. But we recovered, gained on the other boats and had a good laugh about it back at the dock.
Bringing in the race committee boat
One night we heard over the radio that the committee boat was having engine trouble. It had to be towed in by one of the sailboats and then I saw this happen.
I stopped the video a bit early to help out, but it ended up with the race committee boat being launched into a perfect docking right at my feet. I’m so impressed by the skills of some skippers out there. There is so much to learn and hope one day I can be proficient enough in a situation like this!
Skipper for the night, in the fog
The primary and backup skipper were unable to make it so the owners trusted me enough to put their boat in my hands for the night. They provided the strict instructions, “just cross the finish line, we need the points”. I was nervous and reviewed my colregs and rules the night before. Last thing I wanted is turning the wrong way in front of another boat. As the crew showed up Wednesday night, this is what we saw.
We still prepped the boat and took it out of the harbour with a few other sailboats. After bobbing around for 15 minutes the fog got worse and we lost sight of the entrance. With the help of Navionics, I brought the crew and the boat back unharmed. It was a successful first night skippering the race boat, even though we didn’t race.
The common joke with the racers is to call it “Windless Wednesdays”. It always felt like most days of the week there was plenty of wind and then once Wednesday arrived it all slowed right down. I love this video, it was so calm and peaceful. Not great for a race but a beautiful moment to remember.
The wind did pick up 30 minutes later and it was a good race.
After the race is over
We wind down and enjoy the sunset as we head back into the harbour.
Clear up all the gear, fold the sails. I’ve been taught how to properly fold and store the sails.
Sit down in the cockpit, grab a beverage and eat some orange food (cheezies) and some brown food (chocolate cookies). And chat about whatever comes to mind. Then we would drive home, feeling refreshed and relaxed. It was like a mini-weekend and only two more days to the full real weekend!
It was a fantastic season and I learned so much. It really helped me when we take our boat out. I now know what all the other lines leading to the cockpit do and even use them to try and squeeze a little more speed out of the wind or change the balance of the boat.
If you are ever invited out to race, I strongly suggest you take on this opportunity however you can! There’s so much value in racing. Can’t wait until next year to learn even more!