Today I participated in one of the last races in the 66th Annual Swiftsure. I got a call Saturday evening from John and he asked me if I'd like to participate in the race. You can guess the answer. I was to meet the group down on the Inner Harbour at 9ish for a 10AM sailing. I was a bit worried just beacuse I didn't have a full grasp of all the boat's controls, but it turned out to be just fine. If I goofed a task, I really had no problem handing it off to someone more skilled, but tried to do as much as I could with limited expertise. I didn't want to lose us the race just for being ham handed, so I was just being a bit cautious. I hope to just go out and gybe the boat like 20 or 30 times just to get the rhythm down - an actual race isn't really a place for that.


I arrived at the Inner Harbour at about quarter to 9 and met the group: John, Seth and Carl. The two other crew looked experienced, and thankfully they were. The boat was rigged up and good to go, so I dropped all my gear off, John filled the outboard fuel tank and we motored out of the Inner Harbour at just after 9.


We passed a number of returning ships in the morning and I got to hear some of the histories on them as they folded up their high tech sails. John had a vague idea of where the race was starting, but called in to find that the start point had been moved at the last minute. It may have had something to do with the motorcycle rally going on on Clover Point. The start mark was dropped just off Brotchie Ledge and the course was set by VHF radio. Winds were moderately light this morning, so the race was effectively shortened from 20 miles to about 14, just so it wasn't really painful.


We played around with the sail configurations, tested our speeds in the current and then headed to the committee ship to await the start time. The countdowns came and we managed to get over the start line to watch two boats behind us make contact with one another. We realized we were in the middle of a pretty noisy pack and had to work to find our line. The course we took, however, was not getting us close to the others. The pack leaders began to pull away and we had to hunt for a new strategy.


We gybed out of the building flood current and got closer to shore where the current would be weaker. The wind was fading off as the weather system began to change around. John checked the wind patterns and decided Esquimalt was getting enough wind to power the boat up again. We made up a lot of lost distance taking that line, but then found ourselves calmed again and fighting toward the mark, using every single tweak we could to get the most out of the wind. It was about this time I left the spinnaker station and helped put more weight on the boat's side to get a more efficient heel angle.


The light air and mounting current was making things pretty slow and we inched toward the turn mark with just over a knot of speed. Some of the faster boats had a good lead on the rest of the racers. By the time we rounded the mark, our closes competition was a ways ahead, but we suddenly had an abundance of air! We took down the spinnaker and up went the 150 jib. We pulled into a close haul and began picking up some speed, again the fleet was in our sights, but John was pretty sure it was a bit late.


Trimming up the sails and a fresh breeze got us up to nearly 7 knots. The next turn was in view and coming up quick. The more we turned up the wind to compensate for the current, the slower the boat went. By the time we got to the mark, we were withing inches of the side of it. We pulled around the mark and were suddenly tailed by another boat in the race. We were neck and neck right up to the midway point between the mark and Ogden Point. With a bigger spinnaker, they were passing us ever so slowly.


The current was still pushing us slightly off course, so we basically got back to the finish line as fast as we could. As we passed the finish line, we got a canon for a signal. Taken aback, we all looked at each other wondering why. John was not happy with the rival winning the race, but I just told them to blame it all on the rookie. :) I learned a whole lot on the boat's controls, but definitely need more practice. The other crew did a great job and knew the game well. It's humbling to be with experienced company, but I picked up a whole lot of technique just by watching. John asked me how it went - I think you know my reaction to that one :DDD. (Very good, thumbs up and all that).

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