Monday, January 6, 2014

Our First Race

We were lucky enough to be invited to race in the first icicle series race of 2014 this week. At first Fred planned to go alone, not knowing how much space there would be for crew.  After a little bit of pouting from me though Freddie secured me a spot on deck. I knew going into the race that this was going to be pretty scary for me. Going quickly around other boats while heeling, and being splashed by cold water are not my favorite parts of sailing. I had already thrown a fit to be invited though, so there was no backing out now.  

We arrived at the Antares around 10:30 a.m. after a quick trip to west marine to buy Freddie some new sailing gloves and shoes. In hindsight what we really needed was some waterproof pants. We quickly found the Cal 40 and began to meet the crew as they arrived.

We cast off around 11:30 as our start time was at 12:05. We motored for very little time before putting up the sails. It's amazing how quickly things get done with a full crew. However, I immediately understood why everyone was wearing full foul weather gear. The cold waves immediately came crashing over the boat as we passed Kemah Boardwalk. The water started at the bow but ran like a river down the side of the boat. Of course me and Freddie are sitting on the rail as ballast and had a stream of cold water instantly soaking the butt of our jeans.  

The sail boats circled around under sail near the start line. It felt like we were fish in a bucket. Boats were narrowly missing us on either side. Some people were playing chicken with other boats. I guess these racers have a love for danger that I will never understand.

Finally the first leg of the race kicked off. It was a broad reach, and we were gaining on a lot of boats. I couldn't believe how much the boat was tipping, or how fast we were going. It's amazing to be so close to so many other sailboats. It's interesting to see the different strategies. Some people heel over so far I swear I could almost see their keel.  

After a yelling countdown from the captain we turned the first marker, an abandoned oil platform, and the crew was already putting the spinnaker up. Our giant orange sail was quite the sight to see. They are so light weight, and seeing them put up with such ease makes me want to try it. Although I don't know that it has any practical use for cruising. Maybe a screecher is more of what I want. 

On the last leg of the race we were close hauling with the boat tipped as far over as she would go when we hear a thud, and the captain yells "I've lost steering!  Let the sails loose!" Everyone started to panic in what can best be described as a Chinese fire drill. First the crew manning the sails lets them completely out so as to slow the boat down. Then another crew member jumps down into the cabin to inspect to see what the problem with the steering is. Meanwhile someone else is emptying out the lazarette looking for the emergency tiller. Lawn chairs and cushions are being passed around the boat frantically. Meanwhile someone produces the emergency tiller from the cabin and we all wonder why we emptied the lazarette in the first place and begin putting everything back. Before they even get the tiller in place they are already trimming the sails back up and bringing the boat back up to speed.  

After drifting around, the only way for us to go was directly through the lines of boats that had been behind us. We had right of way and just sailed right through the column at full speed. The skipper was yelling "starboard" as we went through, and no doubt the other boats cursed as they had to let out sails and slow down trying to avoid hitting us. We had one more tack and we were on our way to the finish line.

Obviously we didn't have very active roles this time out. We mostly added ballast and shot photos -- although we did help take down and stow the kite and occasionally unsnagged a snagged line. Thankfully the "icicle series" did not live up to its name since it was about 60 degrees Saturday. That really helped the wet jeans be less miserable. However, Mary is correct that next time we're wearing different pants.

It was interesting to see the difference in fore deck crew versus cockpit crew. The fore deck guys basically stand up front getting soaked and beat up the entire race. Meanwhile the cockpit crew are sitting back, staying dry, and sipping beers when they're not trimming lines. Hmmm.

Despite losing the steering cable, the Antares still took third in class. Once docked and cleaned up, the end of the race was celebrated with a shot of rum. It's been a long time since I've had straight rum. Mary took one small sip and passed hers on to me. I get the feeling this is a taste we'll have to acquire if we keep racing.

Will we go again next week? The juries still out. It was storming Sunday morning, so I got zero work done on Gimme Shelter this week and the list of repairs is growing. If we want to be making overnight cruises by March when it's warm enough to sleep without a heater, I may have to spend some Saturdays at the dock. We'll just have to see.