Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bandaras Bay Regatta

Allison says:
We just finished the Bandaras Bay Regatta on Saturday. That is a big sailboat race in Puerto Vallarta. They put us in the class against professional racing boats (because our boat is a ‘racing’ type, even tho the crew members are not 'professional racing types'). Anyway, that made me a bit nervous – my ego worried that we wouldn’t be able to win. Merle and I talked about the spiritual significance of that a bit. We decided that we weren’t supposed to get the ‘ego boost’ from winning, and that the spiritual lesson had to be down some other path, so we were open to finding it. And once my ego calmed down a bit and I realized it was okay if we just did our best, I felt better.

We took on 3 crew members (not including the 5 children aboard) – Jan from sv Cappricio, and Behan and Jamie from sv Totem. Merle, Jan and Jamie spent 2 days prepping the boat – greasing and lubing and adjusting and re-fitting what was necessary, and cleaning and otherwise preparing what was ok. Then we taped the number 17 to our bow, and we raced.

Jan did the mainsail and sheet. He knows a lot about sailing, but is also open to learning new things, which was perfect for his position. We used the mainsail in ways I had never thought of before. He is quite feisty, and has a great positive outlook; a real asset to our motley crew. Behan )pronounced Bee-Ann) baked the most glorious bread and provided decadent lunches every day, as well as being the fordeck crew who ensured smooth tacks and jibes by preventing tangles. She also looked out and called wind changes, proximity to other boats, sighted the marks and gave us great encouragement. And she was the one who gently reminded us to hang off the upside rail (rail bunnies, or rail meat) when we weren't doing anything else. Merle and Jamie ran the aft deck – genoa and asymmetrical sheets and halyards. Merle is very strong, and was great at hoisting and trimming the sails, and at rigging the asymmetrical so that it could be opened easily, dowsed quickly, and even jibed! He also helped me by calling out the speed and bearing, and he makes a very sexy spinnaker pole! Besides sharing duties of the aft deck including winching like a (happy) madman, Jamie was our tactician. He has done a bit of racing, so it made sense for him to call the shots – when to jibe, when to tack, when to let off the mainsail or point higher or lower, when to furl the genoa or dowse the asymmetrical. And all the time watching the other boats and their wind to see what was happening on the course and planning ahead in the best interest of Kenta Anae. Our ears were all tuned in to his words; his positive comments and praise buoyed up the moral of the group, while his calm style and demeanor also transferred into us as we did our respective jobs. And I was the helmsman (helmswoman?) so I steered the boat, and watched only the telltails on the sails and direction; as a result I didn't see out much which is pretty funny for the guy steering the rig! So it was great afterwards to see the race pictures! I also contributed cold drinks to Behan’s amazing lunches. And I did the Kenta Anae pre-race invocation and prayer and the post-race thank you. We made a terrific crew.

I was amazed at the positive attitude of our crew. What a pleasure to sail with this group of people! Even through the tight spots, we were calm and happy. I was the most nervous of all I think, and grateful that it all worked out okay. And we gained great strides over the course of 3 days, both working with each other, and sailing our vessel the best way we knew how. By the third day, we all knew our jobs and could do them well. And we loved each other way more by the end. I would sail with my crew again in a heartbeat. They were awesome.

The first race was Thursday, March 19. Fast, good start, tight sailing with the other boats in extremely close proximity. We came in 4th on the short course, losing 3rd to our closest opponent, Lussino, number 18, a Mexican racing boat. Friday was the long course. Another good start, and then hope for the best with our short (read: slower) hull. An American warship in the bay was our only obstacle besides sailboats. A great day of racing ending with an awesome challenge for the finish line – us with asymmetrical flying between 8 and 9 knots, and Lussino with genoa up ahead of us but at only about 6 knots. We caught up to them fast, and charged across the finish line – only four close seconds after Lussino; a very close race. We ended up with 6th place that day. (We did not know at the time, but our loss to him by 4 seconds made the difference between placing and not placing overall. Who would have thought?) Saturday was the last race, another short race. We thought we had a great start, but it turned out we were over the line. They called us on it and we had to go back and cross the line again – losing both time and distance to the other boats. As we re-started, our tactician kept us on a port tack (wind coming over the port side of the boat, leaned over on our starboard side) rather than following the ‘bad air’ of all of the boats ahead of us on the starboard tack. As we sailed, the wind changed in our favour, and we ended up in a great position, finishing 3rd, and well before our closest opposition. Overall, they gave us 4th place in the racing class! We think that is remarkable considering the training that some of the sailboats undertake for this race. But even better than that was the attitude of our crew, and how good we felt after each race, no matter how we did. We drank beer on the way home, and toasted the crew and Kenta Anae, all with big smiles on. I think it’s the happiest I have ever been when I 'lost'! And in that way, we won! Big time! And recognizing that we did our best and knowing that we could be happy with that was remarkable. That was one of the most important spiritual lessons of the race. Race results and some great photos by Strange Bird are on http://www.banderasbayregatta.com/.

Merle says:
Oh that stupid ham exam was in the way of my preparation. So after I got the 500 questions of nerd-dom downloaded out of the brain, I could focus on what was really important – racing. So luckily (since I am on ‘holidays’) I could go from one job to another and worked for 48 hours on race preparation. So we got some gas out and some brushes and inhaled fumes for the first day, eight winches rebuilt and buttery smooth. And then on the second day we ripped off the dodger, reduced some friction, oh and removed the weight, that’s right too – pulled a bit out of the ends. Luckily the rule book said to remove the anchor – so we removed all the anchors except one (don’t want anyone to hit the back anchor!) Then we practiced for half an hour while there was a introductory parade, showed up at the line green as grass with a good tactician. Something about the usual caribou attitude – pin it till you hit something. And within 15 seconds of the start, we just about hit something - the biggest fastest J-boat race boat in the class. They had starboard tack rights and luckily they had some discretion other wise we’d have had to start a second time or get a hole in our side. The next two hours we learned how much we didn’t know and the intensity levels and learning curves were suitably steep. Tacking your house without losing any speed, and jibing your spinnaker around marks with 18 knots of wind left us with a fairly humble experience. We dualled with the other slow boat in the class for most of the race. And karmically finished fourth, one spot behind the boat who did not t-bone us at the start. Corrected time is a beautiful thing (when you have the highest handicap!) We found that after race 1 we understood that we could hang in there with the racers so we looked forward to race 2 which would show our boat slowness even more as a long waterline has the leading advantage. Day 2 was more relaxed, open starts, longer sessions between frantic boat handling maneouvers, and smoother more experienced crew so we sailed a smooth race and thought we had a good finish in the bag but the waterline monsters sailed faster than us and we ended up with 6th. Little did we know as we were overtaking our nemesis from Mexico (Lussino #18) with our spinnaker flying, in an effort not to lose control of the spinnaker at 9 knots, we gave him some wind, and we finished a mere 4 seconds after him at the finish line, after 23 miles, nose to nose. It was exciting indeed to be hunting down our archrival and have the race course 100 meters too short to beat him. That difference in placement allowed the Mexicans to finish third overall. Day 3 saw us anticipating great boat handling requirements as the triangle windward leeward course demanded accurate sail handling. We wind tested at the start and lined up in our (now) usual ultra aggressive fashion. While trimming Kenta Anae in for max speed at the start and getting starboard tacked by the competitive boats running with us at the line we inched across, not just a little, but the whole frigging boat. Tactician yelling go higher, bowman yelling go lower, helmswoman caught in the middle, we heard the horn. Everyone started, then one boat had to come back. Kenta Anae. It’s like starting a mountain bike race, and with the first 5 cranks of the pedals your front wheel falls off. It’s a bit of a letdown after all the energy you put into a good start.
The penalty for crossing the line early - starting too fast - is to return and cross over the start line again. So the simplest fastest maneouver was to jibe return, cross the line, and head out in the exact opposite direction as everyone else in the field, tacking towards the windward mark. Since we had been doing some manifesting for good wind for just us, now would be an excellent time, and we got it! Clean air and good wind angles had us sailing towards the first turn muy rapido compared to our competitors. Twenty minutes in, we were back up to 3rd and had gotten over our emotional start trauma and pressed on to the finish. With the underdog start, Now the crew with the most to lose became the crew with the most to win. And with everyone focused on making the best of what we had left, we sailed admirably. Tactician Jamie reveled in the ‘lift’ and our lucky break. Helmswoman Allison watched the telltales and spoke to no one. Her only instructions were to sail fast. Mainsheet Jan trimmed the main traveler not for luffing (?) but to help us balance the helm so the rudder could remain straight, and we could go faster. Bowman Merle switched from the a-symetric port to starboard tacks and repacked the tack and clew while hanging onto the boat at 15 to 20 degrees, Kenta Anae’s bow spreading salt water on the decks. Foredeckwoman Behan kept track of everyone else on the course including sail angels (angles?) and wind changes. At the windward mark 1 there were only 2 boats ahead of us over the whole field. Spinnakers were setting and genoas were dowsing. We were becoming a well oiled machine. We flew the asymmetric around the second mark with the intention to jibe it. We had been thinking about this mammoth maneouver for the whole regatta and it still eluded us as to how we could make it happen smoothly. The wind blew, we talked it through. It had been our Achilles heel in race 1 and it would determine how well we did in the last race. At mark 2, helmswoman A carried the boat around the mark, helping the main to blanket the asymettrical and people raced around and winches squealed and everyone waited in anticipation for that thing to reinflate without a twist. It hovered, closed, pulsed, fondled the headstay and by gosh it inflated! The boat surged forward back up to speed on the opposite point of sail. We were doing 8.5 knots. With that maneouver in the bag we were all sure that we could sail and raced merrily along beside half million dollar catamarans from the B class. Only 2 legs left to go. For me the next part of the race was pretty busy and I didn’t get to see out much. It’s a short trip across the course under full spinnaker and good wind. We pulled sails down and put them up and rounded the mark and trimmed, adjusted, and beat to the weather mark. The one good thing about that leg was that we could see the Mexicans far behind us for a change. We beat back to the weather mark for the fourth leg, the wind was stronger the lean angles were greater. Five kids in the boat played down below, sliding from one side of the cabin to the other while we tried to keep the tack angles crisp and winched like demons. We rounded mark 1 for the final leeward leg, a 180 degree turn. We tacked, jibed, dowsed genoa and hoisted the spinnaker all at the same time. Everyone was busy. In the maylay, we lost the sock hoisting rope, dangling 20 feet to the side of the boat and 20 feet off the water from the masthead. There was no way to get it back so the sock hoisted itself, and the spinnaker filled like we had been practicing for years. Sail angels indeed. With that little maneouver underway we were headed for the finish line. Our tactician reminded us we would dowse after the finish line and not a moment before. So that dangling sock halyard, now 45 feet in the air, was going to have to wait. About this time the kids came out to see what we were doing. It was the same as always, other boats around, no one could tell how we were placing, so they went below for more interesting games. Kenta Anae was reaching 9 knots under spinnaker. Everyone was pretty excited knowing we had a good race going and only a little while longer to see how it all turned out. Our helmswoman A, now feeling that she was adept with her craft was putting on sunscreen with one hand, adjusting the chart plotter with her other hand and steering with her forarms. Captain Merle at that point was quick to point out that we were still racing. The spinnakers in the distance were very colorful. We had held onto fourth place as the long waterline boats ripped the downward legs fast. We blew by the committee boat concerned with only one thing – how to dowse the spinnaker without the sock, without running over it, without losing any fingers, and without going aground on the beach towards which we were headed full speed. We talked it over before the finish line, so now was the time to see if it would happen. Jan released the mainsail to blanket the whole operation. We sailed dead downwind to get the most hiding room for dowsing the spinnaker. Fordeck lady B released the tack, mainsheet trimmer J ran the asymmetric sheets, tactician J and bowman M pulled like hell. Fordeck lady B let the cleat go and the previously flaked tack rope zipped out of the blocks so fast that we were glad she didn’t lose a finger, as her body flew forward and landed at the mast. She was quick to recover, and continued to use her body to keep the dowsed portion of the asymmetric under control on deck. Ten seconds later, the head of the sail hit the deck, we opened the hatch and threw the whole soggy mess onto the bed below!! Complete success!! With all the death defying stuff out of the way, we congratulated ourselves on a good race. Matero asked if it was time to drink beer – cheers – and to eat, and sure enough, it was time! We all answered an enthusiastic 'yes'! And as in the previous days, we motored our way home, and fed our bodies and our spirits with ice cold ballenas (beers the size of whales), homemade bread and handmade sandwiches that were the envy of the fleet; the love smooshed out and dripped down your hands! It was a challenge to keep the beer in the glass and the sandwiches off our shirts. We congratulated everyone. White guys were high fiving left and right. At this point, just like the other two days, we had no idea how we finished. And it diddn’t matter. We had just raced our best race in our (very) short racing careers. And all the beurocracy about who won and who lost was immaterial. We got her back to the slip, converted ourselves into concert goers, went out for tacos on the street and live music to celebrate. It was the best music we have found in La Cruz since we have been here – played tableside while we processed endorphins and anticipated the final results. The bean counters awarded us 3rd in the last race for 4th overall, one place behind the Mexican race boat, Lussino that we dualled all weekend. This euphoria lasted several days. We learned more about sailing in 3 days of racing than we had in 5 months of cruising. That was more valuable to us than any hardware at the podium. And now we are more competent cruisers because of it. Our trusty yacht basked in the event without any breakage, took back the anchors, and became a cruising boat and our home once again. We owe a huge thank you to the crew who joined us. Without their help, we would have definitely been outraced. They brought not only valuable lessons to the table, but also the ability to experience the euphoria of success all around. M (One more thing - Merle did pass his ham exams, so he is officially a ham radio operator now!!)

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