"It's like coming to play in a neighborhood pick-up baseball game only to find that some of the players are members of the Red Sox." So said NewportPatch in describing the experience of sailing in the Newport frostbite fleet - Frigid Frostbiters Sail Newport. I wrote a post on a similar theme myself at Strangers in which I wrote about the sailing hotshots whose transoms I saw disappearing into the distance every week.
What's true of frostbiting in Newport is also true, to some extent, of sailing in some of the major Laser regattas around here in the summer. The depth of talent at the top of the fleet is remarkable. I sometimes forget, as I thrash around the course in the bottom half of the fleet at these regattas, that the sailors at the top of the fleet have sailing achievements to their credit that I will never be able to match.
It's good to sail against great sailors some times. But some times it's also fun to go and race with regular folk, local club sailors who aren't all-Americans or World Champions or America's Cup professionals. Some times it's good not to play the Red Sox
That's what I found at the Lipton Cup Regatta at Squantum Yacht Club in Quincy on the weekend of July 16/17. There was a bunch of Laser sailors from local fleets who don't travel to regattas much, and a few kids (complete with Mommy Boat) from a local junior sailing program. The top seven or eight sailors were pretty much all of the same standard, i.e. Tillerman standard not Red Sox standard. It made for a laid-back, fun event where any one of us at any time might take the lead, and I think the nine races were won by seven different people.
On Saturday the winds started very light from the sea, under five knots I would guess. I've written before at Beast of Burden how very heavy sailors (more specifically this very heavy sailor) can sometimes do well in these conditions. In the first race I got a good start, poked out in clear air ahead of the fleet and had a healthy lead at the windward mark and held on to score the win. Woo hoo!
In the second race one of the kids went off like a rocket and things looked ugly on the downwind leg as everyone was trying to win the left side of the course for that valuable inside overlap at the leeward mark. As the wind died even more, I was somehow able to coast away from the bunch and have a lead of several boat lengths at the mark (probably due that magic go fast setting for my vang downwind that I had secretly copied off the boat of a certain Masters World Champion at a regatta last year.) Second win to the Tillerman. Woo hoo again!
Then things went pear shaped. I was sheeting in for another amazing super-wonderful start in the third race when something went bang, my traveler went loose, and I looked back to see that one of the screws holding my port traveler fairlead had sheered off, leaving the stump of the screw flush with the deck. What should I do? Go back to shore and attempt a repair? Did I even have the tools or a replacement screw to effect such a repair on the beach? The fairlead had twisted around and was holding on by one screw and the winds were still light so I carried on racing. Even though my results for the final three races on Saturday didn't match my wins in the first two, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that at the end of the day I was only two points out of the lead, tied on points with three other sailors for second place (and winning that tie for second on account of my two wins.) I hung out at the club for a while and consumed a couple of beers (of course) before heading over to my son's house for the night.
On Sunday morning I repaired my boat and we headed out for more racing in a stronger breeze, coming off the shore this time. It took me several races to notice that the best strategy was to head left for the beach, where you would find a nice shift to lift you into the mark. Duh! It's definitely one of my faults that I don't observe which side the race leaders are coming from and process that information for future races. (Maybe now I've written it down I will not be so bad at this?) So my results for the first few races were pretty mediocre.
The wind built steadily throughout the day and was blowing dogs off chains by the time of the final race. Somebody told me afterwards that it was measured at 28-30 knots. I find that hard to believe but it was certainly "tighten all the controls and hike as hard as you can" weather on the Tillerfort scale. It was definitely a help in these conditions (a) to be a heavy bastard and (b) to be able to keep the long pointy thing aiming at the sky downwind. As a result of these two skills acquired from (a) a lifetime of beer drinking and (b) being too lazy to have to deal with all that swimming around and climbing on the daggerboard nonsense, I managed to score a second in the final race, only being beaten by some ringer who claimed he hadn't been in a Laser for thirty years but whom I later discovered (thank you Mr. Google) was recently a national sailing champion in some other class in some European country.
I didn't win the regatta. And I think the published results are wrong. A few days later, one of the other sailors and I managed to convince each other based on our "perfect" memory for every sailor's finish in every race that he won the regatta and I was third.
But it doesn't really matter. It was a helluva lot of fun for a change NOT to be playing the Red Sox.