Saturday, August 13, 2016

Blind Squirrel Finds Nut

Peter Barton - International RS Aero Class Manager
and coach at RS Aero Performance Clinic at the Gorge

On Thursday, the second day of the RS Aero Performance Clinic at the Columbia River Gorge, the winds were a little less challenging than on the first day, perfect for practicing the topic of the day: straight line boat speed on all points of sail.

Peter Barton took us through all the key aspects of the topic. That's Peter in the photo at the top of the page. There is no truth in the rumor that Peter was given that Chevy Camaro by RS Sailing as a bonus for helping them to sell over 1000 RS Aeros within two years (although he certainly deserves such a bonus for all his efforts.). In any case, a good sturdy Volvo with a roof rack would be much more practical for a man like him.

Where was I? Where am I? What were we talking about?

Oh yes, there was no wind in the morning on Thursday so we listened to Peter explaining how to go fast in an RS Aero and I took copious notes (which I now find are almost illegible.) The wind filled in at lunchtime and we went out to practice what we had learned.

After a few windward-leeward races with the fleet working on high modes and low modes and reaching angles and running angles and how not to get stuffed on the start line, I decided to go off on my own and do lots of slow tacks aiming to fix the deficiency in my footwork that I had discovered on the first day of the clinic.

After a few gazillion very slow, but gradually improving, tacks I rejoined the fleet for a long downwind race up the river. This only served to confirm that (a) I am on the heavy side for the RS Aero 7 rig in these conditions and/or (b) I am not very good at sailing downwind in an RS Aero.

Of course after racing for two miles downwind we had to finish off the day with a two mile upwind race. I pondered the strategy. I didn't have a clue what the wind was doing, or more importantly what the wind would do in the next half hour, but there was certainly more favorable current on the right hand (Washington) side of the river so I decided my strategy was to go right and stay in the channel. I started near the starboard end of the line (which was actually a government mark for the edge of the channel) and tacked to port as soon as I could. About half a dozen RS Aero 9s (larger sail area than my Aero 7) started 30 seconds later.

It soon became apparent that most of the Aero 7s were heading left to the Oregon shore of the river, and only a couple of other Aero 7s came to the right with me. Whereas almost all the 9s went right.

Hmmm!  I wonder why?

Anyway I tried to adjust my sail controls to keep the boat powered up in the wind conditions and hiked as hard as I could. I was in clear air most of the time and didn't have to deal with any other pesky sailors crossing me or making me tack, so I could just concentrate on getting in the groove, as they say, and sailing as fast as I could (which after all was the topic of the day.)

I was expecting to be passed pretty soon by the Aero 9s but it didn't happen. Maybe they were slowly gaining on me but they weren't catching me. One other Aero 7 sailor was sailing much higher than me but I decided to keep the bow down and sail low and fast, just to see what would happen.

Eventually it was time to head back left cross the river to the finish line near the Oregon shore and it became apparent by now that the strategy of staying in the channel had worked out... big time. The first few boats to cross the finish line had all gone right. The race was won by an Aero 7 sailor who in a former life was one of the best Sunfish sailors in the world. And I was passed just before the finish by one Aero 9 sailor who in his former life was one of the best Laser Masters sailors in North America. And I took third (out of 22 boats.)

Not too shabby for an old guy.

Me crossing the finish line not sailing very flat
Yes, those little white dots in the distance are in the same race

And so to dinner with a few fellow sailors at the Thunder Island Brewing Company which apparently is an "adventure based" brewery whatever that means.

Coming soon - what to do when the downwind distance race is actually upwind... and a poll of what RS Aero sailors think about beer vs sailing.

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