Friday, June 26, 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness

I am finding that one of the things I am enjoying most at the sailing club I recently joined is the Wednesday night pursuit race. This week was no exception.

The original pursuit race. 
"The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." - Oscar Wilde
The fox never did agree with the Portsmouth Yardstick for the dogs.

Pursuit races, for the uninitiated, are when multiple one design classes race together with staggered start times. Based on the published handicap numbers for each class - or local variations of those - the start times for each class are set as near as possible to compensate for the different speed of each class so that, in theory, if all the boats were sailed perfectly they would all cross the finish line together after the fixed time set for the race. Of course none of the boats sail a perfect race so the first boat across the finish line should be the best sailor across all the classes. In a club like ours with multiple classes it is a good way for everyone to participate in a race together.

I find it's best not to take any handicap racing, including pursuit races, too seriously. Handicap numbers are at best only an average across all wind conditions, and some classes will do better in light air, others do better when planing is possible, and so on. Moreover in a pursuit race, boats usually start at whole minutes after the slowest class starts so that is another approximation and hardly ever reflects the precise differences in handicap numbers. You can drive yourself crazy if you start worrying about whether your class is disadvantaged in some way by the handicap system or pursuit start times. It's best just to forget all that and focus on staying in front of the fleets chasing you from behind (if you started first) or catching as many boats as you can if you sail one of the faster classes and start later.

The Bloody Mary is a really serious pursuit race for really serious sailors.
It is the largest inland dinghy race held in the UK.
It happens in January.

At my club the Sunfish start first. One minute later the Day Sailers (usually there is only one) start. Two minutes after that the Lasers - now joined by the RS Aeros - start, and the Flying Scots start one minute after the Lasers.

So far this year, before this week, three different Flying Scot skippers have won a race, and the Day Sailer has won one race.

One of the great pleasures of a small lake club like this one is the camaraderie between the sailors on the beach as we rig our boats and get ready for racing. This week was no exception.

Camaraderie on the beach.
Not at Lake Massapoag.

I arrived early and immediately met a man who told me he was going to be crewing on the Day Sailer. We were exchanging information about our sailing backgrounds when we spotted a car with a trailer that seemed to be shuffling backwards and forwards on the boat ramp and basically going nowhere sideways. We hailed the driver and asked if help was required and we gave assistance to unhitch the trailer and push it to where the driver wanted it. I am too gallant to reveal the gender of the driver.

Another sailor arrived whom I recognized as another new member because I had met her at the mandatory safety seminar for new members earlier in the year. (A great idea, by the way. How many other sailing clubs make the effort to make sure all new members are well trained in boating safety?) I knew she had been looking for a used Sunfish in good condition for racing, so we chatted about her new acquisition, a 20-year-old Sunfish in great condition and with new foils. Reminded me of my last Sunfish,  of similar vintage but with teal deck and purple cockpit.

On the beach one of the Flying Scot skippers came over to welcome the lady with the Sunfish to the club and admire her boat. It was the same man who had welcomed me to the club when I first showed up at the beach with my RS Aero. Apparently he has been a member of the club for decades and seems like a really nice guy. Once he left I told the Sunfish lady that he was a really good Flying Scot sailor and probably the man to beat tonight. "If you can stay in front of him you will be doing well." She laughed and said she didn't think that she was that good a sailor.

And so on. You get the picture. Just rigging our boats and chilling out with other sailors and having fun with some friendly banter and help and encouragement to each other

The breeze was surprisingly good for a summer evening. It was certainly stronger than Sunday, 6-9 mph I guess, but with some interesting shifts and variations in wind speed across the course.

The three Sunfish started.

The Day Sailer started.

2 minutes later it was our start.  4 Lasers and 2 Aeros.  My son was sailing one of the Lasers. (I forgot to mention - he has now joined this sailing club too.) I sailed with my 9 rig. The other Aero sailor opted for his 7 rig.

The boat end of the start line was slightly favored and I could see that three of the sailors were setting up to play games of  "Don't go in there!" and "Up up up!" right by the committee boat. So I stayed clear of them and started a little further down the line. I came in below them, got a great start and jumped out into clear air straight away.

The only lady in the Laser fleet was spotting the shifts better than I was on the first beat and we were dueling all the way up that first leg and I was only just ahead of her at the windward mark.

I had thought there was more wind on the right of the course (looking upwind) so I played that side downwind and passed the leading Sunfish, pulled out a lead on the Laser sailor and got the inside overlap at the leeward mark on the Day Sailer to take the overall lead.

On the next beat I went right and the leading Laser went left and that really set her back. I was sailing in good pressure and being lifted into the mark. Down the second run I could hear the wake of the leading Flying Scot behind me getting closer and closer. But he couldn't catch me and I won the race!

So a singlehanded sailor finally won the pursuit race this year! Five different skippers from three different classes have won the five races so far this season. The handicap system might not be perfect but it certainly seems to be giving a number of different classes a chance to win.

Back at the beach my son came over and congratulated me.

The skipper of the Day Sailer came over and congratulated me. (He won the pursuit race a couple of weeks ago when I was second.)

The sailor of the RS Aero 7 told me I had probably ruined the current handicap for the Aero 9.

Whatever. I really can't get worked up about it. If it is decided that Aero 9s should start a minute after the  Flying Scots instead of a minute before them, it really wouldn't bother me.

The RS Aero 9 rig feels to me like the rig that the boat was designed for. It seems to perfectly match the boat. I am sure I will still want to use the 7 rig when it gets really windy - just as many Laser sailors will switch down to a Radial when they are overpowered in a full rig Laser.

Life is good.

I love pursuit races.

I love my RS Aero 9.

I love having an omelette and a glass of wine with my bride at home after the pursuit races.


Anonymous said...

Great fun

Called a stern chaser at our Club but a little more complex as each individual sailor has a handicap

The handicappers challenge is to get all boats to the finish at the same time, seldom done


Tillerman said...

Yes Steve - individual handicaps can be fun too. At my first sailing club in the UK we used to have a multi-day individual handicap event over the Easter holiday weekend. And at my second club the Optimists had some individual handicap racing. It's a great idea - especially as it encourages the beginners by making it possible for them to win.

I've never done an individual handicap pursuit race thought. That sounds like even more fun.

Deborah Bennett Elfers said...

We are trying the first-ever pursuit race between our Club's Bullseye fleet and Herreshoff fleet. We are not as laid back as you guys are... It will be an interesting day, I'm sure, and it promises to be lots of fun sailing the two fleets together, and competing with the boats in the other fleet for a change. More on this later!

Tillerman said...

Look forward to hearing all about it, Deborah!

But whatever gave you the impression that we are "laid back"?

Baydog said...

I love the whole idea of pursuit racing. And I'm surprised it took you this long to join the club that is such a perfect fit for you. Envious as always

Tillerman said...

I am surprised too Baydog. To be honest it was their embrace of the RS Aero that finally tipped the balance. As far as I know the RS Aero fleet at this club is the only active racing fleet on the east coast to date, certainly the only one in New England. So once I knew that I was going to want to go there several times a week, not just a few times a year, it was an easy decision to join.

Keep Reaching said...

Our club also has pursuit races with individual and boat handicaps - lots of fun and a great opportunity for everyone to have a chance to be in the lead (at least for awhile). I still remember my first one when I started first - and very quickly realized I was not following anyone and had to think very hard where the next mark was.

Tillerman said...

LOL KR. I hate being in front too. All that pressure to sail the correct course!!!!

It's much easier to follow somebody else who know where they are going.

Anonymous said...

Didn't you win the pursuit race in Minorca; or is my Laser Legend memory failing me?


Tillerman said...

Wavedancer - I am sure your memory is better than mine so if you say it happened it probably did. But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Tillerman said...

Further research indicates that I won the pursuit race at Minorca Sailing on my vacations there in 2012 and 2103.

The historical record is a little sketchy on what happened in 2014.

Tillerman said...

Now I recall I don't think I entered either of the Friday morning pursuit races at Minorca Sailing in 2014. The first Friday I was there I wanted to sail the RS Aero again but someone else had already reserved it for the pursuit race, so I watched the race for a while from a Laser. And the final Friday I did some touristy things in Mahon with Tillerwoman on our way back to the airport.

Maybe this year I will try and win it in an RS Aero?

SoxSail said...

Did a One-Design pursuit race (I know, oxymoron) in J/80s/22's/24s and Shields on Saturday. Was a ton of fun. Followed it with a simul-start handicapped race. That's also how we'll do the Bullseye/H12 race in July. Going to be a lot of fun. Still working on the H12 handicap though.

bonnie said...

That sounds like a great day. I actually did a paddling race that had a start arranged in a similar way, split up by canoes, sea kayaks, racing canoes, and surfskis - unfortunately that ended up being one of my racing-curse stories because I was in the surfski class, and it was in the Delaware-Raritan Canal, and it was fall, and my rudder kept getting wrapped up in fallen leaves which would simply flutter away when I would stop paddling to see why it felt like I was towing a sea anchor. DFL in the entire race, mortifying! Fortunately the finish line was under a bridge and everyone standing on the bridge could see what was going on with the leaves - one of my friends shouted, "You're dragging a TREE!" - and how my sea anchor vanished the minute I stopped. Still a fun day though.

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