Atlantic Cup - wrap up summary

Friday, 01 June 2012

Leg 1      Charleston to New York

Saturday’s start was off the Charleston Maritime Center, headed south down the city waterfront. The fleet was hard on the wind, and then had to beat out the harbor, dealing with three freighters and very restricted water.

Clearing the end of the jetties, Merf and I put our plan into action, which was a simple one. The forecast called for light air on Sunday, related to the high-pressure system that was moving over the east coast. Those kind of conditions play well to Dragon’s design, but we wanted to be able to use the Gulf Stream to our advantage, getting its 3+ knot push as well as the apparent wind it would create. So right from the start, we knew we wanted to get east.

Easier said than done. To get there, we were hard pressed on starboard tack under the solent all Friday night. Most of the fleet opted for a more direct route and footed off for some speed. Then, to compound our challenge we were headed, sending us in towards shore and Wilmington. We eventually tacked out on Saturday morning, as did the rest of the fleet. We crossed tacks with several of the boats, and it was here that we could have taken the easier route and reattached ourselves to the fleet. We thought that would be too much follow the leader, and still believed that we were going to be hit with soft air on Sunday and wanted to get to the stream. So hard on it we went, heading east. Winds remained north easterlies, and 10 to 15 knots in speed.

Thing is, once you do that there is no going back. If you try to turn back half way out there, the fleet will have left you for dead. You cannot just half-heartedly try to get there – you have to own it. And own it we did. It was the kind of investment that involves putting your watch, car and house keys on the top of the pile of chips and spinning the wheel.

It was not until Saturday night, at 2000 hours, that we knew the bet was going to pay off. We quickly moved from a 0.5 knot adverse current to a positive push of four or more knots.

Ultimately this current vaulted us from last to a shot at 5th place, we suspected and expected because of the miles we’d sailed to to be in last place at this point, although we didn’t know that for sure. By Saturday morning we had lost the Inmarsat and with it any ability to download weather or position data. So while we knew that our Gulf Stream run had been fun and productive, we had no idea what it had done for us.

We saw our first other competitor since the start on the last day of the race twelve hours or so from the entry into New York, which was completed in dark and was both challenging and exciting. The distraction of sailing towards one of the world’s most iconic skylines, lit up at night, and passing under the skirts of the Statue of Liberty was something very special.  On this first leg we ended up with seventh. While we fought for fifth, and frankly would have loved first, it is difficult to be too upset at a mid-pack finish in what is a fleet of very well prepared boats and extremely talented sailors. What was even more cool is the very tight finish, and the wide distribution of design talent and age in the top finishing boats.

1. Mare – a 2011 Manuard
2. Campagne – a 2011 Pogo S2 / Finot
3. Bodacious Dream – a 2011 Farr
4. Gryphon Solo 2 – a 2010 Lombard
5. Eole – a 2010 Lombard design
6. Seven Star – a 2006 Pogo 1 / Finot
7. Dragon – a 2007 Owen Clarke
8. Transportation Coherence – a 2006 Nacira
9. Icarus – a 2007 Rodger Martin
10. Initiatives – a 2008 Simon Rogers

After more than three days of racing, less than 4 hours separate first from tenth, with a further four boats making up the rest of the fleet. In those three days of racing, positions changed almost constantly between the entire fleet including these top ten boats. Of the top ten, eight designers are represented and six years of design evolution are represented and yet the racing was tight and exciting across the fleet.

If there is another sailing class in the world that provides this kind of diversity, this kind of design longevity and this kind of exciting racing all in one class….. I can’t think of it.

Leg 2      New York to Newport RI

Regarding the run to RI, I am trying to figure out how feel about the results. The initial reaction is crushing disappointment with an 11th place finish. But after the benefit of 3 hours of sleep and a bit of caffeine, I can find the positive in the outcome.

We had a great race seventy miles down to Barnegat. The boat moved well, we made the right routing and sail plan choices. The results showed that we could be at the front of the pack when we rounded in what was effectively a drag race. We rounded that mark feeling pretty good about ourselves, sitting in second and with a decent feel for the fleet's capabilities.

The segment from Barnegat to Newport was where the wheels began to wobble. Primarily, it came down to a navigational choice. The wind was on the nose, and I went at it as a fairly simple exercise of picking the favored board. That sent us up initially to the north on starboard, then east on port, then north again on starboard all the way to the Long Island shore as the wind shifted back and forth. We were basically in phase with Halvard and Miranda on Campagne who were always in sight through Sunday afternoon.

Imagine my surprise when we got up to Long Island, back into cell phone range (we still had no access to weather or positions through the Inmarsat), and discovered that the boats that went east did an end run around us. But I also can't really fault the choice I made - it was logically correct for what I was looking at. The boats that went east just made a better choice. 

I do feel a bit bad about the last 20 miles, where at least 3 boats managed to get past us. We failed to cover Toothface and chose to cover Picoty instead. In retrospect, I should have slid east a bit to put a controlling cover on both boats. Instead of tacking I also kept crossing my fingers for a lift that kept teasing us with little shots of righty and then soul crushing returns to 082 to 086 TWD.

Then in the final two miles, we just had some bad luck with a wind hole that we fell into. We chose to get to the west side of the passage in a belief that the north easterly would effectively be blanketed on the east side of the passage by the land mass. Not the case - we flopped around in 3 knots of air over on that west side with the Code 0 up while over on the east side of the passage Eole Generation Suez was able to simply sail right through us with a bit more pressure and much better angle. That was just the stiff, swollen, fickle finger of fate.... it could have just as easily been us that caught a break and been able to reel in Toothface or Gryphon Solo.

Ultimately, the finish order was so tightly compacted it was amazing. 3 hours 30 minutes for the entire fleet. When we finished, it was with a pack of 6 or 7 boats that all finished within minutes of one another. Sail 240 miles, much of it out of sight of one another and then trade tacks with a pack of boats in the last 3 miles? It is amazing racing, another incredible endorsement for what this Class is all about.

Inshore racing – Newport RI

Saturday dawned foggy, with a front sitting south of Newport and bringing moderate south easterlies to the harbor. Winds blew 9 to 14 knots with a short period of 17 knots during the afternoon. The fog slowly burned off across the morning, and by the second race it was no longer a factor. Racing started on time at 11, and consisted of three races.

The first two races consisted of upwind starts headed south down towards Castle Hill and Bevertail. Quite frankly, our starts in those first two races were weak sauce and we were second or third rank off the line. In the first race we were forced to the east and out of the wind pressure, while the western boats saw both more pressure and a lift. We never recovered from that, and we also had two sail handling fumbles that did not help. However, our downwind sailing was quite strong, and we made up ground on virtually every other boat in the fleet. While we were seventh, we actually had 3 boats directly in front of us at the finish line and there was some reason to feel optimistic.

The second race, however, did not help. We had a bad start with what we felt was some interference from Mare that we protested but ended up losing. That put us off our game, and then we were less than brilliant with the upwind leg. The downwind legs were again done quite well, making up ground in the fleet. We finished at the back end of a very tight pack of the middle boats, but it still meant 9th place.

The third race we finally started to pull it together. A downwind start helped, and then we just made the boat move well. Good communication, good sail handling and great trim put us into a solid third place result and was a good way to finish the day on a positive note.

Sunday saw very light northerlies on the course, and right at the scheduled start the wind shut down as it went into a predicted shift towards the south. When it filled back in enough for a 40 minute delayed start of the first race, it was initially from the east and then from the ESE. It never got above 9 knots.

The first course sent us south on a reaching start, and involved reaching, upwind, reaching, running and upwind work. We nailed the start at the front of the pack and had an excellent race to finish second to Mare and both of us solidly in front of the rest of the boats. For the final race, we again had a start to the south, with a reach that turned into a tight reach / beat on the first leg. We capitalized on our strong start by using a code sail in very close hauled configuration to be able to get down the first leg with the fewest tacks of any of the boats. We rounded with a very wide lead on second place and then went into another reach on the other board towards the second mark on what was a fairly short leg. Our rounding was perfect, and we continued to extend on the other boats that were struggling somewhat with the rounding and wind that was starting to fade. Rounding the second mark we launched the kite and chose to head in towards Brenton Reef. We really legged it out on the fleet in this last section, and finished the race as much as 10 or more minutes in front of the next boats. It was a bit of a horizon job, and a great way to finish the day and the entire Atlantic Cup.


We ended up with third for the inshore, and sixth for the entire Cup. While I certainly would like to have been higher up, it also felt good to perform well against some intimidating competition. The racing in all three legs was exciting and challenging, and the spirit on shore at the docks and bars was loose and fun. Hugh and Juliana did an unbelievable job at putting on a fantastic event. Thanks to them, the other competitors and all the people who followed the race and visited the docks in each of the three cities. This year's edition has been one of the high points of my sailing career so far.


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