I still have some things to learn about racing on Lake Michigan. The first thing is not to put much stake in the weather forecast. The second thing is to forget about using the furler when racing. For several days before the race the forecast was for consistent moderate to strong (12-20 knots) wind from the SSW. The Chicago-to-Waukegan race looked like a reaching spinnaker sleigh ride so I planned to use the new A3. The returning Waukegan-to-Chicago race looked like an upwind slog in heavy air so I put the No. 3 jib on the furler and thought we’d maybe need a reef. I figured using the furler would mean fewer sails in the cabin and more space for the crew sleeping over on Saturday night. I did bring along the furling No. 1 jib just in case. Debbie and I went onboard Friday evening and were happy that the boat was in her slip at Burnham when a strong band of thunder storms came through around 2 AM with 30 knot gusts before the rain.
On Saturday morning there was a good breeze from the SSW. We started the race using the A3 spinnaker and were making over 8 knots for the first 30 minutes or so. Then the wind dropped and changed direction. We could see the spinnakers on the boats ahead collapsing as the wind started to come in from the NE. At one point while getting our spinnaker down we were headed south with barely steerage way and narrowly avoided one of the other boats slowly heading north (the direction to Waukegan). Most of the other boats quickly broke out No. 1 jibs but we were stuck with the No. 3 on the furler. Still expecting the wind to fill in from the south I stayed with the No. 3 but this cost us some ground against the other boats in our class. After a while the wind did fill in from the E and then shifted to the SE and we were able to raise the A3 again and started passing other boats although most of the boats in our class were far ahead by this time. Life was good as we hit 10 and 11 knots at times. A we sailed neck-and-neck with a J/44 for that part of the race. Unfortunately, the wind became fluky and shifted more to the south so we found ourselves needing to sail deep downwind and gybe several times in the failing wind the last 5 miles or so to the finish line. The gybes were, however, executed competently. The A2 (runner) spinnaker would have worked better than the A3 (a reacher) at this point in the race. We finished in 20th place out of 25 with an elapsed time of 3:47:09 (h:m:s) which was 16:14 after our sister ship, Jahazi, who finished second in our section. Interestingly, we corrected over the J/44 which finished 3 minutes ahead of us, but rated 30 to our 48.
After the race we proceeded to our slip in the nearby Waukegan Marina. Tying up went smoothly enough although the young dock ladies sent to assist us did not seem to know how to control a heavy boat by passing a line around a cleat. The weather in Waukegan Saturday afternoon and night was surprisingly pleasant given the predicted high temperatures for the weekend. Gary and Igor departed for obligations at home (for future reference the Metra train has a stop in Waukegan) with Gary to return in the morning. This left five of us to sleep on the boat – Stash and Dave in the main cabin, Billie in the quarterberth, and Debbie and I in the forward V-berth. Sleeping in the cockpit was also an option that night.
In the morning we had a breakfast of coffee (brewed in our new larger percolator), fruit, and pancakes. The weather was fine and there seemed to be a good breeze from the south. There was in fact a moderate breeze from the SSW of about 10 knots. I expected this to freshen so we started using the No. 3 jib which put us at a disadvantage at the start. It became even more of a disadvantage when the wind died and we were becalmed near shore while other boats were able to chase the better winds further offshore. Urged by the crew to get going, we got the No. 3 down and put up the large No. 1 jib. While we were doing this we found the jib halyard clutch would not engage and we were forced to leave the line on the winch. This would have been inconvenient later as the winch is needed for other halyards. Fortunately, Gary was able to figure out the problem and make the clutch usable again. Then started a long series of upwind tacks with the wind alternately strengthening and weakening mainly from the SSE.
The wind died off consistently when we tacked inshore but these tacks were the ones which took us mostly in the direction we needed to go. At one point we found ourselves near Flying Spaghetti Monster , a J/35 and an experienced MORF boat, so we followed her tack-for-tack for a while before going off on our own again. Getting the jib trim right is particularly important for upwind work and although we moved the jib car we just couldn’t seem to get it right. It wasn’t until fairly late in the race that I realized (after Stash said the jib was not hoisted all the way up) that the sail was tacked to the deck instead of the furler drum ( as that sail should be). Once we fixed that, the trim got better.
About 10 miles out from Chicago the wind picked up coming from the SW and we could hold a course to the finish line. Our weather apps told of 17 knot gusts at the 4M crib but we stayed with the No. 1 jib which suited the conditions where we were. When we were about 4 miles from the finish line we started to experience stronger gusts up to 20 knots and controlled the heeling by dropping the traveler and easing the mainsheet. The best approach would have been to switch to the No. 3 jib at this point but this would have been time consuming with the sail on the furler (can’t use the second groove in headstay foil to hoist second sail) and we were near the end of the race so I stayed with the No. 1. Then came a particularly strong gust and, seriously overpowered, we headed up into the wind the sails flogging.
At times like this the owner sees dollar signs flying away from the sails so I called for furling the jib, not a great idea under these conditions with a bulky furler. Lowering the sail can also be difficult in these conditions. A better approach would have been to foot off and head downwind, thus reducing pressure on the sails until the gust abated. In any event the furler jammed before we could get the sail all the way furled. This did reduce the pressure and we continued toward the finish albeit at greatly reduced speed. Pretty soon the gust did abate and we were able to unroll the sail from the furler and continue on our way.
We were the last boat in our section to finish with an elapsed time of 6:25:49. We would have needed to knock an hour and a half off our time to finish mid fleet. The finish itself was a bit exciting as we overtook a slower boat about 50 yards from the finish in a gust of wind and finished a few seconds ahead. Before the gusts we were overtaking Flying Spaghetti Monster but they handled the gusts better than we did and finished 1:17 before us; however, our elapsed time was less than theirs. They also had trouble finding the wind as the other MORF J/35, Alpha Puppy, finished 1:24:08 ahead of them.
When we went to lower the jib after the race, we found it was jammed and couldn’t be lowered. Fortunately, the jam was at the foil feeder at the bottom of the sail and we cleared it by removing the foil feeder, a small fitting held in place by a screw. The wind was blowing about 20 knots by now and Debbie and Gary decided it would be a good time to practice reefing the main although everyone was tired from a full day of racing (so it approximated what it’s like under racing conditions at 3 AM). A first and a second reef were duly tied in with good sail shape. This was a first for several crew members and necessary experience before the Mac which is coming up in about a month.
Some general comments: It’s important to be prepared for any wind strength and direction no matter what the forecast is. A better strategy is needed for being where the wind is. Even the if the furler had worked perfectly (it manifestly doesn’t), it still significantly impedes sail changes and it’s important to have the right sail for the race conditions at all times. Overall, our sail handling was pretty good, especially with the spinnaker. We had some problems with upwind jib trim which too long to sort out. The B&G instruments would be more useful if they were properly calibrated. We need Oscar working again. The race summary sent out by the organizers claimed the boats who stayed inshore enjoyed consistent wind conditions but that wasn’t what we experienced.