What a great race!
The forecast for the Chicago - Michigan City – Chicago Regatta had been predicting 95F weather and high winds for a week, so we were all a little bit nervous when the weather was only in the 80s that day. Would the wind hold up? It would be nice to zip around the lake with 15+ knot winds for a 65 mile race.
Race start was at 1955, and we had the #1 up, with the JT ready for action. With the forecast winds, it was looking like a “Jib Top-o-Rama” kind of evening (and morning!) but we were looking for maximum speed.
We had a clean start, and good speed off the line, even though it seemed like the wind was dying off, just a little bit. After the first mile or so, we knew we would be able to hold the Reacher, so we readied that sail, hoisted, and accelerated away.
Rounding the crib, our slight course change made it just a little too difficult to hold the chute, and we were better off cracked off a bit with the #1, so we shifted gears back again, dropped the spinnaker, and continued with excellent boat speed. Free Agent and On Edge were both just off and behind our right stern, and Runaway and Michela were low of us, with Runaway having a slight edge in speed.
As night fell, the winds actually increased a little bit, and we shifted down to our #2 jib, still with a full main. The boat handles really well with a full main right up to 20+ knots of wind, so as long as we had the weight on the rail, we could still sail fast.
We held this basic configuration across the lake for most of the night, enjoying a great reach for the mark, but never getting to the point we could get our spinnaker up again, which would have given us even better boat speed. We were just too close to the wind to allow that, but the wind was nit anywhere near the angle we needed for the JT (which we stowed.)
A few miles out of Michigan City, the wind had lightened enough that we went back to the #1, and dropped the #2 down the hatch to clear the decks. We followed our progress with the GPS, so that we’d be ready to make our call in, and decide what we needed to do tactically to round the mark fast and head back even faster. We flipped the gear so that we’d be ready for the spinnaker on the broad reach we would have for the 3rd leg (Michigan City – Hammond,) and listened to the radios.
2 miles out, we heard Eagle’s Wings 1 mile call in. This was pretty good! After a 30 mile race, we were only 1 mile behind a well sailed Section 1 boat, that owed us a good 45+ seconds/mile. Not that they are in our section, but it’s a good yardstick to measure ourselves and our performance. We heard Runaway, who owed us quite a bit of time, as one of the fastest boats in our section, call in as I went down to make our own call in. We were right behind her in the dark.
We were still regularly hitting numbers of 7.5 to 8.5 knots, so the night had been an excellent sprint. It was midnight, we had started at basically 8PM, and we were already across the lake!
We rounded the turning mark in a tack, fell off, and… well… still too high to carry the spinnaker. Ouch, this was getting funny. We had just made a 150 degree course change, and the wind changed to once again be just a bit too far forward to carry the sails that would make us our fastest— essentially, our biggest advantage had to remain unused at this point.
So, we settled in to trying to pick off the boats that were just ahead of us. We had a sprit boat that had been taking us up, had passed us, and we were chasing it down, our goal to pass it at some point. The funny part was this boat is Night Hawk, a boat that rates quite a bit faster than we do, but we did a good job trying to keep up with her!
Eventually the wind came around again, and it looked like we would be able to send up our Spinnaker, so we got her ready, knowing we’d be strapped in pretty tight, but the speed advantage would probably be something we could make the most of.
For the next 7 miles, we would regularly carry 8.5 knots with the chute up, but it was a very harrowing ride at 0200 in the dark. The Main Sail was basically just giving us a little push, and everything was being driven by a strapped in spinnaker. We could barely hold our course to the mark, which we could not see, especially since it is an unlit buoy. Who the heck decided that? Of course, we were still sailing fast, and if we needed to, Don could just feather up, we’d flap the spin a little bit, and then off we’d go again.
Rounding the Crib to start the final leg just before dawn was breaking, we could hear the boats making their 1 mile call in from the finish. Lots of section 1 and 2 boats. We were about 2 miles from the finish and we heard Runaway call in. We could not recall how much time they would owe us, so we knew it would be close. It seemed as if nobody had passed us in the night; certainly nobody in our section. We had passed Princess M as we headed to the crib, and Jahazi the J120 was right in front of us rounding the Crib. They had sailed too high, and were just not fast enough deeper downwind to make efficient us of their big a-sail.
We did a little fast sailing, and passed Jahazi (which rates 21 seconds faster than us) just a mile from the finish. I made our call-in, and we just worked at maximizing our speed over the last few hundred feet. Jahazi never caught us, and it was a happy crew that took the finish 8 hours and 44 minutes after the start.
We had sailed all night, and except for catnaps on the rail, pretty much nobody slept. Everyone put their energy into the race, and we knew we had sailed well. After getting the finish times, we had corrected over Runaway by nearly 2 minutes.
First Place feels really nice.