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Philip Crebbins diary of a Tactician - The SORC

by Philip Crebbin 7 Mar 2001 10:19 GMT

The last time I sailed the SORC was 3 years ago as tactician for an old friend from Canada, Dick Steffen, in his Level 30 Zoo 2, in one of the PHRF classes. We won then, but it proved to be too long ago to provide me with any insight as to what was right this time around! For the 2001 SORC I was pleased to be invited back by Sledd Shelhorse to sail again with his team on the 1D35 Avalanche, after a successful trip to Key West where we had come a close second. The other Brit who was with us in Key West, Ian Finlay, also came out again as bowman. So we had exactly the same team on the boat as in Key West.

Day 1 saw a long delay to wait for the sea breeze to get going and settle down. There was then a further delay when the Farr 40s had a general recall, but instead of sending them off again, the Race Committee decided to ignore the change to the SIs and sent off the 1D35s instead. Confusion reigned and while we were joining in the start a bit late right by the Committee Boat, I informed the Race Committee that we would protest to seek redress. They realised they had not done it correctly, but we were told that they did not know how else to do it! Shortly afterwards, they fired 3 guns with the cancellation flag and proceeded with the starts in the right order.

During this time the sea breeze had shown a tendency to back while increasing slightly to 8 to 10kts. This also meant that the line was slightly port end biased. We could not see any major advantage when watching the Farr 40s, and if anything we thought there was a better line of breeze to the left. We made a perfect start at the pin end and very quickly could have tacked across the fleet. We chose to carry on a while longer, and shortly after tacking the inevitable started happening with a rapid trend towards the right, the likes of which we had not seen before or expected to happen in the way that it did. After it had gone nearly 20o, we tacked back onto starboard in the expectation that such a sudden shift would at least go back some of the way, but of course it went further right still, over 25o in total, and we lost even more. So we rounded the first mark with only two boats behind us and with a big gap before the next group in front.

It took us almost another full lap to catch up and get amongst the next group. We were able to pick off two or three boats at the second windward mark and worked the lanes on the last run to get up to 8th by the finish, better than we feared it would be. This included the satisfaction of getting past Joss, our main rival who had narrowly beaten us at Key West. Loose Ruck did well to win the race, followed by Heartbreaker and Victory (with American John Bertrand on board as tactician).

Day 2 also saw a delay for the sea breeze to fill in, but it came in earlier than the previous day and settled more quickly. Race 2 saw fairly similar conditions to Race 1. The wind moved right a bit before the start to create a slight starboard end bias. With this and what had happened in Race 1, we made a good start near the Committee Boat and, after a few had tacked off behind us, we chose to tack and protect the right. Lo and behold, the wind favoured the left this time and we ended up back in the pack, around 10th at the first mark. At least we did not have to catch up the main group this time and it was a question of working away at the speed and the windshifts to gain what we could. The approach to the leeward gate is always a critical part of this in a tight fleet and we were again able to improve our position there. By the finish we were up to 5th and so felt we were getting back to respectability.

Joss got back into the hunt with a win, followed by Heartbreaker and Victory repeating their first race results.

Race 3 was in a slightly better wind, 13 to 15kts. We still did not get the lanes quite right on the first leg, but there were no really major advantages. We were a bit better off at the first mark in about 6th place, but did not do as good a job as we should have done during the rest of the race. After a good first run we were fighting for 3rd or 4th place, but a slight header combined with the short chop caused us to miss laying the second windward mark by a boat length or so. In a tight bunch this cost us a couple of places. The tactician messed up! We still had to fight hard to the finish to end up with another 5th place.

Heartbreaker won comfortably to establish a strong overall lead, as well as winning the prize for the day. Tabasco was 2nd with Joss 3rd. This brought Joss up to 2nd overall, and 2nd for the day, with Victory 3rd. We were surprised to find that Avalanche was now in equal 4th overall with Extreme, only 1 point off third and 2.25 points off second place. To be in that position after recording 8, 5, 5 in the first three races really shows how tight the 1D35 fleet is and how difficult it is to be consistently at the front. Mind you, Heartbreaker was proving to be the exception here with 2, 2, 1 finishes.

Day 3 saw a good 13 to 15kt breeze from the start which peaked at around 17kts before easing a bit later on. Race 4 saw another port biased line and we won the pin, went a short way before tacking and were launched over the whole fleet. A number of boats passed well behind as they tacked out further to the left, but then the whole group behind and to weather hooked into a left shift with more wind that took them all past. Yet again we were down in about 10th at the first mark, after a start to die for. We went into good recovery mode during the rest of the race, gaining a place or two on every leg. At the finish we were able to use starboard gybe to hold Heartbreaker and Tabasco out from the line and get up to 4th place. Extreme won from Widowmaker, who were starting a very strong finish to the series, and Smiling Bulldog.

Race 5 saw us have our only good first leg and we rounded the first mark in second place behind Widowmaker. This was a longer three lap race and with the Widowmaker team really on song, it took us the whole race to wear them down. We were finally able to apply the starboard gybe trick again at the finish to record our only win of the series. Heartbreaker maintained their tremendous consistency in 3rd place.

The third race of Day 3 had slightly less wind and we were again in the bottom half of the first ten at the first mark. Heartbreaker was leading and Widowmaker was also in the front group and so our chances of winning the daily prize were receding rapidly. We made some gains downwind and worked away steadily back upwind so that we managed to break through to 4th by the second windward mark. Widowmaker was now in our sights in 3rd and we had to get her to win the day. The gap looked too big but we used the waves and the shifts, Brian Bennett doing an excellent job trimming the spinnaker and calling the steering on the waves for Sledd, until we were able to set up the starboard gybe attack coming into the finish. This time they were able to claim water for the mark, but they had to bear away to make it and lost speed in doing so. We crossed the line together and we were sure we had got it by at least a foot! We had to wait until the results were eventually posted, but they confirmed 3rd place and the win for the day for Avalanche, with Widowmaker 4th in the race and a quarter of a point behind for the day. Heartbreaker recorded their second win of the series with Zsa Zsa, having their best race, finishing 2nd.

Heartbreaker was still untouchable in first place overall 12.25 points ahead of Avalanche, but we were now well established in second place. Widowmaker had charged up through the ranks into a comfortable third place, 6.25 points behind us and 6.75 ahead of Joss in fourth.

The possibly violent weather originally predicted for Day 4 did not arrive and in fact the conditions were very good with a 15 to 20kt wind. We were on the left side of the main bunch going towards the right after the start and it was Tabasco and Widowmaker who came out from further right to lead round the first mark. In a very tight group we ended up only about 8th round the mark, but we were helped by Smiling Bulldog fouling the boat in front of us as we approached the mark, and so they had to do a 720. We could not afford to lose any places, but we were seriously threatened by Heartbreaker coming from behind down the run. The turning point in more ways than one was the leeward gate, where we were presented with an opportunity as the whole group in front of us and alongside us, except the leader, went round the port mark, leaving the starboard mark completely free. We then tacked back onto port after we had cleared the rough water near the gate and were immediately ahead of several of the group. We kept a good lane with good speed and were clear in 4th at the windward mark, close to Joss in 3rd. We went fast down the second run and picked the shifts correctly to overtake Joss and finish well clear in 3rd, behind Tabasco and Widowmaker who had led all the way in 1st and 2nd. It made for a better finish to have Widowmaker well within our sights again, with no other boats between us.

Heartbreaker finished 6th to win overall with 19.5 points, having sailed a really excellent series before going on to do battle in the Farr 40 fleet. Avalanche was second with 28.75, Widowmaker was third with 34 followed by Joss with 42.75. Tabasco’s win in the last race brought them up to 5th, only 1 point behind Joss.

Avalanche is now the leader of the 1D35 North American Championship Series for 2001 counting two second places, ahead of Joss with a first and fourth. I hope this means the Brits get invited back again! Unfortunately this may have to be later in the season because of commitments on this side of the pond.

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