The favorite morning pastime of the group I'm staying with is to divine what the weather will be for the day. We dutifully scan the local and marine forecasts, use the predictwind.com info provided by ILCA, check magicseaweed.com, etc. Its not entirely obvious that this does us any good...
For day three the forecast was for wind from the Northwest at 10-15 knots swinging to the Northeast and "diminishing" by the end of the afternoon, all under bright sunny skies. We sailed out to the day's racing area (in yet another new location) with a fresh Northerly in the 15-20 range. What does all of this mean? As the day progressed, the land heated acting to "diminish" the velocity and, as explained to me, the added "turbulence" over the land caused the remaining breeze to become very puffy and shifty on the race course. To compound all of this, the race committee elected to set up the course with the weather mark very close to the shore and under a small hill. The result was two breezes, one coming in from the left, one from the right with a large transition zone between them, slowly moving back and forth up the middle of our weather leg (I was in the "red" fleet again, sailing the innner loop).
For the first part of the first race the puffs still had enough in them to get out and hiking, but the lulls were back to sitting in. I started at the boat end having channeled the wind gods long enough to guess a right shift coming just about when the start gun went off. I worked off the right side (where the pressure was), taking a few hitches left to get across most of the fleet (see, I can learn from past mistakes!), and, after a few "oops" and "aha's" made it around the first mark in the top group. The leader, by lots, was John McCausland, who, early in the beat, had been sailing to the right on port when I was taking a hitch left. It was clear he didn't see me, so I started to duck him (no issues, I didn't want him tacking on me) when he suddenly realized I was there and tried to turn down to duck me. Ok, we both end in crash tacks, he goes left and gets launched! Well, unfortunately for him, no lead is big enough in these conditions and he ultimately finished 5th in the race, having gotten skunked at the end of the second beat.
The reach and run were uneventful with the fleet actually fairly well packed. Most of the leaders go for the left gate mark because its close and people appear to want to favor the right on the next beat. Having sailed a bit low, I'm in a better position to go for the right gate which is a bit more upwind and has a lot less traffic. As soon as I get around I start to get that sinking feeling that this does not look right, we are headed and its light, so I tack. Unfortunately, Steve Cockerill also tacks about 8 boat lengths ahead in my lane but I figure I better stick here because the left looks weak right now and the guys to leeward going right are looking pretty punched. This turns out to be one of those accidental good decisions, somehow we are in some sort of breeze "seam", with more pressure than the guys to the right and walking away from the boats going left. Pretty soon most of the guys to the right are bailing out and crossing behind us, so now Steve is in top 3-4 and I'm very close behind.
That was the first half of the second beat. The second half started to show how the rest of the day would go. Basically, as you approached the weather mark the puffs started to become more random, the would appear on the water above you but might never move down to you. In San Francisco, when we sail on the City Front, we get shifty and puffy stuff, but I'm used to seeing the puff moving down the water, not staying stationary. Needless to say, its a struggle to figure out how to deal with this and I manage to leak a few boats on both the right and the left spending far too much time in the middle. So, around the weather mark in teens, down the reach, run and final reach passing a few boats, close in on Vann Wilson and the Argentinian on the final beat but not enough to pass and end 8th. Given the conditions, I'm more than happy with that result!
As we set up for the second start the wind was backing off even more. There was still the occasional puff that had us hiking but it was definitely light in the transition area. As we lined up for the start it looked, to me, that there was more pressure to the left and nothing to the right. This with about 3 minutes to go... So, I started to favor the pin end. With a minute to go I was lined up with Andy Roy to leeward when the wind started to evaporate and in no time I was too close to Andy to be able to do anything. With 25 seconds to go I'm doing everything to try to get moving but to no avail. Gun goes off, I'm dead in the water, unable to really drive off with Andy shooting out to leeward. This puts me now behind the line of the front row so am also unable to tack. Then I'm behind the front row and now there is really no wind and I'm in full park. There is no more helpless feeling than watching the entire fleet sail away. As they say, in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead bins...
Interestingly, John Bertrand (and one or two other boats) is also in full park mode, having failed to clear out on port tack and having to spin a couple of circles. With the entire fleet now on port tack in a lift, all heading to the right, John takes off to the left. Waaaaay out there, on the other side of the known world, is a wind line and his going for it. I'm not brave enough to follow all the way, I tack back and figure I'll hunker in for the fight. When next seen, John Bertrand is reaching, on full plane, into the weather mark on a massive private puff, arriving in second place, which he holds to the finish. I guess you don't become a world champion or an Olympic medalist by being conservative in situations like this!
Fortunately for anyone reading this the rest of the race is a blur, consisting mostly of several shots at getting back into the teens only to be thwarted by the above mentioned inability to predict the next puff. An example would be Air Barshi and I crossing each other (me ahead) on the second beat with Ari ultimately finishing 15th. And I would admit that after getting skunked badly on the final 100 yards to the weather mark (losing at least 10 boats in the process), I became rather deflated and might have slipped into cruise mode to the finish. So, my worst race of the regatta, a 32nd and now my discard.
So, the first half of the regatta is now over. I'm standing 21st overall with two single digit races, an acceptable 14th and two discards. Getting to the podium is mathematically possible but will require the remaining six races to a) all be sailed, b) with finishes in top 3, c) some luck with the leaders having some bad races, and d) even more luck with the weather cooperating and bringing back the seabreeze, and the stronger the better. The forecast for Thursday and Friday is promising for the seabreeze so I'm going to be optimistic that its still possible climb back. However, my guess is that I'm going to need to be prepared for some more light air sailing.
This year marks my eighth Masters' Worlds. Only one, Fortaleza, featured the same conditions everyday - breeze from the same direction ranging from 15-20 to 20-25 everyday. All other events have featured a range in conditions, with some light days and some breezier days, some shifty puffy days, some steady days, etc. The winners of the Master Worlds have to be good all around sailors, able to sail fast in light, medium and heavy air while mastering what the weather throws at them. Towards that end, the current leaders of my fleet, and in particular Scott Ferguson and Arnoud Hummel, are showing everyone why they should be at the top. If the breeze does come in, based on the second race of the series, I think Arnoud has a speed advantage upwind but I bet Scott will find a way to stay right with him (hit to Scott: put the bow down and hike a tiny bit harder!). So it will be very interesting to see how this plays out! And, of course, none of this is meant to slight any of the other sailors in the top group, for example Andy Roy, Andy Pimental, Steve Cockerill, Ari Barshi, Peter Vessella, etc. It just seems that for this event that Scott and Arnoud are going to be the two fighting it out in the end.