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Puma Twilight Series Race 9 - 7th December, 2011

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A short overview of this race showing how light conditions were

Race in a nutshell: 7th December, 2011
Position PHRF Class 1 Spin: DNF and 1st but it's a long story....
Total Entries: 22
Distance: 8.5nm.
Max Speed: 12.7 knots
Ave speed: 4.1 knots
Time: 2 hr 05 mins 15 secs
Weather Forecast: Cloudy. Wind NW 15 knots Temp 19C
Weather Actual: Cloudy. Wind WNW 1 to 20 knots. Temp 22C
Course: 10 (S) – Landfall (S) - Milnerton (S) – No. 4 (P) – Finish (P)
Seas: Lumpy/Swell 2.5m.
Sails: Full Main (Quantum), No. 1 Genoa (Quantum), A2 Asymmetric Spinnaker. (North)
Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Charles Crosby (Genoa/Spinnaker), Phill Rentschler (Main), Craig Preston (Pit), Allesandro Napoli (Mast) Joshua Banks (Bow), Total: 505 kg

Materially prejudiced
S Mostly we come off the water after racing feeling fairly good about life. After this race, we all felt crappy. It had everything to do with fairness and we felt we had been prejudiced. It has happened before to many boats and will continue to happen in the future, but as always, there are lessons to be learned. In this race, we had sailed really well – under very tricky, light wind conditions, to stay right up with the 40 footers. We knew we were in with a good chance for a podium finish, when the call came over the VHF that there would be a strict cut-off time applied of 20h00. Our GPS showed we might just make it. We raced for 2 hrs 5mins and 15 secs., in the process missing the cut-off time by 15 seconds. When we calculated our corrected time, we would have had a tie for 1 st place with the A35 “Docksafe”. They finished 2 minutes ahead of us and made the cut-off. We did not, and went from a 1 st to a DNF. That cost us four positions on the overall series results as well. So, from a purely moralistic perspective, any handicap race should not have a single cut-off time. If it was a one design race of course, its not an issue. In essence the race committee is allowing a faster boat to finish, but not a slower boat, even though on corrected time, the slower/smaller boat is actually winning. I think you get the point. So how can we solve this dilemma?

A Solution
Well, there is a way. Sometimes, it is necessary to have a cut-off time. This race was one of them. There was a sponsor to keep happy, food being served, prize-giving, the Volvo Mar Mostro crew were at the clubhouse for a Q&A, so yes, there needed to be a cut-off time. However, to keep the playing field even, the cut-off time has to be applied to the slowest boat in each division, not the fastest. Each boat therefore, has to have its own individual cut-off time. In the Spinnaker Div 1 fleet, the boat with the lowest rating is ourselves at 1.080 and the boat with the highest rating is Unleashed at 1.255. Working with a laptop and a spreadsheet, it is therefore a simple matter to quickly calculate an individual cut-off time. So Regent Express, being the smallest boat with the lowest rating would have a cut off time of 20h00 and Unleashed being the fastest boat with the highest rating would have a cut off time of say, 19h32. Everyone else in that fleet would fit in somewhere in between. It would then only require the RO to read those cut-off times out over the VHF. That would be fair to everyone and I am sure there would be no complaints.

Many of the longer races, like the Mykonos Offshore, also require a cut-off time. In the past it has been midnight. We surely cannot expect the race committee to stay awake all night for us! Just like they calculate staggered start times for pursuit races, so cut-off times can be calculated well in advance too. We will always end up with a smaller boat having the potential to win on handicap, end up with the door shut in its face and some very unhappy and disgruntled sailors back on shore. The problem will continue to rear its head until we have the will to fix it. That was a long whinge, but it needed to be said. We were materially prejudiced.

Gloomy Weather
On to the race itself. It was a gloomy, overcast evening, with a very light westerly blowing. With heaps of starboard bias on the start line, the entire fleet were at the pin and almost everyone was early. We decided to hang back and wait for a gap at the pin, even if it meant being a few seconds late. It was vital to get that starboard favoured track up the first beat. In front of us the IMX40 ‘Lobelia' luffed the J133 “Speed of Yellow”. Both boats were very close to the pin. The J133 tried to keep clear, but in the process of luffing up, their stern hit Lobelia amidships to the sound of a sharp crack. Something must have broken. The J133 went to windward of the pin and proceeded to do its penalty turn. It left a perfect gap for us to slide into and we had a beautiful start, right where we wanted to be. The wind speed was perhaps 3 or 4 knots, so we wanted to tack as little as possible and try to stay in what little breeze there was, at all costs. It was great being able to stay in front of Puma Unleashed for a good few minutes.

It was agonizing stuff getting to Landfall with holes appearing everywhere. Soon the first VHF calls started coming through from boats retiring from the race. Things were not looking good, but at least we were still very much in close proximity of the big boats in our fleet. We drifted around landfall buoy doing perhaps a quarter of a knot together with the J120 and the A35 right on our tail. We spent the next 20 minutes flopping listlessly downwind under a collapsing spinnaker in the general direction of the next mark – Milnerton.

Wind! At last!
A dark rain cloud started heading our way and with it came some fresh breeze, at last. The wind backed and we found ourselves overpowered and headered, unable to lay the mark. We briefly touched on our maximum speed for the afternoon of 12,7 knots, then took the kite down, to do a fast two sail reach to the Milnerton mark. A long beat awaited us, but at least there was steady breeze to work with. We tacked out under Docksafe and headed offshore as it looked like the usual inshore popular pattern in a westerly was not working. The boat felt good and we had picked up a nice lift on port tack. We were overtaking an L34 (from Div 2) to leeward, when we noticed they were falling down fairly quickly onto our high point mode, so we decided it would be best to tack clear of them. It would require a minor dip, even though we would be the right of way boat. We went for the tack and two seconds later the L34 tacked on top of us. Their skipper did catch up with me in the bar later, sheepishly offering a beer as a peace offering. It was just a blonde moment for him, but it cost us the race. That mystical 15 seconds we needed was lost right there. We slowed right down, then had to tack again immediately onto port with almost no boat speed.
Touch and Go
The sun had set and we were well into the twilight zone as we closed in on the No.4 buoy. Charles had his stopwatch out and was counting the time down for us. Talk about pressure! With two minutes to go, we heard Docksafe cross the line for their hooter. We crossed just 15 seconds beyond the cut-off time and watched in dismay as the bridge crew shuffled out the bridge out without so much as a glance at us.
Not unlike the timekeeper in the Comrades Marathon who turns his back on the approaching runners ( to prevent his emotions getting the better of him), who have been slogging it for some 10 hours. But at least all the competitors are one design!

Only four boats managed to finish. To say we were disappointed, would be an understatement.

1st DockSafe - Archambault 35 - Alexandre Monat - 1.1 - 02:15:15
2nd Lobelia - IMX40 - Kling/Meek - 1.135 - 02:19:39
3rd Speed of Yellow - J133 - Patrick Holloway - 1.155 - 02.20.15
4th Windpower - Landmark 43 - R Nankin/P Gutche - 1.25 - 02.23.31