My First Race-- A DNF Disaster... - SailNet Community

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  #1  
Old 07-15-2006
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My First Race-- A DNF Disaster...

Just about everyone who's raced has told me a horror story about their first race. No way for me, I thought. I'd have a nice, relaxed time with my wife and kids for the first time.

WRONG!

We took off last night for a Friday Night "Toga Party" Beer Can race on the Columbia River. We made it to our C&C 27 in plenty of time and started to set up. The NW wind was very light, so I tossed the 165% genny up on the foredeck.

When we went to turn over the Atomic 4, there was a click and no more. Batteries dead? No time to trouble-shoot-- we repacked the boat and headed to second marina with our second boat-- a Cal 20.

Running short on time, we started preping the Cal 20. I found the tiller was monstrously loose on the rudder, so I ran back to the car for my tools. I tightened the tiller mounting bolts, but the rudder was still sloppy. The bottom mount was loose on the hull, and I had to climb back and inside to titghten the loose nuts as my wife hung over the transom, holding the other side with a phillips.

Now late, we pulled out of the slip and motored to committee boat. The rule was that the best bribe to the committee boat would win the race. We motored by and handed off a bag of offerings: grapes, chocolate, olives. We all wore ivy laurels, and my kids had sheets on like togas.

The minute we made our offering, the horns started the start count-down, but our sails were still down. The wind was so light that I raised the main and jib going downwind, and the instant they were up the starting horn blasted. We scrambled onto a tack at the very back of the group.

The course was to a buoy about a mile away, and as we sailed West downriver, something happenned to the wind. It jumped from around 5 knots to 20 knots, with gusts much higher. Large whitecaps appeared on the wind-blown swells. To be honest, this was the strongest wind we'd ever had the Cal 20 out in, and we've been out a lot of times, and through some real squals.

Anyway, we had lots of water over the foredeck and into the jib. Major heeling. Majorly upset seven year-old daughter. To make things better, our cockpit filled with about seven inches of water through the in-cockpit motor well (always does in high winds and chop), was was within an inch of pouring through the companionway into the boat as we heeled.

The sails were screaming as they flogged if we headed up, and our mainsheet jammed under the load and my wife at the helm couldn't let out the sheet to spill air as we sailed close-hauled toward the buoy. With two upset kids in togas grabbing onto us, tons of weather helm, a cockpit half-filled with water, and the boat heading up, my wife and I couldn't manage to change positions so I could get in back.

That seemed like a good time for an accidental jibe. The boom swung dangerously strong across the stern, the boat swung around and into a massive heel, with wife, daughter and son on the leeward side, looking at the "floor" of water coming over the rail. I was up on the windward side, my elbow crooked on the stainless handrail of the cockpit.

Once we recovered, I noticed the outhaul on the main had broken, and the main was already two feet back from the end of the boom. That was it, I called. I'm dropping the sails! I got the jib down with no tragedies, but even with the 4 hp engine at half-throttle dead into the wind, the gusts were too high for me to control the boom enough to engage the topping lift. For the first time ever, we dropped the main with the boom into the cockpit, (after we had tossed the kids below).

With more than humility, we tied things down and motored back to the marina. Even the entrance to the marina was a challenge, with wind-driven swells crashing over the waste dock. We had to enter at higher speed than normal to counteract the swells.

It's funny, but of all the times we've been out, the sudden, massive winds had to appear on our first race, with kids in togas and everyone ready for a relaxed, simple sail.

Moral of the story? Sailing teaches humility. No one was hurt, no major damage, serious adrenaline. That, and we feel chagrinned and want to fight back. On the way home, I found that it was just a loose battery terminal in our C&C 27, and we're going out as a family this afternoon. Also, we plan to do the next beer can race, and aim to finish last, but not to DNF again.

Serious fun, and afterwards our kids were more than proud of themselves. Anyone else have "first race" horror stories to tell?

Jim H
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Old 07-15-2006
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That was a pretty good first race...Definitely fight club material I would say! Sounds like you had a good time notwithstand the surprises!
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Old 07-16-2006
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We did have a good time, and we're looking forward to our next beer can race. Yesterday's sail on our C&C 27 was much more relaxed, but with some good wind as well.

Today, we work on the Cal 20 issues-- especially the water in the cockpit. We've heard that jamming thick, open cell foam in the motor well after stopping the motor can keep the surge out. First, though, we're going to try the wheelbarrow tube around the base of the outboard, inflated enough to fill in much of the well.

We'll test sail to see what works.
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Old 07-17-2006
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Look at the positive side, you gained loads of experience. I would recommend you continue taking part in races.
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Old 07-17-2006
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Congrats, Jim. This is one reason why sailing is a great thing for kids, it teaches them (and us) that when you are unprepared...you are unlikely to win. The same skills of planning, concentration, teamwork, etc. that they build for sailing and racing will pay off in many other areas. The fact that you DNFed and STILL had a good time & plan to do it again (well, except the DNF part) shows you've got the right head to enjoy it.
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Old 07-17-2006
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Could have been worse....could have been a DNS...
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Old 07-18-2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
Could have been worse....could have been a DNS...
LOL.

What I'm hoping for in the next race is someone else who's also gunning for last place, so we can duke it out for lanterne rouge.

As for DNS, I like how we jab about how these boats never sink. In 48 North last year, they had the series of pictures from one of the J-24 finals in Puget Sound. It showed a very nice J-24 broach, fill the cockpit with water, then the cabin, and the last shot was of the crew scrambled on top of a corner of the transom as she went down in 300 feet of water. Everyone was picked up immediately, so no real harm to the crew, but the boat was DNS.

Yep, that's what I'm looking forward to.

Jim H

p.s., had another excellent sail this evening on our C&C 27, but we're still making it up to our daughter for the race, so I was condemned to sailing the boat perfectly flat into a strong close reach wind... Parents pay for transgressions.

Last edited by Jim H; 07-18-2006 at 12:57 AM.
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Old 07-18-2006
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Jim,

I'm a j/24 driver, and I'm quite aware of the potential issues - especially if the aft storage compartments are not secured.

I can certainly relate to rapidly changing conditions while family is aboard. Sounds like you handled things masterfully. I thought it was interesting that even though you were early, and well prepared, you still found yourself in an unexpected situation... reminds one to respect mother nature.

On my first race, I showed up with no radio, no watch and late to the starting line (I didn't have a motor at the time). My crew still had a good time, and was able to pass several boats on the upwind leg before the wind died completely and the race was called.

I hope you'll continue to post your further explorations into racing.

Mike
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Old 07-22-2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim H
...I was condemned to sailing the boat perfectly flat into a strong close reach wind...
That's no condemnation... less heel is less ground lost to leeward. Keeping the boat flat should be your ultimate goal, so take your daughter along every race!

In my first race (as an adult) I was crewing and was given two duties: to man the topping lift for the spinnaker pole and to pull the spinnaker down and into the boat. Well, I pulled the topping lift on the pole just fine, but managed not to put it into the cam cleat properly, so dropped it on the toe-rail putting a great dent in it. I nimbly moved to rectify my error and promptly repeated it exactly, putting two huge dents in the pole in close proximity to each other - veritably ruining it. My skipper was not impressed with his new crew. I did manage to get the chute in the boat OK, without dropping it in the water or wrapping it around the keel though.

My first race at the helm I won... I've been trying to repeat that ever since!
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Old 07-31-2006
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you do realize that DNF does go on your permanent record. The only way to erase it is to win a burgee.
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