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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I couldn't find any threads on this forum regarding the racing that's going on in Point Roberts, WA / Tsawassen, BC, and as I've just started up there with the Spring Series, I thought I'd share my experiences, especially for those out there who, like me, have been cruising a bit but want to try racing out and don't quite know what to expect.

For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Point Roberts is a peninsula jutting southward from the Vancouver, BC area into the Strait of Georgia, and is therefore quite exposed to the winds of that gulf, which separates Vancouver Island from the British Columbia mainland. The Strait runs NW-SE; fair winds usually blow out of the NW, and gales are more or less southerly.

There are two yacht clubs in the area: Tsawassen YC (named after the BC town bordering Point Roberts) and Point Roberts YC itself. Point Roberts hosts a Fall and a Winter series, which I have not attended, and technically Tsawassen YC hosts the Spring series. However, Tsawassen YC members are all berthed in Point Roberts, and the races all happen in the U.S. waters off Point Roberts, so I'll probably refer to all of it as "Point Roberts racing" (as in www.pointrobertsracing.com), though info about the current series is at tyc.ca.

Our boat, Essorant, is set up for racing, but we have not had the pleasure. I was a bit intimidated by all the rules and by the image in my head of a labrynthine crowd of boats jockying for position before the start, so I decided to put off entering Essorant in the Spring series (for now) and instead volunteered as crew on one of the regular boats.

I was invited to crew on Amigos, a Beneteau First 30E, skippered by Mark Hansen, and rated 168 with flying sails and 180 with white sails, putting her at the tail end of Division 1. Last night at 1900 was the first race of the series.

I arrived at the boat at 1800 for briefing. Even though Amigos is in Division 1, things were fairly laid back. Most of the crew was already present, getting lines etc. ready and cleaning the hull, which I had never witnessed before. As many of us as possible would stand on one rail while Mark scrubbed the other side with a long-handled brush. The boat was in good shape. Down below we changed into our light foulies, since rain was predicted for the evening.

As soon as our last (of seven) crew member arrived, we put to sea. Jobs rotate so that crew gets experience at all positions; tonight I was on the mainsheet (ambiguously referred to as "the main". I was in no position to man the outhaul, halyard, or, reefing system, but I could reach the sheet, traveler, boom vang, and cunningham.). We waited till we were out on the water before choosing a headsail; wind was onshore, SW 10-12 kt true at the start of the race near the shore, but for reasons unclear to me, it picked up a bit farther out with quite a few whitecaps dotting the sea (wind against a light ebb). Skipper chose a mylar #1. As we hoisted, we noticed some chafe in the halyard due to pressure from the rope clutch.

As the start time approached, the race committee boat -- the only boat not under sail -- placed three marks along a line parallel to the beach. The middle mark, mark "A", was one end of the starting line, with the committee boat at the other. The westward mark, mark "1", was more or less windward, and the eastward mark more or less leeward. There was some consternation as the committee boat posted the course: 12Ax2, meaning round marks 1 and 2 to port, then A to starboard, twice. This course meant that the race would be reaching the whole way, what the crew referred to as a "drag race". Not much in the way of strategy or tactics, this race would be favored by the boats with the most LWL. We would tack once at the windward mark, and gybe once at the leward.

The start was exactly how I imagined it, only, well, not imaginary. Indeed, an arcane sequence of flags and horn blasts indicated that some apparently arbitrarily decided time interval remained until the race was to begin. But mostly: it's one thing to know that a lot of boats will be in close proximity; it's another thing entirely to have three boats converging on you from different directions, to have to decide who among us has right of way over the others, and to avoid collisions. Right before the start, we passed within half a boat length of three such boats all at once. The race was a port-tack start, but one of the boats contrived to sail the length of the line on the starboard tack -- tactically brilliant for her as we all had to give way. Among the rest of us, we were slightly ahead as the boat on our quarter did not manage to establish an inside overlap by three boats lengths to the first rounding, which would have required us to give her room.

Fortunately, I wasn't required to care about any of this. All I needed to do was make the mainsail look crisp and tidy, keep the leech telltales flying, and ensure nobody got knocked overboard by a swinging boom during a gybe. Since my cruising experience has generally been 5-10 hours at a time of such mainsail-tweaking, I was pretty comfortable with this job.

After the first windward rounding, one of the Div 1 boats decided to try -- and promptly abandoned -- flying her spinnaker. The downwind course was just too high. However, after the second windward rounding, we watched some of the boats first reach upwind a ways (which apparently is not allowed on upwind legs, but is fine on downwind legs) so that they could "pop their chutes". We followed suit and gained about half a knot over our 6.3-knot jib-only reach of the previous lap. However, for one reason or another, we rounded up and almost broached, and so lost whatever advantage the chute had given us. Had I been a little more responsive with the main, this probably could have been avoided, so I definitely take some blame here. Still, the chute kept flying, we reset ourselves on course, and doused cleanly within a few boat lengths of the leeward mark, followed by the cleanest gybe you've ever seen.

A few minutes later we crossed the start/finish line under a beautiful sunset with a few boats ahead and a few behind. Results aren't up yet, but who cares about results anyway? ;)

I learned quite a lot, both about the position I was working, and about the protocol and strategy of racing. It was nice, after a year and a half of carrying around contrary ideas in my head about the right way to trim a main, to be in a situation where those thoughts could finally "gel", leaving behind a more coherent understanding. It was also nice to see that I made the right decision about not entering Essorant right away; it would have been pretty overwhelming, especially leading up to the start.

Will post more updates as the series continues. My thanks go out to the skipper and crew of Amigos for the warm welcome I received. See you next week!
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Okay we finally started racing our boat. Tonight was the second race we entered. So far we have been learning a lot more about logistics than racing itself.

Both nights have had great weather: moderate breezes, flat seas, sun. Tonight was particularly amazing with a warm offshore breeze that made us want to stay out all night.

However, the actual racing part of the racing has not been going so well. My advice to interested newcomers: get to the starting line early. Last week, we were really behind in our division, because we weren't ready to get going once we had to. Fortunately the starting line was right outside the marina. Tonight, the starting line was a couple of miles away around the corner, and even though we left the marina plenty early, we unfortunately did not make it to the line in time and were scored DNS (did not start). Okay, next time, no more fooling around: we are motoring to where we need to be.

On both nights, though, our crew did their jobs well. Tonight was especially well coordinated as we sailed away from the course so as not to interfere with other racers and practiced our tacks and spinnaker maneuvers. We even got the chute in tight for a close/beam reach and broke our hull speed.

Anyway, stay tuned as we start topping the score boards next week.
 
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