Well Oakland YC’s Rites of Spring Race on March 17th wasn’t the most successful day for Imagine. Ellen and I were double handing again – it’s billed as a low-key race with plenty of help from the race committee for us less experienced crews, so we figured it would give us a chance to try out a proper start in relatively uncrowded conditions. I probably should have guessed things weren’t going to go too smoothly when I found I’d left the starting watch at home on the kitchen table – an omen if there ever was one! Of course, the Rite of Spring does involve a sacrificial victim, doesn’t it?
The weather wasn’t exactly springlike, either – after our long stretch of unusually warm and dry winter weather, the storms finally decided to arrive in the middle of March, providing several inches of rain and snow that would be draining down all the creeks and rivers, adding even more power to the ebb on race day. Even though the torrential downpours and howling gales let up, there were hail and lightning in the forecast, and it was chilly and overcast with a light breeze from the North as we set out for the the 1pm start. Armed with a flask of hot chocolate and warm woolly caps, it definitely felt more like Rites of Winter to us.
Woollies required for the Rites of so-called Spring - photo Steve Green, Slackwater
Probably the less said about our start the better – we had two attempts as something went wrong with the RCs countdown the first time. It’s been 30 years since I last did any regular racing, and there’s a lot of things that have to go right if you’re going to cross that line exactly where and when you want to! But hey, we managed to get over the line within about a minute of the proper time, and we weren’t even the last ones in our division.
Starting the Rite, finally - photo courtesy of Steve Green, Slackwater
With the ebb running, the first leg started against both wind and tide, on the way up towards the Southampton Shoal “structure”. We put in a couple of tacks, and tried to figure out how important it was to stay in the shallower water to keep out of strongest current as the wind got lighter and lighter and shifted… by the time we reached it, our “windward” mark had become a leeward one, and we were on a dead run, barely holding our own against the current.
But we got round it eventually, and although yes, were were now beating towards the “leeward” mark, at least the current was helping us. We were moving along quite nicely, and while we weren’t passing anyone, we didn’t feel we were getting left too far behind, either.
Hah! It must have been around 3.30 when we had the second mark, #7, abeam and to port, only to lose the wind completely and be swirled back the way we’d just come on a tide eddy – a veritable whirlpool in fact. We drifted around helplessly for a good 20 minutes, feeling as if were were the chosen sacrifice for this particular rite. (cue Stravinsky).
We would have retired there and then except that we were too demoralized to radio the race committee and start the engine. Then all of a sudden up came the fabled westerly and we (finally!) went zooming around #7 and back northwards again, reaching towards the third mark, #24. We felt as if we had our own private westerly wind as we almost caught up with a couple of boats ahead who’d rounded #7 just before our whirlpool experience began – but they went round an intervening mark and headed home (was there a course change we didn’t hear or were they sensibly retiring?), and we felt pretty lonely out there on our way up to #24.
Although it was extremely unlikely we’d be able to finish before the cutoff time, this was the best sailing we’d had all day, so we kept going. We even shortened sail as we could see masses of whitecaps on the water ahead, exactly where we had to go to round the mark. The wind strengthened dramatically and shifted so that we once more had to beat to make it. The wind indicator was reading 21 knots as we eventually rounded, and we were happy to have the reassuring company of the coastguard helicopter overhead – their orange very dramatic against the dark clouds.
We were making great time running back towards the Bay Bridge, but it was now undeniable that we weren’t going to finish before the 4 hour cut off. Plus, we weren’t 100% sure where the finish line was, and there didn’t seem to be anybody around we could follow across it, so we called in our retirement and headed for home. Naturally, our fastest sailing of the day was the reach back to South Beach after we’d quit the race.
It was definitely a learning experience – though what we mostly learned that there’s a heck of a lot to be learned, especially about keeping the boat moving in light fickle winds and strong currents. We’ll be back for more, probably, once we’ve warmed up a bit….
Our day on the water - Oakland Yacht Club Rites of Spring 2012
Thanks Oakland Yacht Club for organizing, and for the nice bright T shirts – and for the RC’s timely and frequent radio updates around the start. Full results and more pictures on OYC racing page, here.