I have never been much of a competitive person. I don’t care much for sports or fast cars, and usually when I’m competing for something, it’s against myself to self-improve. When I was in high school, I was a competitive weight lifter. I didn’t care what the other guys were doing in my weight class, I just wanted to break my own personal records and improve my skill.
The same applies to sailing. As I dig deeper into the sailing life, I find that there’s several subsets of the lifestyle. There’s the white haired snoods with too much money on 50ft Beneteaus, motoring more than sailing. There’s the philosophical minimalists, like Moitessier, who do it for the love of the sea and the solitude. There’s the retired cruiser, touring their way around the world. Then there’s the racers – driven by speed and the adrenaline of a competition. I don’t quite fit in with this crowd – with their carbon fiber masts, Kevlar sails, uniforms…, but I do wholeheartedly believe that racing can teach me a LOT about sailing techniques, achieving the utmost efficiency and speed.
So this year, I’m crewing on a few jaunts up and down the Texas coast. The first was the Houston Yacht Club Offshore Regatta this past weekend. The boat is another Westsail 32′
, and the skipper is a seasoned racer. Now I know what you’re thinking, a “Wet-snail!? In a race!?” Yeah they perform better than one would have you think :)
Much like in golf, each boat is ranked with a handicap. From what I understand, this handicap is derived from a boat’s ability to point to the wind and her maximum hull speed. By applying a handicap, more boats have the ability to compete in a fair race against much faster boats (J-boats in particular). Naturally, because of her full keel and heavy displacement, a Westsail 32 has a pretty high handicap.
This particular regatta was really in two parts. The first day was a run down to Freeport from Galveston, which is a little over 40nm. The second day was the official race, as winds tend to be more favorable. Our start time was 8:00am on Friday, so we set out to the starting line bright and early. There was a
light easterly breeze accompanied by an opposing current, so we had one hell of a time leaving the jetties. After numerous tacks, we rounded the mark, set the spinnaker, and made our way to Freeport. After a couple of hours of less than two knots boat speed, Captain Todd did the math that we’d be unable to make Freeport by sundown. So we took a vote and started the engine. We weren’t alone. I think in the end, all but one boat motor-sailed their way down to Freeport that day! After a few cold beers, a particularly unsatisfying dinner, and a hot shower, we all hit the bunk for an early start on Saturday.
The second part of the regatta was the “official” race. All the competitors made their way out to the starting line, and each group got their start horn from the committee boat. For the first few hours, we were doing remarkably well, until one by one the faster boats started walking away from us. However, the conditions were absolutely perfect for a Westsail: stiff breeze on the beam, calm seas, and a happy crew. We maintained 6-7 knots throughout the day, and finished the forty mile race only minutes behind the leader. But here’s where it gets interesting. Because of our handicap, we timed much lower than all of the other boats in our class. We actually won first place!!!
All said, I not only learned a lot about my own boat, but I had tons of fun doing it. Every opportunity I get on the water is an opportunity to learn and improve my skills.
I will be rejoining Captain Todd and s/v
in a few weeks for another offshore trip, this time to Sabine Lake (on the Louisiana border). And shortly thereafter, I have another trip booked in the Virgin Islands, which deserves its own blog post soon to come.
Thanks for reading and happy sailing!