June 17, 2017, PSSA’s Dave Wall Series, race 1, the only pursuit race on the calendar, eleven boats circling the line, waiting for their start times. For those of you who have never done a race like this, the handicaps are figured into the starting times, so, at least in theory, everyone finishes at the same time.
This felt like an important race for my J/105, Twelve Bar Blues, and for me too. The boat and I have been together for twenty-five years, and we hope to defend last year’s doublehanded series victory. We were third in the inverted start last year, but the boats that finished ahead in that race were not entered in the 2017 race, and until I saw the late addition, Distraxion, the beautiful X44, my confidence was high.
We were the tenth boat to start, with only Distraxion behind us. One of the problems with a race of this kind is that the first boats to start often begin in a lighter wind than enjoyed by the later boats but that was not a problem this year. The noon breeze was 7.8 knots, shifting over a narrow range from about 250 degrees. By 12:30, just before we started, the wind was precisely the same. Twelve Bar Blues is pretty underpowered in this kind of wind on a windward/leeward course but it is a fine reaching boat and can make more than six knots in eight knots of breeze. At 12:36:39, our appointed starting time, we hit the line at speed and raced off to the 2ES buoy. The wind was very steady, both in velocity and direction although it became a bit gustier as the race progressed. At the 2ES we hoisted a class spinnaker designed to sail in an apparent wind as tight as 75, and we flew down to King Harbor, passing many of the boats that started ahead.
We have a procedure to get the spinnaker down that involves putting the halyard around the stern cleat and the tack line on the cleat atop the halyard. When it is time to douse, Aidan Gabriel, on the foredeck, takes the takedown line in hand (it is attached to the tack of the spinnaker), I drive the boat down to blanket the spinnaker behind the main, and then I release the tack line, followed by the main. It is important to remember to open the clutches on the tack line and the halyard. If you forget to do so then releasing the lines from the cleat does nothing at all. We forgot, and it took a while to sort it out. Boats we had passed passed us.
By 2:00 the wind had built to 8.7 and by 2:30 it was 9.6, still WSW. This was ideal for us, and we collected the boats that had passed us, and passed the ones we had not yet caught. By the time we had passed 2ES on the return there were no boats ahead. But it is a pursuit race, and Distraxion was behind us, and charging fast. By 3:00 the wind eased to 7.8. Distraxion passed under us and it appeared our hope for victory was over. To make the finish exciting, though, some kind of mishap befell Distraxion and we moved past them. A few moments later, their problem resolved, they surged past us to the finish. Always tough doublehanded competitor Zulu finished behind us, too close for comfort.
-Chuck Spear (Twelve Bar Blues, J105)