by Roland Nikles
We will not speak of motoring from Point Wilson, past Partridge Bank, to the San Juan Channel in order to arrive at our destination in five hours. We leave this to trawlers. We will not speak of furling the genoa because we wish to go where the wind blows from. And we will not speak of starting the engine when the wind is fickle and light. These are not modes of sailing. In a warm breeze we stand on the high side and watch with wonder as the boat ploughs balanced to windward across whitecapped seas. We concentrate and adapt to ever-changing conditions. Patience is tried as the sea flattens and the boat ghosts along. Shins are bruised as the wind kicks up and we wrestle a reef into the mainsail and change jibs. We plan for currents, plot our progress on charts. The compass light glows red at night. We listen and peer as we navigate through fog. Arriving late at our anchorage we pirouette into the wind, drop anchor and back the mainsail. We clean up. Exhausted. Cook a meal. That is the cruising mode of sailing.
One Design Racing
Four o’clock Wednesday. Race day. There is a stir of activity on Thunderbird row on A-dock. Sail covers are folded away, genoa and spinnaker sheets are led through their blocks. Tiller extensions are clipped fast. A quick pass across the rudder with a long-handled brush puts the mind at ease. Nine boats and crews are readying to play tonight. A good showing. Marine forecasts, tide charts, Windexes are eagerly consulted. Heartbeats quicken. By 5:00 p.m. the race committee is on its way out of the harbor, inflatable yellow and red marks in tow. Tension rises ahead of the 6:00 p.m. warning signal, looming like a deadline, an examination. Boats sail up and down the line in close quarters, to check how the line is set, the oscillations of the wind, the favored end of the starting line. Four minutes before the start the racing rules take effect. “Up, up, up!” “Starboard!” “No room!” Everybody maneuvering in the chaotic start box to earn a spot on the line in clear air at the sound of the horn. Accelerating off the line to be in a good position upwind at the first cross requires experience and skill. Congestion at the windward mark. Crews are on high alert to avoid collision. To duck. To tack. One coordinated movement: the foredeck person sets the pole, the pit-person pulls on the guy, the trimmer lifts and tosses the spinnaker up and forward, the foredeck person leaps on the line, hoisting. Woosh! The spinnaker fills and the boat accelerates. It’s a game of inches among boats more or less equal in speed that can result in surprising variations. Mistakes are quickly exposed. It’s tense. It’s exhilarating. It’s sailboat racing.
Performance Handicap Racing Fleet provides a well established way to compare the relative speed of boats of diverse size, design, and features. It’s sufficient for bragging rights on the race course. Skippers must apply for a rating and pay a fee and the handicap is assigned based on the past performance of similar boats over time. Except this is Port Townsend. No one is turned away. Show up for the races on Wednesday evening and you will be assigned a number. Every boat is compared to a hypothetical very fast boat with a rating of zero. Most cruising racing boats on the water are slower than this hypothetical baseline boat by 50 seconds to 250 second/mile. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, most Thunderbirds have a PHRF rating of 195: three minutes and fifteen seconds slower than the baseline boat over a mile. More than 200 sailors love their boats enough to pay monthly moorage in excess of $200.00/month in Point Hudson Marina and Boat Haven. Those boats need exercise. Come exercise your boat in the PHRF fleet on Wednesday nights. It’s cross-training for cruising done right.