Bryan Richardson Report:
This was my first HPDO, but I had heard from absolutely everyone who had been that it was the regatta to beat all regattas. Heineken sponsorship, beautiful venue, and a nothing but fast boats. If you planned to go, but did not, you missed a a ride for the ages. If you were not thinking about it, you absolutely positively must make it next year.
As the Nor'Easter rolled across the East Coast on Friday, it dropped torrential buckets on all of us driving up. The rain finally let up by the time we got to the lot. If you guessed the conditions from the protected lot of American Yacht Club, you would think we were in for a serene weekend. But the predictions said otherwise, 20+ knots, big gusts, and big waves on Long Island Sound. From our neck of the woods, you had Russell sailing with Matt Berry, Dr. Watson sailing with Sol, and I sailed with Peter Scannell
On Saturday, the Race Committee divided racers into two fleets racing in two circles on Long Island Sound to the South and East of the Club. The 5os raced with the Vipers, F18s, and K6s. Fireballs, Moths, Weta Tris, VX Ones and an array of other fast boats lined up at the other circle.
Conditions were epic, gnarley, demanding, and punishing. The wind on Saturday started at around steady 20 knots gusting to 25 and built to around steady 22 with gusts reported at almost 30 knots. The waves were HUGE confounding everyone's efforts to keep the boats up. Not a single boat avoided the capsize on Saturday. It was, however, a great moment to appreciate the incredible de-powering ability of our rigs as we were able to sail flat while Vipers and K6s held on for dear life as they headed upwind. Carnage abounded. Russell decided to tackle his boat and destroyed one of his carbon poles. Whit Duncan lost his rudder. Craig stayed the most upright in his sweet new ride and ruled day one. Faced with simply far too many boats requiring rescue at once, the race committee cried uncle and called the day after two races. To their credit, they had more than 35 people working safety committee and I don't recall more than 20 seconds passing before they were on the scene to help if you needed. A truly impressive effort.
American Yacht Club staged an amazing dinner on Saturday night with a Heinken mini-keg at every table. When asked for the best stories from the day from each fleet, Russell stole the show with an 8 minute rendition of Whit losing his rudder. It was not hard to pass out that night after we put our boats to bed.
Before heading out Sunday, the conversation focused on what we had all learned from the previous day. I found myself looking over Jesse's Heavy Air Crewing Notes and talking with Peter about how we could keep the boat moving and stay upright. Peter and I talked through all of the steps of our gybes to be sure we worked more smoothly. We found that when we got surprised by an errant launcher line that I had not secured well enough, slowed down too much as we went into the gybe, got our legs caught in line, or simply did not talk, a surprise would divert our attention for a split second and that was all it took to get dumped over. Out on the wire, I started looking back more frequently to Peter's trim on the main to see where the boom was relative to the transom. If he was too far out consistently and the sail was flogging, was I low enough on the wire and/or did we need to rake more? Peter gave me more consistent information on how the helm felt in his hands so I could adjust my weight and trim accordingly. We moved the jib leads out to keep the air flowing. Russell talked about how he talked constantly to his driver, Matt, to help him drive the bow into the large waves so he could stay low on the wire and keep the boat flat and fast. This takes a lot of skill because if you get it wrong, you got thrown off your feet when a huge ass waves blasts you. Those of us less skilled at this were way high on the wire and provided less righting moment upwind.
The race comittee postponed launching on Sunday with gusts clocking 30 knots on the Sound. But just as forecast, the winds dropped slightly down to around 20 knots consistently and we launched. As we headed out we saw Zagol and Drew limping back to port with a broken rudder on their ride and they were out for the day. Kivney and Craig battled it out for first and second in the third race while Ted Ferrarone, Craig, and Russell and Matt battled it out for first, second and third in the fourth and fifth race. Everyone's sailing improved dramatically the second day as the rhythms and requirements of sailing in heavy air started to click.
I will say that as a light/short (but dangerously handsome) crew, heavy wind has always been intimidating to me. My last big jump up this learning curve came at last year's Hampton regatta where we were served with 17+ knots each day. The weather this last weekend at HPDO was the most challenging conditions I have ever seen and there were more times I would like to admit that I thought of telling Peter that we might want to wait it out on the shore. But as Jesse and Macy always tell us, you don't get good at sailing in big breeze (and getting over your own fears of doing so, without getting your ass out there and just getting used to it). And once you get more used to it, holy god you realize how awesome this boat is (and how completely crazy San Fran must have been).
The weather over the weekend was punishing, but in reflection there were a couple of big lessons learned that helped me climb up the learning curve into the consistent 22+ knots range. First, use the de-powering ability of your rig early and sail the boat at 90% speed as close to 100% of the time as you can. If you feel bound up, stand her up a bit. Don't start with too powerful of a set up or you will waste all of your precious physical (and mental) energy too early. Second, a good driver is a huge asset as you figure it all out. If you have not sailed with Peter Scannell, the guy is a pro. His talents kept us upright (and allowed us to stay up and do it the right way the next time) more than a few times. Third, you will fall over. So make sure you don't use up all of your energy getting your boat back up. Work out a routine for who will do what job to get the boat back up. I either stood on the CB next to the boat and hopped in as it came up while Peter pulled at the end. For god's sake don't forget to uncleat your jib and vang before you try to stand her up or she will go right back over. Flip the boat up into the oncoming wind if you have a choice or try to get her up with the bow pointed straight in. Fourth, when you gybe, work together with your driver to rotate the kite around. Not doing so creates a mess of sail and lines that will likely cause errors and a capsize. Finally, don't lose a drop of speed as you go into your gybe or you will go over. At the same time, if you do go into your gybe fast, it was amazing to see how smoothly it could all go. That means be aware of when you were zooming down the back of a wave vs. screeching to a halt as you climbed up the next one.
So don't miss HPDO next time, seriously.
The 2013 High Performance Dinghy Open at American YC served up amazing conditions for their 10th Anniversary. 14 505’s signed up for this year’s event, although not all made it around the track intact. Saturday saw a smoking 25 kt easterly with large steep waves, fully testing the boathandling skills of the fleet. After 2 races, the RC had seen enough carnage on the mixed-fleet course (who knew it would be so easy to turtle a Viper?) and sent the fleet in to recuperate with the ample supply of complimentary Heineken.
After Day 1, Craig Thompson held a narrow lead over NA Champions Drew Buttner and Matt Zagol for 1st and 2nd, with wily veterans Tom Kivney/Gordon Russell holding a one point lead over Ted Ferrarone/Simon Gerson for 3/4. Matt Barry and Russell Miller showed amazing upwind speed but spent most of the day testing innovative downwind techniques, showing off their rudderless sailing skills and also trying out a “heavy air” reefed spinnaker pole.
Day 2 dawned slightly less windy (only a steady 20…) but with even larger waves. Drew/Mark decided to practice their rudderless sailing skills and headed for the barn early. 3 quality races ensued, with plenty of spills and thrills. Matt/Russell stopped sandbagging and stayed upright on a few runs, sneaking past Ted/Simon for 2nd, while Craig/Matt posted a solid 1, 2, 1 to lock down the victory.
Big thanks to Zhik and Heineken for all the goodies, and AYC for hosting us.
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