Minisceongo Sutherland Regatta Recap

The Sutherland Regatta, hosted by Minisceongo Yacht Club, took place last weekend and boy was it a blast. Not only did it feature the most boats racing in a HRYRA regatta this season, it also had the most races of any regatta so far this year. If that wasn’t enough, the weather, especially on Saturday, was spectacular! Six boats that don’t normally travel from their home clubs to compete in HRYRA events showed up to the race. There was one new boat from Safe Harbor Marina in Fleet 1, two boats in the 2 fleet were new (one from Half Moon Bay and another from NBC) and three boats in the 3 fleet (two from NBC and one from Safe Harbor) traveled to race.

Twenty-three boats in all were registered for this regatta but a mishap struck early when one of the boats in Fleet 2 had to withdraw before the first start on Saturday when their mainsail halyard parted. “Where’s George” I heard the skipper lament as he cruised around under a lonely jib enjoying the beautiful day on the water despite his boat’s inability to compete.

After a brief delay, the RC set a short course (1.58 nautical miles) for all the fleets. The course sent the boats to the nearest upwind government mark and back to the start/finish line. While it was probably a good decision to get a short race off while the wind was settling in, the race resulted in a one tack beat and a reach with no gybes necessary for the return leg. In other words, a proverbial “drag race,” where the start, and of course boat speed, are everything. With such a short course, most of the boats finished in close proximity to each other. Other close calls happened as the boats in the different fleets passed each other on opposing legs of the course as they were all traveling on the narrow rhumb lines between the windward mark to the finish. It certainly added a bit of a thrill to a fairly uninspiring sprint.

The second race of the day was the same course except twice around for the spinnaker fleets and one lap for Fleet 3. The wind had filled into a steady 10kts with some good gusts which kept everyone a bit more on their toes (or ears in some of the gusts!) for this race. The current had strengthened and this added a factor to the race strategy. A shift in the wind also made the downwind legs more challenging as it was prudent to gybe in order to find the fastest (if not the most direct) way around this course. This race took the faster boats just a little over forty-five minutes to finish, which some would consider the “sweet spot” in time spent racing bigger boats. All of the fleets had the same marks, but since it was twice around, the spinnaker boats got spread out a bit more and the upwind/downwind passing situations seemed a bit less tense.

Race three was the best course of the day. The wind was finally solid and with plenty of oomph.  The RC sent all the fleets on a course that had the same upwind leg from the start as the previous races but then a long downwind leg with a subsequent long upwind finish approximately 4.5 nautical miles total of tactical racing. Having to factor in all the elements of current, wind strength and direction plus the tactics of covering other boats in your fleet is what makes yacht racing the ultimate combination of “speed and smarts.” This race had it all and was an exciting way to cap off a fun day of racing on the Hudson River. Fleet 1 had a particularly close race with three boats finishing with less than three minutes between them. Fleet 2 also had a close race, less than a minute between the first and second boat crossing the finish line.  Unfortunately for the first finisher in Fleet 2 in this race, the other boats higher PHRF ratings resulted in their finish going from 1st to 4th with just over a minute separating second from fourth place. This was one of the hardest-fought races of the day. Fleet 3 also saw a close finish with the top boats finishing a little over a minute corrected time from each other. The two top finishers in Fleet 3 were head to head all day, one finishing ahead of the other only to have the results reversed in the next race, truly a water-borne duel!

The after-race party is always a treat at MYC, and this year’s affair was no different. Although I did hear more than one racer lamenting the absence of the “endless punch bowl” of regattas past. The new clubhouse is spectacular, and the pavilion that was the site of a sumptuous steak dinner is so well appointed you good live there if you put up a few walls to keep out the elements.

Sunday was a bit overcast and the wind was light at 6 to 8 knots from the south with holes in it. The current seemed to be the big factor as it was already quite strong as the start time neared. The RC signaled a postponement hoping that the wind would settle in. The course was a short one, approximately 1.4 nautical miles for all the fleets. The conditions were not ideal for racing, (sitting in a hole of the wind while your competitors sail away has to be one of the most frustrating aspects of yacht racing) but “they were manageable” as one experienced racer put it.  Fleet 2 had the most dramatic finish with the top four boats finishing within 15 seconds of each other! One second separating the first and second place finishers in this fleet for this short race.

The current continued to build; a strong flood now dominating the race course as the wind continued to be light and spotty. The RC signaled a longer course for the next race, almost 4.5 nautical miles for the spinnaker fleets with the windward mark in the teeth of the strong flooding current. Fleet 3 had a shorter course (approximately 1.5 nautical miles) to a windward mark that also bounded the strongest area of current on the river. The strategy that worked best was to stay out of the current while playing the left side of the course where the wind was strongest. This race saw boats go from last place to first back to last again as the wind shifts reshuffled the boats. My good friend George Samalot once dubbed the Hudson River “The Great Equalizer” for sailors and boy was this true in this race! Boats that tacked early for the windward mark saw all of their good progress go for nothing as the current overcame the wind that had shut off close to the mark and under the high cliffs that dominate the west shore of the river. Boats that over stood the mark on starboard tack, sailing far up current and tacking for the mark on port made out the best. It’s a lot more like playing pinball than yacht racing but it’s what you are forced to do. The RC seeing how much difficulty the spinnaker fleet was having making the mark wisely chose to shorten the race. The final leg would be from the windward mark to the finish eliminating what would have been a reaching leg to a racing mark in the middle of the river. The final insult occurred as boats were about to round the windward mark the wind completely died. Having nimble anchor work paid off in getting a good place to wait for what would happen next. The problem with anchoring in a sailboat race is that you can become complacent and lose your focus. Fortunately, the wait wasn’t too long and soon a light southerly wind started to fill in. The boats anchored most up current to the mark got a jump on the wind, managed to slip around the mark, raise their spinnakers and start the race over again to the finish. The wind strengthened just in time as the first boat in Fleet 1 finished just seven minutes from the time limit. Fleet 2’s first finisher had just two minutes to spare from having the race be abandoned due to the time limit being reached. There’s a certain ambivalence involved in enjoying a race that has so many challenges that don’t necessarily involve sailing skills, or tactics, but that is often what happens when the weather is one of the major elements of your sport. In the end, it resembles life itself in that whether you like it or not you have to be ready for whatever is thrown at you.

After such a long ordeal, the RC decided enough was enough and as the boats finished we were instructed that there’d be no more racing and that we should; “Go have some chili!”  The awards ceremony was accompanied by another fine spread of food including the aforementioned chili in both spicy and mild form plus hot dogs to round out the meal. Of course it wouldn’t be a regatta without a keg of beer and after such a long day it was quite a welcome sight!

The RC did an admirable job; getting off five races for the weekend was a great accomplishment. Running a mistake-free regatta is almost impossible to do and they came damn close to doing it. In the end, the only thing you should ever say to a Race Committee is “Thank You!” I’ll try to remember that for next time myself!

Darrell Dwyer, HRYRA President