I was back racing at Marblehead yesterday. It has been close to 12 months since I have raced with the local fleet. I can only describe it as delicious.
The first gun was at 12.00. Despite four classes on the line, the RC banged off four races for the Vipers. 1 mile windward/leeward twice around and back to the dock by 4.30 pm. The great thing about Marblehead is that you leave the harbor, turn right, past Marblehead Rock and you are immediately in open ocean. The race course is right on the doorstep.
The breeze was from East South East 8-10 , gradually building to 10 -12 and higher puffs. Long gentle swells coming from the south. Hint to visitors:- Don’t make the mistake that I made on the first two races and over anticipate the sea breeze. It was hot and clouds were well formed over land so we anticipated the sea breeze veering to the right moving to South West. I’ve been away from Marblehead for too long and I forgot one of the cardinal rules. When the midday breeze has this much Easterly in it, it will stay Easterly for a while (folklore has it that Boston gets hotter quicker than Northshore , hmm?) and there will be backs as well as veers. For the first two races there were mild oscillations of about 10-15 degrees . If you banged the right (like yours truly), you ran out of race course to play these shifts. Local “headers”, Kay Van Valkenburgh and Paul Zimmerman schooled us. Perfect sea state and steady breeze made for really delightful conditions for sailing the Viper.
Olaf and I claimed some revenge in the third and fourth race and mixed it up a bit. We played middle right in the third race. The breeze was still oscillating gently but each righty had a bit more bite in it as the overall direction started to veer (This would be around 2.00pm for those taking notes). We managed to eke out first place at the last windward mark in the third race. But the locals timed their gybes on layline to perfection ( a mile out – they must have secret beacons on the ocean floor), and in a three boat drag race to the finish we finished second with all three boats separated by less than one boat length.
The fourth race demonstrated some of the best aspects of Marblehead hospitality and color. At the first windward mark we had a cluster F in the retrieval line so the hoist jammed. By the time we freed it, I was surprised to look around and see that the Viper who had rounded with us in top 2 places had deliberately delayed their hoist to “even things up” as they put it. We arrived at the Leeward mark with about 20 Rhodes 19s and Townies. The clinker built Town Class (The Towny) is local to Marblehead and it is like sailing through a page out of a vintage wooden boat magazine. They used to have split the Town Class into gold and silver fleets at Marblehead race week in the 1930s with 80+ boats on each start line, and they are still racing here every week. I was so distracted by the beauty of these 2 person vintage boats which look so flimsy on the open ocean that I did a mark rounding that can only be described as a wide entry and even wider exit. We rounded the final windward mark in second but logged into one of the secret beacons, Olaf executed a perfect gybe on layline and we came home first, heading in for the important race to the bar.
Ashore the town was full of street artists, revelers and exhibitions + a folk rock band playing on Crocker park overlooking the harbor. It’s the Marblehead Festival of Arts over the 4th July weekend. The Viper fleet repaired to the Barnacle where we sampled the art of the craft of the brewer.
I can no longer claim Marblehead as home, but it was great to be back. Anyone who is planning to come to Marblehead Race Week later this month or the Viper North American Championship in September next year……..you will not be disappointed.