After sailing the last two Viper regattas as crew I decided it would be fun to steer at the Bacardi Newport Regatta and get a different perspective. Kay and Karen were kind enough to offer up their Viper #98 and I quickly accepted. There were, as always, a bunch of things I learned over the weekend about Viper sailing…[Photo at right: Ched, Jamie and Charlie in Sail 18 in the first row for Sunday’s second race at 2013 ACCs. Photo by Ro Fernandez]
I was joined by Jamie Ewing, my regular Lightning middle man, and my son Charlie Proctor as crew. This put us right around 500 lbs total crew weight and provided us with lots of hiking power and the strength I believe is required to make a Viper perform in a breeze.
Sail Newport did two separate score sheets for the weekend. The 1st was for those who registered and sailed the Friday Saturday and Sunday three day event while the 2nd was for the, 2 day, ACC Championship for those, like ourselves, who could only participate on Saturday and Sunday. Of course, as is typical when I’m not there, Friday’s conditions were spectacular with a great 12- 18 knot Northeast breeze on the course North of the Newport bridge. Phil Lotz’s team sailed to 4 wins and a 3rd in the five races on Friday. Thankfully for us everyone had a new shot at him Saturday as the scoring started over for the two day Atlantic Coast Championship. I’m not sure any of us would have caught a 1,1,1,1,3!!
On Saturday, the wind was lighter, but still out of the Northerly direction. The committee signaled a rendezvous area outside of Narragansett Bay just south of Beavertail Light. It was a long light air downwind trek to the race course where we experimented and discussed light air, downwind technique. After a brief postponement, to allow all competitors to get down to the course, the first race was sailed in 6-9 knots from a direction of about 20-25 degrees. The course was set for four legs, with 1.1 mile beat. Team Lotz kept the ball rolling from Friday and jumped off to an early lead on the left side of the course but, later in the leg, several boats came out of the right strong as the wind oscillated back and forth and pressure seemed to fill from the right. Much of the fleet had difficulty rounding the weather mark with a strong current sweeping the starboard tackers onto the mark. Ironically, Phil rounding in the lead, lost track of the offset during his spinnaker set and hit it. This allowed Viper class measurer, Dave Nickerson to take advantage and step into the lead as Lotz dropped his spinnaker and executed a speedy 360. Dave and his team elected to hold starboard jibe almost to the layline which helped them gain a substantial lead by the leeward mark. Phil Lotz’s team sailed a terrific second beat to round the second weather mark in second. The wind got light and shifted right, encouraging an early jibe to port. By the finish the Lotz and Proctor teams passed the Nickerson team to take 1st and second with Nickerson holding third.
The second race on Saturday was started in similar breeze. The weather end of the line appeared favored to most of the fleet, but those who resisted the temptation and started further down the line were rewarded with a current elevator about a quarter mile off the start line. Nickerson, being the leeward most boat, hit it first and was swept up across our bow. Each of the 4 or five boats to our left were one at a time brought up over our bow and then we did the same to the rest of the fleet to our right. Nickerson sailed conservatively and tacked when he had a substantial lead. Jay Rhame, was just to his right and 2nd boat into the current elevator. Our group of 5 boats tacked to port tack and was crossing the rest of the fleet with a substantial advantage. Jay elected to take a 200 meter starboard tack hitch out to the left taking Nickerson’s stern. This worked to his advantage and gained him the lead and they were off to the races. The wind got very light in the last part of the beat and the first few boats out to the left (toward Beavertail Light) had the aforementioned strong positions which they were able to hold on to through some very light going at the top of the beat. A late pressure increase from the right enabled those who missed the initial left current advantage (but resisted the temptation to chase it) a reward with pressure from that side late in the leg to bring them back into contention. The next leg was a light air run to, what turned out to be, the finish as the committee shortened the course to finish at the leeward gate. Jay easily held his lead as our team and Nickerson fought for second. Finally being light was an advantage and we just nosed out Nickerson by a couple of lengths. Although it was 2:30, the committee wisely decided it was time to get the fleet started toward home given adverse current, light wind and the long distance to base. One lesson we did learn was how critical it was to avoid weed patches that seemed to be all over Block Island Sound. We made sure to keep note of that heading into Sunday’s races.
Sunday’s forecast was pretty dire with nothing stronger than 6 knots forecast for the entire day. The harbor in Newport didn’t show as much as a ripple of wind as we waited for the decision on whether we would go sailing and get any racing in before the 11:00am start time. As it turned out a fine Newport sea breeze decided fill across the Sound as we sailed out the Narrows. Although a bit on the lighter side of average for Newport, we were excited to have the chance to get some more racing in. The breeze varied from 6-9 knots but, as the day progressed, we saw as much as 14 knots from a, fairly consistent, 215- 225 direction.
The first attempt at a race was abandoned because the weather mark was in the wrong location and we had a rather tight reach to the leeward gate. The weather mark boat seemed to be having its challenges as the mark wouldn’t stay inflated and, finally, the mark boat just anchored and flew the “M” flag (missing mark) for the days’ two races. The nice thing was that the radio communication let the competitors become aware of the situation so no one was surprised by the boat with M flag substituting for the mark.
In the first real race Danny Pletsch and Cardwell Potts, with a four-man team, had his way with the fleet to win easily as Nickerson continued his great sailing with a second. Our team fought back to a sixth place after being called over early and this left three boats tied (or so we thought) at ten points each going into the last race.
For the last race the wind seemed to be dropping a bit and shifting left. My feeling from past experience is that as the sea breeze weakens the left is often good and, with the leeward end favored that is where we wanted to start. The first start was a general recall as all the leaders seemed to be vying to get that coveted leeward end start and pulled the fleet all over early with them. One thing I always seem to have a little problem with is how difficult it is to get the Viper to park near the starting line. It just always wants to keep moving forward and, in ten knots of breeze it seems to get at speed very quickly. In the start that went we were about five boats up from the pin and about 30 seconds after the start tacked to port, easily crossing the entire right end. The handful of boats to our left tacked around the same time we did because the wind was about the furthest left it had been all day. I figured all our competition to win the event was on our left in this shift. The wind was strong enough to justify maximum hiking. I felt the need to sail in a point mode to close with the competition on our left. I kept the mainsheet super tight and let the boat ride high going up the waves to gain height on the boats on our left hip. As we began to gain height on them Jamie observed that all our close competition to win the regatta was to our right. It seemed likely the wind would shift back to the right so I eased a few inches of mainsheet and tried to keep bow down as much as possible without causing excessive heel. As Jamie predicted, the wind did shift back to the right with the compass going down from 235 to nearly 250 as we got near the right corner. Lotz, with Nickerson to leeward, led the pack out of the left. We were ahead of them by a few lengths, with the extraordinary talented Peter Beardsley and David Owen aboard Vicious Panda ahead of all by a couple of lengths. We tacked on Nickerson’s line but a little early as we didn’t want to force him away but to keep control. We rounded the weather mark with a nice little lead and went into the high fast mode because the wind velocity was up near 12. We jibed fairly early figuring the right shift would advantage an early port jibe, but Jay Rhame caught us from the left so we crossed behind him on starboard tack when were still about a minute from the leeward mark. At this point Charlie and Jamie managed to pull off a super jibe to just get us in front of Jay at the left (looking downwind) gate mark while Phil and Danny/Cardwell were rounding the right mark. The Vicious Pandas were clearly leading the pack at the right gate, but lost the lead when they apparently hit the mark and following the standard of sportsmanship that I admire so much about the Viper class, they immediately took a penalty turn although we didn’t see them hitting the mark. This allowed us to sail into the lead on the second beat.
As we got near the top of the 2nd beat we came up on the J22 fleet which added to our challenges. Though we rounded with, what in any symmetrical kite boat would have been a comfortable lead it turned out to be more of a challenge than that! We jibed fairly early to try and protect the middle of the course. The problem that developed was we came up under the J22 fleet fast but not fast enough to get through the line without sailing into a wind shadow. In my experience this is deadly in the Viper because your speed will drop drastically very quickly. We ended up jibing away from the line of J22s and had a bad jibe meaning that we came out going very slow and fell off the plane. Danny and Cardwell’s black spinnaker was sailing down the right side of the course (they held starboard all the way to the starboard tack layline) and when we jibed back to port we had a feeling we were losing. We kept it close but Blackout Proposal just crossed us at the finish to take their second win of the day (and move into third overall, beating Lotz on a tiebreaker), but by staying in front of Nickerson our team was thrilled to have held on and won the 2 day portion of the Newport Regatta and the Viper Atlantic Coast Championships!
There were, as always, a bunch of things I learned over the weekend about Viper sailing…
On Sunday we were set up fairly soft on the uppers, but with snug lowers and the partner control pulled back hard. All of this was to keep the main fairly powered up (mast straight) and headstay tight to maintain height through the waves. I felt it helped to pay close attention to the leeward jib telltales and push the helm aggressively to head up whenever there was any kind of lift. I kept the mainsheet tight to maintain leech and headstay tension and, when on occasion the boat would get overpowered, a quick ease of the sheet seemed to help balance the helm and boat. I would then follow that with a quick trim after heading up slightly to get the boat to “grab” again and reattach the flow. Downwind it seemed to be very marginal whether to sail the high fast mode or to soak a little low. Truthfully, a lot of the time the “in between mode” seemed to work just fine! There is a small band of wind strength where this is the best mode. That said I really think reacting quickly to slight changes in conditions and pressure and deciding quickly which mode is best is important in downwind Viper speed and can gain you a lot of distance. I did notice that it seems that a lot of people hold high too long as the wind drops and sail a lot more distance at, nearly the same speed, as boats that soak low.
The long run back into Newport after the finish of the last race was great fun. The wind was up and hot planning mode seemed to work a lot of the time (and was a lot of fun as well!). Just off Castle Hill the waves built up, as they often do, the wind got a little light and the low mode seemed to get the boat surfing down the waves part of the time. When puffs came we’d go to a hot mode and really enjoyed working the boat on the sail in to the hoist and, after the Pletsch/Potts team got us on the last run of the race, we certainly enjoyed going fast and gaining on them on the run home.