When Things Just Don’t Go Your Way

As a rookie, I felt I had a great first season. I had learned very quickly how to move my sail boats around a race course. Having won the club’s championship and winning one of the races at the Capital Cup, I started feeling like I had the experience and could win against any pond competition. Then came the “buzz saw” called the Florida Traveler’s Trophy.

The Traveler’s Trophy is a multi-site competition that takes place all over Florida. The first race of the series was held in Melbourne, Florida on the 9th of January 2021 at a pond that I had competed on three times before with my U.S. One Meter and DF 65. I had done pretty well there in both classes and improved each time I raced. Hopes were high as I signed up for the race.

One thing I learned about racing the Dragon Force 65 in light wind during previous races with the Space Coast Model Yacht Club, was that those having A+ sails had about a 25% advantage over someone using the A sails. Switch out from my A rig was a must… So, I thought.

I had ordered A+ sails and they came in just in time to be ready for the Traveler’s Trophy. Since my wife also races, I was in charge of outfitting her boat too. This was my first time working with the A+ rig, so I followed the directions that came with the parts. I later found out that the directions weren’t clear in one very important area. You see, the mast is longer than an A rig and has a double-sided joiner piece to connect the mast together and then there is another to connect the mast to the hull. This is where I put them in the wrong places. Yes, I reversed them. You may ask “How could you not see this?” Well, remember, I am a rookie and despite having built eight sailboats… I missed it. I did notice that the boom sat closer to the deck and the sail had more curl, but I thought this was the way this sail was suppose to be. I remember watching the YouTube video of the Australian Guy saying to get your sail down as close to the deck as possible, so maybe by the boom being so close to the deck, this was a good thing?

Now before you fault me for not testing it out before the race, I’ll let you know that I did. I went out to the Melbourne pond and did some practice races against a couple of Solings with great success. My little DF65 with my new A+ sails was keeping up with the bigger boats very well, if not better in the light wind. So, upon arriving home happy with my boat, I adjusted my wife’s boat to the same set up. This was a month before the big race and the wind was light. Both boats were ready to slay the competition!

The day of the big race the winds were at 15 miles per hour and there were small waves on the pond at times. I remember thinking that I had wished that I still had my A sails on my little dragon. Personally, I think swapping out the rigs on my boat is tough and I am not to the point where I bring three rigs to a race like some of the other competitors did. (I hate trying to get the lines through the eye bolts). It was cold and windy that morning and I didn’t see any reason to do a few practice laps. Heck, it whooped those other Solings! Why mess with perfection? Another mistake. Instead, I walked around and met a lot of nice people until the skipper’s meeting. This was fun and I met some great people. I even met the DF65 Class secretary Darrell Krasoski and we talked about the great things we’re doing in Region 2 and how we will be hosting our first Regionals.

The call went out to get our boats in the water and I was so excited. I really thought that my boat was dialed in and I had enough race stick time to do really well. Maybe I could even win this thing representing Maryland. No pressure….

Race number one I had a decent start. I started on port tack and was up near the front of the 18 boats. When It came time to shift to starboard tack the fun ended. My boat performed horribly in the high winds and I fell to the back of the pack very quickly. The mast being built wrong threw everything off and I guess the heavy winds made everything worse? I had to use constant rudder to stay straight and my little dragon had turned into a bucking bronco! The only person that was doing worse was my wife. She pulled her boat after a half a lap and following advice from race staff who recognized my mistake, she withdrew from racing. These races were long, so a poorly tuned boat’s performance was magnified. Each race was made up of two of the longest dog-legs that I had ever seen in my limited background. The laps seem even longer when you are way at the back. It’s also daunting when spectators give you advice that only someone sailing for the first time would need. Looking back, I guess the situation really did look that bad. Maybe I should have just pulled my boat? Na, anyone who knows me came tell you that I don’t give up easily. The race must go on! Surely, I could figure something out?

The second race went about the same way that the first race. Being about a half a lap back, other onlookers wanted to adjust my boat during the race. I pulled my boat and upon inspecting it, the first interested party wanted to start cutting lines. I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to end my race day after only two races. In the end this may have been the right thing to do, as I adjusted several times, cut two lines and re-rigged over the course of the day.

During a break between races a nice man who was from Ireland helped adjust my boat by adjusting the vang all the way down to take the twist out of my sail. The next race, I figured out that you can adjust the boom too far down on the deck, as my sails would not winch in and were stuck out because they were caught on the deck! So, I spent the whole race trying to figure out how to navigate in the high winds with my sails stuck all the way in. Not fun and embarrassing! It was probably a good thing that it took so long to get my boat back to shore, as a thought about drop-kicking it did go through my mind.

Then in about the 6th race, I thought I had it all figured out and adjusted. I started fast and went to the front, then as I went to starboard tact, that’s when I noticed that I couldn’t hang with the other boats. My boat’s sails would lose the wind and I would have to fall off the same line that the other boats were taking. At least I could sort of stay with the herd on port tact and it wasn’t so bad. At this point, I finally gave into the fact that there was nothing I could do with the mast problem and would have to be happy just being able to sail around the course.

Just sailing with the group was fun. Then another calamity occurred. Right before that race, I had cut my rigging and tied my main sail as high up as I could to the top of the mast. Well, I guess I didn’t tie my knots very well, as it came untied! Yep! My main sail dropped to the deck and I had to limp to the dock once again.

This was the end for me. How much of a beat-down can a sailor take? Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong including jumping a start in one of the races. I guess I should be happy my batteries, servo or winch didn’t go bad? Better yet, my boat didn’t sink!

Why am I sharing all this?

I wanted to share my experience and lessons learned, so that some day when you have a crummy day at the pond, you can remember this story and not feel so bad. Some of the lessons I learned were that you should always ask for advice when building a new rig and adjusting your sails. I’m sure someone from Space Coast Model Yacht Club would have helped me test my boat the day before. It’s imperative that you practice a little before every race as nothing replaces stick time. Lastly, when you go to these races that bring sailors in from all over the place it’s important to keep things in perspective. These racers are good!


P.S. I want to thank the sailors who took the time to help adjust our boats. We really appreciated it. The Space Coast Model Yacht Club threw a great event and are a bunch of nice people. I can’t wait to fix my boat and race with you again. Maybe next time I’ll win a few races? No pressure….

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