As they rounded the mark they gybed again putting them on the same point of sail as their arch rival for the start of the windward leg. Both boats tightened up until they were as hard on the wind as they could be. All but the skipper at the helm, and the two trimmers moved to the rail to act as ballast as the boat heeled over driving to windward. Even those three moved as far to the high side as they could while still doing their jobs. The other boat’s bow was almost on their stern but just a little off their downwind quarter and so was eating their dirty air.
“He’s going to want to use the advantage of his larger genny so he’ll want to get out of our dirty wind.” The owner/skipper said quietly. “He’ll throw in a tack quickly, then tack back again once he’s cleared our stern and then try to power through above us and get the upwind advantage. He can do it too if we let him.”
“Then what’s the plan?”
“Going to sit in his face!” The skipper said. Not all of the crew understood that particular term, but the regulars who had the key jobs on board all did. Then he said to the first man on the rail, the fores’l sheet tailer, “Stay looking back at him at all times and let me know as soon as anyone twitches like they’re about to tack. The rest of you stay ready to tack with no notice. And remember, don’t let them know what we’re about to do.”
It was only a few seconds before the man on the rail quietly said, “They getting ready skip.”
“OK everyone. Don’t move …… just think ready.”
A few seconds later the man on the rail said, “They going skip! They going!.”
“READY ABOUT!!!!” Yelled the skipper without looking back, and in virtually no time everyone was in their positions shouting “READY!”
“HELM’S A-LEE!” And the boat’s bow started swinging rapidly across the wind, almost in unison with the other boat, as the mains’l trimmer adjusted the traveller to the new tack and the heads’l trimmer yelled his customary “PULL! PULL! PULL!” to the tailer as he released the other sheet before moving swiftly to the other winch, deftly inserting the handle and changing his cry to “TAIL! TAIL! TAIL!” Once the sail was almost completely in he grabbed the sheet from the tailer and said “I got it” and continued his fine adjustment while the tailer climbed up to the rail to add his weight there.
At the end of the exercise they were in pretty much the same position as they were before related to the other boat though now on the other tack. Their rival was still eating their dirty air which negated the advantage of their larger heads’l.
“Great job guys!” The skipper said. “But stay alert. He’ll be doing that again real soon.” He reminded the tailer to keep his eyes on the other boat and sure enough it was not long before he quietly said, “They getting ready again skip.”
“You know what to do guys.” Which everyone realised had replaced the normal “Ready about” command.
“They going skip! THEY GOING!”
And another flawless tack ensued allowing them to maintain their advantage right on the other boat’s nose feeding them the turbulent wind off their own well-trimmed sails.
“He’ll try that one more time and if we do a good job he won’t try again on this tack.”
Almost a minute later the other boat threw in another back to back set of tacks but this time there was no warning. The alert tailer reacted at the first sign enabling them to maintain their advantage.
“What makes you sure he won’t go again?” The mains’l trimmer asked.
“He doesn’t have enough room now to get through on the upwind side before we reach the rocks and have to tack away again.”
“So what’s he going to do?”
“Drive us onto the rocks. By so doing he’ll try using our lead to his advantage and force us to tack before we run aground. Then he can tack on the cleaner air higher on our stern and not in the dirtier air on our quarter and then overpower us on the next leg. Once clear of the rocks, if we want to throw in another tack to try to get back our old position of feeding him dirty air he’ll be on starboard and we’ll have to let him through. He held off with his last tack to position us right into the rocks on this tack. He’s clever”
“So what do we do?”
“Sit in his face as long as we dare before we hit the rocks ……. and see who blinks first.”
True enough, the other boat made no further attempts to throw in another tack, but held position about two boat lengths behind. After a while the skipper called to the foredeck man, who was the smallest and lightest of the crew and the most forrard sitting on the high side.
“Watch those rocks up ahead, and when we get to about two hundred feet or so then stand at the mast and start calling the distance to me. Call it by boat lengths not feet, keeping in mind it’s roughly three boat lengths to a hundred feet. And look beneath the surface for the closest point. Not at the water line.”
Intrigued, some worried, glances were exchanged among the crew who were now starting to experience more than the normal rush of adrenaline that comes with a close fought windward leg.
Then the skipper looked at the two trimmers and the tailer and said, “And you guys better look sharp and make no mistakes. This will be close. He means business and he’ll have two or three boat lengths in reserve that we won’t when we get there. But still don’t let them know when we’re about to go.”
As the rocks raced swiftly closer the foredeck man stood up and held onto the mast on the windward side of the heads’l. “About seven boat lengths!”
“Six……….. Five boat lengths ……… four………… three.” He never looked back.
“They getting ready skip.” The tailer quietly said.
“Thank God!” Sighed the heads’l trimmer.
“TWO boat lengths.”
“ONE AND A HALF!”
“PULL! PULL! PULL!”
“High side everybody!” The skipper reminded them. “Thank you!” He called to the foredeck man.”
“….. Shit! ….” Said the mains’l trimmer as he watched the jagged rocks speed past just a few feet from the rail.
“Settle down.” Said the skipper. “We won’t have to do that again this race. Clear water from here on.” Then with a wry smile at the two trimmers he said, “That’s one advantage of being the owner as well. Don’t have to answer to anyone except the insurance company.”
“What if he hadn’t thrown in that tack when he did?”
“I’d still have tacked when I did. Couldn’t have gone any closer. Only had to make sure he couldn’t get high on our stern on the next course…. Didn’t need to go any closer to the rocks than he could have, just no further away. In fact if I’d know he was going to chicken at four or five boat lengths I’d have tacked sooner.”
The course they were on took them to the windward mark. During that leg the other boat made two further unsuccessful attempts to get the upwind advantage but they rounded the mark pretty much in the same relative positions as before, hoisting their spinnakers and lowering their genoas as they did so.
“D’ya reckon he’s given up trying to get above us?” The heads’l trimmer asked once round.
“No.” The skipper responded. “You don’t get to be North American champion by giving up. He’ll try to get us on the downwind leg. He’ll try smothering our wind from behind, then, as we slow, he’ll try sailing through us. If he makes the next mark before us then he’s got us. It’s a windward finish and his bigger genoa will give him the extra speed on the last leg.”
“What’s the plan now then?”
“Sit in his face.” said the skipper ……..