Santa Cruz 27 Nationals

Howdy Poppabob,

Last weekend I raced with my sailing team on a Santa Cruz 27′ call ‘Hanalei.’ I’ve been sailing and racing with the owner since the end of last summer and they’ve been very welcoming and encouraging. Because I had sailed with my dad since long ago and have been chartering my own boats for the last few years, I came onto the team a little more confident that I should have been. Since the sailing I’ve done had, for the most part, been causal cruising, I had no experience with the nuance of racing keel boats, outside the calming and “soft-spoken” nature of the sport. But the skipper brought me onboard anyway and showed great patience as he taught me how to run the foredeck.

2013 Nationals SC27 FleetThe regatta was three days long with seven different races and 17 boats in our class. Our crew was some what unique in that we sailed together throughout all the regattas during the year as a team, whereas many of the boats had just put together crews for the regatta and were, initially, a little less ‘coordinated.’ So some could say, we had an advantage.

Throughout the regatta we danced around the top end of the fleet, exchanging places with the other competitive boats and falling victim to our own mistakes and the boat. In the first race of the series, on the final upwind leg we were happily sailing ahead of the fleet when our whole boat experienced a sharp crack and the jib slipped down the forestay by a foot. The boat slowed and flattened and we fell off the mark. Looking back I saw the weathered halyard had snapped at the jam-cleat and scrambled to action. We immediately dropped the jib, untied the remaining half-halyard, attached the spinnaker halyard and hoisted again. The transition was reminiscent of a Mizell-boy snow-chain exercise, but even with speed and precision, we’d lost our comfortable lead and two competitors slipped in front of us.  We rounded the weather mark and then, instead of hoisting the spinnaker and dropping the jib (so to maintain some forward thrust), we had to drop out jib and sail ‘dead-headed’ as I quickly rigged the spinnaker to the loose halyard.

Fortunately, this was our last downwind leg of the race, however there was one caveat: after the lee-mark, we had to reach, about 150 yards to the finish line. The short distance was prohibitive to dowsing the spinnaker and hoisting a jib with only one halyard. By the time the boat would be powered up, we would have been across the finish line, but we couldn’t survive if we simply dropped the spinaker, so we decided to attempt a reach with the spinnaker up, a maneuver that could over power the boat and knock us down.

As we surfed the downwind leg we made up one position and now were quickly moving on first place, a boat length ahead. Arriving at the lee-mark, we rounded to the inside of first place and, according to plan, dropped our spinnaker pole low and tight onto the pulpet and headstay and tightened hard on the sheet. The spinnaker flattened out as best it could and powered the boat up. However, it was no match to the crisp flat foresail of first place and they summarily pulled away. With second place rounding just seconds behind us, we were tense. As the final meters of the race passed our bow, two finishing whistle blasts were heard in sequence, Tweet… … … …Tweet.

2013 SC27 Nationals 6

We then pointed the boat toward the harbor and began to discuss the possible opportunities to fix the boat before we forfeited too many races. About halfway in, our tactician proposed attaching a block to our main halyard and running an new line through it (since we couldn’t run a new line through the mast with the equipment we had on board). Crazy enough, we agreed it would certainly work and we dropped our main, attached the block, ran the halyard, and hoisted our sails. Testing the new jib halyard, it sailed flat and fast. We were back in business, and in time for the next race. We ended the day with another third and a seventh in a short race that taxed our mental capacity for the day.  The second day we finished with a first and a fifth. The first was an exceptional win because it was the long distance course, a race within the race called the Dave Diola Cup. This win was especially meaningful to our boat as Dave was once the tactician for our boat and now his son Pat was sailing in his place. We celebrated heartily. With a third and a second on the third day [Results] and one ‘throw out’ race, we were able to secure Second place overall and more importantly, we took First in the Owner Driver class.

2013 Hanalei Nationals Downwind Video

It’s tough to beat the views from the winning pointy end of a boat on a race course filled with more than 50 spinnakers (from multiple classes) behind you. Aside from poorly tempered rum intake throughout the three day race, it was a great regatta and meaningful event! Sailing may never feel the same again, it’s going to just get better.

On The Pointy-End

Santa Cruz 27, Hanalei, sailboat races downwind with it's bright red spinnaker, #1118, ahead of the crowd

Up on the pointy end of a 4-6 man boat, my job is most often rigging, hoisting, changing, re-rigging, and dropping the for-sails, including the most common request of “SKIRT!” where after a tack, I make sure the jib is clear of the life-lines so it’ keeps the appropriate shape. Depending on the skipper and trimmer, if they’re sloppy, some points of sail can be an opportunity for the jib to constantly move from one side of the lines to the other, back and forth, driving the bow-man to plunge themselves overboard and into the sea in order to escape the persistant commands to “SKIRT!”

In general, foredeck is an easy job, often non-intelectual and highly mechanical. As such, it’s been a nice reintroduction to sailing, helping put me into a position of 80% observation and 20% working at 250%.  Most novel to the new position however, is the magic of the downwind kite. The spinnaker, a kin to Andrew and my home-made sail for exclusive use on Boy Scout rafts of the Colorado River, the kite is a large hyper-light piece of cloth used on the downwind. Because of the squarefootage of these sails, they catch the wind easily and deliver a great amount of force on the boat, pulling into which ever direction it’s pointed. Yet all this force is gingerly controlled by only two tiny lines (one a ‘guy’ the other a ‘sheet’ depending on our direction to the wind) and a forward facing boom, the “Spinnaker Pole”, which is controlled by a line on top, “topping lift”, and bottom, “fore guy”.

The up wind tacks are easy for the foredeck, our job, as I had said, was to help the sail keep clear the life lines, add a little weight to the rail and maybe most importantly, sit in front and take any waves so the crew behind doesn’t get wet. However, the down wind life is a little less static, and the tactics of the skipper become much more engaging.

At the windward mark, it’s time to work. The act of hoisting a spinaker, is very unlike the unfurling of a jib on a comfortably outfitted Catalina 42′, it’s more akin to the management of 14 grandchildren on Christmas Eve. Just before rounding a windward mark, about two boats away, the foredeck sets the boom in position on the mast about head high as the crew in the cockpit adjusts the topping lift and the foreguy to stabilize it. Then, foredeck readies the spinnaker (we keep ours below a hatch that I open, but many bring the sail onto the deck in a bag) by leading the head, tack, and clue out of the hatch a bit, but not Too much. By now the boat has the mark on it’s beam and the skipper bares away, easing sheets and I jump on the halyard. Fortunately, the Santa Cruz 27 only has a ~30′ mast, so the job goes quickly enough. However, once the spinnaker is up, the hatch needs to get closed (else I’ll fall into it, again) and the jib needs to come down onto the deck (else it will go under the boat, again), then reset so it’s ready to go up again at a moments notice. So in a rhythmically psychotic ear-ringing numbness kind of way, this all gets done within about 30 seconds of the mark. At least that’s the goal.

Gybing a Sabot is an easy task, and gybing a Catalina 42 can be a bit jarring, but isn’t problematic, however gybing a spinnaker on any boat requires a strict attention to the task from everyone on board. Called for from the back, a gybe is initiated by methodically turning the boat downwind, easing the sheet and pulling the spinnaker pole back, then it is detached, frist from the mast, then from the guy. Depending on how quickly this process is reversed, the spinaker is free flying, controlled by two sheets attached to humans (hopefully humans with tree trunk arms and rock solid abs). Then as quickly as the spinnaker pole came off, the mast end gets connected to the previous sheet, now a guy, and then hooked to the boom. As this is happening, the boat is typically tossing about in the wind and waves and fluttering as the crew does their best at managing the pounding forces on their lines. Once the guy is set, the foredeck lets the skipper know and the gybe is completed by trimming the sail. The foredeck man then slips back into a position of most valuable weight and least windage.

Some regattas we have sailed in were designed in such a way that only one gybe is necessary to complete the race, while other races require, because of course, wind, or competition, many gybes throughout the downwind leg, giving me much desired practice but also creating opportunity for error. Between gybes, I often find myself laying down on the lee side of the boat and looking up at the massive canvas above; the seams tugging and pulling creating mesmerizingly dynamic textures and depth with every fresh piece of air. This romantic peace doesn’t often last long, and I’m usually up again dancing on the bow for optimal boat balance for surfing or for the next gybe.

In my opinion, the bow of the boat is the best place to sail. As waves crest over the boat, with the yaw and pitch magnified, it’s a roller-coaster ride, leaning off the bow watching the boat cut through waves is magnificent, like a champion of the sea. However, best of all, on the pointy end, I’m always first to finish.