race report


2012 A Class Nationals – The Battle of San Jacinto

It only took General Sam Houston a total of 18 minutes to win the Battle of San Jacinto and secure the freedom of Texas from the sleeping army of Santa Anna. For the 45 boat fleet sailing at Houston Yacht Club, April 20 – 22, an 18 minute battle may have felt like a good sailing opportunity given the weather delays Santa Anna conjured up from his grave to revenge the defeat he suffered all those years ago. To add insult to injury, the weather had been post card perfect the full week before the event with a number of boats arriving early to practice and enjoy our classic SE sea breeze and warm early spring temperatures. Regatta chair Bob Webbon did his best to invoke the favor of the Aztec wind god Ehecatl by sacrificing a side of beef for the kick off cocktail party on Thursday evening at his humble abode not far from the club.

As a result of that party, and the rumors of late night raucous behavior by visiting sailors, there were few complaints about the scheduled start time for first race on Friday of 1300 hours. Unfortunately, Mr. Webbon must have sacrificed one of Ehecatl’s favorite sides of beef. The God expressed his wrath by sending in a storm front that sucked all the wind from the area for the entire day, until the front itself came through with the bang of thunder and some horizontal rain. Fortunately, all the sailors had taken proper precautions of lowering their mast and tying down their boats to prevent any unintended sacrifices of carbon fiber.

During the long delay a number of sailors kept busy with various boat projects and we held a group discussion of the new bendy rig versus the old rig under the guidance of Jay and Pease Glaser, with Matt Strubel, Ben Moon, Bob Hodges, Bruce Mahoney, and others, adding their perspective.

That evening after the front passed, the sailors were treated to a burger buffet at the clubs porthole bar and continued to help build the club’s facility improvement fund with their drink charges. Poor weather does help keep bar tabs high. Saturday, the wind god was still upset as demonstrated by North winds in excess of 25 knots, with gust into the low 30’s as measured by the mast head anemometer of Martin Hamilton’s Condor 40 “Ground Effect”. Consequently, the delay flag was raised until the front lost some of its strength. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until late afternoon when the postponement flag was pulled down at 1530 hrs. By that time the wind had dropped to the high teens with gust in the low 20’s but since the launch beach is on the North side of the club, launching was a challenge, as the combination of low water and surf does not make for an A cat friendly launch. About half the fleet decided to stay on shore, including me, as several early departures ended up having very close calls with the club’s North breakwater prior to getting out in the bay. A number of us helped the boats launch from the beach.

For the non- A cat sailors reading this post, you can’t sail with your rudders only partially down in that kind of breeze and chop you will bust a rudder head or rudder. So it’s best to have a helper during launching. While someone holds the boat into the wind and chop about chest deep, you lower a rudder and dagger board and then the helper shoves the bow to leeward to get the boat going. A lot of work wadding to each boat and helping set them off, several boats still nearly ended up on the club’s north breakwater. But they all recovered prior to any carbon sacrifice. The beach crew was kept busy the rest of the early evening as carnage on the race course included one busted mast (a repaired bendy rig), several dismastings, one lost curved dagger board on a capsize – ouch, and one broken board another ouch. One of the dismastings was caused by a broken T fitting – the owner didn’t choose to replace the old one when he got his new mast in. Of course not many people may think to check their T fitting for signs of discoloration or wear – it’s a pretty thick piece of metal – but it’s metal after all and it’s under stress, put it on your check list for a visual inspection or on a replacement schedule.

The race committee held three races and the boats returned to be beach at about 1845 hrs. As for the races, Matt Strubel continued to be dominant in the conditions with a comfortable lead by the second windward leg of each race. The real racing from the beach appeared to be in 2nd and 3rd place with the spray flying downwind as the 3rd place boat pushed harder to catch the boat ahead. I didn’t keep track of the rest of the fleet as I mentioned we were kept pretty busy helping the busted boats out of the water.

That evening the hungry sailors were entertained by a Mexican dinner and tequila tasting. The regatta chair Bob Webbon announced the fleet split for the scheduled Intergalatic Regatta the next day. Essentially the split ended up being all the boats that didn’t race on Saturday as part of the Intergalatic fleet and those that did race were in the Championship fleet. Several folks were a little confused by this turn of events but the fleet split was spelled out in the SI’s for the regatta. So the Intergalactic fleet was set to start at 1030 hrs with the Championship fleet starting at 1100 hrs. Sunday morning proved to be a very light air affair on the heels of what we thought to be a dying North breeze. The intergalactic fleet started on time but the course was shortened to finish on the second beat – it took me a full 15 minutes to float past the finish line less than 30 meters in front of me. I swear the only reason I was moving at all was because the sail was acting as a fan as it slapped back and forth. The Championship fleet didn’t even get started. Consequently, a postponement flag was raised and the fleet slowly drifted back towards the beach with everyone thinking oh well that is it for the day.

Apparently, Ehecatl was satisfied with the amount of carbon sacrificed the day before as within an hour the North wind reappeared – something that again “never happens here” and built to a steady 10 – 12, allowing the Intergalactic fleet to complete three races and the Championship fleet to complete two solid races to end the event. Several of the fleet had already started packing up their boats for their trips home, but most sailors were very happy to have had the chance to get in some racing in great conditions. Pictured here is
Matt Strubel with another bullet.

Given the conditions for the event, I think it’s fair to say that no particular boat seemed to be dominating the top positions. Much more a matter of who was sailing the boat. There was a range of sail makers, masts, and boats in the top of the fleet. I leave it to the more technically oriented sailors to weigh in on their opinions of the best rigs seen and what seemed fastest. I do note that many in the fleet are switching to 12-1 mainsheet systems. I’m not sure if it’s a sign of the need for more adjustment or rather a sign of the age of the skippers – as one sailor put it – this is much cheaper than paying the physical therapist! I will say that the winner of the “prettiest girl at the party” title was Jay and Pease Glaser’s very baby blue A3. The only thing missing was a decal of Ariel and Sebastian from “The Little Mermaid” signing “Under the Sea”. We all might have to rectify that at the next regatta!

Regatta results are posted here for the championship fleet. Photos Courtesy of Shelli Skeels

Kevin Grice
President USACA