There’s something wrong when the best memory of the weekend involves hypothermia
Last year, when Pat and I had Black Magic
at the Dillon Open, we were noticed. There were some people up here who had thought about trying to get an Etchells fleet going, and those people were eager to greet us and see the boat in action. We talked to several people who were interested in the boat, and we encouraged their enthusiasm. Our boat was exotic and special and beautiful. We felt almost like celebrities, since our boat attracted such attention.
Subsequently, one of those people in Colorado got an Etchells. Added to the four Etchells that were already in New Mexico/West Texas, we could combine to create Etchells Fleet 31 – admittedly covering a vast area, but still a fleet. Shortly thereafter, another Colorado sailor got an Etchells. We got the fleet organized, with Zorro as fleet captain, the most gung-ho Colorado guy as first officer, Pat as fleet treasurer, me as fleet secretary, and the second Colorado guy as fleet measurer.
We planned a fleet championship for last spring. Colorado #2 whined that we shouldn’t have the championship so early in the year – he was recovering from an operation, and besides, he had only just bought the boat and hadn’t had time to work on it. Zorro explained that the fleet championship had to happen early enough that the winner could be registered for the Etchells North American championship, and since the lake in Colorado was frozen over, it made sense for the championship to happen at Elephant Butte. As it was, four New Mexico boats showed up for the fleet championship, but none from Colorado.
Meanwhile, another Colorado person, originally from Australia, who shall be subsequently be known as VS, bought the Etchells that Colorado #1 had bought and fixed up, and CO#1 bought another Etchells to fix up. All three Colorado Etchells owners subsequently spent huge amounts of time and money fixing up their boats.
Something else that distanced us from the DYC crowd – we had our boat on the other side of the lake at the Frisco marina. Initially, it seemed to make sense: We had the fantastic condo in Frisco, and the Dillon Open website said the Dillon Marina was overcrowded, so slips wouldn’t likely be available, and besides, slips in Frisco weren’t as expensive. BUT nearly all of that turned out to be a crock. There were plenty of empty slips in the Dillon marina (for the same price as Frisco), including the one that we’d put Black Magic
into last year, right opposite CO#1’s slip, where he could admire the boat and butter us up about building an intermountain Etchells fleet. The upshot of us being off in the hinterlands of Frisco was that, since winds were light in the mornings when boats were headed out to the race course, we had to have a motor to get there, but boats heading out from Dillon were close enough that they didn’t need one. So we were automatically saddled with a 30-pound disadvantage.
Now, having the motor wouldn’t automatically have been a bad thing. The Dillon Open Regatta uses a handicapping system that tries to compensate for differences in boat speed. If Black Magic
had been scored against boats using the PHRF handicapping system, having a motor would have, at least in theory, resulted in an adjustment in her finishing time that would have put her on an equal footing with all of the other boats in the PHRF fleet.
BUT there were four boats signed up for the Etchells fleet for the Dillon Open. Five boats would make enough boats to have a separate Etchells one-design fleet. In a one-design fleet, all boats are presumed equal, so there aren’t any time adjustments. In a one-design fleet, having a motor on the boat is nothing but a disadvantage – it slows the boat down, and there’s no handicap adjustment.
So the Colorado Etchells people signed up a bogus competitor, “Dennis O’Connor,” to make up the five needed to make a one-design fleet. If we hadn’t showed up, they probably couldn’t have gotten away with signing up two ficticious competitors.
As soon as I saw the Colorado fleet, I knew we didn’t have a chance. Yes, one of these boats had been in even worse shape than Black Magic
was when we got her, but all three of these boats’ owners have boatloads of money, and they had spent all winter essentially rebuilding these boats from the keel up. The boats are dry-sailed, delicately hoisted into and out of the water rather than being ramp-launched, and because they don’t sit in the water, they don’t have bottom paint, just shiny, gleaming surfaces that a woman could use as a mirror to apply makeup.
The racing schedule was severely biased against boats that docked at the Frisco Marina. The skippers’ meeting was at the Dillon Marina at 10:30 a.m. It didn’t end until after 11 a.m. The first starting warning was to be at noon. We raced from the Dillon Marina to the Frisco Marina and got underway as fast as we could – Penzance had flown into Denver and rented a car and got to the boat ahead of us, so he could get a jib bent on while we were at the skippers’ meeting. But even with both sails and motor on, we still didn’t get to the racing area until just a few minutes before racing was to begin.
Something that complicated matters was that we were supposed to check in with the check-in boat, and we’d been given a description of that boat as a pontoon boat with a red canopy, and that the boat would be located between the Dillon marina and the race course area. We spotted such a boat and were headed toward it, when it started moving. We figured the time was getting late enough that the check-in boat was changing position to its subsequent assignment as finish boat, so we attempted to pursue it. We finally managed to get close enough to it to see that it wasn’t flying a race committee flag and in fact had nothing to do with the race. It was just some family off on a jaunt and probably totally puzzled about why all these sailboats were following them.
At that point, we headed in the direction that the check-in boat was supposed to be. We passed one of our fellow Etchells, VS
, and we asked, “Where’s the check-in boat?” assuming they had already checked in. They pointed to the signal boat and said “It’s the big blue boat there.” So we headed to the signal boat. The signal boat had been the check-in boat last year, and maybe, there had been a change of plan that we hadn’t heard over the VHF.
Nope, we learned when we got to the signal boat, the check-in boat was where it had been sitting all along, up near the Dillon Marina. We had to check in with the check-in boat before we could race.
Because many other racing boats had been deceived by the decoy boat, the race committee decided to allow check-in over the radio for boats that were arriving late to the course, even though the Sailing Instructions had said check-in should not be done by radio. That ruling allowed us to race. But I’m still frustrated with the crew of VS
for telling us that the signal boat was where to check in, when they knew full well the check-in boat was a half-mile away in the other direction. They later said they hadn’t understood our question.
Saturday’s racing was, for the most part, miserable. Winds were mostly light. Compared to the other Etchells, whose owners have tons of money to pour into their boats, Black Magic
was a decrepit old tub. Yeah, last year, she was the exotic beauty that attracted everybody’s attention. But this year, she’s the past-her-prime star. The Colorado people have their own Etchells now, and they don’t care about any others.
The three Colorado Etchells are so far beyond Black Magic
in condition and equipment that there’s no competition. And CO#1 and CO#2 are also way beyond us in crew experience and ability. We may be more evenly matched with VS
: that boat is in better racing tune, but the people who sail her aren’t necessarily better.
During one of the starts Saturday, we tangled with VS
. We were approaching the starting line, on starboard, close to the committee boat. We were to leeward of VS
, and there were about four boats to leeward of us (the Etchells, being a small fleet, had joint starts with a couple of other fleets). We repeatedly hailed VS
to head up, and she did not head up. She had room to head up, although doing so would have caused her to be over the line early. (Her skipper later said he had not heard our hails to head up.)
During the final ten seconds of the starting countdown, VS
finally headed up, and then she slowed down. At that point, there was nothing I could do – I was going faster than she was, but there was a bunch of boats to leeward that kept me from falling down. I tapped her stern. We and VS
both called “Protest” and put out our red flags. Because tapping the other boat’s stern meant that I had failed to prevent collision, I took a two-turns penalty. VS
didn’t take any penalty.
What was interesting was that even though I took that penalty, I still found myself right on VS
’ tail, and even overtook her briefly on the downwind leg. Spinnaker foul-ups lost us that lead.
Since we had to go to Frisco rather than the Dillon Marina when racing ended for the day, we didn’t get a chance to get our protest heard. The time limit for protests was 45 minutes after the committee boat docked at Dillon. It takes 35 minutes, at best, with a good motor, for a boat to get from the race course to Frisco. Then, just doing a rudimentary “tying up loose ends” docking at Frisco, say, 10 minutes, and then risking getting a speeding ticket by getting from Frisco to Dillon in 10 minutes, well, we missed the protest period by five minutes.
At the end of Saturday’s racing, I was seriously questioning what the hell I thought I was doing. Here I was, with this old, decrepit, Norma Desmond past-her-prime tub of a boat. All of the other boats were Angelina Jolie. What business did I have thinking I even belonged on the same planet with these other people?
That question was reinforced at the regatta dinner and party Saturday evening, when the other Etchells people pretty much pretended we didn’t exist, except for a brief argument with VS
’s skipper over that race start. Clearly, as far as the Colorado Etchells people were concerned, I didn’t
belong on the same planet.
Sunday, since we didn’t have to go to a skippers’ meeting before racing, we actually were among the first boats to get to the race area. Clouds were looming, so, even though for the moment conditions were warm and even a bit muggy, I put on my rain pants and fleece pullover.
The first, and as it turned out only, race Sunday was probably the high point of the weekend for us. We were about halfway up the first leg of the race when it began raining. As we rounded the windward mark, we started to put the spinnaker up, but the wind made a major shift, and we were close-hauled again. Then it started hailing. Pat, Tadpole, and Penzance took breaks from crew duties to put on their foul-weather gear. Many of the other boats retired from the race, but we stuck with it. Eventually, I put on my rain shell – it’s such a hassle to put on that I don’t use it unless conditions are really bad, and I finally decided conditions were bad enough that I ought to have another layer.
We finished the race with lightning and thunder crashing around us and headed back to Frisco to put the boat away. By that time, I was shivering fiercely, and I was getting tunnel vision. We didn’t bother with properly putting the boat away; Penzance used the spinnaker sheets to tie around the mainsail to keep it from blowing around, and then we headed to the condo, where I peeled off all of my wet things – in spite of having rain pants on from the beginning, I was literally soaked to the skin – and got into dry clothes, while Penzance made tea, that wonderfully British remedy for all things and especially well suited for hypothermia. Before too long, I warmed up, and we went to Dillon for the awards ceremony.
There again I was made to know that I wasn’t welcome. We found ourselves a place at a table while the pavilion was mostly empty. When the Colorado Etchells people arrived, they sat at the other end of the table and at the next table over, keeping a 20-foot radius from us. When CO#1 got his trophy for first place in the Etchells fleet, he spent a lot of time thanking his fellow Coloradans for their help and for making the fleet possible, but he didn’t even mention the Etchells Fleet 31 secretary or treasurer. (Pat later informed me that on the Dillon Yacht Club web site, Fleet 31 is mentioned as if it is sponsored by DYC, and its only two officers are CO#1, “fleet officer,” and CO#2, “fleet measurer.” No mention of the fleet captain, the fleet secretary, the fleet treasurer, or the fleet social chairman. I guess the only people that matter – or even exist – are those in Colorado.)
In the end, I feel betrayed and used. If Black Magic
hadn’t showed up, the Etchells would have been racing in the PHRF handicap fleet, but since we did show up, they could just enroll one more boat (even though it didn’t exist and so got four DNCs) to make the fleet happen. That meant three Etchells were guaranteed to get trophies, instead of having to compete with a bunch of other boats. VS
would definitely not have won a trophy if it had had to compete in the PHRF fleet, and even CO#2 might have had difficulty. All I was good for was to make some statistics; I wasn’t even good enough to socialize with during the onshore events.
Worse, Black Magic
, my baby, my pride and joy, is just a worthless tub, a slowpoke, a decrepit relic that doesn’t even have the speed to make up for the ineptness of VS
’ crew. I don’t have the tens of thousands of dollars that the Colorado people poured into their boats over the winter. I can’t make Black Magic into anything like the gleaming treasures that they have made of their boats.
All in all, this has been a humiliating experience, and one I’m not inclined to repeat.
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