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Too hot, Too not, or Just right

Published on January 13th, 2020

When racing high performance boats, success requires staying fast, staying safe, and staying in the boat. Karen Binder, Secretary of the New England Ice Yacht Association, offers insight into how this applies to the hard water world:

With the upcoming DN North Americans on January 20-24, and warm temperatures forecast, I decided my day job could take a back seat to my DN training. My goal for the day was to improve my leeward mark roundings.

At a leeward mark rounding, fun happens when several boats start to convene towards the mark. You execute your strategy to get inside, you call for room, you come in wide, sheet in, and ideally you are close hauled just as you round up hugging the mark close enough to almost touch it. Love it!

Well, I did that aggressive maneuvering last year at the leeward mark in my DN up in Vermont on Lake Champlain when the wind was pretty big. Chris Gordon’s words still haunt me. “Well, she’s coming in really HOT.”

Do I remember flying out of my boat? No!

I only remember the excitement I felt at the approach, wanting to catch Eben, and seeing Chris standing by the starting area. Then, I was sliding on my back across the ice with my eyes still closed.

When I finally stopped, I took a deep breath. I looked back and saw my boat dismasted about 30 yards behind me. Chris came over to make sure I was okay. I was fine and so was my boat.

Reconstructing the scene, the gash in my right pant leg meant my leg hit the side stay as my body lifted and flew out of the boat. Is that horizontal g-force action? I don’t know, but I don’t wish to repeat it and I have been hesitant at the leeward mark roundings ever since.

So with two practice marks set, the breeze was up, and doing a ton of leeward mark roundings was my job for the day. Hour after hour after hour, with a small warm up break in the van, I basically went around and around and around the two marks. I even started cutting short the windward leg so I could fall off and build speed and just do more leeward mark roundings.

I was fast downwind and with my mast all popped out I’d do my final gybe. With my eyes on that mark and still going fast, I’d bear off straight down to lose some speed as instructed. Then, I’d ease the sheet and head up and make my approach. But I just could not pick the best point at which to turn up and round the mark close hauled. I’d either come in too HOT or NOT.

After sailing directly a training partner a bunch of times and trying to mirror his track, I thought I had the whole approach down. In a late day attempt, with a few folks watching, I felt confident I was going to nail it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Instead, I almost spun out. Argh!

I kept trying and I remained inconsistent. It was getting late in the day, my arms were getting tired, and it was not going to happen. Clearly, more work remains. I will head to the North Americans with some leeward mark regret. Maybe if I just stayed out another hour, but the moon was rising over Quaboag when we finally called it a day.

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