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Cruiser or racer?

This is a story about a little cruising boat that decided to try being a racer. It’s been an interesting beginning to this new career. For those less familiar with the sailing/racing world, most clubs have regular Wed nite, Thurs nite, and/or Fri nite class races as well as special weekend races/regattas throughout the sailing season – pretty much as long as there isn’t ice on the Bay.

So, I joined the Rock Creek Racing Association (RCRA) that does Wednesday night races near my yacht club. These are described as ‘fun’ races – a relative term when applied to sailboat racing. There is a saying that ‘any two boats traveling in approximately the same direction constitutes a race’. Yes, most sailors have a competitive streak.

I also applied for my PHRF rating. That’s a system that attempts to even out the competition base on boat performance characteristics. The purpose of racing is to test sailing skill rather that boat design. The rating for Valinor II, my Catalina 34, is 165 which is  reasonably high, meaning my boat tends to be slower in the same conditions than many other boats, especially those designed for racing.

It’s not my purpose here to describe the specifics of the racing protocol, rather to share my early experience. If all goes well, there will be more stories to tell thru the season.

Well, my first race with RCRA was pretty short. Imagine a dozen boats under sail, milling about in light wind (poor maneuvering) all waiting for the time signals from the committee boat to cross the relatively narrow start line for the race around a prescribed course. For this first race, I had no crew – just me and my boat. We were close to the start line and I had a plan for how to get across as close to the start time as possible, but not early. Early, by the rules, means you have to go back around and start again – not a good thing.  Worse, when turning toward the line, the steering wheel continued to spin around, but the rudder wasn’t moving …. minor panic in traffic with the loss of steerage due to a broken steering cable.  (Note the frayed cable and chain off the drive sprocket)

Good news, another boat came by and tossed a tow line to get me out of the race area. Put anchor down, got sails down, set up emergency tiller, retrieved the anchor and headed back to the marina. It all seems deceptively simple here in the telling.

So, first race down with a Did Not Start (DNS), and a pricey fix to the boat’s steering. Weaker souls may have quit right there. Just then my perfect race got announced.

On the west coast (SanFrancisco), they have a race called the ‘3 Bridges Fiasco’. It’s a fun race, open to all classes of boats, designed to be simple so non-racers might bring their boats out for the fun. The Annapolis Yacht Club decided to emulate that race, and called it the ‘2 Bridges Fiasco’ to accommodate the course options in local water.

The race has a pursuit start meaning each boat is given a handicap (remember my PHRF rating) applied at the start, so boats have different starting times. Those times are announced before the race. That means the order of finish is, in fact, the actual order of finish. It also means fewer boat crossing the start line at the same time. To make it more interesting, boats could sail the course in either direction. Let that image sink in given we had 142 boats registered for the 9nm race.

Rules required boats to be only single or double-handed, i.e. no extra crew riding the rails. I was smarter this time and got crew. In particular, I found crew with significant racing experience. See what a quick learner I am?

The start of this race was much better. We were only a few seconds behind our designated start time, and with only one other boat crossing the start with us. Slower boats had already gone, and the faster boats were lining up behind us for a later start.

Conditions were great. We had strong 8-20kts of wind steady from the south. That was enough wind to knock a couple boats down, put Valinor’s rail in the water and top out our speed well above typical cruising speed. We made decent time around the course. Didn’t hit any of the marks or other boats. Rounded all the marks on the correct side. We finished well down the list of the 133 boats that finished, but 11th out of 23 in our class – not bad!

A few pix …


After these early experiences, I’ve registered for a couple other specialty races, and have crew for the RCRA Wednesday night races. I’m sure we can move up in placement!

  1. Steve Powell #

    Love reading about your “exploits”….keep them coming!!


    August 7, 2020
  2. Yep, really fun sailing in 15-20kts! Only had to make one small correction from our course .. wind died as we were rounding a mark.

    On Thu, Aug 6, 2020, 3:52 PM chesapeaketidings & more.. wrote:



    August 6, 2020
  3. Kathy B McGowan #

    Chuck LOVED serving as crew in races on other people’s boats. So much fun! Enjoy. I will enjoy reading about your experiences. Good luck!


    August 6, 2020
  4. Michael C. Caskey #

    Racing is a whole new perspective huh! The “fun” races are fun but most skippers take them pretty seriously. The biggest thing racing teaches me and everyone else who tries it is to be much smoother and to stop making those little mid course changes that rob so much momentum. You truly learn what “stay the course” really means. So much better to make a larger course change slowly than many little quick changes. Like I think I told you before , racing is fun until it gets too serious and isn’t any more. Being too serious broke up a really good (always first or second in handicap and the same for match races) factory sponsored crew of a 29 Lazer in about 2 overheated races.

    Sent from my iPhone



    August 6, 2020

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