Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oxford Summer Race 2010

The Oxford Summer Races include a race from Annapolis to Oxford on Friday followed by a day of racing around a short course in the Choptank River on Saturday. Work precluded my participation in the Friday leg down to Oxford.


But the crew of Diamond in the Rough reports that Easterly breeze at 18+ kts all day made for an exciting run. It was a close reach to Black Walnut point, then they had to beat in to the wind up the Choptank River and finally a short leg up the Tred Avon river to finish at the Tred Avon Yacht Club in Oxford. They suffered a broken jib halyard shortly after turning upwind which cost them a few minutes' time while they set another jib on the other halyard. The finish was a respectable 5th place only a few minutes out the top 3, and I'm sure that would have been 2nd or 3rd without out the equipment malfunction.

I drove down on Friday evening and traded places with Bob Deyoung who drove my truck back to Annapolis Friday evening so he could meet other commitments he had on Saturday. I got to enjoy the club party Friday evening and slept on deck under the stars Friday night.


Saturday at first light we hoisted skipper Jim Mumper up the mast to replace the broken halyard in case we might need it during the day's races. Then the crew enjoyed a nice breakfast in the park of Oxford. Oxford is a real life version of what I imagine Mayberry was like in the old TV show "The Andy Griffith Show". It's just a lovely small town right on the water. Most homes are modest in size with picket fences, neat gardens, and trim lawns. Many people get around town on foot or by bike. Businesses include many boat yards and maritime related manufacturers or services, several are known throughout the Bay boating community for exceptional craftsmanship and service.


After breakfast we set out for the race course on Choptank river, about an hour's trip under power. The wind was from the East South East 8 - 10 kts with some some puffs up to 12kts or more. It was also oscillating in direction about 20 - 30 degrees throughout the day, making a tactically challenging day of racing. The temperature was in the 80's and the humidity was low. So it was also a gorgeous day to be on the water.

The committee set a windward - leeward course. Each leg was aprox 2 miles long and we had to sail twice around for a total of 8 miles. The axis of the course was due east west, 090 deg mag upwind - 270 deg mag downwind. But the true wind direction was about 110 deg mag with 20 degree oscillations. That offset would prove decisive at the end of the race. This map shows the approximate location of the course and the start-finish line. Note that we didn't start at one end, but rather at a point about 1/3 of the way between the windward and leeward marks. From the start we sailed first to the windward mark (heading East). Then turn downwind to the leeward mark and so on for two full laps around the course.

View Oxford Summer Race 2010 (positions approximate) in a larger map

We got off to a tough start when we were over the line a few seconds early before the horn sounded signaling the official start for our class. That meant we had to turn around and re-cross the line to start legally putting us slightly behind our competition from the beginning. There were only 3 boats in our class and as a result of the miscue at the start we were now playing "catch up" with the other two for almost the entire race. GOOD TIMES took advantage of an excellent start to jump to an early lead over DIAMOND (our boat) and RESTLESS that would prove insurmountable. GOOD TIMES just kept going and going and neither RESTLESS nor DIAMOND had a chance to catch them. But it was a close horse race between us and RESTLESS the whole way.

Playing catchup, we had nothing to loose. So we took more aggressive maneuvers at the turning marks. In particular we opted do a jibe set at the windward mark both times around the course while RESTLESS opted for the more conservative bare away set each time. This meant we had a more complex maneuver for the crew to execute, but put is in better sailing position after it was done if we didn't make any mistakes. There were only 5 of us on the boat for the day, while our ideal for a short course would be 7 or more, but with the moderate winds and the fact that we were now behind we had little choice but to be aggressive. It paid off very well. We completed the maneuvers successfully even with fewer hands, and at each mark ate in to RESTLESS' lead. But on both downwind legs RESTLESS had better boat speed and would pull away again.

By pushing like this throughout the race we kept within reach of RESTLESS. On the final leg we took down the spinnaker and had to tack back upwind approx 3/4 mile to the finish. RESTLESS was round the mark and had their spinnaker down about 1 minute before us. They tacked immediately, heading towards the left or north side of the course. If we made a similar tack we would likely experience identical oscillations in wind speed and direction and continue to follow RESTLESS, finishing a minute or so behind them.

Instead we opted to favor the right or southern side of the course while tacking towards the finish line. This decision paid off in spades. Remember, the wind axis at 110 was a little south of the course axis at 090. The oscillations favored this side of the course during the final 20 minutes or so of the race and we sped past RESTLESS, finishing a full 5 minutes ahead of them after trailing the whole day. Pop the champagne corks, we had pressed hard all day despite an early mistake that put us at a disadvantage. It was really a lot of fun and very gratifying.


After our race was done, we got to watch the log canoes race in the Tred Avon river. These are really fascinating boats. Many were originally built as working boats in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are narrow and have very low free board, like a canoe. The were used to dredge oysters and crabs in those early days. Today some of these old work boats still survive, others are more modern recreations, but all are limited to recreational racing against each other, to my knowledge none are any longer employed in commercial harvesting of seafood any longer.

The low free board and a large sail area make them inherently unstable. They rely on crews on large planks extended to the windward side of the boat to balance the pressure of the sails and keep the boats upright. Fascinating to watch them racing each other.

From Log Canoes in Oxford, MD Aug 2010


The final treat of the weekend was the ride home. After watching the log canoes and enjoying crab cakes for dinner, we left to take DIAMOND back home to Annapolis. We expected a calm night using the diesel. Instead we got a strong southerly breeze. After exiting Knapps Narrows and turning north we hoisted the mainsail, cut the engine and made it home in only about 5 hours. It was a delightful end to a great day. Many thanks to Jim for another great adventure.

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