17 January 2010

Key West Race Week 2010

After two days of practice, Team Argo is ready for some competitive racing in this 22 boat fleet. The last few events have shown that the key to winning is to consistently not do poorly. With the variability in conditions and, to a certain extent, the influence of luck, the winning boat almost never dominates the fleet with a series of bullets, i.e., first place finishes. This maxim is sure to hold at this event, and we look forward to the psychological fortitude and physical finesse that will be required to win this event.

Yesterday began with a morning practice with a short-handed boat since most of the team hadn't arrived yet in Key West. After a quick lunch break, Argo returned to the waters outside Key West to dial in the boat in some fairly sloppy conditions. A south westerly wind whipped up a two to four foot chop that made slogging through the waves upwind positively miserable. After a day of boat work practice, the crew retired to what, for everyone, was the first full meal in weeks. As with every regatta on the Melges circuit, the crew has to make weight (1387 lbs/boat or an average of 154 lbs per person with 9 people on the boat). It's always a pain to drop weight to meet this weight limit, but everyone enjoyed breaking the week's long fast with a fantastic team dinner prepared by the crew's chef Sally MacDougal.

Today's practice was not much better in terms of crew comfort. Although the waves had died down because the breeze moderated over Saturday night, the morning greeted us with squalls. Our new SLAM sailing gear (provided by Sound Boatworks) made short work of the downpour, but the humidity and temperature quickly rose as the sun came out, providing for some sticky sailing. Our coach for this regatta, Willem Van Waay of the current world champions Bliksem, held a starting practice for Argo and the rest of the fleet, and we returned early to tidy the boat for the next few days of racing.

Like every regatta, this event is a reunion of sorts, and the team has enjoyed running into friends new and old from around the world. Teams in our fleet hail from all over the United States and from Italy, Great Britain, France, and Japan. In lieu of Brian Fox and Ben Bardwell, Argo is happy to have Karl Funk and Pauly Atkins sailing with us for this event.

Racing begins in eleven hours.

05 December 2009

Argo is in fourth with a tight grouping of boats. Dinner at LYC tonight.

The Argonauts in Florida

Spirits and hopes are high for the Argonauts as we begin the winter M32 circuit in Florida. The regatta began yesterday in an all-but sunny morning with rain squalls passing to the north and south of us and wind hovering at zero knots. After waiting off shore for a few hours, the afternoon saw a break in the clouds and racing began in a 7-12 knot southerly which whipped up a frothy chop from the southeast. These were tough conditions for racing. Nonetheless, the 23 boat fleet - just 6 short from the fleet at the worlds - managed to eek out three races in which Argo got a 4, 8, 12, placing us in seventh place. After one day of racing, only 11 points separate second from eighth. No pictures from our chase boat yet, but in the mean time, check out the event photos here.

27 September 2009

Argo is fifth in the world!

26 September 2009

Argo is in seventh. Just a handful of points out of either 5 or 11. Tomorrow is a big day.

Racing in PC - Days 1-3

With three days of racing under our belt, Argo is in thirteenth place with finishes 10, 10, 6, 17, 6, and 15. Only five points separate us from tenth place and only sixteen points separate us from third, so we’re looking for some top-five finishes over the next few days to propel us up the rankings.

Wednesday, the first day of racing, saw a slow start for Argo. Our pair of tenth place finishes represent heroic effort on the part of the Argonauts, as both races saw us start much deeper in the fleet. In a competitive fleet such as this one, a good start is a critical element to having a good race. If you find yourself in the second tier of boats at the starting line, you’re constantly locked in a scrum for at least the first quarter of the race. Tacking back and forth to clear your air and often getting boxed in by other boats severely limits the tactian’s options and makes a breakaway beat to windward nearly impossible.

On Thursday we left the dock in a steady, miserable downpour. As we were leaving the harbor, the race committee raised the AP flag, postponing racing for 30 minutes until the bulk of the showers passed. Argo returned to her berth, and after the rain delay, we emerged onto the Med to find 4-5 foot waves with some swells larger than 10 feet and steady winds at about 20 knots with gusts to 25. These conditions are particularly demanding, but Argo is well practiced for such days, so we welcomed the challenge. Sailing upwind in such conditions requires extreme focus since the boat has to stay tracking forward as it gets pushed back by waves and sideways by puffs (temporary increases in wind velocity). Downwind we get no reprieve. Calling puffs is critical since the trimmers and skipper must depower the boat so that it doesn’t broach (get laid on its side) in the increased wind velocity. After an exceptionally drenched hour and a half of racing, numerous wipeouts in the fleet, and some close-quartered sparring, Argo fetched a sixth.

After cleaning up (and drying off!), Argo returned to the yacht club to celebrate Jason’s birthday with the rest of the fleet. The high-spirited festivities included a boat race against Bliskem, many popping corks, and an appearance of the Baxter’s mascot Terrence. Argo kept the party alive with a sumptuous seafood restaurant, which included a 6L Jeroboam of Moet & Chandon that was ultimately consumed in the Clipper through three-foot long straws.

Friday greeted us with much better weather and much more complicated conditions. The wind had moderated significantly, flowing 10-12 knots for most of the day. The lighter breeze and the frothy sea state – large 6 foot rollers from the north mixed with a constant 2-3 foot wind-blown chop from the ENE – made smooth sailing impossible. Just as the boat would start to get on pace, another set of swells would sweep by, requiring defensive action by Jason and the trimmers to keep the boat powered. Our experience yesterday was diverse: At one point in the first race we were as deep as 27th and races two and three saw us climb into the top group of boats. Protest flags were flying throughout the fleet as the competition got even more intense and mark roundings got more crowded. The complicated rules of sailing are designed to minimize instances of contact between boats, but at mark roundings in an extremely aggressive fleet, fouling other boats and contact are sometimes inevitabilities. Regardless, the level of sportsmanship kept most protests on the water with boats exonerating themselves soon after infringing the rules.

There are three races today and one tomorrow to round out the series. Wish us luck!


PS. Check out coverage of Argo on http://www.sailinganarchy.com/! Argonauts Molly Baxter and Chad Corning have published articles on there in the last few days. Also, some YouTube coverage of our birthday party for Jason: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kc1FFvnsBFY&feature=player_embedded#t=160.

24 September 2009

Argo is in sixth seventh after three races out of ten and two days of competative sailing. Real blogpost later today tomorrow.