The West River Race and Lessons Learned

The West River Race and Lessons Learned

By John Schafer, CATALINA 400/445 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION

Special thanks to John Schafer for submitting this article.
–Olav N. Pedersen,
olavnp@gmail.com

“SHE SAID YES”! Sailors, you know what this means.  Getting the affirmative answer to marriage, will be the second happiest day of your life.  The best day of your life is when the one you love says YES to your dream boat.  For me, she said yes in May 2016.  Velocity, our 445 is new to our family.  The previous owner understands my joy, as hull no. 54 was in new condition because of their love for the vessel. Even before we took position of her we knew racing was in her future.  I hail from Lake Geneva Wisconsin, my father currently 80 (see photo), still races on that lake and he was the one who introduced me to racing. 

Velocity, sails on the Chesapeake Bay out of the Herrington Harbor Sailing Association, and in October we entered the West River Race from Herring Bay to Pirates Cove in the West River, thirteen miles a little starboard of due north, then hard-to-port for a six mile crab pot, shoal and channel marker obstacle course.    

We received a PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet) rating of 132 with a max crew size of thirteen so we loaded her up with ten (5 couples), including my father and his wife of 72. 

I was thinking that ten might be a bit much, but the day of the race winds were 40 knots with a Fresh Gale out of the north that morning.  Wind Alert.  My go-to weatherman predicted 30 – 35 at the gun so we decided to go for it.  Step one – refill the water tanks that were emptied in race prep the day before because we would need all the ballast we could get.  Step two – install the dodger glass.  The crew needed to be dry or the 13 mile beat in 30 plus wind was going to be a nightmare.  Step three - brief the crew and dole out grinders, navigator, tailors, tactician, timer, and the pit crew.  Final step – pick the type of start we wanted to shoot for and reef.  During the prerace maneuvers we rolled the 135 out 75 percent and the main was out 90 percent.  We had a little helm but the winds were no longer gusting to 35 knots so we kept her as is.  Sea state was 3 – 5 feet, coming right down the bay on our nose.

We watched PHRF A-1 and 2s struggle for the pin, then the same with the B1 and 2s, so we decided to go for a midline start and since we had to make a lateral distance of three miles east, in the thirteen mile beat, we would not tack until we ate up the three miles.  The thinking behind this was if we were to tack on a shift, we would have to cover that distance again on the next shift and we wouldn’t be making any of the eastern headway we needed.  Our midline start actually had us in good position as we were on a port tack and the leeward boat heading northeast. Shortly after the start we buried the bow off of a 7 footer, the largest wave I have ever seen on the bay.  She went through the wave with little effort confirming the extra water was the right move.  Our speed was 7.5 knots even after the wave. Then we started to move as we passed 8.5 knots, hitting 9’s consistently.  Within the first 10 minutes we knew we had a very fast boat and she was living up to her name Velocity.

After 40 minutes we were ready to make our first of twenty or more tacks. And so the learning process of racing a 445 began.

Lesson one
We have Harken electric winches but they are only single speed.  We discovered that we need to actually grind for faster tacks.  Trimming was great for the electrics and it made for a comfortable ride with ten people.  To trim the sail you just had to release or push the button.  I am sure my crew will appreciate me no longer telling them to get into a “proper athletic position” to grind.

Lesson two
With a hard dodger and Bimini on (see photo) we took a strap-on wind indicator from a Scow and put it on the hand hold center above the hard dodger.  It was a great reference for the crew as it was difficult to see the top of the mast.

Lesson three
The factory Jam Cleat is useless for the main.  We had to use the starboard secondary winch to keep the main in place.  (I’ve already purchased a Clam Cleat and was told by the factor rep that there is an aluminum plate on both sides of the deck.  During the manufacturing process they place them under the fiberglass, so just drill and tap.

Lesson four
If you are going to race a 445, get leads on the cars.  This will allow you to adjust them from the cockpit.  Everyone felt a little trepidation and we had spouses on the rail trying to move the lee car in the wind.

Lesson five
Helmsman has to drive only… Any distraction, and the lee helm would head us up and we would drop speed. On numerous occasions we found ourselves at a 33 degree awa (apparent wind angle).  Heading up even a tad would significantly slow her down.

Lesson six
The previous owner had the Ray Marine E120W Multi-function Display mounted on top of the cockpit table and it was much easier for the navigator to use as opposed to the original position below the table.

Two hours into the race, just before making a hard port turn around the channel marker to the West River, the wind dropped to 25 knots.  So we shook out the reefs.  The main was easy.  Releasing the main, maintaining two wraps on the primary allowed the main to be rolled all the way out.

Rolling out the Genoa was another matter.  As the roller line feeds port aft, we went to a starboard tack in an effort to keep the sail, the primary and the cheek clutch in view as well as keeping the three people rolling it out within ear shot.  Using the electric winch was a must for this and my dad at 80, worked it well.  One person standing behind the port helm readied the foot block.  The second person tailed and while my father trimmed in the genoa the two slowly unrolled the rest of the sail.  The results were immediate.  Velocity went from a 12 degree heel to 15 – 18.  Some gusts put us at 20 – 25 and when we would get too much helm, we would drop the traveler.  The pit crew was playing the traveler piano for the entire beat.  As we would gain more weather helm, we dropped the traveler.  The tactician, dad, was always looking at the wake and monitoring the rudder indicator on the auto helm to ensure the rudder wasn’t becoming a barn door.  The communication between the helm and the pit crew was very important in order to maintain the speed over 8.2. 

Although we were beating all the way up to the mark in 30 knots of wind, about two hours into the race the ride was so comfortable that the advantage of having couples on board was quickly realized.  Until the printing of this article we kept it a secret from the other boats, but we broke out the wine and cheese on the cockpit table. This was the moment that we knew we had chosen a great boat. 

The Catalina 445 is a racer cruiser.  Mr. Douglas did a marvelous job. 

When we made the turn at the West River entrance mark, the wind was still steady at 30 and we found her sweet spot. The 445 on beam reach is especially stable, fast and easy to maneuver.  We tried to balance her at about 15 degrees on the incline-meter.  The final marks down the river were to port while on starboard tack, so we steered from the lee helm.  It was comfortable and the site lines were open making it easy to relax a little.  Previously we noticed that we had been gaining on the fleet that started 5 minutes before us. Being on the beam reach now accelerated us to from 8.5 to our high 9.5 knots!  ‘See ya’ Jenneau 42.9! We rolled past an older J 30, then the Beneteau.  In all we passed 5 other boats from the B fleet and both the “Jenny’s” and “Benny’s” have lower PHRF ratings.

The deeper we got into the river, we became more covered and the wind dropped.  After an easy 6 miles through the other fleet, crab pots, channel markers and shoals we had one jibe and a half mile run to the line.  YES! We got the Gun, not the horn (1st place). 

We had an exhilarating time with friends and family.  After a nice meal and a great time with the rest of the fleet we sailed back.  Half way home, the naval academy was coming back from the Oxford race and we enjoyed a nice 19 mile run home following seas through the blue and gold of the navy 44s…. and YES.. once again we were keeping up with those as well. 

Since the West River race we have really learned how to sail the 445 well.  A great crew helps, but even with four racing, the 445 is manageable.  The intent of this article is twofold:

1)  Couples racing changes the crew dynamics in a positive manner, learning curves are accelerated and confidence is built uniformly throughout the team.

2) We are strongly thinking about joining the A2B (Annapolis to Bermuda) race in 2018.  Because of this there will be a lot of preparation.  I will be providing a series of technical articles on the 445 as we transform her from a coastal cruiser to an offshore racing vessel. 

Our racing schedule this year will be most of the distance races on the Bay and we will go through the Safety at Sea courses as well.

–John Schafer, C445 Hull#54, Velocity

 




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