2023 Albacore Midwinters
The spelling error in the email’s subject line from the Sarasota Sailing Squadron said it all: “Canceled 2023 One Design Midwinters”.
A week prior to the regatta, the Squadron had fired a shot across the proverbial bow with an email stating that they were, “not optimistic about, the effect of the Red Tide Algae Bloom on the Sarasota Bay.”
Red Tide, or as science calls it, “harmful algae bloom” is pretty common in Florida, but it doesn’t make its way inland that often. As the name suggests, it’s an algae that produces a toxin that kills fish, makes shellfish dangerous to eat, and potentially suck all of the oxygen out of water, and turn the water red. Remember that last point as it’s pretty critical to our story. Red tide is also made slightly worse by global warming, as warm water temperatures encourage it to grow. It is something that you don’t want to swim in, or in some cases, breathe in. According to maps by the US Geological Survey, there were reports of Red Tide within the Sarasota Bay. Online, it looked legit.
However, as we later found out, there wasn’t any visible Red Tide in the Sarasota Bay or on the Gulf. This was a bit puzzling, as all the Squadron would have had to do to confirm the existing of said masses of seaweed or red tinted water was go for a short motorboat ride into any of the racing areas. Once the Albacore fleet made our way out on the water, we did not see any evidence of Red Tide (seaweed salad, dead and rotting fish, whale carcasses, etc.). To add a dab of manatee dung icing onto this rotting cake of seaweed, the Squadron held other, scheduled, events while we were there, such as their Luffing Lassies Thursday sail, Opti Training on Saturday, and an E-Scow series.
However, I’m getting ahead of events. Once the aforementioned email came out, the US Albacore class leadership made the decision to NOT cancel Midwinters and seek out alternative venues, with the less than week notice given by Sarasota. After many calls by Eva Hogan and Tyler Phillips, no alternative venue was found.
In the immortal, unprintable words of Barney Harris, (of which I’m sure you can get the ethos), we just did it. We’d roll our own regatta in Sarasota. And a dozen boats, all of them loaded up, either en route, or already at the Squadron (not to mention the car reservations that were non or limited-refundable) showed up at Sarasota Sailing Squadron for a clinic and a couple days of racing.
Since this was not a regatta, I took this an opportunity to try out my unauthorized modifications to the HAPCO adjustable shroud system. Surprisingly, Barney did not even come over to look at these modifications, likely because he was busy unloading or keeping track of the two Albacores that he had brought. I’m happy to say that my modifications worked much better than the original setup, which, if it hadn’t been for some quick moves by Farley Will in the 2017 Internationals, almost cost USA 8125 a mast as a control line started slipping. To keep things fair, I didn’t use them while we were racing on Friday or Saturday.
Back to Sarasota. Most of us showed up on Wednesday and rigged boats. Thursday, Barney and Lars, myself and Lizzie, and Dave and Chris (from here on known as “The Bruces”), went for a leisurely sail around Lido Key. While it was somewhat breezy, it was overall quite pleasant, with consistent breeze in the low teens, plenty of sun, and marginal wave action. We rounded the north end of Lido Key, headed down south along the shore close hauled, and then hit the south channel back in. Chris Maslowski was staying in a boat anchored at one of the marinas, which was crewed by an owner who was more than happy to deplete his beer stash by tossing us some cold ones. As this was happening, we suddenly lost sight of Barney, which is odd when beer is involved. Apparently he got incredibly distracted and excited by what he thought was a Hylas 47. Once Barney got his excitement under control, we headed back to the Squadron via a pleasant reach.
The weather forecast was a bit more challenging on Friday. Mid to high teens consistent breeze. Cloudy. The water was no longer flat. Waves were about one to two feet in height, just enough to be something you had to worry about, unless the crew didn’t mind getting a wave to face every thirty seconds. Puffs were forecast to be in the 20s, some even hitting the 30s.
The decision was made to do an around the island race. Since the breeze was out of the south, the fleet would head out to the channel, hit Mark 12, round it to starboard, and head south, upwind, to Mark 8 (more on this later), also round that mark to starboard and head parallel to the Lido Key shore on a screaming reach, then head back into the Sarasota Bay via New Pass, likely getting stalled under the bridge, then round back up to Mark 12 and back to the beach.
The start was also going to be a bit different than our usual timed start. Instead of a traditional start, we’d be doing a Le Mans start. For those who don’t know what this is, it comes from the French LeMans 24 Hours Automobile Race, one of the oldest car races in the world. The Le Mans start involves the driver running to the car, jumping in, starting the car and racing. As a side note, it’s also a start technique no longer used, because it’s a bit dangerous. And we did have a bit of carnage – Eva Hogan tipped over her boat on the start line and Tyler Phillips’ boom tried to take out my crew.
The Albacore Le Mans start had one rule: one crew member must be out of the boat with their feet on the bottom of the Sarasota Bay. Realizing that The Bruces, who were tall, and some others who fit that vein, may have an advantage in getting out the deeper water with clearer air and a bit of a head start, my crew extraordinaire, Lizzie Ellis, and I planned on positioning ourselves as far out as possible, with as much separation as possible. This put us in the deepest part of the southern side of the starting area that I, as the tallest of the two of us, could get into. Once the start happened, I would pull what Lizzie called a “reverse ninja” (the “ninja” is my sneaky way of getting out of the boat as we come in, as generally Lizzie doesn’t know I’m out of the boat until I’m in the water), jump into the boat, and start trimming and steering as soon as possible.
As Lee Mullins started a countdown, Lizzie got the boat ready for a reach (pulling in slack in sheets, pre-trimming the vang, setting the centerboard, and making sure she was ready to go out on max hike immediately). This was highly prescient, as once I saw Lee make what looked like a “go” sign, and I angled the boat off the breeze, we shot out like a bullet on a reach. While my legs were still outside of the boat, we were making massive separation from the fleet, with The Bruces and Tyler rounding Mark 12 in 2nd and 3rd respectively. There was a good 8-9 boat lengths separating us from The Bruces.
As we headed upwind, The Bruces and I made the decision to go to the east end of the channel, with Tyler choosing the west side. Lizzie and I shifted gears from reach mode to upwind mode. This involved a lot of talking about how the boat felt, which was initially a bit constrained and overpowered. We talked sail trim, and strategized on the tradeoffs we were going to make over what was going to be a long upwind leg, knowing that we were going to have a screaming reach or run once we got into the Gulf. We were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves keeping up with The Bruces in about 20 knots of steady breeze. Our tuning was working. When we were reviewing RaceQs later, we were hitting a consistent five knots upwind. RaceQs had even higher upwind speeds, some pretty consistent numbers in the 5.5 to 6.6 knot range, which I’m a little skeptical of. The hull speed of an Albacore is technically 5.19 knots. From my perspective, it was a pretty stable and dry ride. I’m not sure Lizzie would agree on how stable or dry the upwind legs were. But they were a blast!
The breeze died once we turned west into the Channel and started heading out into the Gulf. We were still crossing The Bruces. Bob Bear, who had been out of sight for much of the upwind leg, was still in breeze and was closing the gap to 10-12 boat lengths. As we approached the Gulf entrance, the breeze started picking up. Significantly picking up. And the wave amplitude was getting significantly larger with the frequency increasing.
This is when I made the call. In our minds, it turned out to be a brilliant call, though it meant that we technically didn’t complete the race. During the Skippers Meeting, mention was made of rounding Mark 8. There was one map which I did not take a picture of, which meant I missed that Mark 8 was in the Gulf, not in the Channel, because it was not on the map. I was also not right next to the person holding the map and couldn’t see where the finger was when the mark was pointed out. (Note: we didn’t didn’t make either mistake the next day.) There was a Mark 8 in the Channel in Sarasota Bay. Which seemed perfectly logical to round. In the spirit of sportsmanship, we tried to let The Bruces know that they needed to round the mark, but they seemed very confused. We understood why when they separated from us and headed to another mark in the Gulf.
My call was to head down on a run about 300 meters off the shore in the Gulf. The water seemed plenty deep. The rollers were big, but not as close together, and I could see it getting hairier the further that The Bruces got out. In fact, it looked like they were struggling. And as a backstory, this regatta was the first time that I had sailed USA 8125 in 3.5 years, and the first reach or run that I had done in 3.5 years. So had we gone further out into the Gulf, there was a little question of my skill and ability. I had no qualms about Lizzie’s confidence or skill level.
On a very conservative run, with full board down for stability, marginal pumping, marginal movement, and steering with the breaking waves, we were planning and averaging 10-12 knots. It got very calm and very quiet, almost trancelike, which was highly unusual for the two of us as there is normally a lot of back and forth. We were both a little nervous as we’d never gone so fast doing so little work. Lizzie took the opportunity to berate me as I hydrated, and had choice words when I offered her the water bottle. Apparently, as USA 8125’s newly appointed Boat Safety Officer, I had chosen a bad time to take care of my insignificant need to hydrate.
Turning into the New Pass Channel back into Sarasota Bay we saw some of the biggest rollers of the day. This seemed to me to be a great time to practice gybing on top of a wave. It was an incredible, beautiful gybe. Once it happened, we shot off into the Channel, only to come to a screeching stop as the breeze shut off a couple houses into the New Pass Channel.
Lizzie, now enjoying her role as Boat Safety Officer, deemed it an appropriate time to engage in personal care such as hydration and chapstick/sunblock application, and informed me as such. This felt like a good time to let Lizzie know that the outhaul wasn’t working, and that the rudder had been popping up. When we got to shore, I found that the 12 year-old outhaul line had broken where it was knotted into a hole in the boom. As for the rudder tie down, I’m not quite sure what happened there.
Author and helm Michael Heinsdorf and crew Lizzie Ellis – Photo credit M. Heinsdorf
Once the rudder and outhaul were somewhat fixed, we launched the boat to honor Mark 12 for the finish and had an amazing reach out and back, hitting over 15 knots.
We completed our entire ten nautical mile trip around the island in just under an hour and a half. Over the next couple hours, boats came in one or two at a time. Notably, Lloyd Leonard showed up with a mast that had clearly met the bottom somewhere and lost. The tip of the mast was about two feet back from where it would normally be. Chris Gorton’s initial comment was along the lines of, “I’ve never fixed anything that bent.” However, Bruce rose to the challenge and a couple hours later, with the help of a couple palm trees and Tony Zakrajsek, it ended up respectably straight.
For our second day of racing, the plan was to engage in buoy racing using preset marks in the Bay. Breeze was in the mid-teens when we left the dock and stayed in the mid to low teens all day. Water was generally flat, but there were still small waves to deal with.
Once the right mark was found and all had congregated around it in preparation for the rabbit start, we had a slight delay to the start of the racing. The rabbit went down the hole. Specifically, Eva Hogan (USA 7970) dumped about a minute or two before the start and they spent some time enjoying the waters of Sarasota Bay. Once she hauled her crew back into the boat, we started.
And that’s when most of the fleet went to the wrong mark. Only The Bruces managed to get to the right mark. Everyone else was chasing Barney and someone else, when the fleet suddenly turned downwind, and not around a mark.
This turned into a legit race, and once Lizzie and I got clear air, we popped ahead on a planning run, closing a gap between us and The Bruces. We rounded the windward mark in second, with a pretty significant lead over third, and managed to extend that lead upwind. Downwind we played an angle that kept us in between The Bruces and the fleet, resulting in a second-place finish.
Dave Huber and Chris Maslowski – Photo credit M. Heinsdorf
The second race saw the wind die down a bit, but it was still pretty breezy, calling for a good amount of vang and the skipper and crew to hike.
For this race we, along with the rest of the fleet, rounded the proper upwind mark. We were in third at the upwind rounding, headed down, playing the middle of the course with the intent to go down, when the bungee on the jib stick snapped.
Luckily for us, the jib stick stayed in place and I was able to continue on our course downwind, ultimately rounding in second place at the downwind mark. However, there was an issue – what do we do upwind with the pole? There was no quick way to untie or move the pole. So I had Lizzie cut the pole line, which launched the pole right into the water. Oops.
Our second downwind was done college-style, with the skipper holding out the jib, and we quickly learned that the pole is essential for sailing deep angles in the Albacore. We went from second to seventh as a gaggle of boats passed us. We had to work around these boats, and ultimately got into a pinwheel at the downwind mark. There was a hole, a very, very tiny hole, just behind The Bruces and the windward boat that we punched in, did a crash tack onto starboard, accelerated away from The Bruces, and then got back on to the favoured port tack and rode a lift to a fourth-place finish. Racing was cancelled for Sunday because of the forecast (which turned out to be wrong).
Ultimately, the top three boats, Christine and Tony, Greg Jordan and crew, and myself and Lizzie, tied with a total of 6 points.
This brought in the US Sailing tiebreaker rules, both of which had to be applied. Lining up the scores in order of best to worst finish, first place resulted in a tie since both Christine and I had a 2 and 4. The second tiebreaker rule counts results from the last race.
First Place – Christine and Tony Zakrajsek
Second Place – Michael Heinsdorf and Lizzie Ellis
Third Place – Greg Jordan and crew