The Red Fox Regatta
After the Montana Cup, the next planned stop was American Yacht Club in Rye, New York. That meant driving for 2800 miles, by my self, without a break. That's too much solitaire confinement for anyone. So Anthony got back onto Sailing Anarchy and asked for suggestions of which regatta, in the Mid West, on the September Long Weekend, that we should race in. Mr Clean came back immediately and said "The Red Fox Regatta in Charlevoix, Michigan" and "bring your drinking hat"!
I arrived on Wednesday night (thanks to mapquest) which gave me time to recuperate from the drive, set up the boat and doing a little touristing. Charlevoix is a small (pop 3500)waterfront town situated at the channel that connects Lake Charlevoix to Lake Michigan. In the summer it swells to 10,000 and my first impression was that it reminded me of one of the back harbors of Annapolis including estate homes and 40fters! As I found out, this is the area that the rich and famous from Chicago and Detriot fly in on their private jets to play. No recession here!!
Friday night, CYC ran a warmup race and it gave myself and my new crew a chance to figure where the front end of the boat was. Alan (Mr. Clean) had jumped ship from his normal ride, Cujo (Melges 24) and brought along with him, Meredith (his girlfriend) and Anne (her girlfriend).
Registration showed that there were 84 boats ranging from Hobie 17s in the Portsmouth division all the way up to Equation (Andrews 68) in PHRF. There was one OD class and that was a fleet of 13 Melges 24s. In our fleet, we were scratch boat at 105 with the slowest being at 135. In the mix was a real cross section of boats; B-25, S2 9.1, Beneteau 25.5(Farr), Frers 33 and a Pearson Flyer. We felt we needed some downwind planing in order to compensate for everybody's up wind waterline length advantage. Our other concern were the Melges. After jumping ship, Alan had been doing some serious "trash talking" and he was hoping that he wouldn't be eating "crow" on the Saturday night! I looked forward to sailing along side the Melges and maybe I can learn some of their speed secrets. They were starting two classes back so we had a ten minute head start. The race was about 18 miles so there was a good chance the front runners would catch us. The question was, how many?
Before the start we checked out the course and if would be mainly up hill and close hauled fetching, with very little downwind work. Not what we were looking for.
By the fourth mark we had done two beats and two close hauled fetches and we weren't saving our time on the S2 and the Flyer. We had a beam to broad reach and then a run for our next two legs and it was questionable whether we could carry the asso on the first one. We wre 3/4 through the race and the first three Melges were right behind us. If they popped their chutes so would we and they did! We broached one or two times more than they did and by the second off wind leg, three of the Melges were just ahead of us and we put a bit of time on our fleet.
We turned the corner to go up wind and Alan gave a bit of advice that has become a revelation to my Rocket upwind performance. He said "They sail the Melges with no helm." I started re-adjusting my mainsheet, vang and traveller until the helm went dead and low and behold I was going the same speed as the Melges. For the rest of the race I worked the main and the traveller and compared our speed and got one of the first three Melges back before losing him at the finish. I was stoked!!! Afterwards I talked to a couple of the top Melges guys and they expanded on this principal. In a nut shell the foils are so skinny that if you have any helm that means cavitation= slow. If you heal, your foils load up=cavitation=slow.
We saved our time on everyone in our fleet except the well sailed S2. Next day we woke to a 180 degee wind change and instead a nice run home, it would be another uphill race. I din't mind because I could put the "dead helm" theory to work on the Rocket. It started out light and built to 15-17kts. As the wind built, Alan played the twist in the jib and I concentrated on the feel. In puffy conditions the Melges use their backstay to open up their leach to stop their helm from loading up. On the Rocket we have a fully stayed rig and no backstay, so we use a nice , long traveller that the Melges guys would die for. In our fleet the Farr 25.5 and the B-25 were fighting out behind us about 7-9minutes behind, but I was watching the Melges to see if they would catch us. By the weather mark none of the Melges had caught us and the only one within five minutes had banged the other side of the lake and had a huge lead on the rest of his fleet. We were much quicker upwind than yesterday!
In the end we snuck out a win by 5 seconds over the B-25 with the Farr 25.5 was a close third.
The Red Fox Regatta is one of those hidden gems, that are scattered throughout North America, that demonstrates the true reason why we love this sport, its the people!!