Cat Harbor Layover :: Double-handing with Carrie Linskey Peters

I have been hearing about the Cat Harbor Layover race for years, though for some reason, I had never done it until this year. It is the 4th and 5th race in the William Berger, William Stein race series put on by Del Rey Yacht Club. My crew weren’t available for the race, which gave Carrie and I a perfect opportunity to double-hand in preparation for all of PSSA’s summer races. 

We set off on Friday morning, very excited about the weekend, and pretty much on top of our game. I felt prepared and we were both excited to get out there and push ourselves. We would have done really well on that 1st race if I hadn’t messed up (UNDERSTATEMENT) our start. I misunderstood the order of starts and thought our class was separated, so we missed starting by 5 minutes with all of our competitors. We didn’t let it get us down though, and even managed to pass a couple of them along the way to the west end of Catalina Island. As the day went on, the wind started to die, which made the finish very elusive and much like the end of a rainbow that we would never reach. When we were a mile from the finish the wind shut down altogether and we were literally drifting, tweaking our sails to capture what little wind there was. That’s when we decided a cockpit dance party was in order. We had one big boat on our hip drifting along, and someone in front of us who had already retired due to the lack of wind. Turns out dancing in the cockpit was just the ticket, because we were miraculously able to pull ahead of the big boat behind us and finish the race.  By the time we got to Cat Harbor, it was after 8:30pm and we were beat. Did I mention I brought my dog along? Well I did, and she was dying for a pee, and we had to scramble to get the dinghy inflated, our boat put away, and our food ready to take to shore . By the time I finally did get food, I was” hangry” as all get out, but with a little burger in me, I started to feel myself (thanks Carrie for feeding me)! It was fun to see everyone at the DRYC facility, though we were so late, that we only caught the tail end. Which was fine with us, because we were BEAT and our bunks were calling our names!!

Sunday morning was beautiful, and none of us wanted to leave. Catalina can cast a spell like that for sure. We readied ourselves despite our reticence, and what ensued was one of the best days sailing I have ever had! We had 2 knots of wind at the start, and this time we were starting in a split class. Thank God because ….18 big boats floating around the line with little maneuverability would have been an adventure to say the least. We ghosted across the line with the first few boats and set our gennaker right away. As we did this, the wind came up and we started scooting along. The rest of the day was basically a drag race all the way home, rolling people then being rolled back, trying to catch the Rascals (team Rascal) ahead of us. It was a blast. We flew the gennaker until we finished, and that sail proved to be very versatile as we had her everywhere form a close reach to a broad reach, and her performance never waivered. With only two of us in the boat, we both had to be on top of our game all day. There was barely time or a way to eat. I steered most of the way, while Carrie played our main like a boss, and did a million other things (including feeding me AGAIN). I was able to trim the Gennaker while I steered, and we kept Cassiopeia moving out! By the time we finished, we were both in a state of utter exhaustion. The last time I felt that tired was in the middle of the Pacific. Double handing in these races is challenging in itself, but, because we aren’t permitted to use our autopilot at all, as we can in the PSSA races, there is no rest. We sure felt it, but were both so happy and fulfilled out there! I am so grateful for Carrie and her expertise and for keeping me laughing!. Our teamwork is seamless, and we compliment each other so well. I cannot wait for more races this summer!

Pt. Dume and Return :: A Wonderful Day on The Water!

Photo by TAMI RAE of   LOADED CANON

Photo by TAMI RAE of LOADED CANON

To say our team is flying high after Saturday’s race, would be an understatement. Not only was it an incredible experience on the water, but we placed 4th out of 12 boats in a class of very accomplished and experienced racers. I entered this class because I knew we wanted to use our spinnaker, and I erroneously thought the other class was non-spinnaker. I also am more comfortable with this kind of longer distance race, so it didn’t feel quite as intimidating as the shorter buoy races. That being said, I also knew we were jumping in with the big dogs! As nervous as this made me, I felt it would be a good way to push ourselves! And push ourselves we did!

The start was very exciting, as we were much more in the mix than usual, and there were more boats (or so it seemed). My nerves were holding up pretty well until I found myself sandwiched in tight quarters between two boats with skippers at the helm whom I know and admire. All of a sudden my belly was doing flips and my knees were shaking. Despite my nerves, we maneuvered well, and it felt good. I have to commend Lara on her strategy and coaching at the start, as we definitely had one of our best! The only thing that I regret is that I couldn’t get up to speed like I wanted to after we crossed the line, and we were quickly left in the dust. Not for long though, because we tacked away from everyone and out to sea (which was Lara’s and my original plan based on our gut feeling and research of wind prediction before the race).

This proved to be a good call, as we moved really well up the coast towards Malibu staying outside. The breeze was stiff (up to 20 knots at times) and at one point we became very overpowered as my boat often gets. I tried reefing the headsail first based on a recommendation of my sailmaker, but quickly found that my original thought of reefing the main and keeping the genoa out was a better call. Once we did this, we started pulling away from the boats around us, and were able to point again. We had to shake out the reef about 30 minutes later as the wind came down to 9-11 knots, but that decision to reef gained us considerable headway. As we got close to our mark in Malibu, the wind dropped to almost nothing, and it seemed that we, and all of the boats around us came to a screeching halt. As we prepared to tack around the buoy, Lara wanted me to tack tight in front of another boat, and I wouldn’t (couldn’t). She was a beautiful wooden boat, and I was convinced I was going to hit her if I tacked that close. As much as I trust Lara, this was a time when I had to let my own feelings take over. She assures me we wouldn’t have hit (and I do believe her), but she also reassured me that she respects when I need to over-ride her based on my own comfort level. This is an example of what I LOVE about our boat. We are always communicating and clarifying, so we can all grow and keep a calm respectful vibe on the boat.

After we rounded the mark at Malibu, we headed out to sea again on the hunt for pressure. Once we found it, Jana and the foredeck team got the spinnaker up and flying.  Jana Davis doesn’t normally sail with us (even though I wish upon a star every day that she could), but she was able to on this race. She is a foredeck wizard and an all-around amazing human being.  She brought all kinds of knowledge, humor and good juju to our boat, and we are so grateful for her! We were able to run down the coast at a good clip for a while with our spinnaker full and in doing so, we were neck and neck with some great boats. We have an asymmetrical spinnaker, so we were unable to head as deep as we needed to and we started to head away from our mark (out to sea) more than I was comfortable with. That coupled with the wind dropping a bit lead Lara and me to the decision of losing the spinnaker and heading dead downwind, wing and wing to our mark. This was apparently the ticket and what I believe actually made the difference for us in placing as well as we did. We started moving well, and making a solid course towards our last mark at the breakwater. Right about at this point, Tami Rae of Loaded Canon with Eddie Hollister at the helm of a very badass looking skiff approached us. They zoomed all around us taking pictures while the ladies acted as a human downhaul on the whisker pole (I forgot to rig a downhaul before we left). I have included some of her amazing photos of us below. If you haven’t checked out her work, please do. Her images are beautiful! Please check out her work here. Also, if you want to see more photos from the day or buy prints, the link for her gallery from this race is here. Also, I will have an interview featuring her coming soon to my blog!

It just after this that we heard a “mayday” over the VHF. Our hearts all skipped a beat and our boat went silent as we realized that one of the boats in our race had lost a crew overboard. They had also lost their rudder and were unable to get to her. The mood aboard Cassiopeia became very somber as we all listened intently and sent out prayers for her speedy retrieval from the chilly sea. We were too far to have been able to help, and there were other boats closer, so all we could do was to continue sailing and hold her, and their crew in our prayers. You could have heard our collective cheers and screams from far away as we heard that she had been pulled out of the water by a fellow racer. It gave us all pause and generated a hearty conversation about PFD’s and boat safety. We are so happy that she is ok!

As we got close to the last mark, all of the boats that had been in front of us on the spinnaker run were now behind us. It wasn’t a huge lead, but it was big enough for us to be able to round the mark first and make it to the finish line before them. It was very exciting as we all converged and tried to finish a race in little to no wind. Making it to that last mark basically consisted of the waves pushing us there. The wind came up just enough for us to power up to the finish. We finished within inches of another boat which was extremely exhilarating!

As we cranked up the engine and headed down the channel for home, we were passed by Whitney Green on Pacific. Whitney shouted out, “nice race Margie”! I was completely blown away and humbled by this. We have only met a few times, and I’m sure she doesn’t realize that I have always looked up to her from afar. Her words meant so much to me and were the icing on the cake of a wonderful day!

As we toasted our day and had our ritual debriefing in my cockpit, I looked around at these strong and unique women with such gratitude and awe. Each had given everything they had all day long, and together we sailed a great race. We didn’t know how we had placed at this point, but we felt so happy with how we sailed, and our collective joy lit up my slip!  The theme of the day seemed to be trusting our intuition. I know that the few times that I trusted my gut and made calls based on that, that it proved invaluable. I think Lara had the same experience. I see this as another opportunity for me/us to look at how important it is to sail my own race and not get caught up in technicalities (shoulds, or supposed tos) or what others around us are doing. We proved to ourselves today that following our gut and making calls that may have seemed strange in comparison to our competitors was the right thing for us. In the end, this is a great metaphor for life, no?

All images
by TAMI RAE of LOADED CANON

 

 

 

 

 

Light Air and  Big Learning Curve

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We had our work cut out for us yesterday for our Wednesday night race! The wind was very light, so we knew it was going to be a challenge, and by the end of the evening, we found ourselves in an accelerated learning program for light air sailing! As we headed out, Lara took the helm and did a lot of practice tacks and jibes to get a sense of Cassiopeia's maneuverability. As she did this, I realized I couldn't chicken out anymore....no more crying wolf that Its too tight when she wants me to tack or jibe close to another boat. There was a lot of laughing as I called myself out on my phobia. Joking aside, it was actually a worthwhile thing to do, because I was able to understand the space and maneuverability of my boat in a new way. I finally have hope that I will get over my nerves about this. I called Lara's exercise "desensitization therapy"....and it certainly was.

We were a little late to the line on our start, but had good speed nonetheless considering the conditions, so it turned out OK. The wind stayed light but consistent on the course until we were just about at the windward mark. I was struggling with steering the whole time, and was grateful for all of the experienced sailors on the boat who kept me on point and helped me! Its is so hard to steer in light air, and I am so excited to get better at it. Yesterday was a perfect day to practice! I loved listening to Carrie as she coached the genoa trimmers on sail trim. She was recently called our secret weapon by Neil Fraser (of Mexican Divorce who has known her since she was a kid), and I know he is right! She trims our mainsail like nobody's business, and is always contributing to what is happening on the boat with her extensive knowledge of all things sailing. Once we rounded the mark, it became so light that it was hard to fly our genoa, even with a pole. All of the boats around us were struggling with the same issue, and their crews were performing all kinds of weight shifts, acrobatics and sail configurations to try and eek the most out of essentially NO wind. We would get excited if we started moving at a speed of more than 1.5 knots! It was fun to hear and try my crew's various light air tricks and tips. As the dark of night consumed the post sunset glow, we were almost to the breakwater. At this point we were getting really excited because the wind came up to about 3 knots and we were moving better than we had been in a while. As we rounded the channel markers however, we were back to floating forward at a knot or so. It was so quiet and still, and the sight of all of the die hards around us trying to make it to the finish line by the cut off time was so beautiful. The ladies on the foredeck did their best to pole out our headsail, but in the end human “poling” was what worked best-three ladies holding  the sail out to try and catch any wind that was available. It wasn’t much, but we actually kept moving (though I could have walked faster). If we had had five more minutes, we would have made it to the finish, but alas, 8:30pm rolled around just before we made it.  As we rolled up the headsail and I cranked up the engine, the mood aboard Cassiopeia was enthusiastic and jovial despite the conditions and our DNF! 

We were lucky to have Carliane Johnson aboard our boat as an honorary team member. Carliane is going to take off in about six weeks on a huge adventure that is dear to my heart….the Singlehanded Transpac.  She learned to sail later in life, and is essentially a self-taught sailor, but her tenacity, dedication and resulting mad skills makes it seem like she has been doing it for a lifetime. By throwing herself into racing and single handing at every opportunity, she has become a very admirable sailor and racer. You can read more about her badassery in my interview of her here.

I am blown away more each time I sail with these amazing women. I feel so grateful for each of their energy, wisdom, humor, love, prowess and enthusiasm. I cannot wait for Saturday, when we will be sailing in the Del Rey Yacht Club’s Berger/Stein series, Pt. Dume Return race. Im hoping this year is a little less wild than my experience last year (you can read about that here)! We will be sailing against a lot of very experienced racers and well sailed boats out there, so this will be a wonderful challenge for us!

All photos by Robin Mohilner

 

Humble Pie! Handed to me by a crazy day on the bay.

What a day!!! I was planning on single handing for the Berger Stein Pt. Dume and return race yesterday (we single and double handers are trying to represent so they keep this series open to us), but I am very glad that fate intervened and my big brother ended up joining me at the last minute. It was a wild and crazy day on the bay to say the least, and having an extra person with me was a life saver! We headed out of the marina towards the start with all of the other boats, and as we got out towards the committee boat, the wind came up pretty quickly and hinted strongly at the wild ride that was to come. I am slowly learning Cassiopeia’s ways, and one thing I learned early on is that I need to reef early and conservatively. She has a tall rig and a lot of sail area compared to Haunani, and becomes overpowered terrifyingly quickly. I reefed my main and my genoa for the start, and I am glad that I did, for she was a handful even with those reefs in place.

As usual, the start stressed me out like crazy. I simply HATE them. I hate being so close to everyone (especially being shorthanded), and I also hate trying to figure out my strategy, because honestly I have none. I wish I could just take my turn and go, because once we get away from the line and out to sea, I am comfortable and confident, but sailing around the line with all of the other boats, creates a lot of anxiety for me. I hope to get over this one day, and I will keep being brave and putting myself in the mix (and learning from my mentors) until I do!

Our course was MDR to Pt. Dume and back. We were hard on the wind all the way up, and the wind was mainly over 25 knots and sometimes up to 30+.  As we tacked our way up the bay, we took a beating. The sea was intense, and the wind was gusty and fierce and we were consistently over powered. In hindsight, I should have taken a 2nd reef in my mainsail, but since my 1st reef is very deep, I somehow thought the second would be overkill. After talking to my mentors and looking at photos of the race, however, I realize that I was very wrong. I also realized that I need to have a smaller headsail on hand. My 140% is reefable, but trying to reef (on the roller-furler) it in those winds was painful (I saw dollar signs flying out the window as the sail flogged during the process). If I had reefed the main again, I would have been able to point higher and I wouldn’t have been pushed down so much.

Once we turned around to run home, the wind was in the 30’s and gusting to 38. We had an unfortunate gybe during which my main sheet snapped and three blocks shattered. I am grateful that was the only damage, because it was very scary and could have been a lot worse in those conditions. It provided another big learning experience for the day: I should have chicken gybed (doing a regular tack and then falling off) instead of attempting a regular gybe in those winds. It’s painful to admit my stupidity, but those kinds of mistakes are how things stick in my brain sometimes. I jury rigged a new sheet (using my preventer) to secure the boom, and we dropped the main. We flew home under Genoa only, at between 8-10 knots. The swells were building and we had a few very fun surfs! It was hard work to steer though, and my hands are still feeling it as I type this. I was very happy to get back into the marina, even though docking in that wind provided one last hairy adventure to cap off my day. My brother was an amazing crew, and when we were finally safely close to home, we toasted the day with a cold Heineken (I just found out they are gluten free by the way!)!

As I fix my boat, and reflect on the day, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gotten to sail Cassiopeia for the first time in intense conditions. I learned a lot about her and myself on that race. I have a list of things I need to change about her set up to make her more manageable for me alone in those conditions. I also realize that before I go offshore alone with her, I need to do a lot more practice sails in the bay when the conditions are intense, yet manageable so that I can create a symbiotic relationship with her. Part of my ease with Haunani was that I had sailed her alone for so long that I could move around blind folded. Also, she was a lot more forgiving of a boat than Cassiopeia is, so everything always felt more manageable. I know that my relationship with Cassiopeia will get there, but I don’t want to jump the gun and put myself in challenging situations at sea before we do. It is a process, and one I intend to honor and take very seriously!

As always, I am so grateful to my mentors and teachers who generously give me the opportunity to debrief with them so I can learn in retrospect. I am also grateful to the crazy day in the bay for teaching me so much in a short time! Finally, I am grateful for all that I have been through until now that has taught me how to keep us safe and moving on a day like that! I am a very different sailor than I was at this time last year, and I am sure in a year from now I will say the same. I love the learning and growth that is always available as I move through these wonderful adventures!! I am also grateful for the opportunities sailing provides for me to remind myself of the importance of “bravery not perfection” (if you have not seen Reshma Saujani’s Ted Talk about this, please watch it!!).

(All photos are by my talented and wonderful big brother, Chris Woods)

flying home in 30-38 knots with just the genoa! It was a work out with those swells shoving us about!