The Lake Ontario 300

July 20, 2011 posted by admin

July 19, 2011

On the dock today a friend reminded me of an important saying “friends don’t let friends race PHRF”.  PHRF is a handicapping system applied to boats to try to make them equal for racing. Needless to say it’s far from perfect, and it would be pretty impossible to create a system of handicapping that was perfect.  That’s called “one design” racing.  Racing the mini against 30-35 foot boats and owing them time makes for an impossible battle to win.  When a boat is going upwind, it’s very difficult to go significantly faster than your hull speed.  When a boat is going downwind, it’s very easy to get the boat up and out of the water (if she’s built for it), and SCREAM down wind.  This is the handicapping battle when you race a mini against a standard kind of boat. Here ends today’s lesson.

The race synopsis.

This was a great Lake Ontario 300!  It was a fantastic training run and a wonderful opportunity to tell people about Guarantee Company of North America during the pre race events at the Port Credit Yacht Club. Race day was a gorgeous Saturday morning.  The single  handed division had the first start.  My mission was to get to the start line on time.  Turns out the line was much further offshore than I had planned time for.  Not to worry!  We motor sailed our way out as fast as possible and just as we got near the finish line the warning signal was fired and I cut the engine.  That gave me exactly five minutes to pull the engine and the mount off of the stern and get across the start line.  We (OGOC and I) sailed part way up the start line and tacked for the line with 20 seconds to the start of the race.  We were on time for the line, but buried in the fleet.  Now the job was to dig our way out for clear air and haul butt to the first mark Gibraltar.  Once we got to Gibraltar there was a nice surprise.  Two boats from my club were hanging out to wish the fleet off!

There are essentially two strategic legs in the Lake Ontario 300.  PCYC to Main Duck and then Oswego to Niagara.  The plan for the run to Main Duck was largely based on the weather.  We were socked in to a large hi system that was being followed by another hi to come through a few days later, and a short lived trough in between the two hi systems.  This means that the land gets very warm during the day with a potential for a “sea breeze” development, and then at night as the air temperature cools another inversion happens and a night breeze develops out in the lake keeping the shoreline inactive with wind.  We were going to head out into the lake to get a good night breeze.  Autopilot on and we’re on our way!  Wait a minute….why is the compass heading on the pilot changing?  OGOC has a new pilot computer and a rebuilt drive arm.  Hmmmm.  Once we were on our new heading, I ran through a series of tests to see if I could figure out why the compass wasn’t holding.  Nope….several hours later I was still at a loss.  Fortunately the pilot is working great on apparent wind.
Not a problem….stick to the race plan and if the pilot goes down, use number two.  The plan was coming together nicely.  By 1700 the wind started to shift and the anticipated knock was large enough to tack on and head us to Main Duck.  Perfect!  Going into the night the moon was out.  At 2300 I was down below doing a plot when……clunk clunk clunkity clunk down the side of the hull.  It was earth shatteringly loud.  I ran up on deck to try to see what we had just hit.  We were far enough out into the lake that there wouldn’t be any fixed marks from clubs or privates.  What the heck was it?  Whatever it was it was long gone.  There didn’t appear to be any damage other
than surface.  Phew!  A little while later the wind continued to come around and we put the Code O up and then Big Blue.  What an amazing sail through the night with the big kite up and sliding along nicely!

By noon the next day we were on the back side of Main Duck Island.   A great run!  24 hours to get to Main Duck Island!  After rounding Main Duck Island you have to head to Oswego.  That would put us on a close hauled course that was so tight we would barely be able to make it in one shot.  So, in anticipation of big wind at Main Duck, a freighter in our path and a sharp right turn to Oswego, I decided to pull the kite down about 4 miles early.  Did I mention that Big Blue was up?  The sail is called Big Blue because she’s huge and rated for a max of about 18 knots.  Lots of sail to take down and the last thing I wanted to do was blow out another sail or have a scary take down in a panic!  Down she came nicely and out we headed to Oswego.

I think every time I have done this race the wind has been out of the West for the leg to Oswego.  It’s a tight close hauled run straight to Ford Shoal at Oswego.  All of the big boats that were behind me came out from behind Main Duck and started to just truck through my lee!  This is where today’s lesson comes into play.  Remember what I said about PHRF!  Those boats marched forward while OGOC and I
did our best to hang on to the 6-7 knots we were doing.

After Ford Shoal we moved into the second strategic opportunity of this race. It was an uphill slog on the US north shore.  I listened to the weather again and then decided to head out rather than stick to the shoreline.  You have to get around Rochester, and unless the weather is predicted to build from the south or the east, I always avoid a shoreline run up to Rochester like the plague.  Every time I have sailed there there has been little to no wind.  After Rochester there is a straight stretch of shoreline for a few miles and then the shoreline slopes slightly south to Niagara’s R2 mark.  On the straight stretch the plan would be to keep the miles down and stick to the shoreline.  The forecast was for the wind to switch from the west to the south west and this should ensure some shore breeze to keep us moving without tacking too much to get to Niagara R2.  Another fifty miles down the track as we were approaching Rochester it was time to listen to the weather again.  This is the second time in my life now where I’ve switched on the VHF weather channel and heard “all vessels seek
immediate shelter”.  Right….where was I going to go?  I appreciate that OGOC’s cabin is vast and spacious with all sorts of luxury accommodation, but come-on now…..I wouldn’t call that “shelter”!  There was a serious squall coming through in that trough I told you about, with winds were anticipated to reach upwards of 35 knots.  Not only could I see the squall forming in the sky, but the weather report actually timed it for 0800 to 0930.  Okeydokey then….shorten up with a single reef and switch from the Genoa to the jib.  Ron told us about this cell  in the skipper’s meeting weather briefing…just like he did last year!  As anticipated, as the squall came through there was a significant veer to the north.  The rain was coming down so hard that you couldn’t see anything fifteen feet away from the boat.  Gosh I crossed my fingers and hoped that no other boat was out there on my same path!  Imagine coming upon a freighter during this?  How could you get out of the way in time?  As the wind veered, it eased a bit and we tacked onto a new course laying us right to Niagara R2.  Behind that cell came another bucket load of rain, but not anywhere near the volume of wind.  35 knots was a pretty decent  blow….it’s not 60 knots, but it can still be damaging and shifty.  Behind the storm there wasn’t a lot of wind. Fortunately….there was enough wind to keep us moving!  Still going upwind though.  Tacking back and forth and back and forth and back and forth!  Nothing like being passed by your competitors in 10 knots of wind rather than being able to put a kite up!  Ugh…..At Niagara R2 we gently made our turn north and headed for home.  The sun went down, the sky was bright with stars and the traffic around us was plenty.  Another listen to the weather channel and the report confirmed that there were squall watches for western Lake Erie, Eastern Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence.  As the night got dark, you could actually see the cloud formations to the east every time their lightening ignited.  It was a pretty impressive light show and fortunately it was heading south east, but unfortunately it was also taking all of the wind with it.

Light air was starting to look like non-existent air!  Then around 0100, we gently slid into a path of wind that we were able to hold all the way to the finish line! A nice little 8-10 knot breeze out of the north east, gently taking us home.   Of course we had to share with the rest of the kids….but not to worry!

At 0400 something in the morning OGOC and I crossed the finish line.  We had had a great training run and another exciting adventure.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to claim a podium finish in this race, but nonetheless we achieved our objective.  Nothing significant broke or failed us in a debilitating fashion.  The autopilot adventures continue with great success as we continue to work out the bugs in the system with the fantastic help of CMC Marine , and we have more miles under our belt.  Thank you to everyone who followed along and
enjoyed the ride!  Thank you also to Guarantee Company for their fantastic sponsorship, UK Halsey for stitching the sails back to gather yet again (time for a new suit for sure!), Lori Mason at The Store for her continuing support of equipment on the boat, and to Aquafolia
for their awesome skin care products and fantastic sun tan lotion that kept me from frying like an egg!



One Response to “The Lake Ontario 300”

  1. john globemasterone Says:

    Awesome Diane. I followed you so closely that your post finally brings to life what was actually going on on board OGOC….when I could only use my imagination at the time. I think you did a FANTASTIC job ….and I thank you for the ride. Oh yes and thanks for the “shout- out” Sunday morning…lol. I really appreciated that. Rest up ! Congrats !

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