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The 2020 Severn Sailing Association Long Distance Race

By June 7, 2020 June 13th, 2020 No Comments
Distance Race Winners Meller/Coe

Racing a long-distance course in 505s was Jesse Falsone’s idea. The event was first held in 2018.
It was a very different event in 2020. With the “stay at home” and “safe at home” directives in Maryland, sailing was not allowed for several months of the sailing season, and even recently when it was, sailing clubs sought to conform with social distance guidelines. The result was that almost no one was sailing or racing until early June. A second change was that the sailors from classes other than the 505 were interested, so the 505s were joined by the “V” class (one VX One and several Vipers) and Christophe Waerzeggers on a foiling board sail. A number of teams who were interested in the event were unable to participate. The Canadians could not cross the border, Macy Nelson was busy being a grandfather, and Barney Harris was tied up with a cruising keelboat project.

While maintaining social distance between two people in a 505 may be unrealistic, measures were taken to reduce the risk. Everyone at SSA was wearing a mask and people maintained physical distance, except for the person they were sailing with (and two teams were family).

The course remains the same: Start off the Naval Academy wall at Triton Point, leave R2 to starboard, Thomas Point Light to port, R92 (just south of the Bay Bridge) to port, and back to the finish at Triton Point.

A google map of the course can be seen at: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1t5Ci5_-FlkeeewqdX1cbn85u-ZgqEUS-&shorturl=1&ll=38.94317082271816%2C-76.4296645&z=13

The VX One and Viper sailors were not keen on rounding Thomas Point with fixed keels, so they were routed around a mark near Thomas Point Light, rather than the lighthouse itself.

There was some uncertainty about the best time window to hold the event, as the weekend forecast had mixed breezes and chance of storms on Saturday, and a dying breeze on Sunday. The decision was made Friday that we would race “first thing” Sunday morning with a 10:00 am first warning signal.

While a few 505 sailors had been able to race 505s at the Florida Midwinters, in February, most had not been in a 505 since last fall. Mike Coe had not been in his or any 505 since the 2017 World Championship!

The breeze was out of the north and shifty and puffy in the Severn River. The first leg to R2 started as a run. The tide was ebbing, which tempted some teams to plan to wire run high on port tack far out into the Bay for more ebb current. All boats/teams started on the short line on the same start.

Jesse Falsone/Ethan Falsone won the Race Committee boat end of the start with Ali Meller/Mike Coe adjacent to them. Both teams gybed to port immediately. But the eastern shore of the Severn River, Greenbury Point, and the shallows next to it meant that no one could sail hot angles for speed until past Greenbury Point. And the first puff after the start seemed stronger on the right (looking downwind) rather than adjacent to the eastern shore of the Severn River. Several teams gybed to starboard for that puff, with Brendan Connell/Chase Hillyer making the best of it. Meanwhile, Meller/Coe had managed to sail over the port guy and port sheet on the hoist such that they could not launch the spinnaker pole and fill the spinnaker. Two quick trips to the bow by Meller to fish first the guy and then the sheet out from under the boat corrected the problem, and they gybed to starboard chasing the fleet.

Once clear of the wind shadow from Greenbury Point the fleet spread out with Falsone/Falsone sailing the highest angle out into the Bay, Jimmy Praley/Geoff “Danger” Gales sailing lower on more of a rhumb line course, and Connell/Hillyer on a slightly lower course. The V boats spread out as well, while Waerzeggers on the foiling board sail disappeared in the general direction of R2 once in a solid puff. Paul Andron/Saesha Carlile had spinnaker problems, could not hoist, and quickly fell behind the rest of the fleet, while Ian Conners/Jimmie Cockerill were very late for the start and did not factor in the race.

After the spinnaker hoist debacle and two gybes to position in a puff, Meller/Coe slowly closed the distance on the boats ahead, and eventually rolled over Praley/Gales. Connell/Hillyer were solidly in the lead below, while Falsone/Falsone were sailing so high it was hard to see how they could get to either R2 or Thomas Point Light, without sailing considerably more distance.

The 505s were wire running, and most left R2 to starboard without sailing near it, as sailing hot angles on port tack gave much better speed and kept teams in the stronger current. But Thomas Point was a considerable turn to starboard, and teams started gybing to starboard tack, trying to work in the direction of Thomas Point Light while staying on a plane. Connell/Hillyer lost some ground to Meller/Coe when the latter were further out in the Bay, perhaps with more ebb and more pressure. After gybing back to starboard, Mike Coe noticed that the pressure was getting lighter and decided sit running was better than wire running, particularly as Meller/Coe had a reasonable low angle heading straight towards Thomas Point Light, with waves perfectly lined up to surf on. Coe sits to windward steering and flies the kite in these conditions while Meller relaxes, has a drink of water, and pumps the main occasionally. Connell/Hillyer narrowly crossed in front of Meller/Coe wire running on port and then gybed to starboard a bit later, also pointing at Thomas Point Light. The foiling board sail was so far ahead no one could see it, and two or three of the V boats were next around Thomas Point. Connell/Hillyer’s slighter hotter angle converged with that of Meller/Coe and the two teams were overlapped as they approached Thomas Point Light. With some uncertainty as to where the rocks and shallows were, neither team wanted to press the issue and force a close rounding. Being inside at the mark worked in Connell/Hillyer’s favor and they came out close-hauled on port, directly on Meller/Coe’s air. The strong ebb current was very apparent near the lighthouse. Teams had to decide whether to work the Western Shore or the Eastern Shore for current relief. Meller/Coe tacked to starboard as soon as they thought they could clear the riprap around Thomas Point and – only just – cleared it. Connell/Hillyer had tacked very soon after but were no longer fully on Meller/Coe’s air. The latter team footed slightly for clear air, and then took advantage of a header to punch forward into clear air. The breeze was shifting, initially going left, but coming back at times. Eventually, Meller/Coe were able to sail high enough to encourage Connell/Hillyer to tack while Meller/Coe continued on starboard heading towards the Western Shore and more current relief. Meanwhile, Praley/Gales had rounded and were also heading for the Western Shore. Falsone/Falsone’s very high hot angles downwind had not paid off, and they were further behind, fourth 505 to round Thomas Point. Perhaps feeling the need to gamble to make up the distance, they chose to continue northeast on port tack heading for the Eastern Shore. Hampered by the lack of a spinnaker and further behind, Andron/Carlile also chose to work the Eastern Shore.

The breeze picked up at times with teams planing upwind in the best breeze, and carefully adjusting vang, rake, and mast bend as conditions changed. Meller/Coe continued to protect the Western Shore side of the beat and were able to open some distance on Connell/Hillyer and Praley/Gales; Falsone/Falsone and Andron/Carlile were too far away to see. On this very long weather leg, the breeze started to move right, though still shifting back and forth as it did. Mike Coe used his knowledge of the shoals to excellent effect, keeping the Meller/Coe team as sheltered as possible from the current, while also working the shifts and even keeping an eye on Connell/Hillyer. Meller/Coe were also able to work their way through the V boats that had rounded ahead of them. As the leading teams sailed past the opening to Lake Ogleton, heading towards Whitehall Bay, the breeze lightened and continued to work right. No one was trapezing at this point and the 505s were re-tuned for the lighter pressure. The challenge at this point was that all the teams that had worked the Western Shore were far to the left of the rhumb line to R92 (the red mark marking the eastern side of the shipping channel just south of the Bay Bridge) and needed to get far to the right while trying to avoid the strong adverse current, even as the breeze lightened. And the breeze continued to shift right, which could have made a team working up the Eastern Shore look great!

On port tack, Meller/Coe worked their way right across the ebb from the Severn River, and then along the opening to Whitehall Bay, towards the Bay Bridge. They could not see the mark but were sailing for where the shipping channel goes under the bridge, knowing the mark had to be nearby. As they sailed past Hackett Point they could feel and see the effect of the stronger adverse current. They were still looking for the windward mark, and any competitors who had worked the Eastern Shore. But apart from the usual cruising boat and powerboat traffic, the only competitor they saw was Waerzeggers on the foiling board sail, not far ahead of them. And the lighter wind was making it difficult for Waerzeggers to keep the board foiling, and he was sailing very low to get the necessary speed to foil and was making limited progress to windward against the current. After a long starboard tack that gained him no distance towards the mark, Waerzeggers headed for SSA, leaving Meller/Coe as not just the leading 505, but leading the entire fleet.

The current was ripping in and near the shipping channel, and a freighter was north of the Bay Bridge heading south. It seemed like it took almost forever, but Meller/Coe were able to get to R92, round it to port, hoist the kite, and get across the shipping channel before the freighter closed. Several V boats rounded some distance behind, with Connell/Hillyer behind that group. There was no sign of Falsone/Falsone, Praley/Gales, or Andron/Carlile. Meller/Coe quickly got into their preferred sit running mode, with Coe to windward driving and flying the kite.

Fortunately, the breeze increased a bit, and as Meller/Coe sailed across the mouth of Whitehall Bay (for the second time in the race) they were able to head up and wire run a bit. They had enough of a lead that they did not need to take the risks of running aground or less wind by cutting it close at Greenbury Point and were soon spinnaker reaching up the Severn River Channel towards Triton Point, albeit not actually laying the finish line. They doused the kite and close reached for the finish as the breeze lightened more and more.

Suddenly Meller noticed that the rudder was askew. A quick check revealed that the lower rudder gudgeon had cracked at the forward mounting hole and only the upper pintle and gudgeon were holding the rudder on the transom. Meller braced the lower part of the rudder head with one hand and lifted the tiller so as to jam the broken pieces of the lower gudgeon together with the other hand, while Coe raised the centerboard partway and played both jib and main to ease pressure on the rudder. Fortunately for Meller/Coe the breeze was quite light at this point, and they were able to limp across the finish line, first 505, and the first boat in the race to finish.

Paul Murphy’s VX One was able to close on Meller/Coe a little near the finish, and crossed second, followed by two or three Vipers. Connell/Hillyer crossed next. Falsone/Falsone’s Eastern Shore gamble did get them past Praley/Gales. Paul Andron/Saesha Andron had sailed the entire race without a spinnaker and were further back, while Conners/Cockerill retired.

The debrief was long and detailed and continued into the next day via email. Why teams chose the routes they did, wire running versus sit running, shoals, and tide lines were all discussed. There was some setup/tuning discussion. Having less crew weight in the boat, Connell/Hillyer were raking further in the stronger breeze than Meller/Coe, whose max rake all day was 3’5” (one inch of rake aft of standard). For those on the west coast rake scale (measured aft from the mast head), this would be about 25’6.5”. Meller had intended to track their route using RaceQS but forgot to turn RaceQS on. Fortunately, Falsone/Falsone and Andron/Carlile did have race trackers on.

Both teams that chose the Eastern Shore route (apparently Andron/Carlile went closer to shore than Falsone/Falsone) felt that they should have gone closer to the shore for more current relief. Paul thought there was not much current relief on the route they took, but the water was flatter which helped and thought that they gained at times on Falsone/Falsone who were on the same side, ahead of Andron/Carlile, but not as close to the Eastern Shore. The course upwind was quite bumpy at times, particularly on port tack, so this could be an important factor. Falsone/Falsone concluded they never went far enough east of the shipping channel (where we expect the strongest ebb) saying “We were obviously getting creamed in the current even though we were fully trapezing for most of the leg. SOG was like 5 mph.” Jesse added, “FWIW, we covered 26.5 miles. I’m sure we sailed the most distance of anyone. The wind in the middle of the bay never rally materialized for us going south and clearly the current didn’t make up for it. We were never really lit up on the wire reach.” Jesse and Paul provided their course tracks. Thanks to Brendan for combining the two tracks on a chart image, below.

The narrow pink track is Falsone/Falsone the wider yellow track is Andron/Carlile. Both teams raced south towards R2 and Thomas Point by staying outside R2 and then angling back towards Thomas Point Light, and both teams worked the right against the current on the beat to R92. As the chart shows only Andron/Carlile were briefly close to the shallows – presumably less current – off the Eastern Shore.

Andron and Falsone Track

After the debrief prizes were awarded. Meller/Coe won, Connell/Hillyer were 2nd, Falsone/Falsone 3rd, Praley/Gales 4th, and Andron/Carlile 5th. Paul Andron and Saesha Carlile won the mixed team prize.

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