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Race of the Lemmings By Steve Morrell


rom space, a sailboat race might appear like a group of small animals moving across the surface in the same direction, and when they all turn around the same point to head off in another direction, it might appear they are just moving along together like a herd, but actually, they are rounding a mark. Recently, I was crew in a 20plus-mile race in a far off galaxy. Fortunately, no one knows this place, so it can’t be verified that these events actually happened. To make it easy, we will use Earth terms, e.g., north, south, PHRF, etc. The start of the race was inside a very large bay bordering on an open sea. Along the western border of the bay was a long, narrow island. The boats were to sail west a few miles from the start, come up to the first marker on the east, bay side of the island and then go around a series of marks that surrounded the island. They would then return to the first mark and then on to the finish. At the first mark, you had the choice to go clockwise or counterclockwise around the island. Fourteen boats raced in three classes; Spinnaker, Non-spinnaker and True Cruising. With 15-plus knots of wind, clear skies, warm weather and warm water, conditions were about as good as you get for sailing, especially for this length race. The race had a pursuit (reverse handicap) start—at 10 a.m.—where the PHRF rating determines when you cross the start line, the highest rated boats crossing first. I was one of a crew of three on a 30-foot sloop in the True Cruising class. With a high rating, we were second to start. It was a beautiful day, and we three were truly enjoying this sail. Because of the wind and wave directions, we made the choice to go around the island clockwise. As the morning progressed, winds picked up, and we were moving along at a comfortable 7 to 8 knots in 17-18 knots of wind. We turned left at the first mark and headed south toward the second mark, which was southwest of the island. After round-


June 2006


ing the second mark, we headed north, sailing on a broad reach, still making a comfortable 7 to 8 knots. Other boats were catching up with us from the rear, which we expected. The faster Spinnaker and Non-Spinnaker boats started behind us and should, by all rights, slowly catch up. There was one True Cruising boat in front of us that we were catching up to. Our GPS and charts told us where the next mark was. I was at the

helm, and the captain gave me a heading, which I endeavored to maintain. We could not yet see the mark in the far distance quite yet, but as we approached it, we noticed the other boat in front of us was not going to the same place we were, but heading to what appeared to be a mark farther to the right (east). I asked the captain to double-check our heading, which he did, and he confirmed we were on course. We then noticed the other boat right behind us also heading toward the same, more eastward mark, and I again asked the captain to check on it. He still felt we were doing well, but we three began to wonder about these

other boats. After all, we all make mistakes. Could we be wrong? As we continued along, all of a sudden the boat in front of us turned a bit to the left, its course crossing our path. This confused us. Then we noticed the boat right behind us did the same thing. I again asked the captain to double-check everything. (It would be important to note that the boat behind us was captained by a very well-known local racer, and we couldn’t imagine him not going to the right mark.) After a bit of time, when we watched these boats more steadily head to the left and toward a mark over in that direction, we decided perhaps something was amiss and also veered to the left. At this point, we three boats were all aiming at the same mark, and it amazed us that, here we were, just over halfway around a 20-mile course, and it looked as if we were all going to round this mark at the same exact time! We were going to have to give room to the boat we had caught up with to make the rounding (taking it to starboard), and the boat that had now caught up with us was going to have to give us room, also. As we approached this mark, we noticed (with the naked eye), at perhaps a couple hundred feet away, that the number on this mark indicated it was not the mark that we were supposed to be rounding, but the one about a mile and a half to the west of it. We were so close to the other boats that we were all yelling and joking with each other that it was the wrong mark. We were doing probably 6 knots, so we came up to this mark very quickly. We continued to round it, being careful to give the boat on the inside the room it needed, plus we had to jibe as we made the rounding. We also kept an eye on the boat to the outside, as it gave us the room we needed. We all made the rounding and were now on an easterly course, heading, actually, to the next mark, which was the one we were really supposed to round. We all passed it on the correct side. See LEMMINGS continued on page 68