by Kevin Brown
I read with interest Jonathan Bamberger’s report of their experiences on this years Lake Ontario 300 so I decided to write a little something about our ride in this years race aboard Notorious.
To race Notorious in a race like this takes considerable planning and preparation. We want the boat in perfect condition with every block and line checked. We need to pack very carefully with regard to safety equipment, spare parts and gear, not to mention personal kit to keep the added weight to an absolute minimum.
Each crew is allowed a 30 litre dry bag full of spare kit but not an item more and we have developed a ‘recommended’ list of items to bring. No duplication is allowed with regard to sunscreen and other shared items and everyone is allowed only one pair of footwear whether it be boots or shoes. Jeff Love does a great job of watch-dogging the whole equipment list. We use a titanium mini-boiler and cook freeze-dried meals during the race. We keep the boat out of the water with the bottom polished right up to the time we need to launch, thn take the boat to Port Credit on the Friday afternoon prior to the start on Saturday morning.
This year, I assembled another extremely talented crew — Jeff Love, Mark Mcginnis, Doug Laidlaw, Neil Payne and Milan Kovacevich. I was confident we had the depth to keep the boat sailing at its best pace no matter who was driving, trimming or doing sail-handling. Our navigator, Mark McGuinness, had been studying the weather for a number of weeks prior to the event and we got the assistance of some professional weather routing to help us in our strategic decision making. Ron Bianchi’s pre-race weather briefing confirmed much of what we expected and gave us further insight into the time line of the approaching weather. This year we made a small concession to weight by bringing a very small laptop computer so we could keep an eye on the competition through the LO300 website and monitor various weather sites. All boats were being tracked with Kattack units aboard all competing boats.
On Saturday morning, just prior to leaving the dock, we made our final sail selection decisions and returned all other sails to the truck along, with every extra item possible including all sail bags. We went through all our check-lists and ensured all necessary items were stowed to keep weight as centralized as possible. This year I installed some nice new leecloths so an off-watch person could sleep with their weight high on the weather side. Most of the crew usually sleep on the weather rail with special hiking assist straps that supply support and security while keeping all weight in the best possible location.
It was a downwind start this year so we timed a nice starboard reach down the line and held our competition above and behind us. At the gun we were the boat furthest to weather, and hoisted our light running kite. The next and final class to start were the multihulls. Our task was to work our way through the slower divisions on the run to Gibraltar. We passed through about four divisions that had started before us by the time we reached Gibralter, and just squeezed in ahead of the Farr 44 Gaucho at the rounding to be the first IRC division boat around that mark.
As the race sorted out and Gaucho passed us, we were steadily making our way through more of the divisions that had started before us. We had cleared the eastern headland before we saw the breeze start to swing to the west and build. It was a nice ride under our reaching spinnaker but we decided to peel to our heavy masthead spinnaker in anticipation of more breeze.
When the first squall hit us, we had noticed the divisions behind us got flattened so we just held our spinnaker as long as we dared and doused just before the big breeze hit us. We would go bald-headed twice on this leg as the biggest of the breezes passed through but within minutes put up our fractional spinnaker in any breeze under 40 knots, and peeled to our heavy masthead spinnaker in any breeze under 30 knots. At one point, the B&G indicated 50 knots of wind in the height of one of the squalls. We were doing 15+ knots under main alone.
Our plan was to try to stay with these squalls and the biggest breeze for as long as possible to make gains on our division and the fleet. Being able to fly our spinnakers through the squalls was key to getting us launched out in front of the entire fleet and by late afternoon it was working. We could only make out the shapes of spinnakers on the horizon behind us, and we had put Gaucho a couple miles behind us as well.
We got a little greedy at times and once we held a masthead spinnaker a little too long and executed a spectacular ‘wash the windex’ type broach. With great crew work we were able to get our spinnakers peeled very effectively, and lost very little time in transition. After the race we estimated we had done about 25 spinnaker peels during the course of the race with the majority of them on the leg from Gibralter to the Duck. We had an hour where we averaged about 18 knots of boat speed and we saw bursts well over 20 on a number of occasions. The strange thing was we never had any hail or significant rain as some later reported. I guess we stayed at the leading edge of the fronts longer than most.
Our only damage during that day was two spinnaker turning blocks that decided they had take enough abuse and scattered their sheaves and ball bearings all over the cockpit. We had spares, so it was just a matter of a quick change of block while we flew the spinnaker on a substitute sheet so no time was lost. It is a tough little boat and so much fun to sail. A thanks to the guys at Evolution for sails that stood up to perfection.
The breeze dropped to very comfortable conditions throughout the first night and in fact we went searching for more wind down the shore as we went around Pt Petrie and approached Main Duck. It always amazes me how going 10 knots can feel so slow after the rush of going 20 and spending extended periods of time going 16. It was a nice steady heavy-air jib reach after rounding the Duck.
We did not see another boat until we were within about ten miles of the US shore going toward the Oswego turning mark when two multihulls passed us.
It was just about dawn when we rounded Oswego and started a heavy air beat toward the Niagara mark with a full main and our Code 3 jib. Upwind in big waves and big breeze was the order of much of the second day. Gaucho was revelling in these conditions and passed us within a few miles of rounding the Oswego mark but they were the only boat we could see ahead or behind for the entire second day.
By late in the day we were well past Rochester, and the breeze lightened and then swung to the east to allow us to fly our light running spinnaker again. We had pushed hard all day to work the shoreline upwind and take advantage of some shore effect lifts on port tack. Now we were working the shoreline even closer to just keep moving from cats paw to cats paw.
It always goes through your mind at these times that the fleet is flying up from behind you unseen. Luckily, that was not the case and in fact we were in better breeze than most of the fleet. Our strategic plan was working so far.
During that second night, we experienced a variety of points of sail and at one point sailed out into the lake to engage an oncoming storm cell to be able to get a ‘bounce’ up the US shore. We flew a spinnaker as far into the cell as we dared and then power reached for a few hours up the US shore. By dawn, we were approaching the Niagara mark and rounded in a nice breeze doing about 7 knots under a jib.
At halfway to Port Credit we were fighting for pace and at one point had to resort to inching along under our Daisy Stays’l which we often use as a windseeker. Our thoughts again were about Gaucho escaping across the lake in front of us and the whole world catching us from behind. We still had not seen another boat from the Main Duck course since Gaucho passed us near Oswego.
As it turned out Gaucho took line honours but virtually stopped for over two hours somewhere in front of us and the rest of the fleet was just inching up and around Niagara while we experienced our mid lake drift. We parked up a couple more times in the last few miles into the Port Credit finish line but again never completely stopped. More sail changes.
For us it ended up being an upwind finish in about 7 knots of breeze. We crossed the line with an elapsed time of just under 48 hours for the course. We think that is the third-fastest elapsed time ever for the race, behind Gaucho this year and Rampage in last year’s race. We corrected out to win both IRC 1 and IRC Overall.
Unfortunately the LO300 race uses the shamefully inaccurate PHRF-LO time calculation to arrive at an overall course winner. We believe after all the corrections were done we placed second for the Main Duck course by less than three minutes to a Dash 34.
We have now done this race four times. We have taken course line honours once, won our section once, won our division twice and enjoyed this race for the different challenge it offers. We still much prefer the close quarters course racing action of the IRC fleet at open events and at class one-design regatta’s but the LO300 is one event that everyone should consider doing just once for the experience. It is a race that tests so many aspects of preparation, sailing skill, endurance and teamwork. At the conclusion of the LO300 this year the crew and I decided that we want to take Notorious to race the Bayview Mac next year. A different course on a different lake for a whole new test. Should be fun.