It’s moments before the first starting gun, and waves are rushing over the bow of our J-105, Rock’n & Groov’n. There are six of us onboard for the race, and we all have our duties in order to get the yacht to the start line on time; everyone must work hard to get the boat in proper trim. Even though I have done this many times before, thoughts still rush through my mind-“Do we know where we are going? How much more time do we have?”
The start of a yacht race requires many quick decisions and the gathering of lots of information. For instance, as we approach the start line, we see for the first time the placards indicating the course posted on the committee boat. Then it’s only a moment before the prep flag comes down and we are within a minute of the actual race start. In the final seconds, we tack with only feet to spare before the starting point, maneuvering around our competitors to seek the most advantageous position across the line.
By Paul Wellman
I hear “5-4-3-2-1,” and then the horn goes off. It is race time, and just as soon as the starting-line strategizing ends, we refocus on going fast. This means, among other things, draping ourselves over the life-lines to try to flatten the boat-we literally hang off the side of the boat-while sailing right next to our opponents.
On this particular night, we head toward the shore because we know from experience that an advantage can be gained there based on wind direction and the current. Approaching the first mark, the boats are so close our crew all thinks the same thing: “Will we make it there first or will we be bounced around by the competition?” The waves roll by as we plow toward the weather (upwind) mark. We quickly go over what we need to do for a flawless rounding. Just then the fleet begins to converge.
Every week on Wednesday, dozens of teams from the Santa Barbara Yacht Club go out for a night of friendly, yet competitive, yacht racing. The series begins with the start of Daylight Saving Time and lasts until well into the fall. Called Wet Wednesdays, it is the most popular regatta hosted by the Santa Barbara Yacht Club. The boats involved are diverse, ranging from the enormous Taxi Dancer, a 70-foot Sled, to the relatively little Harbor 20s. In order to enter a boat into the series, the owner has to be a member of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club or one of its reciprocates, and the boat has to be registered in the Performance Handicap Racing Federation Fleet (PHRF).
However, the crews can be-and are-made up of anyone who has the time and energy to spend Wednesday night sailing; they range from experienced grand prix racers to people who have never been on a sailboat before. A lot of families sail together. I’m 17 years old and I have been racing with my dad and stepmom for about 10 years. I enjoy Wet Wednesdays because they are unpredictable-on certain evenings it can be “blowing dogs off chains,” with waves crashing over the front of the boat. Other nights it may be much calmer, and we will drift aimlessly for what can seem like hours.
Tonight as we approach the weather mark, we are in second place. People are shouting at one another, arguing about the rules, and who has the right of way. I tense up. So much is happening at one time, everyone is doing what they need to in order to make the rounding as perfect as possible. I know that as soon as we turn downwind everything will be much more relaxed. As we go around the mark, everyone works in harmony, and the timing couldn’t be better. The spinnaker goes up and takes its proper shape. When I look over at the first-place boat, it appears its kite-like sail is twisted. This is our chance to pass them, and we take advantage of it. There is still so much of the race left, and anything could happen, but for the moment we are in first; seeing everyone behind us gives us a feeling unlike any other.
At the finish of the race, we put the boats away in their slips and head over to the Yacht Club for more fun and socializing-some discuss the race, others talk about their busy lives as they “burn a burger” over the club’s barbecue grills. There’s something about an evening of racing that brings everyone together.
Santa Barbara Yacht Club is located at 130 Harbor Way. Call 965-8112 or visit sbyc.org/wetindex.html for more info on Wet Wednesdays.