This week was the last match in the regular series, hosted by Max Starostin and Far East Yacht Club.
The race course was an interesting mix of classic and novel features that promised a good test of the qualifying skippers’ experience and skill. As you can see in the figure to the right, the race course begins with an upwind beat to the first mark. The tack points are restricted by the dock on the starboard side and an island to port. The fleet makes an acute turn around the top mark (#1) and then sets a genniker course for the #2 reach buoy. The route is confined by two islands that make this leg potentially tactically interesting.
The #2 mark also requires an acute change in direction, this time reaching to a small island (#3) before setting sights on the final, bottom mark (#4). From there it’s a short, but difficult upwind beat to the Finish. The course presented several challenges that were similar to the Schiffsratten races the week before.
The race I am going to tell you about today took place at 7:30am Sunday morning. The 6:00am race was cancelled at the last moment due to under-enrollment and so several sailors moved up to the next slot, making the 7:30am race “a full dance card” with six boats competing. The skippers that showed up at 7:30 because of that turn of events might easily foreshadow the final race lineup.
Seraina Benelli, reia Setsuko, macro Nacht, joro Aya, Odysseus Yiyuan, and REVO Blitz rezzed boats on the far side of the line, turning Sunday morning into a multifaceted showdown that included the third, fourth, fifth, eighth, and 12th ranked contenders in the series so far. That meant FYC, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, ended up hosting an early morning race that pitted sailors with the greatest concentration of talent from any qualifying round against each other. And the stakes were high indeed: A shot at the Cup. It was immediately apparent to both the Fizz Cup Staff and the skippers that Sunday’s race could prove to be the greatest challenge of the entire competition.
Of course we won’t know that “until the fat lady sings,” but I can certainly confirm the Sunday morning fleet made a breathtaking performance and pushed the limits far beyond the prior qualifying round standards. Liv Leigh commented that the first heat was probably the best Fizz Cup race she had ever seen. She may well be right; from what I saw, although the sizable fleet was plagued by lag at many points, their performance was truly extraordinary.
Let me tell you what happened.
Joro Aya cut the line first at 00:09; she then immediately pivoted and took off on a port tack. As shown above, Ody, Macro, Seraina and REVO started close behind Joro, but all opted for a more traditional starboard tack first leg. Reia Setsuko started the race in the dead last position, a full 30 seconds behind the leader. In that desperate situation she chose a port tack start. It actually made perfect sense; in last place no one was going to call ‘right of way’ against her.
The image above shows the fleet a short while later. Ody still leads the four boats, and they are nearing the first tack point. Off in the distance you can see Joro’s pink sails; she’s already come about, and is now on starboard tack as she zig-zags to the first mark.
The four boats then all flip to port tack, and fall on a course that will intersect with Joro, with Reia still far in the distance.
Joro brilliantly played the upwind beat to this point. She chose to cut to port at the beginning to get clean air without obstructions, and when she changed course to overlap with the fleet she ended up on a starboard tack that landed her squarely in front of Ody and Macro. Joro had Right of Way, so both Ody and Macro needed to turn aside, losing position and momentum. Very nicely done, Joro!
But don’t count out Reia! As you can see above, she is following in the footsteps of Joro and gaining ground, threatening to block Seriana and REVO!
Joro now tacks again, and runs parallel to the other four boats. In the upper left can see the double-circle that marks the ‘zone’ at the first mark. All the boats will need to tack at least one more time to reach it. Although it looks like Ody and Macro are ahead in the image above, Joro is actually in a very good strategic position, since she is much further windword and can gain speed by falling off more than the other boats. By planning her position and timing her tack correctly, she can maintain a windward advantage after the next turn. That will give her the necessary speed to make it to the zone first, while fending off the other contenders with her shadow.
It doesn’t quite work out that way, however. Ody, Macro, and Seraina prove extremely fast, and it’s Ody rather than Joro that times the tack correctly. In the first frame above, you can see that Ody’s already flipped over and picking up steam on starboard tack while Joro is still in mid-turn. Ody’s got the momentum, and slides around Joro’s aft quarter into the windward slot, erasing all Joro’s earlier advantage.
Remember though, these skippers are ‘the best of the best,’ and Joro’s not giving up that easily. She’s able to hold her own in the leeward position while remaining parallel and overlapped up to the mark. They entered the two boat length zone together, giving Joro Right of Way to round the mark inside Ody’s turn. As you can see above, this once again gives Joro a slight lead over Ody as she takes the turn past the buoy onto the reach leg, with Macro less than a boat length behind the two frontrunners.
A few seconds later the other three boats reach the mark, and REVO has the inside track. But look where Reia is! You recall she started in last place, a full 30 seconds behind Joro. Here, at the first mark, she’s not only caught up, she’s passed REVO and Seraina! I don’t know what vitamins she’s taking but that’s some incredible sailing!
The next section of the course is a broad reach that brings the boats through a channel between two islands on the way to the second mark. As you can see above, Joro and Ody continue their duel the entire way. Ody’s got control, however. He’s in the Windward position and slightly ahead. He can’t shadow Joro at this wind angle and Joro’s present position, but Joro can’t pass, either. As soon as she tries, she’ll fall under Ody’s windward boat blanket and lose momentum.
Ody knows he has her trapped, too: The channel is looming ahead, and the reach mark is on the starboard side past the islands. Joro therefore has no option to fall futher leeward to find clean air. Joro’s only option here is to ‘feint’ by first dropping back momentarily, then swinging across Ody’s stern to power into the windward position.
Joro’s got the skill to do it; she’ racked up more consecutive wins than any skipper in the history of Fizz Cup. But in this race she’s up against Ody, who’s ranked third overall in the Fizz 2009 fleet, with 16 clean wins under his belt. Joro’s chance to pull a feint and snatch windward from Ody in this situation is, well… zero.
The duel cost both skippers time and energy, however, and the remaining four sailors took the advantage. Flashing the skill they had all amply demonstrated in the prior heats of this series, Macro, Seraina, Reia and REVO all surged ahead to challenge the leaders. Although two minutes earlier the boats had been on opposite tacks and spread out over the width of the race course, now they were once again closely packed together as they flew through the channel, with Macro, Ody, Reia and Joro all vying for the lead.
Macro and Reia edged ahead and caught the reach mark first, free of any overlap with Ody or Joro (see above). Reia had the inside, and played it for all it was worth, chiseling the turn and breaking out front.
Macro then pulled a smart move. Although he was outside of Reia taking the turn, as shown above Macro swung hard around the mark to move to Reia’s opposite side, placing his boat windward of Reia’s aft quarter. On some other day, against some other skipper, Macro might use that advantage to steal the lead; but not this day, not this race. Reia had too much headway and Macro lost momentum in trade for the windward position.
Reia wrestled free from Macro and broke into clean air. For the first time in the race, there was no one ahead and nothing holding her back. With barely a nod to her fans on the beach, she suddenly exploded into overdrive, stretching her lead so fast the rest of the pack appeared as though standing still. Come to think of it, considering the lag, they may have been.
This fight was still far from over, however. Ody and Jaro held the lead too long to let it go quite this easily. Macro held then off at the small island that served as the third mark, using it as an obstruction to keep Joro astern. Once in open water again, however, Joro made her move, attempting to pass windward of Macro.
On a different point of sail, this might be an effective strategy. The leg from the island (#3) to the bottom mark (#4) is a beam reach, however. With that heading Joro could not shadow from behind, and Macro had multiple options to change course in order to keep Joro at bay. Joro had the heart, and never gave up the fight, but this time her efforts proved futile. Macro progressively widened his lead.
The image above shows how truly close the race still was at the bottom mark with just a short way to go to the finish. Reia maintained her lead, although Macro continued to close the gap all the way to the very end. As I mentioned above, Macro successfully pulled away from the rest of the fleet, guaranteeing his second-place finish. Joro, Ody, and Seraina however were still so tightly packed that all three boats were completely in the zone for the final marker at the same time. And don’t forget REVO! He was in the rear, but was the same distance behind the ‘gang of three’ in the middle as Reia was ahead. In other words, this was a tight, excellent fleet they were all in the game together throughout.
Liv Leigh commented that many sailors think the FYC09 racecourse was ‘all about the start.’ In other words, if you win the start, you win the race. For short dinghy races that emphasize technical expertise, that’s often true.
However, Reia on Sunday showed us something else. She came from dead last place, she chose an alternate port-tack strategy, and she relentlessly inched her way forward. Her progress in the race wasn’t luck. It didn’t depend on the errors of others.
Reia won this race in the best possibly way. In this first heat Sunday morning, Reia just outsailed everybody.
What a great race! Woot!