OK OK OK, I know I haven’t written very much here recently, but don’t expect any apologies, since I’ve been up to my neck in details with the J-Classic races! After ten weeks, 120 sailors, 15 teams, and races that traversed 800 sims… Wow! Do I have a lot to write about. If you were there for any of J-CLASSIC, you know what I mean.
Most sailors already know there were eight major distance races that served as the qualifying events for the J-Classic. Fifteen incredible teams participated, and by the scores and my personal estimation, every single one of those teams proved a champion. Nonetheless, when the dust settled after eight events, only four teams remained standing. That group of four then advanced to the Final Round in Sailor’s Cove on November 7.
Today let me take a few minutes to share just one of the races from that day; the very first one. However, I promise to keep going over the next few weeks, and cover the whole event (I hope!).
The Final Four J-Classic Teams (and their final sailing crews) were:
- Nantucket Yacht Club — Narwhal:
Chaos Mandelbrot, Nomad Zamani, Glorfindel Arrow
- Waypoint Yacht Club — All-Stars:
Massy Johin, Toraba Magic, Mikoto Daxter, Steyr Darwin
Alain Gloster, Suzi Siemens:
- Triumphal Yacht Club — Second Chance:
Trapez Breen, Fiona Haworth
The Finals consisted of four races that all began in Plum Gut.
The First two races followed a course familiar to many sailors, based on Epicurus Emmon’s old FIYC Hotlaps Chart. Using a wind from due North, the fleet progressed on a beat to the orange mark in Sugar Reef, then fell on a reach to Race Rock. The return path reversed this route, but then continued South to circle a small island in Quoddy Head that allowed an upwind final leg to the Finish.
Nothing too tricky, you might think, but often the most simple courses like this one end up the most difficult; they provide a true test of fundamental sailing skill and tactics.
Waypoint All-Stars drove this point home in the first race.
The images below show the start of Race One; Narwhal, Eureka, and Second Chance all began on a Starboard close haul tack in single file. With Nomad Zamani at the helm, Narwhal boldly jumped out in front of the pack and set the pace, crossing the tape near the windward end of the race line at 00:00:03. WYC All-Stars, led by Toraba Magic, chose a riskier pre-start tactic; they came at the line on an unobstructed reach from Anchor Cove channel. Luckily, All Stars had plenty of room to do this without barging, and they fell in behind the leader Narwhal with a starting time of 00:00:13. Eureka was next to cross with 00:00:27, and Second Chance brought up the rear at 00:00:42.
So far this looked like a pretty standard race, with a textbook Starboard Start leading to a upwind beat to the first mark. Conventional sailing dogma says the fastest boat would be the one that now made a series of long tacks with the fewest number of gybes to that first orange mark in Sugar Reef. Narwhal was following the playbook. NYC was in front with a 10 second lead, and given its windward dominant position, there was an excellent chance Narwhal would continue to pull away from the fleet unless it made a mistake. Nomad Zamani was at the helm, however, and everyone watching knew Nomad made precious few mistakes in eight prior J-CLASSIC performances.
As I watched the race begin, I thought that Narwhal might already have this first race in the bag, right there in Plum Gut…
But I was wrong.
I didn’t know what Toraba Magic had planned! Toraba knew how this race was going to unfold unless he switched tactics and took control. He wasn’t going to just play Nomad’s follow-the-leader game and settle for the #2 spot in this race.
Toraba defied the usual conventions: he swung over the helm shortly after crossing the line and took off on a port tack sailing away from the rest of the fleet; All-Stars was laying a trap!
If you look at the picture above, you can see the positions of the four boats a minute later as they continue to tack upwind through Flat Hammock. Narwhal, Eureka and Second Chance are now all on port tack, and Nomad is in control with a clearly dominant windward position relative to the other two boats. If either try to pass NYC, all Nomad has to do is fall a bit off the wind to gain speed and then use the shadow from those huge J-Classic sails to hold the competition in check.
But look again at that top picture above. Toraba isn’t playing that game. Remember All-Stars tacked early, so although WYC is still technically behind and lower than Narwhal, they have already gybed. Toraba has Starboard Right-Of-Way and NYC is in his crosshairs. Nomad could see the set up also; he was forced to gybe Narwhal early and yield position to All-Stars.
Look at the second picture above, after NYC and Eureka both came about. With Toraba’s one maneuver and in a very short amount of time, the WYC team snatched the lead away. Woots! Nice sailing, ALL-STARS!!!
Once Toraba was in the driver’s seat, he played it to advantage and continued to eat Narwhal’s lunch. As you can see in the top frame below, Nomad was skillfully fighting back as the fleet of four tacked across the southern half of Sugar Reef. Narwhal gained at least two boat lengths in that short distance, coming into overlap with the WYC boat, but Toraba successfully fended Nomad off with windshadow. As shown in the second picture below, all three lead boats ran out of water on that tack before Narwhal had any hope of challenging WYC’s juggernaut.
Toraba then skillfully flipped to port tack, threw another blanket on Narwhal (just to be sure), and then turned his eyes on the first mark, just a short jump ahead. All-Stars then never looked back; they plugged into overdrive and thirty seconds later they ‘poof’ disppeared from my screen, out of view range. Narwhal, Eureka, and Second Chance were, however, still closely positioned and approaching that first mark. Eureka ended up overlapped with Narwhal as they came to the turn, as shown below. There was no protest, and I have not discussed it with any of the skippers, but I think it would be an interesting discussion about who had Right-Of-Way and which rules applied in this next sequence.
As shown below Narwhal was high enough to reach the first mark on port tack by ‘pinching’ to windward. If you look behind NYC in the first picture, you can see Trapez Breen sailing TrYC on an optimum port tack – close haul heading; by comparison Narwhal is sheeted too tightly by intention, trying to scrape past the mark without needing to make an extra time-wasting turn.
There is one problem with this plan … Eureka.
Alain Gloster (Eureka’s skipper) had not needed to fight All-Stars, so he was still fresh, focused, and well-rested ( 🙂 (although I admit it was 3:00AM for Alain). Eureka was able to make the extra, short turn it needed to approach the orange mark correctly on a starboard tack. The pictures below suggest Alain ended up “in the zone,” inside NYC and on Starboard tack, with Narwhal on Port. I only had one vantage point, so I can’t say for certain what the ruling would have been here, but I admit that the judges were watching and had a quick cross-check when this occurred to find out if there were protests or if skippers had calls for room that might not have registered on our chat screens.
There were no such protests, and Narwhal grabbed the opportunity to secure the #2 spot by turning ahead of Eureka .
The image below shows the lineup after the remaining three boats passed the mark and set an outbound reach course towards Race Rock: The order was 2-Narwhal, 3-Eureka, and 4-Second Chance!
WYC was so far out front in that image it was no longer in draw range. A few moments later, however, the WYC All-Stars emerged from the mist over the northern Sailor’s Cove waterways as it steamed back full throttle on the return course.
With incredible speed, spinnaker a-fly, and zero competition anywhere within two sims, Waypoint had time to flaunt it; they did a show-off runway strut downwind past the overflow crowds waiting by the Finish Line. As the last image above shows, Toraba then cut the line a full two tacks and one minute ahead of NYC and Eureka. It was a remarkable victory lead for a boat, a team, and a skipper.
Recently I’ve been reading opinion posts by people (generally non-racers) who complain that SL Sailing is an ill-equipped, poorly suited game that can’t possibly match our goals to emulate the challenges of Real-Life sail racing. There are many facets to that question, I know, but after watching this first Finals race, I was pretty comfortable I knew my answer to these nay-sayers. What I saw in the above race was the real thing; full of strategy, intelligence, and down-out plain ‘guts.’ That’s real sailing, and if you don’t think so…
Go talk to Toraba and TEAM WAYPOINT !!!!!!
The Finals had three more races, and Eureka, Second Chance, and Narwhal all had moments to strut-their-stuff and show why they deserved a slot in the J-Classic Final Four! Narwhal finally pulled off the untimate victory with an incredible tour de force display of talent and determination…
but it’s late, and if you want to hear how it all turned out, you’ll have to “tune-in next time, kids…”