Full Moon Night Race, July 31, 2004

{{{Full Moon Night Race, July 31, 2004}}} The evening started with a fantastic grilled chicken dinner organized by Dick and Arlene and we owe them our thanks for expertly predicting how many people would show beyond those that signed up in advance. Even without the race, the dinner alone would certainly qualify as a huge success. All evening, before, during and after dinner, there was much debate about exactly how we should arrange the upcoming race. Various proposals were floated and discussed and revised. Finally Bill Shaw gathered a crew and headed out to drop some marks in the lake. The skipper’s meeting was another ad-hoc affair as we made up and changed the rules as we went. But everyone seemed to take the chaos in stride and we finally settled on the following: 1) we would start at 8:30pm, 2) we would race up to five laps around a two-mark course, 3) at 10pm each boat would finish their current lap and cross the finish line between the no-wake buoy and the club dock, and 4) each racer would record their own finish time, as we didn’t have a race committee to handle the finish. In hindsight, it would have been nice to have a race committee, but we managed well anyway. Meanwhile, my family was dealing with our own internal logistics. Right up until the very last minute I didn’t know who would be sailing with me or even if I would get to go out at all. Such it is with two little kids. In the end, 4.5 year-old Joseph decided he wanted to sail and as a result participated in his very first sailboat race! After much scurrying about, we pushed away from the dock just as Dick blew the six-minute pre-warning horn. We barely had time to raise the sails, sail to the starting line, make one turn to get lined up and head for the line. My watch said we started at exactly 8:32pm and Joseph said “I’m going to blow my whistle because I’m having so much fun.” The first lap was easy. Joseph “helped” trim the jib and kept us informed about the progress of the setting sun and two other boats that kept getting closer until they passed us by. The sun set right on schedule, but reflections off the clouds on the horizon kept some light on the lake for a good while afterwards. Unfortunately, those same clouds kept the moon hidden for about 30 minutes past it’s scheduled arrival time. By the time the moonlight was plentiful, it had been good and dark for half an hour. Now, there are several ways to find race marks after dark: you can take compass readings for each leg of the course, you can mark the locations with your GPS, you can use a powerful flashlight to scan the water, you can look for landmarks to line up with the marks, or you can watch the boats ahead and hope they get it right. I saw examples of all of these approaches that night, but on my boat we had no compass, no GPS, no flashlight, and took limited notice of landmarks. So we watched other boats and squinted into the darkness. Note to self, it’s about impossible to find a starting line flag in the dark – next time we’ll use a big buoy. This time we just crossed our fingers and sailed towards the club lights following the Griffins until it seemed the wind direction would be about right if we turned upwind. So we turned figuring there was no way we would ever know if we were actually inside the mark. But less than 50 yards later, Joseph said, “There’s the flag Daddy” as if it was no big deal. I looked over and saw the flag not more than 10 feet away slipping past us in the darkness. And then he said, “Daddy, I want to sail all night. Because I’m having so much fun.” Okay Joseph, we’ll keep sailing. At the windward mark we were starting to get moonlight but we had to sail past the mark to see the light on its face and make our turn. Heading down the back stretch now, we spotted a large group of boats still heading to the lee-mark. I shrewdly calculated that they certainly were close enough to see the mark in the moonlight and I headed exactly where they were headed. Turns out I was wrong, as all at once the white stern lights ahead turned to reveal green bow lights and all the boats, in unison, headed to the right. It was pretty to watch, but a bit disconcerting as an indicator of the mark location. After rounding the mark I gazed into the moonlight reflecting on the water and it revealed to us a secret path around the calm spot that had enveloped the boats ahead, so we headed off in what appeared to be the wrong direction to avoid the glassy water between us and the finish line. As we silently ghosted along in the peaceful moonlight and in the close company of friends in other boats, it was one of those nearly perfect sailing moments. Right up until Joseph looked over at a nearby boat and asked, loud enough to be heard and in all seriousness, “Daddy, why are they going backwards?” Softly I explained, “They aren’t, we’re all just moving very slowly.” We reached the dock shortly after 10pm, behind Bill Shaw who finished first and Ken and Jennifer Griffin who finished second. The rest of the fleet was back by about 10:30pm, with some finishing three laps and others finishing two. The multi-lap format appeared to work very well by allowing all of us to sail and finish close together. The short course worked well too by keeping us all within sight of each other the whole night which made for some nice views of sails against moonlight and red and green nav lights crossing in the dark. And finally Joseph was tired enough to admit, “Daddy, I’m ready to go home now.”