Thursday, February 21, 2008


A week ago I met Zach in Long Beach for a tune up. It was late morning, with the wind at 10 and forecast to build. We were both itching to get out and do a little sailing in advance of the San Diego regatta. So after cursory introductions we rigged and went sailing. Zach's friend Grant jumped in Zach's boat and foiled a bit. Then Zach and I went out and tooled around for awhile, after some fidgeting around with the cable attachment on my boat for a few minutes.

The first bit was really nice, with a steady breeze from an odd direction - south. The wind is almost always westerly in Long Beach, and when it isn't, something is up. In this case, the something was a big veer and fill from the southwest:

Anyway the puffs were magnificent and we had some fun reaching and working upwind. At the end of one long reach I wiped out and Zach gybed away to head back toward shore. I righted my boat on port tack and was about to bear off and follow him when I noticed a bright blue doublehanded cat blasting into sight from the windward side of the island. As I was sailing toward them I thought I'd just watch, as they were REALLY moving in the breeze.

Cats like this aren't a dime a dozen in Long Beach. There are some cat sailors there, but most don't launch from the beach, and certainly not new-looking Nacra 20s with new sails and FRA sail numbers going like bats out of hell! They tacked onto port in front of me and to leeward and I thought, OK, let's see what this blue banana boat can do.

So I sheeted in and started to point with a ton of Veal heel in wind that was probably 18-20 and relatively steady. I expected to reel the cat in but that didn't happen, first because they were damned quick - maybe even faster through the water than I was, though I was pointing a bit higher - and second because I kept climbing away from them when I was really more in the mood for a drag race.

So I sheeted out just a tad and bore off to see how much ground I could make up. Mind you it was a tight reach but the Moth was sailing beautifully with great control thanks to my latest flap mechanism tweaks and I was heating it up as much as I possibly could. Bottom line is that those cats are really quick! I gained on them steadily but not dramatically, keeping them in view about 100 yards off my starboard bow. We sailed like that for probably five or six minutes - the Nacra was hauling the proverbial mail, with both crew fully trapped and the boat nearly flat and under perfect control. The afternoon sun was getting lower in the sky, lighting up the gold sail and the bright blue hulls. I almost forgot what I was doing, just watching that boat fly across the harbor - which is saying something when you are sailing a Moth! But it was one of those Zen-like moments when you completely forget that you are sailing three feet above the water at 20 plus knots and all the balance, rudder and mainsheet work just fades from consciousness. We could have been satellites orbiting some distant planet - it was like I was there but I wasn't the one sailing the boat. And I haven't been smoking any medical marajuana! (It's legal by California state law, BTW).

When the cat was close to the west oil island they tacked, and I decided to take their stern to say hello. They were a bit surprised to see me there, presumably because they had seen me over by the oil island and had not been looking back over their shoulder at 20 knots to see if any other boats were overtaking them! I would have rolled them eventually and if I had been going hard upwind I would have crossed them by a considerable distance after their tack, but it just goes to show what a long skinny displacement hull, tons of righting moment and a big efficient sail can do for a boat - even one that weighs over 400 lb. Impressive beast to say the least.

I later learned at the Moth regatta from some cat sailors that Performance Catamarans (maker of Nacras) has changed into French hands, and that the new owners have moved to town with their families. No wonder they looked so good on the water!

As much as I liked the look of their boat under sail I don't think I'd trade my ride for theirs, however. There is something about a Moth that makes you feel a bit more like a pilot and less like a skipper, and though displacement sailing can be fun, I don't think it will ever be quite the same for me. The stakes are a bit higher in foiling as our crashes are harder and more frequent, but the payoff in speed and the sensation of literally flying the boat are well worth the periodic tumble into the drink.


Phil Stevenson said...

I hope Doug Lord does not find this. He will consider this post as serious proof that his PF will be the fastest boat ever.

None the less keep posting Karl.

Karl said...

My latest analogy is that Dinghy Anarchy is the Jerry Springer show of sailing (bottom-feeding, incendiary reality-based talk show) and DL is the host.