Two Sailboats Sailing in the Same Direction Is a Race

1 Sailboat is Sailing 2 Sailboats are RacingThere’s an old saying:

“One Sailboat is Sailing.  Two Sailboats Are Racing”

In other words, sailors tend to have a bit of a competitive streak.  Most will try to out-sail any random sailboat they happen upon who happens to be heading in the same general direction.

Last weekend I “raced” about 8 boats over the course of a 3 day cruise with my wife and 13 month old son.  I was really happy with my performance against all but the last, a 40 year old Cal 20 that came from behind me.  I couldn’t shake him no matter how I tweaked the sails…

Slogging Uphill in Chop

The first day of the trip was a long slog to windward against a 12-15 knot wind with 3′ chop out in Georgia Straight.  It was pretty slow going and three sailboats were making way to windward together, tacking back and forth across each other’s wakes.

We were a 26′ boat and two 35′ boats, one older (mine) and one quite new.  I was pretty amazed that even though we had different boats and different tactics (some sailing much closer to the wind than others), we stayed right together for a few hours before we all split off and went our separate ways.  Beating into chop is slow going for everyone.

Charging to Windward in the Sound

On the way home, we were again beating (tacking back and forth to make way upwind), but this time into 10-12 knots and in the sheltered waters of Howe Sound.  It was a much more pleasant and much faster ride!

I was very surprised and more than a little proud to leave half a dozen boats behind (that sound you hear is me patting myself on my back).

One boat was a very traditional (and beautiful) cutter rig with a full keel.  He was beautiful, but there’s no way a boat of that design is going to beat a more modern fin keel boat like mine to windward (more modern is relative as mine is 35 years old).

The others were a mix, some of them quite new, and I was really surprised to leave them behind with my old sails and older boat.  Perhaps the fact that I’d hauled out and painted the hull with anti-fouling paint just a few weeks earlier had something to do with it.  Whatever, I’ll take any advantages I can get!

Hunted Down Like a Dog by a 40 Year Old Cal 20

I’d turned the corner at the beautiful Point Atkinson Lighthouse and was beam reaching home when I noticed a pretty little sailboat behind me.  It was a 20′ Cal in pristine condition with crisp new sails and a shining blue hull.

My admiration turned into consternation, though, when I realized he was gaining on me!

How could a 20′ sailboat be overtaking a 35′ sailboat on a fast point of sail in smooth water?  My old sails shouldn’t be making that big a difference on a beam reach!

I tried to play it cool.  It was obvious that he was a racer from his sails.  As he neared, I could see his white hair and easy attentiveness on the tiller.

This guy had been sailing for a lot longer than I had.  Maybe I could learn something from him by studying the set of his sails compared to mine?

I could see that his sails were trimmed in a lot more than mine were.  I tried bringing mine in, but I could tell that they just immediately stalled, so I let them out.

I like to think that I have a decent understanding of sail trim, though I’m far from an expert.  Nevertheless, I fiddled with the twist of both my sails and considered hauling out the spinnaker.  I was dancing from one line to another, constantly looking over my shoulder.

The closer he got, the more I realized how much faster he was going than I was.  At least that explained the set of his sails.  He was going so fast that his”apparent wind angle” was further forward than mine (more about apparent wind in an upcoming blog post).

As he pulled alongside, I resigned myself to my fate and gave him a half-hearted wave.  And then I noticed something…  I turned to my wife and said, “Wow, he whipped my ass even though he forgot to raise his outboard out of the water.  That guys amazing!”

As I turned back towards him, a little light bulb went on over my head.  I looked closer and saw the little telltale of water coming from his outboard.  It was running!  He was motor-sailing!

I laughed so loudly that he turned and gave me a quizzical look.  He must have thought I was a bit of a loon, giggling  and guffawing away.  Maybe I am.

Leave a comment below and tell us a story from your impromptu racing career.

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