Shifting winds and freighters make race exciting

Handicapping system boosts chances

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By GREG SLAKOV

The thought of sailboat racing in the middle of winter may seem strange to some, but throughout the winter a group of intrepid sailors from the Salt Spring Island Sailing Club meets every weekend or two to do just that.

On Feb. 24, this stalwart group put on toques, fleece and long underwear and enjoyed a lovely eight- to 10-knot northerly breeze, along with some welcome sunshine, to race to the Channel Islands and back.

Six boats took part in the race. There was a downwind start, with some of the keeners getting good starts right at the gun, notably Bob Jones on Oasis and Kevin Vine on Deryn Mor. The other boats were shorthanded, had sail handling issues, or simply decided to wait a couple of minutes to avoid the pressure of the start line.

The wind was quite shifty and puffy all day, requiring the crews to change course and alter sail trim constantly to wrest the best from the breeze. However, the wind never died, allowing the fleet to maintain good speed from the start to the finish of the 14.6-mile course.

One interesting component of the race was the very strong ebbing current, moving from north to south in Captain Passage. This required careful consideration, with boats trying to get into this current quickly on the way south, and attempting to stay out of it on the way back home.

Many islanders have noticed that Captain Passage now hosts anchored freighters more often. This was one of the first races where freighters affected the running of a race. First, an anchored ship close to the Salt Spring shore required consideration as it blocked the wind to leeward for at least 100 metres. More excitingly, a northbound freighter went between the boats in the fleet and caused Gyle Keating on Shingebiss to elect (in an act of self-preservation) to stay close to the Salt Spring side of the channel on the way home. Up close, these ships are intimidating, and when they are moving at speed, they are downright scary.

The race was tight for the lead boats all day long, with Shingebiss, Radiant Heat, Oasis and Sorcery in touch at most mark roundings. The first three boats finished within 10 minutes of each other. At the other end of the scale, fleet captain Greg Taylor finished almost two hours back after a few interesting episodes. Taylor is learning fast, illustrating how it is never too late to join in the great sport of sailboat racing. Even though the social gathering on Oasis had died down by the time Taylor finished, the crew of Shingebiss was still on their boat, and heartily invited Taylor aboard for a visit. Great fun was had by all.

A different type of scoring — similar to golf handicapping — was used in this race to make it even more fun for our diverse fleet of boats and skill levels and to invite new boats and crew members to join us. If an individual crew has a particularly good race compared to their typical race, they stand a very good chance of winning. In theory, all boats have a roughly equal chance.

After handicapping, the finish order was Oasis (Jones), Sorcery (Greg Slakov), Shingebiss (Keating), Radiant Heat (Tony Brogan), Deryn Mor (Vine) and Skeena Cloud (Taylor).

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