Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Racing on Morgana

I think this should start with introducing you to Morgana. I have had a long association with this vessel starting with my encounter when electrolysis severely damaged her rudder, and more recently with my Acticense and NMEA adventures. She's a beautiful custom built gaff rigged ketch whose lines come directly from the sailing coasters of the early 18th through the start of the 20th century. These were the coastal trucks of the seas that transported cargo, and passengers from port to port. There are a small handful of original coasters left sailing today mostly used as tourist attractions or museum exhibits. They became obsolete with advent of the gas engine, and by the 1930's they were almost extinct. Nowadays the term "Coaster" applies to any of a variety of smaller vessels that provide coastal area transport services.

Morgana, owned by Chuck Margetta and his wife Laura Plum, is a true sailor's boat. Wooden spars, running backstays, and even belaying pins. When fully rigged she uses six sails. Are you ready? Starting at the bow, and working aft we have a furling genoa followed by the furling staysail. Then we have a gaff rigged mainsail, and above it flies a topsail. Aft we have the mizzen staysail, followed by the mizzen. All of this is accompanied by at first glance a bewildering array of lines to manage them.

I took this picture of Morgana sans her sails before preparations for the Labor day regatta had started. Hosted by the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, the two day Labor Day Regatta is one of the oldest continuously held regattas in the US first beginning in 1947. Over the weekend 300 boats in 15 classes are sailing in the bay for two days.

This is the 67th regatta, and I'm crewing on  Morgana for the second, and third time. The boat is complicated and I wasn't worth much to the crew the first time. I know where most things are now, and I'm of some use in this race series.

I'm a secret racer. If there was a sail boat ahead of me I would straighten up the tell tales and see if I could catch up, and pass them. Truth be told I have zip experience with racing. I know how to make the boat go expeditiously, but the race signaling system is a mysterious plethora of colored flags, accompanied by a audible device. In our case the sound signal is a 12 gauge pump action shotgun firing blanks. I think this must be a Florida thing, and boy you could sure hear it as you ducked for cover.

This is the first race of the second day. It's supposed to start at 10:00am, but at that time we were still in dock waiting out a gully washing thunderstorm. About noon the committee boat is finally on station, and four classes of boats are milling around it, literally.
There is no wind. Slack sails abound, and it's hot, very hot and muggy. You hear the occasional splashes as crew jump off the boats for a quick dip to cool off, and troll for Bull sharks. A couple of hours of this later, and grumbling starts to squawk over the VHF. Is there going to be a race? What's going on? Kill it or cure it! The fervor builds until a few boats announce they're through trying to heat stroke themselves, and withdraw.

I took a screen shot of part our track. We're motoring at idle to keep some air moving, and the small black dot in the center is the committee boat. This is about 45 minutes of creeping about at a snails pace shown. A call from the north of the course says the sea breeze is starting to filling in. About thirty minutes later you can see the wind filling in at our end. When I say the wind is filling in, this doesn't mean a gale is approaching, but it's about 5 knots mostly, but not always that brisk. 

Our third crew member is Gregg Knighton (green shirt), a very skilled racer. Gregg is long time local sail maker with two florida based sail lofts, and loads of experience. Gregg was performing the role of navigator, and orchestrated three flawless starts.

The shotgun blast goes off while I frantically duck, and Gregg starts his watch. Five minutes and counting. Rumble her up and tack. Slack the main, and loosen the genoa. Tighten them up, we're going. In all cases we hit the line a couple of seconds after the start. It was impressive. I'd have been frantically tacking away from the line trying to avoid an early start, and smacking into other boats. It would have been talked about for years.

This is another example of Gregg's creativity. He had me help him rig the genoa's whisker pole to the main on a downwind run with the help of a sail tie, and some gyrations. It looked  a bit awkward, but worked really well.

I had been promoted and moved to the bow. Previously I had been a winch grunt, intermixed with going down into the cabin to check the laptop for range and bearing to the mark.

As Gregg opined, "It takes a union meeting to tack Morgana", and in a way it does. As you come about, the now soon to be leeward running back stay has to be released at the right time, and my job is now to haul in the genoa's clew and pass it in front of the staysail along with enough sail it can be hauled through. Uff da.

Three races over two days, and two seconds, and one third place. Pretty good for a boat that prefers heavier air, and less tacking. I had fun, learned a lot and slept really well. Thanks Chuck and Laura for letting me play. I'm crewing on a new 40 Tartan early in November. I think after that I will have enough experience apply for a spot with Team Oracle as the boat's designated screamer.

Many many thanks to Rachel Harvey for the use of her beautiful photos, including the one with the dashing looking old guy on the bow. One of her specialties is photographing regattas, and as you can she is very good at it. Her website is here, check out her "Sailing Events" photos, and give her Facebook page a "Like".

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