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If the wind is right, you can sail away…

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 28, 2014

From my first race on Lake Arcadia many years ago to my most recent daysail at a Tall Ships® festival, sailing has, as President Kennedy once wrote, “given me some of the most pleasant and exciting moments of my life.” Such was the case, I am sure, for those aboard the vessels Tole Mour, Irving Johnson, Exy Johnson, and Bill of Rights earlier this week.

Monday dawned warm and sunny and, with it, the start of RACE DAY. Shortly after noon, Erin and I found ourselves on a motor yacht off the coast of San Pedro, California, with members of the LA Yacht Club. This excellent group of mariners has functioned as the Race Committee for prominent sailboat races all along the Pacific Coast. With learned precision, they dropped an orange buoy at a set of predetermined coordinates, thus identifying the port end of the starting line. We then motored one nautical mile further out to sea, until the orange mark was barely visible against the blue ocean waves. Here we left a small motor boat, with a green flag raised to mark their position at the starboard end of the line. But any tall ship sailor can warn you that small, dark objects in the water are near impossible to spot from a distance. Indeed, by the time we returned to the port end of the line in the motor yacht, the little motor boat was indistinguishable from the surrounding waves and the green flag a near-indecipherable blip above the horizon. With a quick reevaluation, we dropped a second orange mark at the starboard end of the line. We were now ready – and I, with all this coming about, was now quite seasick.

But my seasickness would have to wait because the race was about to begin. After a radio call to the participating vessels, the warning gun was fired at 1350 and the class flag was raised. Until this point, the ships had been setting their sails in the distance as they sailed alongside the cliffs. But now they approached the line with their white sails set and full. At 1355 a horn was sounded and the P flag set. Racing rules were now in place, engines had been shut down, and any vessel that crossed the line early would be penalized. Irving Johnson, on the far end of the line, was nosing in towards the starboard mark but did not cross. Tole Mour, who had been quite a distance from the starting line, had caught the wind and was flying towards the line. Exy Johnson was close behind, identified by the red waleboard and blue bottom paint that distinguishes her from Irving. Bill of Rights was pointed into the wind behind her, still setting sails.

At precisely 1400, the flags came down and the gun was fired. The race had begun! Two minutes later, Irving Johnson and Tole Mour blazed across, nose to nose. Exy Johnson and Bill of Rights followed shortly thereafter; their recorded times began individually as each crossed the line. We received updates through the night – starry skies, seasickness, dolphins, and excellent sailing – and by morning, Tole Mour had crossed the finish line and anchored to enjoy some snorkeling. Irving Johnson, Exy Johnson, and Bill of Rights completed the race a few hours later, shortly past noon.

The race was over…but the results were not in. Because these vessels have different rig shapes, different hull designs, and different sail areas (except for the twin brigantines, of course), each is assigned a numerical “handicap.” This numeral is used to adjust each vessel’s elapsed racing time and calculate their corrected racing time. This adjustment, designed to make races fair amongst various classed vessels, makes the outcome of this race anyone’s guess. So…who won the race, based on corrected time? You’ll have to wait to find out until Thursday, when we announce the winner at the San Diego Festival of Sail!

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