4, 3, 2, 1: The inside story of the 2008 CORK Offshore Regatta

Kingston is a world class sailing venue that served up a challenging mixture of racing conditions for the Ultimate 20s competing in the 2008 CORK Offshore Regatta. For many of the Ottawa-Gatineau U20 racers this was their first time at CORK and for some, this was their first experience racing on Lake Ontario. The high quality race management, the excellent conditions and competition, as well as the on-and-off-the-water fun have us planning our return in 2009.

On Thursday afternoon, Van Sheppard (Wizz), Pete Juryn (Tactic) and André Labelle (Low Rider) arrived at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour with their crews. In life as in sailing, Allan Crespi (Reckless) arrived last, sometime in the wee hours on Friday. André, Pete and eventually, Allan had an easy time launching at the ramp. Van – not having had time to clean his boat before leaving Ottawa – planned to use the crane so he could scrub his hull and keel.

Before you yawn and tell me to cut to the chase because this is supposed to be a racing article and not some poky docudrama about algal ecology and putting U20s in the water, picture this: a man telling Van to step aside because he is not qualified to use the crane. As every Canadian knows, the only thing more dangerous than getting caught between a grizzly and her cub is talking down to a Newf. Now imagine the qualified crane operator telling Van his ¼” amsteel lifting bridle looks a little flimsy and might not do the job. Then picture the qualified crane operator placing Wizz in the water so Van can lower the keel, and then raising and positioning Wizz close-but-not-quite over the foam keel rests on the dock. Now, imagine the qualified crane operator pressing the button to lower Wizz onto concrete. Right about now, if you are doing this correctly, you should hear Van saying, “Lard tundrin jayzus! Yur as stunned as me arse!” Luckily, the qualified crane operator pressed the wrong button. Van watched stupefied as Wizz went up instead of down. This wouldn’t have been problem if the qualified crane operator hadn’t also managed to trip the up-limit switch so that now neither he nor Van could lower Wizz at all. While the qualified crane operator went looking for help Van mumbled something about a bag of rubber hammers and started scrubbing the boat.

It took twenty minutes, but help arrived finally in the form of a boom truck that had been helping the Etchells launch at the other side of the harbour. All Van had to do was climb onto Wizz while she was dangling from the crane and hook her up to the boom truck. To help, the qualified crane operator handed Van some rope, which Van hooked through the top shackle of the lifting bridle and tied onto the boom truck’s hook. The boom truck started to lift and take the weight off the crane and…You guessed it. The rope snapped! Thankfully, the flimsy, 5000 lbs breaking-strength bridle passed the test. The boom truck driver supplied a short sling to hook through Van’s shackle and over the truck’s hook, and then took the load off the crane. Van cut off the loop on the top of his bridle that was still hooked to the crane. Finally, the crane was swung clear and the qualified boom truck operatorput Wizz in the water.

Friday was the first day of racing. In the morning, Reckless was still on the trailer looking lost and forlorn and Allan and his crew were nowhere to be found. To help him out, Yolaine and Van got Allan’s mast up and tuned it perfectly for light winds. All Allan had to do was launch and go sailing.At about 9:00 AM Wizz, Tactic and Low Rider left the harbour. The race committee agreed to postpone the first U20 race to give Reckless a chance to get to the start. André, Pete and Van set their instruments and made a few last minute adjustments. After half an hour cell phones appeared.

“Hey! Allan,” said Mike. “Your knapsack is ringing.”

Allan couldn’t answer his cell because he was talking to the Harbour Master. Rather, the Harbour Master was talking to him. “You’ll have to move, there’s no overnight camping,” he told Allan. “There’s a big regatta going on.”  

Allan smiled broadly and said, “We’re racing.” The Harbour Master seemed a little sceptical so Allan continued, “I’m just tuning my mast.”

The Harbour Master looked over as Mike approached them. Then he said, “The races started an hour ago,” and walked away.

Mike was lighting a cigarette, his third of the morning. “Hey! Allan,” he bellowed. “If you’re done writing your name in the sky with the mast,” he smiled, “I hear there’s a big regatta going on.”

After forty five minutes of forced dithering and still no sign of Reckless, the first U20 race started in light winds. The morning breeze was from the Northwest with big shifts and lots of rain. The boats from the previous start hinted at what to expect on the course. At the gun Tactic took off to the right alone; Wizz and Low Rider chased the wind to the left. At the top the breeze died but Tactic caught just enough pressure to round the mark and take an easy lead. It was another four to six minutes before Wizz and Low Rider were free of the hole, around the mark, and heading downwind to the finish. 

The afternoon sky was dark and the wind was building from the Southwest. Reckless, Low Rider, Wizz and Tactic began pacing the line. Jibs were unfurled. Ten. Nine. “Sheet in,” Van called. Eight. Seven. André yelled, “Starboard!” Six. Five. The fleet moved like Orcas stalking their prey. Four. Three. “Up! Up!” Allan cried. Two. “Up! Up!” echoed Pete. One! And the hunt was on. Wizz, Low Rider and Reckless peeled off to the left. Tactic broke away to the right heading for the biggest, blackest cloud on the horizon.Again, Pete’s local knowledge served him well. He made the most of an afternoon squall line and Tactic won.

Once back at the Olympic Harbour Matthew dumped two gallons of water out of Pete’s spinnaker bag. Various repairs were made to sails and masts, and clothes were wrung out and hung to dry. We headed downtown to the Lone Star, got a great big table and a cute, little waitress named Dallas who brought us three pitchers of Stella, a pitcher of Keith’s, a Caesar and a Coke. This was the first night all summer we had really hung out as a fleet. The evening was filled with boisterous trash talk, some token bribery, pool and camaraderie. My only regret of the night is that nobody got a picture of Pete sporting his Van-is-sucking-the-hind-teat grin.

Saturday was my first day racing and I was totally excited to be on Low Rider. André and Daniel greeted me warmly, welcomed me aboard, and put me to work immediately. As we left the harbour they recounted their adventures from the previous day. They told me how wet and wild the racing had been and how happy they were to have me along because they really needed the extra weight. Hmm…Honey, does this boat make me look fat? We all toggled easily between French and English as we chatted about our respective roles and practiced a couple of spinnaker hoists. We checked in with the committee boat and watched the marks being set. After a few minutes of discussing the wind, the course and some strategy, André announced with a smile, “OK. Let’s get the weed.”  

Instinctively, I began singing, “Driving that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones is ready, watch your speed.” One minute I am a U20 sailor eager to compete in CORK. The next minute I am a Dead Head floating in the middle of some lake with two men I just met. Jerry Garcia would have been so proud; my mother not so much. Daniel grabbed the jib sheet and looked at me like I was a little off key. Head bobbing, I sang, “Trouble ahead.” André and Daniel looked at each other. “Trouble behind.” They shrugged as we turned into the wind. “And you know the notion just crossed my…” I stopped singing and began shrieking wildly as my brain slammed into the caboose of Festival Express. I jumped to my feet. “Get the weeds,” I exclaimed, “PLURAL!” Holding out the boom I lowered my head and cursed the silent French s and my misspent youth.

Saturday was more traditional Kingston conditions. The wind started out light, building in the afternoon to about 18 knots. The sun was out. It was all good. Tactic took the first win, which forced the rest of us to adjust our strategies. Wizz’s strategy became: start near Tactic; tack when Pete does; repeat until weather mark; make best use of upwind speed advantage. Low Rider’s strategy became: start near Wizz; tack when Van does; repeat until weather mark; cover when ahead. Reckless’ strategy stayed the same throughout: start; round the marks; finish; don’t break anything! The afternoon waves were approaching the limit of what the U20s could handle. We punched our way upwind, and surfed down waves throwing full-plane gybes. Everyone was exhilarated, exhausted and soaked.  At the end of the day Wizz and Tactic were tied with three seconds and three wins.

That night the CORK BBQ dinner was a cook-your-own affair that was great fun. The set up was a surprise and gave sailors a chance to mingle and relax while their steaks sizzled to perfection on the grill.

Sunday was really shifty. Wizz won the first race in a strong Southwest wind. Then the breeze started to fade into conditions favoring Tactic and Low Rider. Wizz and Tactic would be tied if Pete won, and as the winner of the last race Pete would win the regatta. Van was determined not to give Pete that chance.

Everyone attacked the start. Allan stuck to Van’s weather hip preventing him from tacking and covering Tactic. Pete was forced into a gybe and had to start on port. André stayed clear of the fray and Low Rider took off. The race was tense. Van had his hands full staying in front of André who came up behind him like his motor was running. The conditions of the last race gave Pete the leverage he needed to stay ahead and win the regatta.

We toasted each other’s success: Allan and his crew had sailed really well, especially as this was Allan’s first season at the helm; Wizz had held on to the bitter end giving Pete a run for his money; Daniel, André and I had completed our first CORK Regatta; and Tactic had won setting the tone for 2009.

We raised the keels, rolled the sails, and loaded the boats onto our trailers. In the end, Allan finally got a much-deserved first. We waited until he was safely out of the parking lot and on the road before we got into our cars and headed home.

Story by Lorraine Standing