Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Last Word

It is only fitting that the skipper gets the last word.
Four years ago I bought Lightning Rod from a Yacht Club Member, Shep Shirley. I didn't just buy a boat, I made a friend. Shep was on board the first race Lightning Rod won. It was the Blue Gavel in 2007. This was the first win in a sailboat race for her skipper too. I learned that if I could get the right people and get them to work together, we could win sailboat races in spite of my own meager experience and ability.
When I was a boy I would read adventure books. Some I remember were actually my father's. "Dave Dawson with the Flying Tigers" was the type of book from WWII. Of course I had the "Hardy Boys Mysteries" and one in particular I remember the story, but not the name, a book about a teenager who bought a race car and entered it in a Grand National race. Of course, he won. This week was very much like that. To give you the idea, On Sunday I went to a tactics discussion with Robbie Haines, Bill Hardesty, Terry Hutchinson, Adrian Stead and Dave Ullman. My crew on I sailed the same waters as these legends all week.
I'm not a teenager and this isn't a storybook. I know the commitment required to be competitive in Key West. In yacht racing the commitment is not just from an owner, or a skipper or a tactician. It is from a crew. In the past six months we built, trained and honed a crew. Seven of the eight sailors aboard Lightning Rod every day were from the Fort Walton Yacht Club. Hunter Riddle might as well be as much as he contributes to our sailing program there. When Craig Wilusz signed on we finally had what we needed to complete the picture, a tactician with the detail mind to prepare this crew. This was Craig's seventh Key West. My management style is generally easy going and though detail oriented, I always need a detail person to execute. That was Craig. Sometimes we laughed at his lists; but in the end we needed every one of them. Running a crew is like herding kittens. On the water Craig was a great kittenherd, off the water we couldn't have asked for a better kittenherd than Grady. A good meal after a long day goes a long way toward getting people where you want them.
Last year I came to Key West as a mark set boat. Jerry had the connection and was kind enough to share with me. I watched the greatest sailors in the World compete and it was the beginning of a dream, very much like the dream of the teenager in the book. By the time July rolled around and Jennifer had Lightning Rod for a full month for the women's racing series, I had decided I want to try my luck in Key West. My goal, to be competitive enough we were not laughed off the course. In the end we achieved so much more. I am not one normally to set my goals too low. Though I did not expect to achieve the results we did, I never stopped dreaming them. My goal was to give my team the tools they needed. I certainly achieved that. Lightning Rod is a different boat with superior sails (Thanks Hunter, the other S2 did ask for your card), superior hardware and the best sailors I could sign on. Bill Rackley was the driving force in bringing the Rod's performance up. Before Bill, no quality sailors would sail on the "slow boat." Sheer timing added Glenn to our crew. He is one of the finest sailors and finest men I know. Glenn is kind and hardworking and usually quite humble, like his dad. We definitely had the best foredeck in our fleet doing poleless set after poleless set, flawlessly.
In the end, this man's dream is achieved as a result of the sacrifice and commitment of the rest of our crew. Thanks to all.

Race Week Over and we is dancin' in the streets!

Well, it is over, Acura Key West Race Week Presented By Nautica 2009. Dave Eames and his crew aboard Lightning Rod finished off the series in 2nd overall. But we will get to that in a bit below.

Dave did a great job putting everything together. The house was great, Bill Grady's cooking was good and entertaining. The weather, though quite cold, with a bit of a rain squall line one day, was cooperative. The competition was as good as it could get. So now for the awards:


Day 1: Div 3, PHRF 4, Nautica Watches Day , First Lightning Rod

Day 2: Div 3, PHRF 4, Sperry Top-Sider Day, First, Lightning Rod

Day 3: Div 3, PHRF 4, Mount Gay Rum Day, Second, Lightning Rod

Day 4: Div 3, PHRF 4, Lewmar Day, First, Lightning Rod

Day 5: Div 3, PHRF 4, Acura Day, Third, Lightning Rod


Division 3, PHRF 4, Second, Lightning Rod


"Baby Needs New Shoes Award": Deborah Deats, for her tumble on Day 1 down the companion way hatch. The event proved to be a lesson in communication as the US Coast Guard, Local EMT services, and a nearby hospital all needed to care for the girl.

"1 Scotch, 1 Bourbon, 1 Beer Award": Cute Daniel. His interest in dance (see above), mocha hotties, and boxing proved to be informative and entertaining. Who else could get a female Key West Police Officer to say "Stop it, settle down, get in the car, or your going to jail" and "Have fun!" all in the same situation.

"Milli Vanilli Award" : Jerry Deray. The same song, mincing words, strumming a six string, not quite priceless.

"Team Award" : Scott Mitchell and Glenn Purcell. Just a month before they were asking "Why are we practicing poleless sets?" 25 Weather mark roundings...13 port tack approaches.

"I Cannot Grow A Third Hand Out of My Ass, Craig, I Can't Even Try Award": Hunter Riddle. Trimming jib, tacking jib, setting main, flying sheet, pumping main, playing guy. Oh yeah, tactician.

"Every Body Loves Grady Award" : William "Shady" Grady. Tactful, delightful, an acquired taste. Grady was our roadside representitive, providing commentary on everything, mostly stuff he had no knowledge of, but commentary nonetheless.

"Falling On Deaf Ears Award" : William "Billy Ray" Rackley. "Bill".."Huh?" "Bill!"..."Huh?" "BILL!!!"..."Ready to tack?" Seriously, Billy Ray was a grinder's grinder.

"The Sails Are Up, Shut Up And Drive Award" : Gina Coulter. Damn girl, we nee a bigger boat if you gonna pull the sail up that fast! Gina also rode with Deborah in the ambulance and stayed in the emergency room with her.

"Current Events Award": Craig Wilusz: In the final race, Craig, on port approach slammed into a tack at the top mark inside a starboard tacker. The guy on starboard owed Lightning Rod one and was letting the team in, however, the current coming down didn't agree. A quick spin avoiding the mark, the crew picking up the movement, cleared us and we rounded right behind, passing the starboard tacker at the hoist. Practice your poleless sets, ya'll

"ROCKSTAR OF THE WEEK AWARD" : Stu Juengst. This guy had it on. On the final day of racing, Friday. Stu was picked up by the team aboard Santa Cruz 1. A brand new out of the box Santa Cruz 37 in Division 1, IRC 2. This was the SC37's debut to the world of yacht racing, even getting the tuning guide written as the boat sailed around the course, attracting the attention of the press and other types of media. Stu replaced Tim Kernan, of Kernan Yacht Design (he designed the Santa Cruz 37) as sewer and rail meat. Stu is the only member of Fort Walton Yacht Club and the Piney Wood Redneck Yacht Club to have ever sailed in IRC.

"All I Want To Do Is Trophy Out At Key West Award" : Dave Eames. He did it. getting a daily trophy every single day at Acura Key West Race Week Presented By Nautica. The enitre crew is proud of his accomplishment. Take a breather and relax now, Dave. All you gotta do now is win the next big event.

To all of you who cheered us on, thank you for your support, it meant a lot to us. Your texts, emails, phone calls, and messages all made the week more special. It gave us something to talk about other than the racing. To those that jeered, well, thanks for that too. We never entered the event trying to prove something, it just happened to end up that way.

From the team and crew for the sailing vessel Lightning Rod,

"Slap some lipstick on that boy and take him downtown!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now we know we're mortal

today's first race was a reminder of two things, first that we are mortal and second that all of the competition here is good! we made one small tactical error when we got bad air on the start we tacked away, thought we were lifted and left the fleet, when we came back we were even behind the J24s! A problem with the folding prop sealed our fate and we finished the first race in 5th.

The picture is a great way to show what KWRW is all about. Hundreds of really hot boats, with great crews who all want to win.

Our second race found us back on task. The points now put us in a match race with the other S2. Yesterday, they "ground us down" in the second race. Today, tacking on every shift, we pulled away in the end to finish nearly a minute ahead. The crew work needed for such a feat was incredible. We must have tacked 12-15 times in the last upwind to the finish. Each tack was right on. It was like practice again with Craig yelling "Hike bitches!" repeatedly. way to go tactics!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Another amazing Day

Today was another amazing day of sailing. It seems a bit surprising we are doing as well as we are, but it is not such a mystery. Our crew is DEDICATED! They practiced and worked, we nearly rebuild Lightning Rod, we came together as a crew.

On the start of the first race we had a winch blow up. A good crew does things well, a great crew deals with the unexpected without skipping a beat. That is the crew work I witnessed today. it is easy from the back, my job is to just drive the boat, once Craig reminded me that is my job, I went back to driving. Hunter and Craig were out of the picture for this start because of the winch problem, but Glenn runs the starts anyways, all I had to do was watch him and we got off to a pretty good start in clear air in spite of the 30 seconds of mayhem in the cockpit while they rigged a workaround for the failed winch. Months ago Glenn bought two very expensive snatch blocks for Lightning Rod and I wasn't sure what we needed them for. Twice in this regatta I have found out why. each time we have had an equipment failure these blocks covered with only seconds lost on the course. Thanks, Glenn!
Glenn and Scott have performed flawlessly. Every launch and every douse has been perfect. we have two pit people and when Deborah was injured, after winning the race, Gina stepped in today and performed every bit as flawlessly, not just in the pit, but helping to identify problems before they were problems and helping the tactics guys with where are fleet and others are on the course and what is happening to them. The "alley", which is the middle of the boat is getting last mention because not only has their work been flawless, other than the winch they haven't enjoyed too much drama. Rackley and Jerry worked the alley today while Stu and Rackley worked it yesterday. They do their job and get on the rail to yells of "Hike Bitches" from Craig. As with all the crew work I've seen on LR this week, it is every bit as professional as on the Farr 40s I watched last year that gave me key West fever. When the LR crew hikes their shoulders are out, their paws are in the air, legs kicked our for every ounce of counter balance they can provide. We all like to win.
On tactics Craig and Hunter have performed, well, up to 6 points in four races standards, there just isn't much better you can do.
Key West Race Week is FUN!

Puffs, Performance, and Percoset

By now, everyone is all aware of Deb's damage. Here is what it looked like after she got all cleaned up. She is doing a whole lot better, and is walking around on crutches, making the time to get sympathy hugs from Italians, the French, some Swedes, a couple of Norweigians, and the list goes on and on and on. Deborah has become quite popular.
So today, as far as sailing goes, was "just plain nuts". Chaos around the race course. One of the new big boats a Custom 41 "XS" with a negative six PHRF lost it's rig ( running backs are not as much fun as some people think).
Jerry Deray gets the save of the day. One minute and forty seconds before the first start we had a override on the starboard primary, on port tack , in seventeen knots of wind, with a line up of starboard tackers approaching the line. Not good. Craig called for the trimmers to pull straight up on the sheet to clear the overide. The trimmers followed, and the override came out just fine, but also pulling up the Lewmar winch drum up with it! It bounced off the deck, Jerry caught the drum, one handed under the lifeline outside the rail, OVER THE WATER! Gina collected split rings, pawl springs, races, and bearings from the deck. Quick responses by Craig and Glenn got a snatch block to the rail to lead the jib sheet to a secondary on the cabin top. Jerry and Bill got jamming along, Dave, calm and quiet throughout the carnage, tacked, and Lightning Rod was off. A bullet!

Race Two found "the Rod" leading the fleet around the marks again, Seven mile race, five legs, W/L's (1.3 mile legs, with a bit longer final upwind beat. Going around the final gate found Dave and the gang ahead of the other S2 9.1, but not enough time on the MAC 30 Carribean Soul II. Decisons had to be made. Hunter, Craig, and Dave had to come up with a game plan. Split with the S2 and attack the MAC? Tight cover the S2 and screw the MAC? Loose cover the S2 and make on the MAC? We chose door number 3. Loose covering the other S2 allowed us some time on the MAC, however the other S2, who got real aggressive on the beat, gained and got 16 seconds ahead. The S2's had a battle, a battle to the finish, spliting tacks, grinding away, and actually leaving the MAC behind. The final three tacks brought the S2's on approach to the line, with "the Rod" gunning for a port/starboard leading into the line. The boys from Conneticut, pulled it off, luffing up and into the line, crossing seven seconds ahead of Lightning Rod. A second for FWYC.

Points were lined up in Dave's favor as the previous race found the other S2 with a third, and the MAC a second. Score for Tuesday, Lightning Rod (1,2) three points, Elysium, the other S2 (3,1) four points, MAC 30 (2,3) five points. Lightning Rod the victor! Another Daily Trophy for Dave, another smile on his face, and another check to write! Going into Wednesday finds the Piney Wood Yacht Club bunch in first with six points, the other S2 second with eight points, and the MAC 30 third with twelve points. We are only 40% into a ten race series with no throwouts, so not much breathing room. Cheer us on folks, the crew needs it!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words....

Seriously, the most important item on today's post is that Deborah appears to be fine. She did injure her knee and we are concerned about that, otherwise, the injury we, the EMTs and the Doctor thought was a compound fracture was just a nasty tearing wound. Though it looked bad it will heal. We had a fantastic day on the water and it was such an awful punctuation to be as concerned for a friend as I was for Deborah. Roy, she didn't even whimper, the race was over before the injury, but I will tell you, we have two women with us that definitely belong on the boat. They are valuable crew.

Today's first race was as exciting as class racing gets. We started a bit down the line in clear air just above the other S2 and the Mac 30, which is proving to be good competition. we had a screaming upwind and rounded first be a fair margin. The first downwind was uneventful, we neither gained or lost much ground. The second upwind started with a heavy rain shower and gusts to 28. It was hard to find the course changed weather mark and we played it safe by going up the middle. The rest of our fleet stayed right which seemed to be favored today and the other S2 rounded only a couple boat lengths behind. The took our air and forced us to gybe off. We lost by 12 seconds.

The second race was 5 legs with an upwind finish. We had five good legs and finished with 1:50 on the Mac 30 (corrected) and 1:58 on the 3rd place S2. Our 2nd and first gave us three points for a win in the first ever Key West for me, Deborah, Stu and Lightning Rod. I can't thank the whole crew enough. I get to keep a great trophy, but trust it belongs to the whole crew and even the many people back home that have done so much to make us better sailors.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Race Eve

Last night we piled eight people into the Dave's truck to anxiously await the arrival of Welome Gina. She arrived safely to the welcoming banner made of paper towels and a missing letter "Wel*ome Gina." All of us (nine now) loaded up for a little Green Parroting, mojitos at Willie T's, and a quick stop at the local drag queen bar. Had a very interesting evening trying to identify it's, he's or she's. After a few dances Craig finally figured out that his dance partner, a 6'6" amazon woman was really an it and Daniels mocha hottie was definately an it too. Scott helped Grady donate his chest hair to a group of young women on a Southern Bachelorette Party. Gina and Deborah passed on the mechanical bull riding but have both mastered the mechanical chair at the house (see previous chair video for a look at the wild ride).

Sunday's wind was very light, yet we were able get even more jibing and tacking practice in before heading back to the boatyard for final preparations going into battle. Dave feels confident and is anticipating the following week's events. Deborah took the opportunity to try her hand as a delivery captain taking Lightning Road to her new upscale digs for the week. Along the way , she took command and tow of a J-80 with engine trouble. Lightning Rod's new spot comes with the added perks of pool, showers, and only one block away from the party tent.

Scott and Glenn were dismal failures at applying the Acura stickers and had to request new ones from headquarters since one was on crooked and the other went to visit the local lobsters.

Most of the crew attended a racing tactics seminar and then had their first taste of Mt. Gay and German beer. Dave and Craig called it an early night at went home to more of Grady's good cookin' ... chicken breast, salad and key lime pie. Everyone is atwitter with anticipation for tomorrows events. The forecast keeps changing, however all the models show winds in the twentys and high teens. So hang on folks, it will now be interesting for sure...