Project Sail/Team Hydra: Going Down a Black Diamond with Our Eyes Closed

8 December 2015

Project Sail — Team Hydra
Day Four Summary
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Lexi Petter

This morning, I woke up knowing that Team Hydra was about to be tested. The breeze was up in the high teens and expected to build, and my nerves were a bit on edge. After only two days of training together we were about to go push our team to a threshold that other, far more professional teams considered slightly risky. “We thought you would have your hands full,” admitted Linda, a sailor on the DV teams. 

After readying the boat and departing the dock, we motored out toward the race course like any other day. I knew that we would round the last corner in the channel and feel the breeze that we would live in today. I watched as Alex Brown, MBYC, our bowman, laid down on the neatly flaked jib on the bow to prevent it from blowing off the bow. The waves started increasing in height as we ventured past the break walls, and we all laughed hysterically as Alex got repeatedly dunked under massive amounts of spray. “We can hoist the jib at any time! I won’t mind!” he sputtered past the salt water in his mouth. 

We hoisted the jib and practiced sailing upwind and downwind briefly before our first start. Making sure not to push myself too hard in the interest of conserving some energy for racing, I hiked at about 80% during these trials. Even then, I knew that my hips and legs would protest what I was about to put them through during the upcoming races. 

Team Hydra again proved that our upwind speed is formidable. Even though we started with our heavy jib while many others sailed with their mediums, this ended up paying off because the wind built steadily. Although many credit our youth for how hard we hike on the beats, I applaud our team for our dedication to this opportunity. Whenever someone has to leave the rail to kelp cut or fix something, we say, “Hike for ___!” and reach for our toes. I really enjoy the camaraderie. Morgan Kiss, MBYC, agreed, “it was good feeling to see us all being so comfortable with each other.” 

“Do we all know our jobs?” Alex Post, MBYC, asked up and down the rail at our first windward mark rounding. The offset was quickly approaching. When Marty, our coach, called for the hoist, we all fell in to position and executed our individual jobs successfully. The same thing happened in our jibes and at the leeward mark. Before we knew it, we had finished our first race. “We set a high expectation of getting the sails up and down, and we exceeded those expectations. We got around the race course for the first time in big breeze. It’s impressive,” commented Marty.

The second race tested the best of us at Melges 32 Nationals. From my vantage hiking at the back of the boat the carnage up and down the race course looked all the more impressive. I had a hard time not exclaiming when boat after boat rounded up, tore kites, and wiped out. But, I was wary of my proximity to Morgan while she was focused and with the tiller in her hand. I wasn’t alone in my trepidation. “I learned not to mess with Morgan today,” laughed Henry with a sheepish grin. When we asked her what it was like to drive the boat today she said, “I was driving with two hands. It was so intense.” 

One moment in particular stuck out to me. Two 32s were above us, and we were skating across the water very near them. The most upwind boat took off on a particularly epic surf when, just as it reached its peak acceleration, its kite split in the middle. Next, the other boat’s kite blew. I focused on Hydra as I saw that behemoth puff slide toward us. When it hit us, we didn’t launch like usual, but instead our bow submarined so violently into the face of the next wave that “over a meter and a half of water was on the deck” (Farley said it, not me, so you can’t accuse me of exaggeration). The combined forces of that massive amount of water and the sudden onslaught of so much wind pressure shredded our kite like a piece of tissue paper in a hurricane. 

Lauded repeatedly for his skills in handling our recovery, today’s MVP Alex Brown quickly sprang in to action. After all, we had another kite and another downwind leg to complete. He rigged up the new kite, and when we rounded the offset, we hoisted with bated breath. And, pow! We had a kite, and it was rigged, and we were back in the game. We finished that race on cloud nine, but knew we had one more to go. 

Immediately after the final gun of our third start Marty fervently called up to us twice, “What’s our bow number? Bow number!” We all yelled, “512!” Overearly, we went back to the line and started the race on port tack. Our upwind speed helped us a lot, but it was a lot of ground to make up, especially as tired as we were. I knew that I wasn’t the only one who had barely eaten all day. Still, we hiked hard, trimmed vigorously, and fought our way to a decent comeback in the last race of the day. 

Later at Lauderdale Yacht Club we were all eating our meals, eyes glazed and minds unfocused, when the famed DV coach Farley joined Team Hydra for dinner. He started asking us questions to reiterate what we discussed at our debrief: our team could push harder at the starts, sail higher angles downwind, and be generally more aggressive. For those of you who don’t know him, Farley has a Yogi Berra manner of speaking. When talking about approaches to the start line he underscored the importance of a simple strategy in his Texas drawl: “Ask yourself: Are we there? Are we not there?” The boats around us, he pointed out, make good references during the countdown. “If you’re behind them, you’re late. If your bow’s out in front of them, you’re early.” His logic is flawless. 

He made another excellent point. Although today felt like “going down a black diamond with our eyes closed” we still have one more day to prove ourselves. 

Farley looked around the table at each of us before exclaiming, “So send it!”

We would like to thank Lauderdale Yacht Club for hosting the Melges 32 class for dinner. Thanks also to Clyde Wright, a past commodore at LYC, for taking the time to welcome us. Lastly, we on Team Hydra are very grateful to our top notch race committee.