After a first week with so little wind no one finished in time to make it official, the racers out for the Wednesday night York River sailboat races were hoping for a bit more wind. But it seems too much energy was going into that thought. What they ended up with was a squall which, at one point measured 40 mph.
The weather report earlier in the day was a bit iffy. Winds were to die down, but it wasn’t certain whether they would die down enough by the start of the race. The prediction, however, showed winds out of the southwest. So what would come in might be strong, but the waves should be minimal.
4 Degrees was the committee boat for the race. Arriving at the start of the course, we put down 2 anchors, just in case. Winds were strong, but nothing that the fleet couldn’t handle. The course was set to send the boats down to quick flash, back to R-24, then around the marks again.
The majority of both fleets crossed the starting line without a hitch and we commenced to relax. Jeff watched the boats the water. I started dinner prep, and Paul commenced to make drinks. But Paul and I didn’t get too far.
Jeff was keeping an eye on one craft that was starting late. And once over the starting line, they began to have difficulties maneuvering. Their mainsail appeared to be too tight and weather helm was kicking them. They finally were able to release their jib. But it tossed itself into the water and had to be retrieved.
About that time on the committee boat, the waves started picking up. Whitecaps were forming outside. The olive oil brought to saute vegetables dropped and broke in the cabin, spilling olive oil throughout. While Grant and I worked on cleaning up the mess, the other two reported that the boats near the first mark were heeled over quite a bit. About then, a call was received on the radio asking if the race would be cancelled. It was a hard call to make. It appeared that the water on the other side of the Coleman Bridge was calmer, but it was hard to tell. And there had already been one great gust with a calm afterwards. Would the same thing happen? Would it be worse?
The race was called. The participants worked their way home. And, of course, about that time, the weather calmed down to where we had hoped it would be when we started.
Calling the race is often a difficult decision. Yes, if conditions deteriorate to something dangerous, of course it is cancelled. But with grey areas, it’s hard to tell. Do you call the race to find that conditions improve after you do, as it did that night. Or do you ride it out, hoping they’ll improve to have them turn worse?
This race was followed by a disastrous situation in the Gulf, not days afterwards. Having faced something similar, but not quite as deadly, in this race, it’s easy to see why the folks were riding out what turned worse, not better for them.