Finding the right area of the race course to minimize the effects of a strong adverse current and maximize the advantages of wind shifts to the north was the winning combination in Saturday's Annapolis Yacht Club Spring Race, said MORC class winner Bob Muller.
In a pleasant east-northeasterly breeze ranging between 8 and 10 knots, more than 80 contenders in five Cruising One-Design classes and two Handicap groups fought their way around AYC's 10-mile, five-legged windward-leeward course under a thick layer of haze.
"It was very foggy, but it was high up at the start," said event chairman Mike McCutchan. "You couldn't see the Bay Bridge, but you could see the marks down on the water."
Although Muller and his team on Stingray, a modified Nelson-Marek 27, led the fleet virtually from start to finish, the race wasn't quite as simple as a walk in the park, especially when the wind shifted in the opposite direction from what Muller had predicted before the race and a ripping ebb tide added another complication to the equation.
"The tide was running pretty good," Muller explained. "It was really strong, so it was important to be at the leeward end of the line at the start. I was kind of surprised there were as many as there were at the committee boat end, and only three of us were at the leeward end."
Muller said his prerace estimations that the wind would shift gradually clockwise during the course of the day quickly were proven wrong on the first beat, forcing a change in his overall game plan after the start.
"I thought the wind would go right, but it backed [shifted counterclockwise] on both of the first weather legs," he said. "It was important to be inshore on those legs; it really paid to be on the left."
Sail selection also was critical, Muller said, adding that his speed up the third and final beat was improved with the use of a heavier headsail than he had chosen for the second beat.
"Chuck O'Malley [on Rude Awakening] was going really fast and scared us for a while on the second beat," Muller said. "He was just much faster with a heavier sail than we were using. But when we switched back to the heavy No. 1 on the third beat, it made a difference, we were going faster."
Smart tactics as the fog descended closer to the water later in the race proved to be critical for Tom Donlan and his team on Tiger. They won the 23-boat J/30 class by a comfortable margin after working out of the midst of a closely packed group of five at the top of the heap through much of the race.
"The first ones around the course got lost in the fog," Donlan explained. "There were two boats ahead of us on the second leeward leg and they went onto port gybe -- as we all had on the previous leeward leg -- but it turned out the starboard gybe was almost a straight course to the mark because of the way the wind had shifted."
Donlan said that although he was fairly confident of his strategy in the face of the northerly wind shift and the strong current conditions, a certain amount of guesswork was involved in his departure from the rest of the fleet leaders, particularly when the visibility deteriorated.
"We had the pleasure of seeing the two boats ahead of us and the two just behind gybe away from us," he said. "But it was also a little nerve-wracking, since we've guessed differently from other good boats before and been wrong.
"This time we were right, and when we could finally see the mark, when it appeared right in front of us, we started to celebrate, and we watched the two that had gone farthest south have to drop their spinnakers and jib-reach back across the current to the mark."
Donlan estimated that by the bottom mark he had gone from a minute or two behind the fleet leaders to three or four minutes ahead of them.
"We spent some of our lead going back upwind to make sure we covered everyone," he said. "We were probably about two minutes ahead at the finish."
Sunday's scheduled race for three IMS divisions, PHRF A-1, A-2 and B, and the J/35 class was abandoned shortly before 1 p.m. when the wind, which had been shifting radically through a 60-degree range, stayed below 3 knots in velocity, McCutchan said.
AYC Spring Race results
Alberg 30 (5 starters): 1) Argo, Peter Scheidt, Highland; 2) Quest, James Mennucci, Arnold; 3) Limerick, Patrick Gorman, Annapolis.
Cal 25 (8 starters): 1) Ronin, David Godwin, Arlington, Va.; 2) Harlequin, Leo Surla, Washington; 3) Chicken Little, Charlie Husar, Annapolis.
J/30 (23 starters): 1) Tiger, Tom Donlan, Falls Church, Va.; 2) No Respect, Harrison Syndicate, Chester; 3) Valkyrie, Ron Peterson, Annapolis.
J/24 (23 starters): 1) Dusty Work, Doug Clark, Annapolis; 2) Sail No. 196, Mike Hobson, Annapolis; 3) Bunky's Boat, Chip Carr/Bunky Hines, Severna Park/Annapolis.
Pearson 30 (10 starters): 1) Mr. Hyde, Steve Bandy, Annapolis; 2) Results, Art Libby, Annapolis; 3) Vahevala, David Sharp, Edgewater.
MORC (7 starters): 1) Stingray, Robert Muller, Annapolis; 2) Rude Awakening, Chuck O'Malley, Annapolis; 3) Azure, David Prucnal, Owings Mills.
PHRF C (6 starters): 1) Accomplice, Dennis Rice, Timonium; 2) Gambier, Gerald Ragland, Alexandria, Va.; 3) Insipid, Mike Henderson, Riva.
Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.