Guest post by Paul Larsen
NYYC 175th Anniversary Regatta, July 2019
The NYYC 175thanniversary regatta is now a memory and one to be added to the many great ones I have from one of sailing’s hallowed arena.
I had the opportunity to race on the Gunboat 57 VaiVai in the multihull class consisting of 5 different takes on the performance multihull concept. The racing consisted of “Navigator” courses in and around the tricky winds and tides of Newport’s Narragansett Bay area. I’d started and finished many offshore passages in the bay and raced C-class well inside but never had to solve the puzzles of racing in, out and around the tricky entrance. Our boat was to be the smallest in the fleet at 57 ft. I’d only heard good things about the feel and general fit-out of the boat by those who raced it last. With its tall rig and light weight, it proved to be well equipped for the conditions.
The competition was equally worthy consisting of the new Gunboat 68 Condor, the HH66 Nala, the well-tried and proven Gunboat 60 Flow and Gunboat 60 Fault Tolerant who sailed very well and won the event last year up against two Gunboat 60s and an HH, albeit with a shorter rig and Corinthian program. This was to be the first race encounter for Condor and we were all interested to see how she would go. Equally we were interested, as always, to see how the ORCmh (ORC multihull) rule would handicap the respective boats and settle the final score.
I’d never set foot on a Gunboat 55 and was quickly impressed by the general layout of the boat. The visibility from the central indoor helm was panoramic. The coach house is open at the back which allows the wind to flow freely through the two front doors. It’s about as good as it gets when you go down the path of indoor driving stations.
Considerable expense had been poured into VaiVai to bring her to the standard she’s at. From the titanium fittings, the beautiful carbon work and the Rigging Projects rigging, the quality is laid bare to see. The Southern Spars mast is tall. It looks tall. Once the sails were hoisted, the boat impressed me from the first bear away. She powered up nicely and accelerated sharply out of the tacks. Interestingly the boat only has two winches on the entire deck and everything happens indoors immediately in front of the helm station. This is great for comms between trimmers and helm and also works well when it gets wet outside. Those two winches and their corresponding bevy of clutches get real busy but at least its done with clear comms along with plenty of room behind to flake out sheets and lines for maneuvers. But, on VaiVai the trimmers are inside with the helmsman with the option to remain in shorts and a T-shirt drinking coffee instead of out there getting hosed in the full onslaught. VaiVai felt fast and this layout would not only work well in the racing to come but provide an interesting contrast for our two guest drivers for the event, who were used to the more remote, rear, outdoor helm stations of their 84ft cat Allegra, also a Nigel Irens design as is VaiVai.
Newport turned on some pretty warm weather which lead to the daily battle between the gradient and sea breeze. As our starting area was inside the bay adjacent to Goat Island we were often right in the middle and had to wait patiently for the two breezes to establish a clear winner. Thankfully, sitting around in hot weather is also where these boats outperform everything on the water. Throughout the predominantly hot, sunny week I rarely had to wear sunscreen let alone a hat.
For the first race, they got us away on a port biased line in a light sea breeze. Three of us ran the line and tried to avoid the tide over on the Fort Adams side. Everyone was flying their light jibs, code 0 style sails in an effort to keep rolling. Flow and Fault Tolerant got stuck right on the point and we only narrowly managed to escape the windless hole. I did want to tack back and stay with them but as we tried to build speed for the tack, the wind kept building so we held on and pushed to the right-hand side. This paid off nicely. The race took us right outside the bay and then on a longer, tight reaching leg out to sea. We managed to hold the lead over Flow and made gains on both Condor and Nala as they weaved around ahead. All things considered, we sailed relatively cleanly and the conditions suited the boat so it was nice to start off with a bullet.
From this first race and the light conditions expected for the week, we were already sizing up the competition. Each boat had a different interpretation of the light wind headsail, each with its own cross-over point. Ours only worked in the lightest of breeze after which, with our sheeting positions, we would lose some height and have to go for the furling Solent. Flow also had a relatively early cross-over point whilst both Condor and Nala had been built with this sail in mind and seemed to carry it up range the best.
Race 2 sent us around the same course. Flow sailed cleanly although the final result was more determined by the fact that no one saw the code flag “F” flying on the start boat indicating a different finish line over towards Fort Adams. This lead to most boats, including ourselves, heading for the old committee boat finish line and only realizing when it was too late. The resulting scrabble to re-group, douse the kite and head back upwind to the real line was where all the time was lost. Poor Nala even ran over her kite and fouled her rudders requiring outside assistance. We somehow clawed a third out of this mess, but had worked out that we couldn’t have won anyhow despite the time lost.
The day left us with a 1-3 against Flows 1-4. It was obvious that we were going to have an interesting week in both boat for boat racing and with the handicap system. The handicap system takes into account each boats velocity prediction programs (which are independently assessed and corrected according to actual performance) and thus changes for each in different conditions.
Fast forward to day 5 of racing, we went into the last race tied on points with Flow. Whoever beat the other would win overall. Being slower and lower than the other boats upwind was going to determine our starting tactics as the breeze and tide were over to the right. We needed to be clear to get right. We were well set up to start at the boat with only Fault Tolerant trying to barge in above us. As we came up to shut them out and win the boat end, we lined up with a set of lobster pots which effectively “tram tracked” us into holding a course. Thankfully we didn’t hook any, but this allowed Fault Tolerant in and then one by one the fleet broke right whilst we had to wait for clear air to get across. By the time we got right, a large barge was being towed into the Bay which forced us to short tack up the right past the narrows out of the tide, when we desperately wanted to dash back across to Castle Hill. It seemed we couldn’t get in sync whilst Flow and Condor sailed clear. Hindsight tells me I should have port tacked the start to guarantee getting right first. But either way, it was great fun to have the regatta coming down to that final race.
A well race-tried and -tested boat and crew, the Gunboat 60 FLOW captured the win this time. I can only speak from our own combinations of woulda, coulda, shoulda that if VaiVai had the same level of prep, handicap wise she would have done the business. This is a boat that can punch above her weight.
Overall I think I can speak on behalf of all the crew on VaiVai to say that we greatly enjoyed the week. The competition between the boats was fantastic and the handicap system only enhanced it. The NYYC put on a very classy and welcoming event befitting their anniversary and I’ll happily come back again to sail VaiVai or take on the fascinating puzzle of Narragansett Bay.
A big thanks to the owner of VaiVai for the opportunity to race her, our guest helmsmen for taking it on, and Scotty from Rigging Projects for putting it all together.