Summer 2017 Wednesday CCK Series
  28-Jun 5-Jul 12-Jul 19-Jul 26-Jul 9-Aug 16-Aug 23-Aug 30-Aug Points Position
course –> ADA EJE ADA PBH ADA Delta V          
306 Xiphias 1 6 2 3 4 10          
384 Escargot 2 5 6 9 5 9          
334 Scup 3 1 1 1 8 5          
340 Luciole 4 7 3 6 3 2          
345 Hecate DNR 6 2 7 2 1 1          
343 Luna Nova DNR 6 3 5 4 6 8          
371 Elf DNR 6 4 DNR 11 DNR 12 2 DNF 12          
331 Raja DNR 6 8 DNR 11 8 10 7          
330 Whim DNR 6 9 9 7 12 DNR 13          
333 Rag Wagon DNR 6 DNR 11 4 5 7 4          
305 Winsome DNR 6 DNR 11 8 10 9 DNR 13          
69 Rumblefish DNR 6 DNR 11 DNR 11 DNR 12 11 DNR 13          
332 Skimmer DNR 6 DNR 11 DNR 11 DNR 12 DNR 13 3          
335 Salty Dog DNR 6 DNR 11 DNR 11 DNR 12 DNR 13 6          

Wednesday, June 28, 2017
“Fiddling While Ram Burns” by David Epstein

                The first Wednesday series race saw a hot start to the season.  Ram Island had caught fire, and after the race, what had been a pleasant association with picnics turned into a spectacle: flames licked up through the uninhabited island’s lush growth, and the southwest wind carried the smoke across the harbor to the yacht club.   Sunday’s tune-up race had been completely unattended, and now there were four boats competing.  The course was ADA, made a challenge by the roundings being starboard, port, and starboard.  The tide was flowing strongly to the west, and wind, well, the wind deserves its own sentence.  For the first race of the season it was a bit on the assertive side.  It was our old summer southwest.  It was anywhere from twelve to twenty knots, puffy and gusty: emotional.  The fleet captain imposed a half-hour delay so that the wind might “come down” a bit before the 5:30 start of this race.  Translation: fleet captain needed to take a run at the packy for some post-race libation. 

                ADA is an oft-sailed course.  From a start in Great Harbor, boats harden up around buoy nine at Grassy Island, cross Woods Hole Passage easterly of Red Ledge, and then beat across the flats by Nonamesset Island.  Mark A is the first of three “range marks” off the southeast corner of Nonamesset.  Together, they form a line, an artificial shoreline we Knockabouts have to obey.  After A came a run down to mark D, the former “gaslight,” which sits across from Juniper Point, and marks the ferry channel.  Thence a beat back to A, and a long run home to finish in Great Harbor. 

                A nice big line, a strong current, and lots of wind.  Boats plopped in the water with fresh bottom paint.  Crews in denial about another year of advancing age.  It’s a poem. 

Xiphias, the swordfish, leads on the long first tack.

Escargot and Scup and Luciole battle back.  

Xiph moves out to weather, Luciole lags to Lee

Scup marches off to catch the tide.  The Snail hits a rock. 

Okay, that last one didn’t rhyme, and that’s what if feel like to have just finished re-finishing your centerboard and immediately bash it into barnacle-encrusted granite. Escargot used to be credited for these errors, excused by reason of inexperience.  Those days are over.  She has now years of experience, more youth, more scientist-brain-cells, and ought to know better.  Except we’ve all been there, all hit rocks (that same one off Nonamesset, especially), and all found ourselves swimming the next day, feeling the leading edge of the board underwater, trying to rationalize not de-rigging and pulling the boat out for repair. 

    Four boats make for a nice race.  The gusts came on, and the boats that handled them best did best.  Each took turns being stood up on their sides, shrouds cutting green water, spray coming over the decks.  Scup led the first leg, with Xiphias attacking.  Xiph took the lead at A, after the first three boats had tacked in too early.  Scup almost rounded wrongly, and Escargot caught up at the mark.  On the run down to D, the strategy was to stay close to the island shore first, trying for a little less current, but not so far in as to lose wind or find rocks.  Xiphias moved ahead.  Luciole closed the gap on Scup.  After the leeward rounding, in a west current, the best option is to tack immediately out again, to get out of the (now) foul current sooner.  Luciole went up a little, just for clear air, hoping for the weather advantage that Xiphias and Escargot had enjoyed on the first beat.  It looks great for a while, then the fleet walks on you while you’re still in foul current, trying to get over the hump where the current splits on the island. 

   On the run back, Xiphias moved out even more, Escargot separated from the last two boats.  Luciole closed the gap on Scup and the two battled all the way to the finish line. The Race committee later said that Luciole had, just before the line, shown an inch of bow ahead of Scup.  Then Scup got a puff and retained her place.  Keep an eye on that porgy: she’ll manage a similar puff—to even greater effect—in next week’s race. 


  1.  Xiphias (Michael Dvorak)             0:00
  2. Escargot (Brett Longworth)          0:39
  3. Scup (Chris Warner)                        1:12
  4. Luciole (David Epstein)                  1:12


Wednesday July 5, 2017  
“Current 101” by David Epstein

                The quick version is windward-leeward, twice.  East wind, east tide.  For you landlubber readers, that means the wind is coming from the east, while the current is flowing to the east.  Let’s go to the chart: 


                E-J-E, all left to port.  Wind from the east eight to twelve knots.   Start and finish in Great Harbor.  The drawing indicates the general plan.  Beat to E in fair current; run to J against the tide; Beat back to E in fair current; Run to finish against a foul current.   In addition to telling you what there is to think about, it’s key to understanding the racing mind that this is what racers like to think about: East wind, watch out for getting too far in under the land, where there is less wind.  East tide: try to take advantage of the current wherever possible.   The corollary is of course true: Don’t get screwed by foul tide.  It comes down to physics.  Many of you remember your high school physics course.  Many more of you do not.  Remember the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle?  No?  Okay: remember the TV show Big Bang Theory?  It’s covered in that show.  The gist is that if there is a cat in a box, at any given time the cat could be either dead or alive, but by opening the box, the only thing to know for sure is: you open it, you have to change the kitty litter.   In terms of this race, I’m trying to give real information about the currents and the wind.  Each is in fact, variable.  Fickle.  Suspend concepts of risk and reward.  Suspend the idea of justice.  As for luck, you might be able to make it.   As for wind, about all you can do is break it.  Trying to understand things like the wind and current is all about a desperate attempt to make sense of what happened in this race.  More on that later.    

                At the start, Hecate led, first tacking up the middle, then riding the Grassy Island flood down to number nine, then going out across the Hole to catch the Vineyard Sound current.  In theory there is greater velocity of water wherever there is a narrows.  In practice, who the heck knows?  It might be faster over Great Ledge.  On the other hand, perhaps the ledge impedes the overall velocity.  Hecate went out over the ledge, many other boats tacked after Juniper Point, since going out would also take a boat away from Mark E.   Bottom line: Hecate in the lead.  Old Salt was in the middle of the pack, aiming for a view from the back, so as to be able to read the boat names on the transoms. 

                On one hand, it was a lovely evening to be out sailing.  We wait all winter, thinking of our happy place, the Wednesday evening race.  On the other hand, It was a struggle, trying to sail and think at the same time.  Probably shouldn’t chew gum, either.  Here are the basics:  Hecate led the whole way.  On the first run, she went in toward shore to evade foul current, and the fleet, with better air, caught up on the outside.  Elf was dogging Hecate.  On the second run, there was a big shuffle.  Luciole was briefly in third.   By the finish, Escargot had come from way back in the pack.  Juniper Point nun was the dividing point.  Boats had to sneak out behind the Juniper rocks, put on their turn signals, and execute tight turns around the buoy, and then slowly creep upcurrent into Parker Flats.  Problem: Parker Flats is under Juniper, in the lee.  Less foul current, but risky, because less wind.  A few boats, Hecate, Elf and Xiphias, went off toward Red Ledge, to play the Three Sisters Eddy.  See the chart.  And that’s when boats began playing their cards.  They were throwing down cards all over the place.  There was the doldrum card, the foul current plume card, and then there was the puff card.  Looking at the chart now, you can see the theory: get up behind Red Ledge, and sail across, out of the foul current, and then get behind the Grassy Island rocks, and you have a long time without foul tide.  We’ve all seen it.  Boats going up toward the Hole look terrible for a long time.  And boats going the rhumb-line look terrific.  Scup took the Rhumb-line and sailed steadily and true and just walked out on everyone.  Escargot followed Scup.  Luciole tried to stay with Luna Nova, but that didn’t work so well.  Elf and Hecate seemed to die for a long time heading up toward Red Ledge in the middle of Woods Hole Passage.  Xiphias had fallen back earlier on the run, and now tried the Three Sisters Eddy play.  And then, when the Rhumb-liners are getting across Parker Flats and crossing the current plume between Grassy Island and the ferry docks, along come the Eddy players.  Without much of any foul current, they come flying down, and just plain leave the Flats boats in their damp dust. 

                Drama time: Scup did so well playing the middle that she caught up and was neck and neck (bow and bow?) with Hecate.  As the pair battled for the line, Scup played that last Puff Card, and pulled ahead.  Hecate was gracious in second place, which is a hard place to finish after leading the whole race up until then.  It comes down to physics.  Back to the Hindenburg Uncertainty Principle.  No, that’s not a typo:  The Hindenburg Uncertainty Principle applies to racing Knockabouts.  It states that at any time during a race, you may be, in terms of position, alive or dead.  But there’s one thing for sure: before the race is over, you will crash in spectacular fashion.  And this applies to Luciole, who looked so good, so alive for a while on the run, and then rounded Juniper and was too fraidy-cat to dive between the nun and (eventual winner) Scup, and went outside Scup and played the middle and watched Luna Nova, Escargot, Scup, and Xiphias all sail along and finish ahead of her. 


  1. Scup (Chris Warner)                        0:00
  2. Hecate (Rick Whidden)                  0:08
  3. Luna Nova (Fran Elder)                  0:09
  4. Elf (Skip Crowell)                              0:47
  5. Escargot (Brett Longworth)          1:36
  6. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak)              1:49
  7. Luciole (David Epstein)                  2:12
  8. Raja (Carol Lynn Courcier)            4:32
  9. Whim (Norm Farr)                           4:44


Wednesday, July 12, 2017
“Porgy and West” by David Epstein

                The Woods Hole Knockabout fleet is being schooled by Scup.  We’re quietly adding more and more weight to her as was done to the famous racehorse, Seabiscuit.  But nothing helps.  Scup had preseason surgery for a separated skeg?  She comes back better than ever.  Scup starts in the middle of the fleet, blanketed on both sides? She finds a way.  Let’s find a way to understand, to soothe our singed sails, and, perhaps, to learn from Scup.  The conditions were west and west, which is an old favorite of windsurfers.  Before the race, thunderstorms were moving through Plymouth and Wareham.  The sky was ominous and dark, the wind light from the west-southwest.  Conditions were unstable, to say the least.  During the race, the ol’ southwest filled in nicely, and a sweet evening race took place on our current course-du-jour (or semaine): A D A.  Over to the chart: 

While the current would change in Woods Hole Passage at about 7:30, it would remain strong to the west in Vineyard Sound.  The play was to be the first out toward the sound, and catch a fair-tide nip down to mark A.  In any case, the race was over by about 6:40, so aside from a lighter Hole current, the race was pretty straightforward (for Woods Hole).  At the start, on a nice tight line, most of the fleet was bunched on the top half of the line.  Experience shows that, while the pin-end of the line can sometimes be slightly favored, that’s only when there’s a very long line (there wasn’t) and the effect of an upwind fleet doesn’t soften the breeze for those down at the pin-end.  Hecate had a superb opening in the middle of the pack.  Unfortunately, she was just over early, and then her troubles began.  With boats both below and above her, she had no choice, finally, but to ease her sails and wait for the whole fleet to sail past before having the room to turn around and restart.  Restarting a sailboat race is not like restarting a phone or a computer.  Things don’t work better for it.  While the skipper later admitted it was a lovely evening for a sail, being over the line early is disheartening.  It’s like a toddler falling off a ride at the playground.  One goes from having the MOST fun, to the world has punched one in the mouth.

                On the way out, it was Scup front and center, with Luciole above and behind, followed by Ragwagon.  Luna Nova was trying to break through anywhere she could.  After Hecate turned around, It was Xiphias, below and slightly behind Scup, giving closest chase.  Also behind Scup (really, who wasn’t behind Scup?), just below Luciole, was Winsome, skippered by a newcomer to our fleet, Jake Fricke.  We don’t usually name people in the boats, but Captain Fricke’s performance is worth noting.  He sailed well, with good speed, pointing well, and held his own throughout most of this race.  It takes a lot to hang with the experienced boats, and Winsome acquitted herself extremely well until the penultimate leg of the race.  Thereupon Winsome fell back out of the need to sympathize with the other “W” boat, which was not doing well, and was in need of consolation.  That other boat, Whim, was unknowingly afflicted with a third “w,” namely water, in the bilge.  Okay, not unknowingly: she knew.  But somehow, between raising the sails and getting off the mooring, and then the excitement of the start, she never posted bail, and was sequestered, in consequence of a fourth “w,” weight, at the back of the fleet.  Somewhere on the first beat, Luna Nova was put over by starboard-tacking Luciole, who had to alter course.  Luna turned her penalty and got right back in the race, sailing and charging around the course, regaining her lost ground and serving notice that she is a Boat to Watch.  Luciole, meanwhile, pinched up and tucked the footing Ragwagon in under her transom. 

                There was action at the front of the fleet.  Scup led on the first roundings.  Sailing back up to mark A, a vociferous discussion occurred on Xiphias.  Scup was holding on starboard, waiting for the moment to tack, take the fair current on her stern, and make the mark.  Aboard the Swordfish (yah, that’s right, Xiphias is John Valois’ old boat, and that’s latin for Swordfish, and that’s vernacular for “won every last race in the kingdom and phylum), resetting: aboard Xiphias there is frequently heated discussion about tactics.  In terms of personalities, there is the former skipper, a career educator possessed of charm, wit, intelligence, and firm conviction.  There is the current skipper, a church prelate with advanced degrees in Zen and Oceanography, and there is a greenskeeper with special expertise in Eel Grass.  The latter understands to keep his mouth shut and think of beer at the end of the race.  The former skipper, who owns the boat, can sometimes pontificate patiently and remonstrate ungently with the water-monk at the helm.  The Bishop will counter with something akin to the Sermon on the Mark, or “When to tack in such place as to not overstand, and thusly overtake the competition.”  Decisions are made by committee, and if the botanist abstains owing to water in his ears, being as he is customarily on the jib, then that leaves the Senators at the back debating the merits of universal health care.  This goes on while all the boats near and distant whistle at the moon and pretend not to be offended by the domestic abuse taking place aboard Xiphias.  In this instance, the helmsman-buddhist swung the tiller, and the debate continued halfway along the ensuing tack toward Tarpaulin.  It quickly became apparent that the Swordfish was footing off and sailing ahead of the Porgy, and Xiphias took over the lead.  On board the Sword-, the owner-crew withdrew objection, since it was, at this juncture, obscured by being in first place. 

                And now to the family portion of our program.  The crew of Scup is the sister of the helmsman on Xiphias. Generally considered to be kinder, gentler, and better-looking than her brother, you can imagine her consternation at being sailed past, by her brother, just before the final weather mark.  Xiphias rounded first, Scup second, Luciole third.  Luciole had planned to catch up the battling one and two, but the jib-sheets fouled on the forestay, and a crewman was dispatched to the foc’sle to effect a clearing.  Before it was over, a sheet had to be retrieved from beneath the hull, and the crewman had to be whipped for the sake of morale.  So much for plans. 

The tactic here is to run in close to the rocky shore of Nonamesset Island, so as to be in less of the foul current.  Running next to shore, or as it is colloquially known, “rock-hopping,” does indeed add excitement to a race.  Xiphias headed for the beach, with Scup hot on her transom.  In addition to all the fine qualities of Scup’s crew, she possesses one definitive advantage on the downwind leg: she’s smaller.  Maybe not smaller than the Xiph jib-man, but certainly smaller than her brother (who craggily cranes in at about six-foot-four).  Further, Scup was sailing with only skipper and one crew, compared with Xiphias’ three-personed junta.  In short, Scup was lighter, and thus faster downwind.  Or maybe a better sailor?  So Scup squeezed between Xiphias and shore and overtook the Swordfish.  It’s a test of wills: who is willing to risk damage to centerboard and rudder?  Xiphias, being ahead, was unwilling to defend her position at the risk of grounding, and so ceded first place back to the Porgy.  Scup passed by taking Xiphias’ wind, and gliding on by to weather until clear-ahead.   It’s a quiet kind of excitement, waiting to see what will happen first: position change or an event that deconditions the centerboard?

The rest of the ride was blessedly uneventful.  Scup defended well, a gap opened behind Luciole because Luna Nova spent a half-mile attacking Ragwagon.   A gang of three finished 6-7-8, making things exciting for the time-takers on the pier.  These same executives are evidently now in the habit of leaving their station before the final boat straggles in, so we have only the lettered designation standing for “Way Far Back.”  It is not as pejorative as DFL, but in practice, carries no more dignity.  Still, as Hecate said, it was a nice night for a sail. 


  1.  Scup (Chris Warner)                       0:00
  2. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak                 0:11
  3. Luciole (David Epstein)                  0:33
  4. Ragwagon (Peter Ochs)                 1:12
  5. Luna Nova (Fran Elder)                  1:15
  6. Escargot (Brett Longworth)          2:22
  7. Hecate (Rick Whidden)                  2:26
  8. Winsome (Jake Fricke)                   2:29
  9. Whim (Kimberly Ulmer)                          WFB

Wednesday, July 19, 2017
“Scup-peat” by David Epstein

Forget about the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.  This is the Woods Hole Yacht Club, what, Tour de Penzance?  And the leader is wearing the yellow boat.  And it’s still Scup, and nobody knows what their bow looks like, because all anyone has seen is the transom, all season long. 

The wind was the ol’ smokey southwest, blowing above fifteen as the boats rigged.  It came down to a nice four-to-ten for much of the race.  The course was P-B-H, against an east-running current.  Summer classic: lovely evening, ten boats, nice and warm.  From a start in Great Harbor, the first leg was a beat to mid-Lackeys bay, a mark out in the current at the north end of Lackeys.  While we’re at it, how about the names of those little Elizabeth Islands, just for sound and sheer local flavor?  Monohansett Island; Veckatimest Island; Monsod Bay.  After rounding mark P, there was a run, with the current, back to mark B, the westernmost of the range marks.  Then a rock-hop back to mark H, under the house on the bluff on Nonamesset, and then a long run home to finish in Great Harbor.  Let’s go to the chart: 

     Starts are exciting.  For the second week in a row, Hecate has over early, but, unlike last week, she managed a quick restart and bounded after the fleet in clear air, staying high and catching up.  There was another piece of excitement, and it involved Scup.  Shortly after the start, heading out for number nine, her jib-daughter went to hike out.  A stray bit of the jib sheet was mistaken for the security of the hiking strap, and Ava checked out.  She managed to keep hold of the sheet in her hand, and so only dragged in the water a short moment before clambering back in over the high side.   Insofar as the skipper had not hollered “Sea-anchor out!” the insubordination was overlooked in favor of the rapid retrieval and on went Scup with the race. 

    Everyone has had a club sandwich.  A yacht club sandwich is eaten when there are pods of racing boats both above and below one.  The result is a dearth of wind, and the contents of the sandwich are thusly obvious, and both crow and hot-death would be preferable to that kind of a sandwich.  Crossing Woods Hole Passage, the fleet was set to the east, neatly into the path of the oncoming Vineyard Haven packet.  The Race Committee having delayed the start until this could occur, boats began flopping onto port tack to scamper up above the channel toward Nonamesset.  By WHYC rule, boats have to pass between buoy 5 (the “gaslight” of yore) and Nonamesset, keeping them mostly out of the ferry channel.  A couple boats took the port tack early, behind Red Ledge, in the eddy centermost of Woods Hole Passage.  This is referred to as “the Death Tack,” since it indicates a boat is losing badly and will try anything to catch up the fleet.  Up went Luciole, still wiping her besmirched bow after eating the yacht club sandwhich, and Winsome, having taken a beating on this beat, down to lee. 

                If you look at the chart, you will see an approximation of the course.  Tacking up a shoreline in foul current means that boats want to stay in close.  There is slightly less current the closer one gets to shore.  The trade-off is the increased number of actual tacks one has to make in order to zig-zag along the shore.  If you’re trying to pick up boats, and you’re on port tack heading in to the beach, and the nearest competitor is heading out into foul current on starboard, you’re probably gaining.  Then you flip-flop, and you’re being set down by the current, and your competitor is going in where it’s shallow, and they’re gaining on you.   And remember, too, there are greater numbers of rocks close in.  Heard after the race: “We hit some rocks: did you hit any rocks?”  “We missed more than we hit!”     

                We’ve all sailed this course so many times, that we know exactly where to tack in, where the beach is a little more sheltered from current, and where the boulders are a little more congenial.  The sweet spots are marked in one’s mind.  We could practically put on turn signals.  In the tight tacking going around Nonamesset, boats in front have a decided advantage: much less blanketing by upwind boats.  In the middle and back of the pack, one is often covered, whether deliberately or not.  It’s as if the boats are tacking up a narrow corridor, which, in a sense, they are.  You have to tack out either because of the shoreline or because of the range-marks (our artificial shore), and there are several boats directly upwind from you.  You’re concerned with trying to cover or get ahead of your nearest competitor, and there are always several boats sitting on your air.  You just get the old crate moving, and it’s time to tack back in to get out of the foul current.  You hope to stay just ahead of your nearest onrushing attacker, who is now coming out on starboard.  You sheet in and will the boat to pick up speed.  You look to weather: there are three boats in a tacking contest spoiling your wind.  The result is the lead two or three boats walk out on the rest of the fleet, and what had been one race becomes three or four sub-races.  You might move up or down in your home-group, but you’re probably not going to achieve much more than that. 

                I’m pleased to report that Luciole came back from the death-tack in the Hole.  She pointed a bit, footed where necessary, and started to move.  She picked up three boats before the range marks, and tried to catch up to the front group.  Actually, Scup was its own front group, and Hecate kept trying to close the gap. Then came another gap, and then the first actual sub-race, consisting of Xiphias, Ragwagon, and Luna Nova.   Then came another gap, and the next sub-race was made up of Escargot, Raja, Whim, and Luciole.  Winsome had a more difficult time this week, and could be considered part of this sub-race, but was really a part of the Escargot-Winsome duet. 

                The wind moderated, and the second beat, from the range marks up to mark H, was cooling, but not offering much in terms of position changes.  Scup held her lead, lengthening slowly.  Hecate gave chase.  Xiphias was a distant third, and then came the closest game: Luna Nova and Ragwagon.  Luna has been moving well, and it shows in her consistency.  All our races end similarly: harden up around can nine at the entrance to Great Harbor.  Then it’s a close reach to the line.  The shortest route to the finish line is to the pin end, which is the WHYC guest mooring, or the transom of whatever guest is hanging on it.  Usually it’s a direct route.  On this evening, there was a boat hanging on the other guest mooring: Traveller, an aluminum sailing trawler about sixty feet long, a regular visitor to Woods Hole.  Traveller was in the middle of the close reach to the line.  Luna Nova attacked Ragwagon.  The Wagon ran her up, defending.  Then Ragwagon dropped off to go astern of Traveller.  Luna, committed to her attack, had no room to go with her, so she pointed up and climbed over the bow of the anchored craft.  The rule-book terms Traveller and obstruction that can be passed on either side.   Luna Nova came down on the other side and squeezed in next to Ragwagon.  The boat hanging on the guest mooring here becomes part of the line, and thus is “an obstruction neither boat can clear.”  Luna just scooched across the finish-line hull-to-hull with Ragwagon, and slightly ahead.



  1.  Scup (Chris Warner)                       0:00
  2. Hecate (Rick Whidden)                  0:32
  3. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak)              1:45
  4. Luna Nova (Fran Elder)                  2:08
  5. Ragwagon (Peter Ochs)                 2:10
  6. Luciole (David Epstein)                  2:23
  7. Whim (Kimberly Ulmer)               4:07
  8. Raja (Carol Lynn Courcier)            4:24
  9. Escargot (Brett Longworth)          6:40
  10. Winsome (Jake Fricke)                   6:54


Wednesday, August 2, 2017
“Free Air” by David Epstein

                For the Woods Hole Knockabout Fleet, Wednesday Series, the air this summer has been good.  We’ve gotten the races in week after week, and the ol’ southwest has been fairly reliable.   Here, at the start of August, the thermal often weakens, and what had been steady breeze often dies down at dusk.  The question becomes: will the wind hold long enough for the fleet to get around the course before the ninety-minute time limit expires? 

                On August second, there was just a smidgin of west wind in the ol’ southwest.  This was not apparent at the start, but became more apparent tacking along the shores of the Elizabeth Islands.  The course was to Far Lackeys Bay and back.  On the board, it looks simple:  I to port.  Or, I, subletter “p,” which designated a port rounding.  In this case, the emoji would be a Race Committee crewman standing, with gear extended over the leeward rail. 

     The current was running full to the east, the wind was six to twelve knots, throttling back to five-to-eight by the end of the race.  After a brief postponement, Eleven boats headed for the starting line.  You make your luck, goes the saying, and Luciole made hers right at the start.  A scrum of boats was about a third of the way down the line from the committee boat.  Elf led the pack but was over early and had to restart.  Luciole, just behind and above Elf, slowly crept ahead of the charging Winsome, while Scup was abaft and upwind of Winsome.  Escargot was below and flying in clear air.  Then came the luck piece.

                Many of our races begin the same way: exit the harbor, leaving can 9 on your right.  Harden up after number nine, and head for the eastern bouldery waters of Nonamesset Island.  This entails crossing two major current plumes coming out of Woods Hole Passage.  The first of these is “The Strait,” which goes straight through Woods Hole.  Then there is an eddy behind Red Ledge, and then the second current plume, which comes out of “Broadway,” on the Pine Island side of Woods Hole Passage.  Let’s go to the chart:

In the chart are two representative crossings of The Strait.  The upper and lower curved lines indicate the state of the current flow at that time.  As an eddy is literally a fluid thing, the water doesn’t always flow like it’s in a pipe. Scup, crossing to the west, more upcurrent, had to take foul current on the weather bow for about a hundred feet.  During that time, a boat is being pushed sideways, downcurrent, with a loss of apparent wind, and sailing at a poorer angle.  Usually, a boat is trying to stay high, so that, coming into the eddy behind Red Ledge, one can keep upwind of one’s competitors.  In this case, Luciole, crossing more downcurrent, happened on a bulging backeddy that shortened her crossing to about thirty-five feet.  So, although the boats may have entered the current at roughly the same time, while Scup was still sailing slowly and pointing less, Luciole had a lee-bow, pointed better because of it, and had much better apparent wind.  So Luciole took off and moved out to a lead on the fleet, through the dumb luck of being in a place where, for the moment, the crossing was quicker. 

     The helmsman’s job is to watch the yarns.  If you’re not a sailor and you’re reading this, the yarns are the “telltales,” which are quite literally pieces of yarn attached to the sail that indicate the airflow over the sail.  Since it takes the skipper’s great concentration on the yarns, it is the crew’s job to tell the skipper what’s happening around him.  The helmsman might take quick looks around, especially if there’s need to evade another boat or an obstacle.  But, mostly, sail-racing means watching the sails.  If you’re the helmsman, you’ll ask the crew, “Tell me about other boats.”  Crew will be appropriately cautious in their response.  You get things like “I like what we’re doing right now,” or “You’re moving well.”  If they’re really excited, the crew will say “You might want to take a quick look.”  That can be good or bad.  In the case of Luciole in this race, she suddenly walked away from the whole fleet.  When a boat does that, she is suddenly and happily in “free air,” which is also called “clear air.”  “Free” appeals more generally to the Yankee penury.  So Luciole found herself ahead of the fleet, with free air.  At that point, the skipper had something really worth concentrating on: keeping the lead.  So he pretty much missed the rest of the upwind leg.   

     From post-race conversation, a few things can reconstructed: There were some contretemps in the port-starboard encounters during the tacking off the range marks.  At least two resulted in boats turning penalty circles.  A number of centerboards met rocks.  Several boats reported being introduced four or five times.  The route up Lackeys Bay means shallows and rocks on both the shore side and the Vineyard Sound side.  Some rocks are easy to spot: they have seals atop them.  Others are much more sneaky.  And even if one has made the acquaintance of a particular rock before, well, let’s just say the rock didn’t get your Christmas card. 

     Hecate chased Scup.  Scup chased Luciole.  Luciole rounded the mark first, and began the long run back to Great Harbor.  The lead was around two hundred yards.  Scup and Hecate were close together, and the Witch vainly tried to catch up the Porgy.  Scup is fast downwind.  Both boats closed on the leader.  By the bluff house, the lead was halved.  On Luciole, the skipper reached in his pocket for an obscure obol.  This coin he flung into the waves, summoning either Neptune or Lucifer.  Powers being what they are, namely administrators, they arrived alphabetically. 

Lucifer:  “Yes?”

Luciole: “It’s those boats: they’re catching up.”

Lucifer: “…And you want something awful to befall them?”

Luciole: “Well, not awful, exactly.  Something less than tragedy.  Maybe just some impedance.”

Lucifer: “And were someone to, ah, arrange said impedence, that would be to your good?”

Luciole: “Well, yes.  Because then I could undoubtedly hold first place and win the race.”

Lucifer:  “Looking at my pricelist, hmm, let’s see: Earthquake…Famine…Geological fault…High water…here we go: Impedence.  Presuming a smaller impedence, that would be up to forty percent of your immortal soul.”

Luciole:  “Crap: I don’t have that much left.  How about the opposite of impedence: say, a private puff of wind to follow me for, oh, a half a mile.”   Here a triton rose up through the waves, bringing a sputtering Neptune himself, who shouldered the Devil aside.

Neptune: “…and that’s all we have time for Mister Sulphur.  I’ll take over now, thank YOU!  A puff of wind you say?  To follow you over the water for a half mile?” 

Luciole: “Yes please.  You see, Scup and Hecate are closing fast, and I’m about out of luck, so some divine intervention is probably what’s called for.”

Neptune:  “Okay…let me check my price list.  Doldrums…Earthquakes (What? The Devil don’t own that)…Fleet sinking…Harum-Scarum…here it is: Intervention.  Did you say Divine or Secular?  Who are we kidding: Divine.  Let’s see, atmospheric disturbances, controlled, point sourced.  That’ll run you one pure child to be converted to mermaiden, plus wardrobe costs, of course. 

Luciole:  “Double-crap: no pure children left to barter.  What can I get for, say, an impure child?  Or maybe an old oar?

Neptue:  “We can’t insure the impure.  There’s no margin.  As for the oar, I’m overstocked.”

Luciole: “What will I do? Scup will close the gap, take my wind, and pass me to weather!”

Neptune:  “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.  If you find something of value, perhaps we can do business.  Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be over by Scup.  I see they have a pure child on board.”

Luciole, muttering: “Yah, good luck with that; that kid’s already half mermaid.”

By this time, Luciole had passed the last range mark and turned north along the Nonamesset shore.  Scup pulled away from Hecate and began running in Luciole’s wake.  Luciole defended by staying inshore and upwind.  Again and again Scup attacked, trying to work to weather and around the Firefly.  Again and again Luciole defended.  Her skipper looked at the pure child on Scup’s jib and knew then he had a race on his hands.  The pure child has been apprenticing on the Falmouth High School sailing team.   And once again the oldest of contests was taking place: Old Age and Treachery versus Youth and Virtue.  Youth attacked, over and over, all the way across Woods Hole Passage.  Hecate tried passing both boats by sneaking off to lee, but only spent more time in the Broadway current and couldn’t catch up.  Over and over Old Age defended by running to weather, ever closer to the rocks.  Then, crossing The Strait, Youth dove below.  Old Age held onto the inside position, knowing it was imperative to be inside at can Nine, in order to defend on the final reach to the finish line. 

     Luciole rounded number Nine and hardened up.  Again and again Scup attacked.  Hecate took the rhumb line, hoping to pass both boats. Just before the finish line, Scup relented from her final attack on Luciole.  She dove down for the line.  The boats approached, bow and bow, Scup faster, gliding up on the leeward side, hoping to poke her bow into clear air, trying to cross the line first.  What happened is reported below.  It was a classic among boats that have competed against one another for decades.  And, hopefully, will compete for decades more.  From the moment of getting in front, Luciole felt the challenge of knowing that something is following you, gaining on you.  Fate was closing fast, in the guise of a yellow boat.  Sometimes you know what’s chasing you, and sometimes you don’t.  May be memory of Ged Delaney, a sailor and a gentleman, be forever blessed. 


  1. Luciole (David Epstein)                  0:00
  2. Scup (Chris Warner)                        0:02
  3. Hecate (Rick Whidden)                  0:29
  4. Raja (Matt Sutherland)                  2:49
  5. Ragwagon (Alex Bocconcelli)       4:05
  6. Escargot (Brett Longworth)          4:12
  7. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak)              4:23
  8. Elf (Skip Crowell)                              4:36
  9. Winsome (Jake Fricke)                   4:57
  10. Luna Nova (Fran Elder)                  7:20
  11. Salty Dog (Art DiRienzo)                DNF


Wednesday, August 9, 2017
“Current Changes Mid-Race” by David Epstein

                On Wednesday August 9, the Woods Hole Knockabouts raced through Woods Hole Passage.  The course began and ended in Great Harbor.  It began with a short beat upwind into Woods Hole Passage, then a reach-turning-into-run all the way around Penzance Point to mark Delta.  After the leeward mark was a wide-open beat up to mark V, at the entrance to Hadley Harbor, and then a reach and run to finish back in Great Harbor.  The current was running to the west at the start, and changed to run east before the finish.  This made it Interesting. 

                All summer long Hecate has been in and out of first place during the races.  She consistently hits the line well, even being over the starting line early one time.  Some sailors say if you’re not over the start early once every six or seven races, you’re not trying hard enough.  It was just a matter of time before everything came together for Hecate, and this was the race.   If there’s a complaint against the course it’s that this long race can often be decided in the first three tacks.  Whichever boat gets out to the Hole first can hold that lead going forward.  While that was the case in this race, for positions 2-11, it was something else entirely.  First, let’s look at the chart:

Hecate had a superb start at the west, Committee Boat, end of the line.  This gave her clear air on the first starboard tack.  She stayed high, tacked once, and made it out into the Hole and was on her way. The rest of the fleet had to take at least three tacks to Hecate’s one.  Going downcurrent through the Hole, Hecate led, followed by Skimmer, with Luciole on her tail.  Scup had tacked as soon as she entered the Hole and had to pinch along until she got to Penzance, whereafter she simply moved ahead into second place.  Ragwagon and Escargot were in the middle of the fleet, and so was Elf, until there was a physical disagreement about occupying the same space of ocean at the same time, and Elf withdrew.  There are several rocky areas along Penzance.  The shortest course is inshore, but not without consequence.  Several centerboards met rocks.  It was a kind of rock concert, the most disharmonious.  Luciole, with the centerboard partway up, sailed without issue.  Escargot, traveling directly in the Firefly’s wake had their centerboard down and were thus able to verify the depth of the rock.  Nearby, Xiphias bounced their rudder right off its gudgeons.     

    Here’s how it looked coming down to Mark Delta:  Hecate in the lead, but followed closely by Scup, then a boat-mash of Skimmer, Escargot, Luciole, with Ragwagon just behind them.  At the mark, Hecate hardened up and headed for Weepeckets.  Scup followed, keeping up gamely.  In the scrum that followed, Skimmer asked for room to round, and was given room by Luciole.  Escargot dove in on Luciole’s transom.  Luciole swung wide, then hardened up smartly, staying close to Skimmer, and above Escargot.  It was the Firefly’s finest hour.   

From this mark to Hadley Harbor entrance was a wide open old-school beat.  Boats went out on port tack toward Uncatena Island.  They came back on starboard tack, toward Penzance.  And here’s where we meet Capricio, the Current Fairy.  Eldredges Tide and Pilot book called for a change in the Hole at 6:24. The race began around 5:35.  The Hole was running west, into Buzzards Bay.  Coming back in towards Hadley’s there ought to have been a lee bow, according to the current charts.  O Capricio!  In the event, boats that went out didn’t do as well as boats that came up the shore of Penzance, on the north side of the Hole.   And so, when boats started to converge again, here’s what had happened:  Hecate was still in the lead.  Skimmer had traded tacks with Luciole, and then Luciole had gotten ahead.   Scup had lost several places.  Ragwagon had caught up by sailing well toward Penzance.  Escargot had been in about the 3-4 position, but had somehow ceded that to several other boats. 

                The question is, why did boats that went out away from Penzance lose out?  There ought to have been a lee-bow in terms of current.  Many theories have been advanced: Wind shift?  Skipper incompetence? Pukwudgies?  In the end, what seems most likely is that going out had waves on the nose, slowing the boats down.  What have we learned?  The same thing as always: cover cover cover.  We so rarely have these wide open fields in which to beat, that we forget about staying in front of the next nearest competitor.  So exciting was it to have a wide field of water to sail in, that boats that usually sail conservatively were suddenly out there going to Cornersville. 

                Hecate led around the mark at Hadley Harbor and took a lead and the fair current back toward home.  Luciole rounded with a small lead over Skimmer.  This she promptly squandered and let Skimmer catch up even and to lee, closer to the Penzance side.  Going through the Hole, boats were entertained by tragedy-narrowly-averted: Salty Dog had taken a jibe on the cranium, literally, and the skipper was perhaps a little stunned.  As Salty Dog approached the red nun off the Devils Foot gutter, she couldn’t decide which side to leave it to.  Had she tried to turn, she would have taken it squarely amidships by being swept down on it in the building east tide.  The skipper decided to let it strike a less square, glancing blow on the quarter.  But this made a Significant Noise, rather like when a waiter drops a tray of dishes. 

                At the east end of Devils Foot the course called for a jibe and a run to the finish line.  Hecate was well ahead, and executed a conservative jibe in the open water, well away from the rocks.  Skimmer had inside position on Luciole, slightly ahead.  The wilely veteran in Luciole (see last week’s account of Youth-and-Virtue versus Old-Age-and-Treachery) jibed in the Hole current and let the current carry him past the Devils Foot rocks.  This allowed Luciole to cut inside Skimmer’s stern and take over inside position heading down to the finish line.  Skimmer carried on, jibed a little bit later, and then realized what had happened.  She made several attempts to run Luciole up away from the line, but in the end, without position, had to be content with third place. 


  1. Hecate (Rick Whidden)                  0:00
  2. Luciole (David Epstein)                  1:23
  3. Skimmer (Fred Denton)                 1:24
  4. Ragwagon (Steve McIlheny)        2:15
  5. Scup (Chris Warner)                        2:50
  6. Salty Dog (Art Dirienzo)                 3:37
  7. Raja (Matt Sutherland)                  3:40
  8. Luna Nova (Fran Elder)                  3:49
  9. Escargot (Brett Longworth)          3:52
  10. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak)              4:16
  11. Elf (Skip Crowell)                              DNF