C320 Collision at the Mark (or You Don't Go Poking a Bear with a Stick)

Tag: adventures

It was the weekly Thursday night JAM, and the second race of the summer series at the Nepean Sail Club on the Ottawa River and my first season with Waltzing Bear, too; sail number 797. I'm not a very determined racer and my crew and I are out to have fun and a post race beer on the water (just one each but still against Canadian Coast Guard regulations). The wind was blowing across the river gusting to 24 knots leaving plenty of white caps but no swell as there is little fetch across the relatively narrow river.

We had one reef in the main and some furl on the jib which left us in control in the gusts if the traveler guy was paying attention to the degree of turn on the wheel. The plan was to cross the start at the non-preferred end on starboard tack; which would leave the bulk of the keen racers battling for position and clean air on the better end of the line. We had been at the preferred end on the same tack the previous week running the line before start with plenty of boats pushing us from the port side...I needed to check the shorts for stains after that one and decided I'd never do it again.

I timed my run up the line while on port so that I would know the point to start the run to the line on starboard when the time came. As sailors sometimes will, I completely misjudged the time coming back and ended at the preferred end again. However nearly everyone had done the same thing, and the rabid racers were all at the far end of the line fighting for position and air, and in four cases crossing the line early.

To the first mark all were smiles. This would have been the case anyway as when we\'re on the boat together we few, we happy few, are very much like bassets at highway speed with the window down and the head sticking out and forward. This was particularly sweet as we were able to make that first mark in company with the big boys with serious money tied up in serious equipment. You know the ones; the mylar boys with the serious sunglass that I secretly envy because they either have the finances to discard their stock sails for high-tech cloth while paying for car repairs, or while lacking the finances have the strength of character to buy the sails anyway while choosing to walk for the next few months. We had been able to do this solely through the good luck of finally getting a start where we had the best position with the first crossing, and because they were overpowered and struggling in the gusts under full sail.

Of course as the wind eased slightly and these same faster boats began the first down wind leg we still continued to smile while the not-really-competition made it increasingly difficult for us to discern their transom displayed boat names. We were still able to maintain a comfortable lead over those in the fleet who are our true competitors. All of this is to support the position that we were having for this boat, with this equipment, and this crew, a truly fabulous race until it was time to round the mark on the sixth leg.

We had positioned our turn to the mark well and had an excellent line to make the mark on this starboard tack close hauled; and we would be there soon as we were pulling a bit over 6 knots. The Mirage 30 three or so boat lengths ahead and a boat length or so to port had chosen poorly. We were catching him up while he became slower and slower; continually pinching to clear the mark. With two lengths to go he realized that the best he could do was to hit the mark so his preferred option was to tack. You can be sure that it is not manly to check over your shoulder before such an action, as this is after all a race and the devil take the hind most...and that would be me.

His lower speed plus the drop in momentum caused by the tack left him with very little way. I was surprised by the move and yelled to no one I particular Oh SHIT he tacked! This was the time for t-bone or action so at the same time I was waxing poetical on other boat performance I was cutting my wheel. I learned the first lesson of the evening; a Catalina 320 will turn on a dime. Sadly I needed to turn on a penny...ten cents being a few pennies too much.

I have to report some of the following second hand. The crew on the windward side only became aware of a problem when I matched his tack; violently. Recognizing that my maneuver was unusually poorly executed even for me, they now knew that something unusual was amiss and they ducked to the leeward side to watch the fun. I was exclusively focused on the bow of the other boat. Here I learned the second lesson of the evening. With solid glass and 12 thousand pounds a Catalina 320 is a nice, stable platform from which to experience a collision. We were holed by a bow roller into the hull 2.5 feet aft of the galley bulkhead and into the cockpit locker; but no one on our boat was knocked down and I did not feel her move as a result of the impact.

The third lesson of the evening was learned by the Mirage and may be specific to Waltzing Bear, too. Some days you get the bear, and some days the Bear gets you. When he arrived at Bear, the Mirage had a one piece cast aluminum stem fitting with integrated bow roller. When he left he had a more convenient but less effective two piece fitting. At the time I was fully engrossed with events on my own boat and the only off-Bear thing I noticed was my own tossing of a foreign furling drum off my push pit before it pulled the railing from my stern. Apparently this had recently been attached to the other boat by the previously unbroken fitting. Other members of my crew claim that the Mirage experienced a near perfect, gentle, centerline descent of its mast all the way to its own push pit; along with the rigging and whatnot normally associated with function, support and propulsion.

After a brief discussion concerning injuries (none all around) and the need for assistance (we could all take care of ourselves) we both decided to withdraw from the race and head for home. I started the engine and put away sails during the motor and was the first boat of the evening in. The Mirage had to stow boom, recover sheets, halyards, rigging and sails, secure the mast and ensure that there was nothing fouling the rudder and prop prior to the trip and was the last boat back to harbour; where the first thing the skipper said to me was that he was so sorry he tacked in my path and it was all his fault. The bottom line is that Waltzing Bear, too will sail again whenever it pleases.

With overlapping duct tape on both sides of the hole I have been ok'd to race by the local repair crew. Repairs will start a week from Monday with the hull actually fixed over a two week period while I will still have some use of it. The completion will likely not be until after fall haulout as the replacement name graphic on the port quarter needs to be installed out of the water and either I pay $560 to rent a crane now, or pay $100 for communal use of a crane in the fall. As for the Mirage, the maker has been out of business for some years and a new stem fitting may take a while to find or fabricate. Thus his sailing season may be over. The conclusion to be drawn is really just common sense.

You don't go poking a bear with a stick.

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