I’m just back from sailing the 2012 J/24 U.S. Nationals sailed on Lake Dillon, Dillon, Colorado at the elevation of 9107’ above sea level. The regatta was hosted by Dillon Yacht Club which holds the distinction of being the “World’s Highest Yacht Club” . The event was superbly organized by Todd Warnygora and his team. PRO Bob Gough from Dallas, TX, did a great job of getting races off in the high altitude conditions. 34 boats sailed the regatta held Thursday June 28 to Saturday June 30th. More on sailing at close to 10,000’ later.
A highlight of the event for many of the crews was the North Sails J/24 Clinic held before the event. The clinic was expertly run by Chuck Allen of North Sails One Design Rhode Island and Andrew Kerr of North U. They started the clinic with an on land chalk talk on Tuesday night and then headed out on the water with the crews on Wednesday to work on boat handling, sail trim and practice racing. The clinic was provided free of charge by North Sails to all registered competitors.
At the end of the day, it was a great showing for North Sails customers with 7 of the top 10 and the 10 of the top 15 boats flying North Sails. Special congratulations have to go to Pat Toole and his team on 3 Big Dogs for taking second overall in the Nationals and the top Corinthian team award. These guys have been steadily improving over the years and are real force to be reckoned with at any venue. They are headed to Rochester for the Worlds in September so look out for them to be near the top of the leaderboard there. Additionally, long time North client Susan and Greg Johnson had a great showing finishing in 5th overall on Pinotage. Greg and Susan are true mountain sailors. They live, work and sail in the mountains. Greg(helm) is the Director of Mountain Operations at Beavercreek Ski Resort and Susan (tactics) runs Finance for Vail, both of which are just down the road from Dillon. These guys know the ins and outs of high altitude sailing and it showed last week. Pinotage was always up at the front of the fleet. As you might suspect they aren’t bad skiers/snowboarders either. In their spare time they can be seen ripping it up windsurfing in Hood River, OR.
Sail choices were mixed with Newport and San Diego models with most of the teams flying North choosing a 3DL genoa. The light weight and strength of 3DL seemed to offer some real advantages in the conditions which were highly variable with winds ranging from 5 to 20+ knots at times ( often during the same race).
What’s it like to sail at 9100’ on a mountain lake? Well the first thing is that getting used to the altitude takes some time if you are coming from sea level. I had a dull headache for the first 24 hours and the dry air required drinking lots and lots of water. Walking up stairs and even sailing you could feel your heart rate getting up there quickly. After about 36 hours you started to feel more normal although you were always aware, physically, of the elevation.
Lake Dillon is surrounded by 3-4 peaks that push 14,000 feet plus, they are close by. Mt. Whitney in California is the highest peak in the continental U.S. at 14,505 feet so at Dillon you are definitely getting up there. What that mean at Dillon is that there is a lot of vertical change in the air happening all the time. Morning bring calm winds and clear skies, by 10 AM you start to see cumulus clouds rising as the air warms (the temp at Dillon gets down in the 50s at night). As the air gets sucked up something has to come in to replace it. The question at Dillon is from where? Typically the steadiest breeze is from the North from the dam which has a large relatively unobstructed valley in front of it. We got this breeze 2 of the three mornings. As the cumulus clouds build they gain elevation and flatten (now they are likely at 20,000’+) and from what I could tell they turn into cumulonimbus clouds which bring thunderstorms and squalls. These typically developed later in the afternoon and would drag the breeze left and increase it. The increased pressure through the mountains and surrounding hills also made the wind much more unstable. For all the races in the Nationals it was not uncommon to see winds ranging from 2-3 knots to 20+ knots in the same race with changes in directions ranging from 20 to 120 degrees.
On our boat, we set up for the light spots and suffered through the windy spots. We were typically at 20/15 on the shrouds (Loos Model B). Sailing with the rig that loose in a 20 knot blast was weird but you really paid the price if you could not get your boat going again once the big pressure has subsided. Tactically, we worked hard to get good starts which was really tricky because one end of the line typically had had breeze. I would say we were in “race mode” right from the 5 minute gun, talking about pressure and what we thought the first shift would be constantly before the start. This would continue all through the race with a constant discussion of where the next breeze would be coming from and how to position ourselves versus the fleet to take advantage of it. Not unlike normal sea level sailing except that the changes were so much bigger and abrupt. Often we would get huge increases in pressure and shifts at the same time. If it was lift we would work hard to ease both sails at the same time to keep the boat moving, then we would head up and trim. If it was header we first of all would not cleat either sail and we’d work hard again to bear off and keep the boat moving. If it was a really bad header we’d start the chatter early on it so the crew was ready in case of a “auto tack” so that it would not be a total surprise and we could keep the boat moving.
It seemed like being conservative paid, as always, although being on an edge was often helpful. Going back and forth across the middle upwind did not seem to have many advantages and for us a couple of times was a significant loser. Downwind, it was important to keep good eyes behind and stay in the pressure. With the pressure differentials being so high due to the strong gusty winds this paid even more than normal. In general, normal lake style tactics paid with the penalty for not adhering to rules like always staying on the lifted tack upwind and headed tack downwind delivering more than normal.
1. John Mollicone
3. Chris Snow
4. Tim Nelson
5. Greg/Susan Johnson
6. Frank Keesling
7. Brian Simpkins
8. Doug Pierini
9. David Irwin
10. Bryan Dyer
11. Frank Kelble
12. Avery Stewart
13. Paul Anstey
14. Thomas Tunberg
15. Todd Warnygora
|TIPS FOR SAILING IN HIGHLY VARIABLE AND SHIFTY CONDITIONS
- Set boat up for lightest conditions expected.
- Never cleat the main or jib/genoa shift
- Shift gears constantly
- Look to win your side of the course rather than crisscrossing the middle of the fleet
- Be open to reevaluating your starting strategy right up to the time of the start to take advantage of last minute changes
Learn more about the North Fast J24 designs.