Monday, July 30, 2007
AG is the designation for silver on the periodic chart of elements.
1: Chile, Ecuador, US coming downwind in the medal race.
2: The bottom mark rounding
3: The bottom mark rounding, USA having passed Ecuador
4: USA coming downwind the last time.
5: Silver medal winners
The medal race is a concoction devised by the Olympic movement in an effort to make the sport more interesting for television. The medal race, it is hoped, provides closure…setting up a scenario where a boat that wins the last race wins the regatta and that's what happens… sometimes.
It's Winter in Rio. And they say that means temperatures in the mid 80s and sun and very little rain because Winter here is the dry season. Please remind the cows treading water across the now flooded drainage river that this is the dry season. After the last 5 days where the sun never showed up and the rain came every day they are doing a bovine synchro-swimming routine. Watch with me now as they display udders in perfect alignment…left rear hooves up pointing towards the sky and sink in unison. Point is that the medal race may be made for TV, but the wind doesn't give a whit. Saturday: at high noon at the Pan Am Games coral arrives with 3 knots of breeze 'blowing' 180 degrees from the forecast direction very low, gray clouds, 60 degrees and rain.
Imagine about 8 very large spectator boats filled with local sports fans out to watch some exciting yacht racing drama. Well, now they've exchanged their SPF 50 for a plastic rain poncho. They are very cold. In Rio, there is no heat. Anywhere. The cars don't have heat. The Busses don't have heat. They don't even have defrosters in the cars. Everything is damp. My wool hat is the most coveted piece of athletic clothing I'm wearing. 12:05 finds Jody and I cowering under the deck of the boat. It is reported by one of my teammates that I am snoring. David is in every piece of clothing we can scrape together so he can stay warm. The tide is going out fast. He tries to keep from getting swept out of the bay and toward Africa. The TV crews are in under the tents on shore.
About 3pm the first plane at the adjoining municipal airport takes off to the South. This is a very good sign because they have better short term forecasts than we do. The surface wind is still out of the North, but everyone knows that to race we need the Southerly. The plane taking off to the South is a great predictor. Somewhere, 1500-2000 feet up the wind has shifted. Soon there will be racing. Everyone springs to it. Through some twist of luck, our race is scheduled to be first. These races are umpired on the water, so they only run one race at a time. The races are supposed to take only 30 minutes per class. So, starting at 3pm, running 4 races on our course and getting everything done by dark will really be a chore. It will be a real bummer if some class doesn't get a medal race because the wind didn't fill in on time, but then TV only really has so much power over nature.
We get into sequence. Ebbing tide is really going to be a factor trying to push us over the starting line against the Southerly which is now fully in and blowing about 12-14 with lots of puffs and corresponding non-puffs. This will be a neat, tricky race. With about 90 seconds to go, we're heading back toward the boat. Our plan is to start really anyplace on the line in clear air, find a lane and get to the right. There's current relief over there (which we don't want in the ebb) but the puffs seem to be coming from the right, particularly at the top of the course. The weather legs are designed to be under 10 minutes long, so we need to guard the right as soon as we can regardless of the tidal consequences.
We tack to leeward of Canada with just under a minute to go. Team Canada doesn't play nice. We want them to just head up and give us some space to start, but they need to stay behind the starting line too so they dive down. To us that looks like they're trying to go under us and take our hole. They probably aren't really trying to do that, but we don't know that for sure. We dive really low. They tack. We tack back onto port. With about 15 seconds to go, they tack back onto starboard. We tack under them again. Ecuador is to our left—not a threat to our line, but the leeward-most boat. Chile is the closest boat to the boat. Brazil is under them, above Canada by 7 boat lengths. As we tack under Canada, we're going slow. The current starts lugging us toward the starting line. We've warned ourselves about not being OCS in the medal race only about 27 times in the last 29 seconds. This seems to have had no effect as we, the Canadians and the Brazilians are all over the line early.
In a 5 boat fleet, this is really not too big a deal. We quickly gybe, return to the line and restart. Only Chile and Ecuador leave free. Briefly I remember that Ecuador needs to win the race and for us to be absolutely last, for us to miss any medal at all.
We get going upwind quickly. We're ahead of Brazil and Canada after restarting. We round the first mark that way in third. We sail down the run, hit some wind shifts correctly and come to a decision point about 2/3rds of the way down the run. Which gate mark to choose. Chile and Ecuador take the mark that's closest to the right side of the course once they turn upwind. We think the wind is in left phase making the right mark as we look downwind appear advantaged. So we gybe and head for it. We round it and immediately it appears we're at least even with Ecuador. We continue on starboard tack for about 2 minutes, find a little more knock and tack. Ecuador is in the middle of my main window! That means that right now, we're comfortably ahead of them. We're also much closer to Tito. Unfortunately, even beating him won't get us a gold medal. We need to get us ahead of both Ecuador and Chile, plus Ecuador needs to pass Chile. This seems unlikely. We round the top mark comfortably ahead of Ecuador and about 6 boat lengths behind Chile. We gybeset. Tito gybes under and ahead of us. We start to get puffs a little before he does and we gain. It would be great to win the medal race, even if it did nothing to win us the gold medal. We halve his lead. Nobody's mentioned Brazil for awhile. I don't look back while we go downwind, so I have no idea where they are. Turns out both they and Canada pass Ecuador somehow on the downwind leg. We run out of real estate and we watch at Tito and crew celebrate winning, in front of several TV cameras. We finish the race second to about as much celebration from the spectator fleet as you hear on the average Tuesday night race at the BCC. We're pretty excited to have won the Silver medal. It feels good to beat Brazil here on their home waters. We would have hated it had they beaten us. They're good guys. They're really good sports, but personally, by this point I've had it with Brazilian nationalism.
So we're second. Now on our course the Snipes sail their race. We wish Augie and Tracy well and go in to take the boat apart. Turns out the Snipes complete their race. The J-24s complete their race, but the Hobie 16s don't get a chance to race their medal races. The darkness comes too soon. I can't imagine how frustrating that would fee to come all this way and not get a chance to race the last race. The same thing happens to Paul over on the Sunfish course. Andrew Campbell and Paige Railey both sailed really beautifully and both won Gold medals. Paul went out at 11 am, sailed back and forth in really cold weather until 4 when they ran out of time. Then, he sailed home in the darkening, having won the bronze medal. Sometimes this is a really stupid sport.
Today's "Neatest Thing That Happened Today". Dedicated to Camryn and Sabrina:
We went over the finish line. We got a gun and they're going to give us a silver medal in a couple of hours. Jody releases the spinnaker halyard and I get the whole thing in the boat without ripping it. We shake hands and that was a pretty neat moment. We've been down here for what seems like a month and we've never had one single cross word between us. Two of us are married. Have you ever gone more than 2 hours on a boat, racing with someone you're married to without having a cross word? Either they've got a really nice marriage, or the task of constantly watching to make sure old #27 wasn't losing the kite sheet under the bow kept their minds off wringing the other's neck. Gotta tell you, from this independent, unbiased perspective…#27 was a very lucky number