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Foul Like a Boss

How familiar are you with mark rounding rules? I have unfortunately fouled other boats more times than I care to admit, and a recent weekend was no different. Our race took place in San Diego within the Etchells fleet, sailing downwind with the spinnaker up, protecting the left side and aiming to be inside at the left gate. Our strategy was to jibe and douse at the mark and head upwind to the right to remain in what we believed to be more pressure.

As we approached the mark on starboard with about 2 minutes to go, it was highly uncertain whether we would achieve an overlap with one of our competitors whom we were trying to overtake. Despite my crew's warnings that it might not be possible, I persisted, riding each wave and pumping the mainsail to eke out every bit of speed in an attempt to establish the overlap before the three-boat-length circle. I just needed 1 measly little inch of overlap.

At times, the strong desire to succeed and not heeding the advice of your crew can lead to tricky situations. "Just one more wave," | kept thinking while telling my crew, "We'll make it." I kept thinking I can drive with the best and I know I can get the overlap. We were only about 1-2 feet behind them, but they managed to stay ahead and one boat width to windward.

As we bore down on the mark, we had one boat ahead of us and another boat was on our starboard beam, and I had the right of way, we had the responsibility to let the boat ahead of me safely round the mark. However, at that moment, I froze like a deer in headlights, just for a moment, but that moment proved to be long enough.

I knew my boat was in trouble. Regardless of warnings from my crew 15 boat lengths out, I was determined to execute the foul, pushing on with the belief I could get the overlap I wanted. I was on a mission to plummet from 6th place to 19th as quickly as possible, and nothing and no one, not even my friends, could deter me from that path! I squeezed in as boat 1229 came up. The game was up.

Right after the incident, I yelled out, "I fouled, I will do my penalty circle." Unfortunately, I chose a poor spot to execute the maneuver, as an Etchells doesn't handle turns like the J/22s in a match race. In the process, I more than just "touched" another boat, as I collided and caused some damage to another boat. It was a terrible situation! I had never even touched a boat lightly in this fleet let alone seen chips of fiberglass fly. I was deflated, especially considering how well we had been performing until then.

After completing the penalty turns and finding ourselves at the back of the fleet, all I wanted to do was head straight back to the San Diego Yacht Club and drown my sorrows at the bar. The day had already been challenging enough, with large sea swells making it difficult to climb on the port tack, causing the jib to want to luff with each wave. On starboard tack, we were getting hit by sea swells across our beam, with confused seas between, just keeping the boat speed up was daunting and our team had to be relentless.

While more wind typically helps overcome these obstacles, as many sailors who have sailed in San Diego know, wind is not always readily available in San Diego.

There was a noticeable silence for some time as we all acknowledged that making a significant recovery from last place in this fleet was unlikely. After expressing my frustrations and apologizing to Eric and KT, we gradually regained our composure while continuing to sail. We persevered and eventually succeeded in overtaking three boats.

The following day, we were able to make up for my previous blunder. In the second race, as we approached the gate on the course in a similar position as before, I paid close attention to my crew's advice this time. We executed an early spinnaker douse and rounded the mark exactly as we had practiced during our Wednesday evening training sessions — with a wide entry and narrow exit, also known as "the Jenny Craig."

Our rounding was executed so well that we were able to pass the competitor who had taken a wider exit just in front of us. Despite having six boats ahead of us, we managed to maintain our lane for a significant duration. The satisfaction of executing the maneuver correctly was immensely rewarding. We made substantial gains on some of our closest competitors, the closest being Marvin the Martian, a former Etchells world champion from Texas.

The key lesson learned is to douse the spinnaker early, heed your crew's advice, and understand that it's often better to approach the mark cautiously and execute maneuvers correctly rather than rushing through them.

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