The 2019 Midwinters (from Nathaniel Plant)

The 2019 Contender midwinters, for me, marks one year as a Contender sailor.  It is fun to remember how this started.  Sometime in the summer of 2017, Colin Browning offered to let me take his contender for a spin. So, we met at Davis Island, set up the boat and he explained what to do after launching.  It was not quite trapezing conditions at first and built to just-barely trapezing—definitely more fun than a laser either way!  With the bliss of my first Contender contact-high strongly imprinted in my brain, Ethan Bixby moved in to get the long-term habit going.  He had a beautiful wooden contender built by a famous Italian maker —it was the Stradivarius of contenders (yes, changing to a different metaphor here).   What I needed was the student version—which had all the elements of a Contender, perhaps not quite as pretty, but cheap enough to rationalize buying what would become my 3rd racing dinghy (or my perhaps 5th dinghy, depending on how you count Sheila’s vs my boats). Gil Woolley had a solution: Colonel Mustard, built by some aerospace engineers in the 70s and well maintained, or, actually, pretty much reborn at one point.  Gil showed up for the 2018 midwinters (I’m supposed to be describing the 2019 midwinters, hang in there) and I got my second taste of a Contender (remember Colin?) by stepping into the boat on race day 1, in what seemed like big breeze.  I mastered the basics of capsizing: tacking halfway (what, there is a shorter-leach sail that lets me get under the boom!?), crash-tacking in front of Mike Smits at the weather mark (hey, I at least I was on starboard), letting go of the uncleated mainsheet, light-air-vang-too-loose-deathroll, and, of course, Frank seemed to be right there with the camera and verbal ‘encouragement’.  That was the best outcome from my point of view—everyone encouraged me to continue.  Thank you. (oh, for any newcomers, don’t forget kneepads!)

The 2019 Midwinter regatta, in Clearwater FL , was attended by 10 sailors, including the Canadians (Peter Hale, Mike Smits, Stephanie Mah, Roger Martin, and Neil Smith--Neil currently hailing from North Carolina), The Floridians (Ethan Bixby, Colin Browning, and me), and Americans from places that get snow (Peter White and Ali Meller – note that Ali stepped off the wire of a 505 and into a Contender for the first time).  The regatta was held in light wind and the fleet launch (or pack up) only after Colin would go out to show us that trapezing was possible (or impossible).  Very light breeze allowed 2 races on day 1 (I think it was a Wednesday—hard to tell due to my recent government-shutdown-induced-furlough which gave me plenty of time to get the boat ready and not worry about what day of the week it was).  We began with an introduction to rabbit starts, where we had several practice starts and then, if you were alert, you recognized that the next start was for real.  Rabbit starts are not natural to those of us who were trained on starting lines while young and then stopped racing for 20 years.  But, they have the advantage of ensuring that nobody is over early and there is only a minor risk that the rabbit boat, sailing on port tack from the pin to delineate the starting line, will be destroyed by the fleet. Light air was probably a good thing at this point.  We all managed to figure it out, or at least cope with the situation and move on.  In the first race, Ethan ended up first and Ali was second.  Ethan was first again (this statement could repeat a few times—just refer to the results for more detail) in the second race with Peter Hale claiming the 2nd place spot.  Day 2 (and this turned out to be the last day) allowed 5 more races. There was some trapezing and even a tiny bit of planning if you overstood the weather mark and cracked off to round.  This actually seemed to be a winning strategy as the shifts and breeze often paid off for those who went a bit too far right.   Mike pried a first place away from Ethan in one race.  I continued to learn some things, including that a crash tack, even in barely trapezing conditions, can tip you over.  However, this year I had upgraded to a carbon mast since my last races. The reduced angular momentum compared to the aluminum mast meant that my mistake resulted in a speedbump rather than a real crash.  One result of remembering my 2018 capsize list was my unwillingness to tempt the light-air-vang-too-loose-deathroll, which turned out to be overcautious as Neil, Roger, and Stephanie seemed to become one with their masts and willed their boats past me on the downwind legs—I was very impressed with them.  Perhaps I will work on this if I can ever convince myself to practice in conditions other than those that allow trapezing at all points of sail. (Who wants to practice in light air? [Ed: No one!]) Overall, as you can read in the results, Ethan, Ali, and Mike claimed the podium spots.  (Ali! Wow! Dude! Impressive for first time in a Contender—somehow, I think you would have pulled it off in big wind too—but I think we all want to see that to be sure!)  I look forward to the next year in Clearwater, continuing the traditions of sending Colin (and myself) out for wind checks, handing some newbie a Contender, and the after party at our house. 

Results here

Fun photos here

Stephanie Mah