Charleston Race Week on a VX One
By Cedric Lewis
This was my first time racing on a VX One and my first time participating in Charleston Race Week. For those of you that don’t know me, I grew up in Annapolis and participated in the Junior Sailing program at Severn Sailing Association. I have owned several big boats all named Mirage including a J-29, Mumm-30, and my current J-105. I am now just 6 months removed from surviving a major heart attack called the widow maker. My friend, John Potter called me a couple of months ago to check to see how I was doing. Our conversation switched to sailing, as it always does. He was telling me about the winter series they have for the VX One is Sarasota. He is trying to grow the fleet and help promote the boat and asked if I wanted to come and sail CRW. He said he would get myself and Fredrik Salvesen (my partner in the 105) a boat to use in the regatta. Unfortunately, Fredrik’s work commitments wouldn’t allow him to sail. I called John back and we came up with a new plan. John’s boat partner, Dave Guggenheim, would sail with Paul Curry in their regular boat and I would crew for John on a borrowed boat.
I have been feeling pretty good and I am always up for a new challenge, especially when it comes to sailing. After hanging up the phone I was thinking to myself, what did I just get myself into! I had only sailed in the boat one time before in Beaufort and it was in only 5knts. I knew I needed to get some more time in the boat before getting to Charleston so I didn’t embarrass myself. Paul Murphy had just brought a boat back from Sarasota to Annapolis. I arranged to go out with Paul a couple of times to practice. One more practice day on Thursday when I got to Charleston and I guess I was ready.
Friday’s conditions were light in the morning but built to ~12knts out of the SSW. The first race I was still trying to figure out the boat and the current. The wind got light and shifty but we managed to catch a couple shifts and we were launched. It is a good thing because downwind I felt like I spent the entire time on my backside in the bottom of the boat. As the day went on I was getting better with my blow through jibes but I was still ending up too far forward in the boat and John was constantly telling me to move back. After three five leg races the RC switched it up and gave us a 4 leg race with finish down wind. Things were starting to click for us and I was starting to get a hang of it. In the last race of the day we lead from the start. On the last leg I was having probably the best downwind of the day with good jibes and I was managing to stay back in the boat. We were looking for the other end of the finish and realized we were about miss the finish. John jibed the boat and I was not ready for it. I got caught with my weight leaning out and the boat quite literally jibed out from underneath me and I went over the side. I hung on to the spinnaker sheet and managed to stay attached to the boat. I made my way to the back of the boat and pulled myself back on board, sheeted in the spinnaker and we finished third. We ended the day with 9 points, tied for first with Will Van Cleef and Marc Durlach.
Saturday we woke up to fresh breeze 15~20knts. I was half dreading it and half looking forward to it. The first race we seemed to be slightly out of phase and did not sail a good upwind. We rounded in about mid-fleet. I was having trouble getting the chute up and pulling and several boats went past, John’s comment was “well that’s embarrassing.” I finally got the chute up and we took off screaming down wind. We passed a couple boats downwind and managed to do the same on the second downwind and clawed our way back to 4th. We did much better and won the next 2 races and the then the wheels came off in last race. Since it was forecast to blow up to 20 and we were in a borrowed boat, John decided to use one of his older jibs instead of the boat owner’s newer jib. We started the last race and on probably the second tack, the foot cord on the jib got caught on the cheek block on the bow. I went forward and cleared it but it did it again on the next tack. The jib is a deck sweeper and over the time the chafing had worn a hole in the foot expose the foot cord. I came up with a solution to ease the sheet a couple of inches just before the tack to lift the foot up off the deck and then sheet back in after the tack. That got us to the weather mark but we were well behind at that point. I had been struggling all day with the hoists. We originally thought the halyard was getting hung up on the spreader because I would get it up to a point and then it would hang up a few feet short of a full hoist. Then we would here a pop and then could pull it the rest of the way up. On the last race the problem became apparent. There was no stopper knot on the belly cord and I pulled it through the grommet on the sail and this time it would release. It looked like we had an upper chute and lower chute pinched together by a couple of feet of line. At that point we threw in the towel and withdrew from racing. We headed back to the dock to exact repairs. With the drop we maintained a 4 point lead on Will.
Sundays breeze was back down to 12~14knts. The first race we were fouled at the start and got away slowly. The whole first beat we were getting ping-ponged around the course with people tacking on us. We rounded the weather mark deep and needed to do some catching up if we wanted to remain in the hunt. Downwind was more of the same with boats jibing on top of us but we managed to claw back a couple of boats. With the boats spread out we were able to sail the shifts and made gains to weather. We rounded the weather mark and this time we got our chute up first and passed two more boats. We finished the race in 5th which was our worst finish excluding the drop race. We did manage to maintain our lead over Van Cleef by 2 points heading into the final race. We vowed not to repeat our mistakes from the first race and go out and win the final race. We got away clean at the start and we were able to sail our own race. We played the shifts while maintaining a loose cover on Will and we rounded in first place. We managed to connect the dots downwind going from puff to puff. The second beat we did the same thing, playing the shifts while keeping track of #154. We again rounded the top mark in the lead headed for the finish.
Here are my impressions after only 5 days of sailing the boats. The boats are extremely well laid out, simple and crew friendly. The vang kicker goes up and mainsheet trim comes from the boom leaving plenty of room and a wide open cockpit to cross on tacks. The jib is self-tacking with one continuous line to trim sheet and adjust the car. Once the jib is sheeted in I only made minor adjustments to the car height. Hoisting and dropping the chute is all done with a single line (how cool is that). Pull from behind the block and the chute goes up, the pole is extended and the tack line is pulled in. Sheet in and off you go. To drop the chute you pull the same line in the other direction and the pole retracts and chute uses a belly cord to suck it into the bow.
What did I learn? I am not in as good shape as I thought I was. I have been sailing big boats for too long and hiking like that, especially on Saturday, was challenging. I was fortunate that the boat we were sailing had a hiking line to hold on to which did help with the abs. As the races added up I slowed down. Up wind I did my best to look around and call puffs and shifts and report on the other boats. Sailing downwind everything speeds up ten-fold. I would say I had my hands full. I had absolutely no time to look around. The speed of these boats off the wind is mind boggling! One false move on my part and we drop off a plane and 4 boats go whizzing by. The boats are much more tactical downwind than the boats I am use to sailing. You sail at much hotter angles to get the boat planning. The hotter angles also means the jibes are reach to reach.
The VX sailors are a tight knit group willing to step in and help each other out. This was apparent when Peter Gamble broke his rudder on Saturday. Everyone jumped in to help make the repairs and get him back on the water on Sunday. The class is full of great sailors willing to share knowledge. They recognize that building the class means helping along the back of the pack sailors. It will only make the class stronger as a whole to keep these boats involved.
I never got a max reading going downwind on Saturday but I am guessing we were ~17 knots which is the fastest I have gone in a mono-hull since my Mumm-30. And unlike my Mumm-30, I felt like the VX One was in complete control the whole time. I had an absolute blast sailing these boats and Charleston is an ideal sailing venue. The conditions could not have been better. I plan to be back next year and hopefully in my own VX One.