2008 Isotope Nationals - August 23, 24 - Lake Waccamaw, NC

When I set out for Lake Waccamaw on Friday afternoon, my sudden and only regret was that I hadn't gone a day earlier. Joleen couldn't make it this year (she was sailing with the Special Olympics NC sailing team in Biloxi) so I was going alone. The morning had dawned cool and clear - and I had the sudden irrepressible feeling that I was on vacation.

That feeling, as well as the solitude, remained all the way to the Waccamaw Sailing Club, where I was still alone. Shortly thereafter, however, some of the WSC members dropped in, and we relaxed, talking about the day's sailing in 15-20 knots of breeze. Frank and Rhoda Meldau drove by, and then John Kirles showed up to camp. We enjoyed the evening, and hoped for a little less wind the next day.

Saturday morning brought beautiful weather again, with about 10-12 knots of wind. The other competitors began arriving. We helped each other unload and rig our boats, standing in bright green floating algae that had blown up to shore. That must have been how it felt to the sailors in Beijing (except that it only reached 20 feet out from shore).

Just about noon, the last stragglers (Frankie Meldau and Daniel Bousset) arrived. We scrambled to set-up their boats, held a quick skippers' meeting, and headed out on the lake. The wind started out somewhat lighter, and built slightly through the afternoon. I was a bit early at the start, and had to run halfway down the line, but got a good start that allowed me to sail to the middle-left of the course, which I felt had the best breeze. There wasn't quite enough wind for me to trap out (although others did), and the fleet spread out across the entire course. It turned out that I chose well, and I was first to round the windward mark. I try to stick to strategies that work, so I went back to the same side every subsequent leg. Steve Chobot, who had started on port tack and ducked the fleet, wound up well behind at the first rounding but then split with the fleet at every opportunity for clear air to catch up. Jim Howard stuck to the middle, especially downwind. We wound up finishing in that order.

My second start was not very good. I was driven to the pin end and got caught under David and Anna Howard. I managed to outpoint them, however, and forced them to tack away. That gave me clear air. Unfortunately for them, a puff hit and they capsized - almost hitting Peter Hamilton in the process. I stuck to my previous strategy and gradually gained ground. I was third at the weather mark behind Walter Brier and Alan Wolf. Going downwind, I gybed early and passed Alan and caught up with Walter. He had an inside overlap, however. As I sailed around Walter, Alan snuck above and passed me to windward. The three of us sailed into an increasing header towards the right side of the course, and I tacked away as soon as I could get far enough past Walter. Once out of Alan's dirty air, I caught a nice lift, got out on the trapeze, and sped all the way to the port layline. I was first again at the windward mark. J.P. Ayres trapped out as well to catch up to second place with Walter third. We maintained our positions to the finish.

I had an equally bad start in the third race. I was late to the line behind Steve Chobot -- I watched him hop out on the wire and sail away from the entire fleet. Steve sailed extraordinarily fast the entire race. I believe he extended his lead on every leg. I also trapped out, but Steve was so far ahead that I gave up on him. I just focused catching and then covering the fleet. Steve won handily. I successfully passed and stayed ahead of J.P. and Jim for second. Then we sailed in for a great evening social hosted by WSC.

Sunday morning left us becalmed. Howard Alexander (the PRO) started us on a 1-lap course in very light breeze that died immediately after the start. Little puffs came and went all over the lake, and 30 minutes later, everybody congregated at the windward mark - surprisingly enough in roughly the same order we started. Unfortunately for me, that was about 7th place. Steve and J.P. broke from the fleet, and I followed (needing to cover Steve). Midway down the leg, I managed to pass them and then gybed for the mark. It actually looked like I was leading at that point, but then a breeze filled in down the center of the course. Alan, Peter, Jim, Frankie, and John caught that puff and rode it to the leeward mark. I managed to squeeze in line ahead of John for a 5th place finish. That was the end of the racing and we had to paddle to shore.

We packed up our boats, helped one another load, and got cleaned up. WSC put on another nice spread for the awards ceremony. Once it was over, we took some group pictures and people headed home. I was first to arrive, and last to leave. Again, my only regret was that I couldn't stay there for another day.

Eric Rasmussen "Unstable" Isotope 235

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