25 Jul Routing for the Overall Win – 2019 Chicago – Mackinac Race #CYCRTM
Did We Really Just Win CYCRTM Overall?
Sitting in the cockpit of Chico 2 downbound to Port Huron on the delivery from Mackinac Island, it is time to put some thoughts on paper. Things are starting to finally settle into my head that I can finally explain what just happened!
I have been racing with Team Chico 2 for the past few years. This year I switched from helmsman to navigator/tactician as, quite happily, my fiancé Kate is a better light air driver. (Yes, we won the Chicago Mac with a woman driving and a woman on the bow!)
“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
Keys to Winning
It is only fitting that a quote by one of Chicago’s greatest athletes sums up my thoughts about being the winning navigator in this year’s 111th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. Some say we took a flyer; some say we got lucky. Those that say as much are just psychologically insulating themselves from the truth. The fact is both luck and skill are both involved. The key is preparation and time spent before the race understanding the data available to you and ensuring what you are using to make your decisions is as accurate as possible.
Another key to winning is being blessed with the opportunity to sail with one of the best boat owners on the Great Lakes. Jim Weyand, Owner/Helmsman of the 1D35 Turbo Chico 2, has worked very hard to put together a great boat and an amazing team, led by boat captain David Bennett. Both Jim and David have worked very hard on sail selection, boat preparation, and crew development. They both do a fantastic job in identifying each crew member’s strengths and letting the crew operate to their full potential. Everyone on the boat has fun working hard and sailing fast.
There was a specific point in the race where I had to make a key decision. This was the point of no return, a decision which would separate us from our competitors and put us in a “go big or go home” scenario, focused only on the overall win. Upon relaying the odds and my thoughts to Jim, he simply said: “We didn’t come here for second place.” This confidence and trust by the skipper are hugely valuable as a navigator, and, at least in my opinion, this management style is winner, on and off the racecourse.
Many find the responses above and similar to “we had a great team” as boilerplate responses, however, the reason why you hear this response from champions in almost every sport is because it is spot-on. Chico 2 couldn’t have done it without the support of family members, hard work of our shore support and transport drivers, everyone that sails on weeknights testing sails, the workers at the yacht club, and those that have worked on and sailed on the boat in the past building up to this point. The list goes on and on. Every detail and input is essential.
What everyone wants to know are the details behind the team and the inputs which lead directly to the decision to choose the path in which the boat should follow on the race. I have been using Expedition racing software for years, I can’t remember the first time, but I think it was about ten years ago. I immediately recognized its value on the racecourse, long before many. I have sailed on several boats with others who refuse to trust a computer when making navigational or tactical decisions. This lack of trust in technology, in my opinion, is consistent with the back of the pack. Relying on ego, rather than data and logic, will quickly ruin a race.
Preparation for a race starts long before a navigator steps on the boat. Accurate polars and sail charts (spreadsheets documenting a boat’s speed at giving wind speeds and angles) are keys to big-picture navigation and strategic decisions. Perhaps more important than choosing the right weather model. US Sailings ORR polars are a great starting point, but if possible one should go further, logging data and manipulating their polar file and sail charts to further accurize them when possible.
The Plan & Weather Routing
A winning navigational plan means putting the boat in the best place for optimal speed throughout the racecourse. One mistake I see far too many make is “living in the now, rather than in the future.” Many sailing courses teach sailing the maximum VMC (or VMG depending on your electronics setup) is the key to winning distance races. While this is somewhat true, it is overly simplified. If you sail the best VMC right into a huge hole and then sit at 0% VMC for hours, you have lost the race. This is precisely the trap many fell into this year’s Chicago – Mackinac race. It was easy early on in the race to be lured up the rhumb line and into a possible high-pressure area, predicted by some, but not all of the models. My thoughts on VMC are we always want to be sailing our max VMC to our route, not to the course itself. Maybe we should call it VMoR (Velocity Made Good to Optimal Route).
This long term vision places the boat in the position it needs to be in the future to catch the next shift or take advantage of the better breeze, current, wave-state, or a combination of all three. This outlook does not work though if a navigator does not have a good handle on the actual conditions and how the forecast weather models are interacting. There are times when no weather models are accurate and you have to throw them all out, relying on your instruments and visual observations along with a general knowledge of the prevailing weather pattern. There are also times when a weather model is lining up in timing, direction, and speed almost exactly with the conditions you are experiencing. It is the latter when you know there high accuracy and limited risk in following Expeditions optimal course.
2019’s Chicago – Mackinac race for Chico 2 was one of these limited risk scenarios. Our polars, honed over several years of data acquisition, and the actual conditions experienced were lining up very closely with the NAM Conus weather models. I had also been watching the overall weather patterns closely for the past week or so. Giving me a good idea of what scenarios were most likely to develop in the macro and what large scale influences may or may not have an effect and when. All of this information gave me confidence in the choice of the model and routing, even though there were highly different routes using the HRRR, GFS, and GLERL models.
I knew the overall strategy before leaving the hotel on Saturday morning. Before letting Jim, David, and the rest of the crew know the plan, I wanted to confirm my thoughts with another model download before the start; combining it with on course instrument data, visual observations, and shoreside buoy data around the lake. There is a lot of pressure on a navigator to divulge information before the race starts. Everyone wants to tell a family member their projected finish time, they want to know what gear to wear, or if the competition is going to be pleasant or rough on them. It is hard, but I always withhold this information until I am confident in its accuracy. About 15 minutes before the start, I passed up a piece of tape to place on the bulkhead with our target GPS coordinates, course, and sail selection.
The plan was to be the leftmost boat, head to a northern waypoint about 50 miles up the lake, and sail fast with the Code 0. It doesn’t take a tactical genius to think of this, but it gets harder and harder to implement as the crew watches our competitors gain places on Yellowbrick as we drift away from the rhumbline. The team performed wonderfully, following the plan, making our way up the lake to our next decision point where a few modeled routes converged, about halfway between Milwaukee and West Bend. Here we would re-evaluate, gather more data, and run more models, which affirmed our decision to continue.
As we proceeded north through the night and into the morning, we woke up to being surrounded by a bunch of cruising boats. On a racing yacht, separated from the fleet, and only cruisers in-sight can be an ominous feeling. The boats around us were not participating in the Mac, but in the Hook Race, which runs concurrently up the coast of Wisconsin and into Green Bay. We continued onward, as roughly Green Bay was where we would make the turn out into the lake, setting a roundabout course, allowing a shift to bend us around the top of the Manitou islands. This, as a navigator, is the most stressful part of the race. Picking an angle based on projected wind shifts to thread the needle between a few islands 80 miles away can be a bit tricky, and there is that feeling of rolling the dice which sets in. You can do this though because you have already built the confidence in your own decision through your previous work.
Fortunately, Jim has equipped Chico 2 with all the toys the big boats have. The boat is equipped with a B&G H5000 instrument package, a FleetOne broadband system, Expedition racing software, a wireless network with iPads running remote desktop as well as Navionics, and of course our new Quantum Cableless Code 0. The satellite internet dome was key in tracking other boats movements through the Yellowbrick Expedition feature on the inside of us as we crossed the lake. We were able to feel out where the pressure was inconsistent and drive around the soft spots. Leading us to the next big navigational question of the race, and one which anyone who has sailed the Chicago – Mackinac has inevitably asked their navigator at least once. Will we be going inside our outside the Manitous this year?
From weeks out, the possibility of an “outside” or “over the top” race was developing. We also saw that the high pressure was still on the Michigan shore. There was not a chance we were going through the Manitous, but there were also no routes that showed us taking a route to go over, rather than through, Grays reef. We had good pressure, affirmed by tracking the TP52’s through this area. We also knew that a small squall would approach from the west as we approached the reef, which we were hoping to take advantage of to beat a few of the GL70’s across the line.
Unfortunately, the breeze dropped off just as we were about to pass Grays reef light, and the 70 footers Arctos and Equation were able to catch and pass us finally. As the squall finally caught up to us as we exited the channel and made the turn for the bridge, we saw the wind build and David made the smart call to change early from the R2 to the FR0. We were able to wick up some 15kt planing runs directly at the bridge as several boats wiped out behind us. From here, it is a straight shot; my job as a navigator completed. I let the crew know where we were in the fleet, just a few miles away from winning the Mackinac Cup! Hike hard and don’t hit the bridge or the reef! You could feel the butterflies, I concealed my tears of joy behind my sunglasses.
As we passed under the Mackinac Bridge, the GL70 Stripes (who went on to win the BYC Mac race the next week overall and who’s navigator is the father of Chico 2’s bow-woman) passed us by as the wind shifted forward and we changed to the light air jib. Yes, by the way, you read that right, bow woman. We actually had two wonderful young women, Kate on helm and Dominque at the pointy end who between the two only had one Chi-Mac race but they performed flawlessly like veterans. In fact, the whole crew, lest not forget David (pit), Michael (headsail trimmer), Matt (bowman), performed flawlessly through the race. It takes a tough cookie to sail on Chico 2; this is no glamour show. It is hardcore sailors taking it to the edge, having fun, laughing and smiling through the whole race as friends.
The bottom line is, as a navigator, you can point the boat in the right direction, but it is the team that takes credit for the win. Jim Weyand’s Chico 2 is truly a team, and for at least one week in July of 2019, the best sailing team on the Great Lakes.
About the Author: Curtis Jazwiecki was the Navigator/Tactician aboard Chico 2 for this year’s race. He honed his skills racing with the best in several one design classes including Etchells, J/111, and Melges 24’s. He is one of the few that has sailed and raced the M24 offshore. As navigator, he won the presigious Chi-Mac Race overall, took 1st on a Hobie 33 in the inaugural Miami-Cuba race, he won his section in the Chicago Mac in 2017, and has placed on the podium 7 of his 15 times on both sides Mackinac racing. He is a member of the Bayview Yacht Club of Detroit and is currently based in Newport, RI, prepping his J/46 Sweet Ruca to cruise around the world with his fiance Kate and dog Roxy. Off the water, Curtis works as an Entreprenuer and FinTech consultant, where he uses the same approach to sailing in business.
Follow the journey on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/c/sailingsweetruca