The true account of PDRacer Dave Zumwalt sailing #553 in his first ever race

The wind was cranked up and I was nervous. I wasn't close to the starting line and could hardly control my boat. My wife, aka coach, and I drove the four hours from our home in Southern Kansas for these races and I was not going to bail out now, despite the water that kept coming over my bow and my inability to make a starboard tack. I thought I had rigged my homemade lug sail correctly but obviously I had it screwed up. This was my first race ever and I was sailing the Duck I designed and built.

I was at least a minute late, probably more to the starting line when I finally realized the final horn to start the race had sounded. I had my stopwatch with me but for the life of me I could not figure out the start sequence. This may have had to do with my focus at bailing water out of my boat while at the same time getting frustrated with not being able to control my boat. The wind kept blowing me away from the start line and I couldn't tack and get back. I finally remembered my sailing lessons and remembered I could just chicken gibe and get the same result. So I did a chicken gibe and I found my self sailing on a broad reach toward the first mark. Everyone was going fast except me and a few others. This was not cool. After a number of tacks and chicken gibes heading into the wind I made it to the first mark, turned to port, and slowly cruised around the course. This was a race and I was in cruise mode. I didn't think I would be this slow. 12th place coach said.

Race two - In between race one and two I loosened the loop that holds my boom close to my mast. I thought that was causing my inability to tack both directions. I went out to the race area and practiced several tacks and my sail control was improved. It was still windy and I almost smacked my head on the boom as it whipped overhead as I was experimenting. Water was still coming over my bow at times. I felt smart that I had brought a sponge to sop up all of the water I was taking.

I was at least a minute late again to the starting line, probably more, when I finally figured the final horn to start the race had sounded. I had my stopwatch with me but again I could not figure out the start sequence. I was sure I had missed a horn sound, but I was not sure which one in the start sequence.

Heading toward the first mark, I was in about the same position I was in the first race. I raced around the mark with some of the slow crowd and headed to the second mark in front of the spectators. Somehow, I hit the giant orange marker with my sail, which was right in front of the camera man. In the spirit of the rules I attempted a 360 degree turn, as I headed downwind, but I forgot I had lowered my lee board because before the race I could have sworn the second leg was the downwind leg and I had read somewhere I could sail faster downwind with my leeboard up. Without my leeboard down I could not complete the required 360, but the camera man, feeling sorry for me yelled out to me to keep sailing. Thanks camera man.

My second lap did not get any better. 12th place coach said.

I had a conference with my personal coach and she said I was stinking the course up by tacking way too often and getting to the start line way too late. I didnít have time to make up any excuses because I heard the horn sound to get to the start line.

Race three Ė I left the boat parking area with five or six others and none of us thought we would make the start on time. I noticed I was sailing to the start line at the same speed as everyone in my group. This was weird because they were all sailing faster than me during the races. I thought to myself, maybe I am the problem and not my boat.

I hit the start line exactly when the starting horn sounded. I was surprised because I was running faster than I ever had. I was sailing with the front pack. I thought, ďmaybe my sail isnít totally pitiful. Maybe if I donít pull the mainsheet in so tight I can sail faster.Ē This is fun. I make it to the first mark in great shape but lose some wind in my sail at the turn and slow way down. At the second mark I am surprising myself still. I keep reminding myself to not sheet in even though for some reason I think I will go faster if I do.

At the third mark I forget to put my leeboard back down before I begin the turn and I lose some ground, dumb. Heading now to the fourth turn running on a broad reach, still in the middle of the pack, I am having a blast. I actually catch two racers in front of me. I pass them, round the mark and head to the finish line. I finish 7th. Better than my place, I feel good that I have improved my skills and know my boat much better now.

I want to do this some more. I will be back. I am going to do revision #4 on my leeboard and tweak PDR#553 more. And I am going to resist my urge to sheet in when I sail. I am going to build a new sail.

My wife and I express our thanks to Jackie and Mike Monies for organizing and sharing their home grounds with us. I also want to say the people here were great fun and a joy to compete with.

David Zumwalt