By Mike Ferring, Racing Captain
A day that started with zero breeze gusting to two spun into something nearly perfect this Saturday (11/18), peaking at eight knots and letting the Santana 20, Portsmouth, Thistle, and C22 fleets score three or four beautiful races. Delightful. Sunday (11/19) may have been even better, with the fleets scoring four to five races in a nice breeze.
This was the final scheduled weekend of the Lake Pleasant Fall Series (though we’ll have a weather makeup day December 2) and the last of the club’s tradition of Saturday-Sunday racing. There was a time not so long ago when Saturday night was marked with a fleet-prepared dinner with 50 or more sailors recounting the day—and a night that segued into bonfire, music, and tall tales. When the big coffee pot bubbled the next morning, hungover sailors crawled back on their boats to have another go in the fresh north wind of Sunday morning.
Changing times and changing sailors have meant the Lake Pleasant Fall and Spring Series will now be Saturday-only for all fleets. The Rules Committee (composed of fleet captains) has voted to sail six Saturdays in the spring of 2024, with no weather makeup day. The six-and-six format is augmented by one-and-done regattas, standalone events with no series scoring: Dinghy Days, Ruth Beals Cup, Governor’s Cup, Birthday Regatta, Tall Cactus, and the Championship Regatta. If you’re counting, that’s 21 days on Lake Pleasant. Add the eight fall and eight spring races at Tempe Town Lake and we think 38 days of racing might be enough to keep you busy.
The Rise of the Bot
Back at that very pleasant Saturday at Lake Pleasant, I had a personal interest: Whether the floating contraption marking the pin end of the starting line would work. Here’s the story.
A few years ago, the people who invented Marksetbot put out a call for five yacht clubs to beta test their robotic mark. I jumped on the opportunity and soon we received a very big package and David Newland and I put the thing together and put it on the water. It was big, heavy, complex and a horror to operate. Even today David turns a particular shade of green when he thinks about it.
When Marksetbot offered to sell us the bot at a discounted price, we declined. Since then, the Marksetbot has improved the product, increased the price, added a licensing fee, and says 230 clubs and organizations have used it. Others have seen the benefits of robotic marks and Marksetbot has competitors. Watch SailGP or America’s Cup and you’ll see robotic marks help with the show.
I was obsessed with it. I thought a robotic mark was perfect for the pin end of the Lake Pleasant starting line. An anchored mark has two significant problems: 1. In our typical 180 feet of water, accurately setting an anchor so the anchor holds and the mark settles to a stop at the right place is nearly impossible; 2. Even if you got it mostly right, when the wind shifts (and it shifts a lot), the mark will be quickly in the wrong place and the mark-set boat (often busy elsewhere) takes a long time to move it. Racing delayed. Racers grumbling.
Any sailor will tell you that the most critical issue for a good race is the angle of the start line. Ideally, it’s 90-degrees to the wind so that a boat starting anywhere on the line has an equal distance to sail to the first mark.
The heart of a Marksetbot is a trolling motor. By using modern GPS positioning, the advanced trolling motors can hold a bass boat in position or move it to designated coordinates. Marksetbot uses proprietary software, a packaged cell receiver, your cell phone, and a cell signal. Complicated. Some trolling motors use a remote control to move the boat, connected by Bluetooth. Simpler, right? Less range, of course, but probably enough for a start line.
So, I thought, maybe all I need are a trolling motor and a vessel to carry it. After a couple years of noodling this idea, I found a GoBoat, a new product that is basically a 48” round, inflatable standup paddle board. I bought it, added a Minn Kota motor, a lithium-ion battery, inflator, and other assorted pieces. Then I pleaded with David Newland to help again. Against his better judgment, he helped think it though and fabricated a plywood mounting base.
After a couple test outings at Tempe Town Lake, I was convinced the new “Mikesetbot” would work. All we had to do was lug 100-plus pounds of bot to Lake Pleasant, somehow get it to the racecourse, and then take it apart and get it back home. These are not problems we have with a rubber ball that anchors to the bottom of the lake.
The stirring conclusion.
It worked. Nobody ran over it. I could steer it remotely. During a wind shift while the mark boat was finishing two fleets on a shortened course, I was able to reposition the bot for a quick start when the wind arrived. During a two-minute break between fleets later in the day I was able to move the pin for a better line. I’ll bring it out again on December 2.
I feel a little like Doc Brown in Back to the Future after the flux capacitor vaulted Marty McFly back to 1955. Well sure, Marty still needed to work out the small problem of how to get back to 1985—and we have the small issues of launching and retrieving this beast. He worked it out; so can we.
More pics from the days racing are here in SmugMug. Photos: Mike Ferring