Hazardous Day at Cherry Creek Ends Well

by Phillip Infelise


I have been decompressing after a hectic summer helping organize and then sailing in our great 2004 Nationals at ABYC.  Just a casual Wednesday night race or two and no real thought of any real serious regattas in Colorado.


I was doing my typical Sunday Morning thing  on September 18 about 7:30 – sitting at the computer getting some work done prior to taking the family over to the Wildflower Cafe in beautiful downtown Evergreen for our traditional Eggs Benedict feasting with our closest neighbors, when I got a call.  Expecting my business partner – Chuck – I probably said something inappropriate into the phone and then I realized it was Lisa Wildeman. Lisa owns S-20 #609 – Occupational Hazard – and is an active member of Fleet 28.  Her beau had blown out his back on day one of the Colorado Governors Cup on Saturday and she was giving me the desperation plea to come sail with her and Jim Carollo.  Hearing that she could harangue hard enough to force men to leave the country, I agreed to speed down the hill and hit the infamous Cherry Creek Reservoir immediately after I threw down my Bennie in record time.  FYI – no mention of the expected breeze for the day (or I would have made the trip even faster).


A little background for those of you who don’t know.  Sailing at Cherry Creek is a test of your patience.  Andrew Kerr will remember our S-20 seminar in 2001 when all we could practice was roll tacking for two days under 105 degree heat.  That was fairly normal summer sailing. Last year’s Governor Cup when I sailed with my good friends Tim Dunton and Guy Lindsay on Chubasco, each race consisted of a .5 mile windward fetch in 2 knots of breeze and a painful “run” (crawl) back to the finish (I am reminded not so fondly of this year’s Eastern Regionals at Lake Lanier that was eerily similar).  So, to have the chance to sail in that venue in any real breeze is a rarity.  In this breeze, it was a thrill.


The Italian Job. Another reason I gave up my days of house chores recovering from the remodel to sail was the chance to re-unite with Jim Carollo, who sails his J-24 up on Lake Dillon and for whom Lisa crews frequently.  I have fond memories of my first season sailing 20s with Jim and Mike Marangola in 1999 on Jim’s Tiburon, even including the long, long week of zephyrs on Lake Alcova.  (Though remember the last race that year and you’ll know why I was confident that Jim can handle big breeze).  Jim was slated to drive on this fine day.


The Breeze.  Let the debate begin.  On the ocean, I think I have a pretty accurate sense of wind strength without the aid of instruments – reading wind chop, what’s in my face and in the rigging, how we have to sail the boat to keep her on her feet.  I am at a bit of a deficit on totally flat water where the longest fetch for wave action is about 1.5 miles.  I have cross-checked what I am about to say with two Veteran sources on Cherry Creek.  The prevailing breeze was 28-30 knots.  A lull would be 26.  There were irregular gusts on top of the 30 that hit more, much more, probably up to 42 knots in the one puff that laid Chubasco over for 12-15 seconds, right in our stern.  This is not the Cherry Creek we are used to, but certainly one for the history books.


The Rating Game.  When S-20s don’t Fleet in CO, they sail in a mixed PHRF Fleet and the PHRF game is no different here than everywhere else.  The folks that Volunteer to run things get to decide how boats get rated and can – and frequently do - ignore the standards set around the country.  For a lot of reasons, S-20s sailing without an accompanying outboard motor sail with a 212 rating in CO.  Certainly a reaction to what everyone knows: you can’t beat a 20 in light air, flat-water conditions.  So, you can imagine that the mixed group of Capri 25s, Merit 25s, MacGregors, Stars (yes Stars, this is PHRF in CO after all) and the like were licking their chops as they (mostly) put in their double reefs in and threw up the blades knowing that they would hammer those little upstart 20s.  Not so.  At least three 20s – Chubasco, Geoffrey Zahn’s Space Pipe and the Hazard battled the big boats all around the course.  Now, we all wait for the rating discussion over the long winter.


On the Water.  In the Breeze. This was a day to remember.  We actually hanked on the Genoa, but then looked around and thought better of it.  Lisa pulls out this brand new, never-been-out-of-the-bag Ullman jib (life is good I think quietly) and we field test the leads at the dock before screaming out to the start area.  The race committee made the Kite/No Kite discussion and the male hormones calm quickly by setting a simple triangular course that would allow no chance for anything but jib reaching. (OK, so there were moments that I would have been tempted in my Altitude Sickness but I am not sure that Lisa would have agree to risk stripping the mast off the boat just to see how fast a 20 can really go – although honestly, that mast needs to go, as both Jim and I surely thought it would many times throughout the day). Twice around.  Furthermore, the course geometry was a bit skewed so that you only had one or two tacks on the weather legs and you were there.  So, it was pretty basic sailing. Keep everything un-cleated and ready to dump, keep you eyes ahead looking for the next big gust or green water in the troughs and hang on.  Work the jib sheet and traveler mercilessly and try to get into groove where you could pinch through the puffs and crab to weather while other less-attentive boats might be waiting for the mast tips to pop back out of the water.


In the first race, we started on a left shift at the pin, sailed with good speed and point and rounded directly in the stern of a Capri 25 that then towed us all the way to the jibe mark, surfing on her quarter wake the whole leg.  Thrilling and very cool.  Concentrate through the S-jibe, slam on the leeward twing and off we go again to the bottom mark


On the second weather leg, we made a mistake in playing the left, while Chubasco played the right and they caught up to us big time.  In a few of the ever-building puffs on this leg, I found that the Hazard had a unique system to deal with the 40+ knot puffs.  Every time one hit (three total upwind), the main halyard would break from it’s jam cleat (Hey, Lisa, this is the one place we Sickness boys will allow a horn cleat on the boat), drop the main about three feet and allow the boat to stand straight up and crab to weather on the jib alone while others were trying some mast tip dipping.  Very efficient min-reef system that allowed us to open up a big lead at the second top mark and ride it to the finish.  (Truckers hitch between races solved that problem, but made us all worry about what would happen if we had to cut the halyard in a hurry – you know, like when the stick goes over the side – which Jim and I both fully expected would happen at some point. Or over the front, as it did on Chubasco at the Carter Open).


Race Two started about the same way, but turned Hazardous for us quickly near the top mark.  Yours truly called us right past the real weather mark (Come on!  They looked almost the same) allowing Chubasco to round first.  Then we tried to push in at the mark ahead of Space Pipe who was smoking in on the lay line.  (Wait a minute, are they always smoking? And what’s in that Pipe?) We hit the mark, listened to Geoff berate us sufficiently, did our circle and started down the reach leg in Third.  Good speed down the first reach (love those twings for a reaching lead), jibed right behind the Pipe with Chubasco with a substantial lead, but somewhat tied up with and slowed by the larger Capri.  Chubasco, the Capri and the Pipe all took a higher road to the bottom mark while we surfed our way low and scalloped up when the puffs subsided.  Passed the Pipe (aw, memories of those college years) but Chubasco still had some boat-lengths on us.  This time she took the left and we took the right and ended up bow-to-bow coming into the lay line about 200 feet shy of the top mark.  Chubby (the boat, not the skipper) tacks right in our stern and then a monster puff hits even before her tack is complete, lays her down for an eternity and off we go, stretching out on the reaches and an easy one tack beat to the finish.  Two Races.  Two Firsts.  A little gloating, but not enough to erase Chubasco’s spectacular Day One with Four First.  Congratulations Team Chubasco.


Having sailed an S-20 for only the last five years is not a lifetime by this class’s standards, but this day of sailing set a number of S-20 firsts for me, and maybe some others:

  1. First time sailing these boats in more than 30 knots

  2. First time leaving the dock with a jib hanked on

  3. First time using the jib for more than a single race in a day

  4. First time ever not flying a kite on a downwind leg

  5. First time sailing more than one reach leg in a race, actually 8 on this day

  6. For Lisa first time with a Gov Cup Bullet

  7. For Lisa, first time with double Gov Cup Bullets

I am thinking that we should share some things we learned about sailing the S-20 in these conditions:

  1. Your jibs leads need to be perfect to balance power and point.  Know where your median lead point is before the big blow is in front of you and strive to have a powerful lower section and an open upper section.

  2. The trimmer, hopefully the larger, heavier person, needs to trim with the sheet in his/her hand from the weather rail just aft of the shrouds.  You need to set up your boat ahead of time to get a friction free lead to the top winch, though friction is better than cluttering the cockpit too much.

  3. Max tension on your main sheet, pull on as much Vang as you can.  Then repeat the process. Ignore the bow in your boom.  You will then seek to use the back 12 inches of your main leech while you aggressively “Traveler-sheet” constantly.  Make sure your traveler control lines allow enough throw to get max outboard with the tail in the off-hand and that the helmsperson can adjust from a hiked out position.

  4. It is key to run your job leads through your twings (if they are forward of the shrouds as they should be) and sheet to the rail for those screaming reaches.  The crew on the Hazard found that this was the speed advantage downhill, as well as Jim’s excellent helming skills in surfing conditions.

  5. Skipper and trimmer needs to be talking constantly (yelling above the breeze actually) to keep ahead of the looming chaos both upwind and down.

  6. Don’t sail a high arch on the reaches.  Head at or below the mark at all times and be willing to surf well below and then scallop back up in the “lulls.”  If you go high in 30 knots, there is no amount of breeze that allows this displacement hull to scream back down that distance lost.

  7. Your driver needs to be good, very good in waves.  Our was.  We all know how quickly things can go sour if a 20 starts digging in the bow.

The Question of the Day, or many days? (Besides how the hell did the Hazard’s rig stay up all day) Does an S-20 plane?  In my mind, the jury is still out on this.  I felt that the boat would not break on to a true plane even in the 30-40 knots puff; rather the boat was actually surfing on little 1-3 foot wind chop (I guess some would call them waves).  I have done a lot of planing and surfing in my days in dingies and big boats (Ragtime at 30 knots careening down the Molokai comes to mind often) and on this day, even on this day in the 20, I never felt the effortless light skipping of the bow that I associate with planing, no total flattening of the quarter wave, no totally neutral helm,  the “nah, nah, nah” hum from the tip vortex, but the “locked” in feel of a boat that is surfing hard. (I will admit that for a few brief moments between races while Lisa was practicing her surfing skills, there was the start of that knowing hum and it was almost breaking out....... naw, it was just a surf burst in smoother water).  I look forward to a lively debate on this subject.






September 19, 2004


Phillip Infelise

Fleet 28 & 13

Altitude Sickness – S-20  #679