It's looking to be a wild week for weather, I'm watching four weather sites to see if the big dump can survive the predicted warming trend to follow. Ski or sail? The snow arrives as prophesied on Wednesday, and the passes get over a foot of new, but the valleys see temps in the 40s on Thursday, and the freezing level climbs to over 6000' in the late afternoon, trashing the powder. My focus shifts, is there enough warming to melt the snow on Sprague Lake? It looks favorable, and wind is predicted!
Up early Friday morning to sharpen runners and load up gear. I'm at the edge of the ice a bit before noon, and it's 50 degrees blowing 15, gusting to 20. Still 6" of ice, with vast puddles maybe an inch deep. Slick ice! I rig gleefully.
And I'm instantly powered up! Overpowered in the gusts! Time to pay attention, pinch upwind to control the boat, and carefully bear away into the pressure. The boat jumps forward when I touch the edge of the power window, if I go too far into it, the windward runner leaps from the surface, and if it goes too high, the leeward on looses its grip, and the stern breaks away. Quick steering brings me back under control. The challenge is to just touch that power, and maximize my speed without overwhelming my traction. Every time the rear skids I lose a little.
Tacking requires some touch, slow arcs into the wind work best. Turn the front runner too quickly, and it breaks into a skid, requiring some sheeting out, and sitting up to move weight forward, onto the runner. Through the eye of the wind with the sail still sheeted in hard, bear away quickly to find the power, but not so deep as to get in over my head. Find the groove, and she jumps up into the high 30s instantly!
I eventually run out of lake, driving upwind. Time for the big bear away to head downwind. This manoeuver requires commitment! This is driving all the way through the power window with the sail still sheeted in hard, broadside at some point, to the true wind. The windward runner again jumps off the ice, I keep turning and it settles back down as my course heads deep downwind. And my speed leaps into the high 40s. Now its tapping the power from below, touch it gingerly and cleanly carve away downwind, and watch that speed readout! Drive back up to it as the speed bleeds off. Repeat until some shoreline approaches at alarming speed!
Jibes are fast and smooth, done right. Executed too swiftly, and I hit too much wind, either hiking violently and/or busting the stern loose, which can now, at these speeds, result in a spectacular spinout! Big fun!
So around 2 pm the sun breaks through the overcast, and the wind picks up to 20, gusting to 29. Screaming straight thru the puddles is effortless, carving a turn of any sort in one results in a beautiful rooster tail off the front runner, that arcs gracefully into the cockpit, drenching me! I'm cold and wet, but it's hard to stop! But I finally roll in to take a break, and being a clever guy, change into all the other warm gear I brought along, including a drysuit that normally sees summer service on the catamarans. A bite to eat, and I'm off for more!
I've now got enough stick time in to be developing the sensitivity needed to tap into this abundance of juice. If I can maintain a clean line upwind, and not break the stern loose, I'm starting to break 40 mph. I'm carving graceful bearaways, lifting a runner, holding it briefly, and setting it down gently, accelerating to over 50, grinning furiously, occasionally letting loose a big cackle! I'm now circling the island, discovering the most efficient course, starting to notice my previous track on each lap. Trying to be a little smoother, a little faster each pass. Checking my lap times. I'm beginning to be able to maintain speeds over 50 mph on the downwind runs, and I'm trying to milk the puffs for maximum speed. 52, 54, and on a sweet puff, I see 55.5! A new record for me!
I'm starting to feel more comfortable at these speeds, and I'm racking up the miles now. But the sun is setting, absolutely gorgeous viewed across the glistening surface. I force myself to shut her down, and nose into the put in. A brief ceremony to give thanks to the appropriate deities, and motor home in the darkness.
Rumours are circulating that the conditions are looking promising at Silos, the premier spot on Canyon Ferry outside Helena. Next weekend may see Johnny's Rocket (the big boat) hit the ice for the first time under my ownership. Santa was good to me, providing a new toy, to compliment sailing. You know, for those unfortunate windless days. More adventure to come......... stay tuned!