Sailors of Mia Su 2 make good, bad decisions on way to fifth-place finish

Published 9:25 am Monday, January 5, 2015

OU0104 A1 Frostbite Race POV Photo C

When it comes to sailboat racing, decisions are made quickly and mean everything.
“You make decisions and hope,” “Mia Su 2” captain Billy Becker said.
And for the Mia Su 2, a mixture of good and bad decisions filled the day as Becker and his crew competed during the 15th annual Frostbite Race held on Watauga Lake New Year’s Day.
Becker, who remembers sailing a boat on his own when he was just 9 years old down in South Florida, was joined by veteran sailor Marc Nachman. Also on the crew was Becker’s wife, Sue, whom the boat “Mia Su 2” was named after.
“The name means ‘my Sue,’ ” Becker said.
A week before the race, the weather forecast called for a mild 50 degrees for New Year’s Day, but as the crew of the Mia Su 2 hit the water in preparation of the starting horn, the temperate fell to a chilling 36.
That morning, Becker had fitted his boat with a 155 head sail, because the wind did not feel that strong. In sailing, the less wind you have the more sail you need. With 30 minutes left until the race officially began, the wind picked up in speed, prompting Becker to quickly lower the size of his head sail to a 135.
“You can optimize your sailboat’s performance by having the right size sail,” Nachman said. “If you have too much sail with a lot of wind, your boat will heel over, making it go slower. Sails full of wind act much like plane wings, pulling the boat through the water.”
Becker’s decision to change his head sail paid off as the wind picked up to a piercing 15 knots at certain points of the race. The strong winds push the boat up on its side, causing things to fly off shelves and crash to the floor.
“I love it when things bang around,” Becker said, laughing.
With everyone anticipating the starting horn, boats jumbled up around the start/finish pin. The horn sounded and the boats where off as they raced toward flag one. The race consisted of three markers that the vessels had to work their way around before finishing back at Lake Shore Marina.
At the beginning, the Mia Su 2 had great position as it pushed itself out toward the front the pack. The wind stayed steady, exciting Becker, who manned the lines while Nachman steered the boat with the tiller. The two sailors were in constant discussion about what they should do next.
“You are always thinking and watching, trying to decide what line you should take or what angle you should be at,” Becker said.
As the boats fought toward flag one, Becker and Nachman decided to do something risky. They changed the angle of their boat and worked it out to the right of the others.
“With the wind how it is, this should give us a better angle on the first flag,” Becker said. “I don’t know if it was a good decision, but we will find out.”
As the wind picked up, the Mia Sue 2 was pushed to far left of the first flag. The crew quickly rotated the boat toward its starboard (right) side and pushed on, but it was too late and the vessel fell behind.
“It was a bad decision,” Becker said. “It did not help us any.”
Soon after rounding marker one, the wind silenced, lowering everyone’s spirits. The Mia Su 2 had fallen back to around seventh place, but Becker was not disheartened as he looked forward at the racers in front.
The boat easily made it around the middle pin as it turned toward mark two, which was a blue buoy floating in the water. At first, Becker, Sue and Nachman couldn’t spot the second mark.
“There it is,” Becker yelled, while pointing out over the water.
Nachman angled the Mia Su 2 toward the buoy, but as the boat closed in, the angle had to be turned left, forcing the boat following close behind to change its angle, too. In sailboat racing, the boat in front has the right of way, so if a vessel changes course, the boat behind has to adjust to accordingly.
The wind stayed steady as the boat drew closer to the blue buoy. It seemed the Mia Su 2 was going to run over the marker, located somewhat close to the shore line.
“I really need a lift right now,” Nachman said while holding the boat on its course.
The vessel missed just left of the marker, which is exactly where the crew wanted the boat to go.
With two markers down, Becker and Nachman aimed the boat toward the third and final flag. With the Mia Su 2 still behind in eighth place, the skipper and his crew made another risky decision. Quickly, they pointed the bow (front) of the boat toward the middle of lake and worked their way toward the center. Once in the center, they turned the Mia Su 2 back towards the third flag. With the wind being stronger in the middle, the boat easily pushed into fifth place as it passed boats closer to the shore.
“It really paid off being in the middle, instead of by the shore,” Nachman said.
The boat easily made it to the third marker and navigated around it with no problem. Now, with the fourth-place boat directly in front of the Mia Su 2, things intensified as the two boats closed in on the finish line. The wind began to howl, causing white caps to appear in the water. The boat tilted deeply on its ports side. As the vessel glided smoothly through the water, Becker started yelling, “We are cruising now, I love it.”
Mia Su 2 stayed on the fourth-place boat’s heels until the finish, but was never able to overtake it.
Becker was OK with a fifth-place finish, especially since his 1972 Catalina 27 was not a racing boat and the first four finishers were all racing-grade vessels.
“Hey, we were the first cruiser to finish,” he said.
After the race, with the Mia Su 2 docked, Becker looked back over the race.
“The wind was perfect,” he said. “I think all the sailors had a really good time. The wind was a little bit overpowering for some of them. The wind that we had was 8 to 15 knots, which is really good wind for big boats and small boats. … The decisions that we made, the way that the wind was coming across the mountain onto the lake, everything ended up good.”

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