Heaven Can Wait Year - Blake Middleston's report on 2010

Sunday morning view from Royal Motor Yacht Club Toronto as the mist starts to clear
Blake Middleton
PRO Blake Middleton from the Wayzata Yacht Club on Lake Minnetonka has made the journey 9,000 miles from Minnesota each year for the Heaven Can Wait Regatta. Here is his report on the 2010 event.

Heaven Can Wait 2010 - The fifth annual Heaven Can Wait race proved once again that some things about this event evolve, while other realities never change. The fleet continues to grow in types of vessels involved. There have been 18 footers racing in the One Lap Dash before, but Foiling Moths joined in this year, and set all time speed records around the lake. Meanwhile, the 24 Hour event proved just how challenging the lake can be!

After participating in the event by racing an Adams 10 in each of the first two years, I then came back Down Under each of the previous two October Long Weekends to help as part of the race committee, and in 2010, was asked to step aboard as Principal Race Officer for year five.

As the event grows, we start to become the victim of our own success in some ways, and the challenges of running the race become more complex. As we review the lessons learned from the sailors, we've see opportunities to redesign the race. The key is to find a balance between the interests of a wild and diverse variety of boats, and the need to manage a race course that can see boats quickly strung out in the far corners of the huge 29 mile, seven mark course around Lake Macquarie.

Some things that might be taken for granted by many folks included fairly 'simple' projects like putting seven buoys in specific locations on the lake. The inflated marks are so big that only a couple can be carried by boat at any one time, and the new anchors (designed to make sure they can't drag away in big breeze in the middle of the night) are far heavier than I ever want to try and lift again! ;)

Setting the course takes most of a full day, along with a lot of patience and hard work. Once the flashing lights are installed on each mark and the final positions are marked by GPS, we can finally take a deep breath!

We tried to create an event design (with sailing instructions to match) to cover everything from Moths hitting speeds up to 28 knots, with small trailer sailors who were thrilled to top out at 7 knots at times!

One change we made this year was to create a shorter course option for the One Lap Dash part of the race to accommodate the smaller and slower boats in the fleet in the 'Division 2' group. That fleet was able to bypass sailing many extra miles down to the Mannering Park and North Crangan Bay marks in the South end of the lake, by simply rounding Pulbah Island and heading back North towards the Belmont mark.

Starting a fleet of about seventy diverse boats on one start line has it's own unique challenges from a race management perspective.

Young N' Old charging downwind as they prepare to gybe
Blake Middleton

Although I've set up longer lines before (92 boats on a half-mile long line, using three committee boats for the US E Scow Nationals, for example), most of my big lines have been one-design fleets.

The advantage of that is that all the boats have the same sail plan and profile, with sail numbers in the same positions and of the same design and size.

On the Heaven Can Wait start line, we had keelboats from 20 to 47 feet, along with tiny (but blazing) Moths which only measure 11 feet long!

As a race officer, it's not hard to 'see' and focus on almost any size of similar or one-design classes of boats, but when a Moth up on foils suddenly pops out from behind a forty footer without warning at about Mach Two, moments before the start and crosses the line early, my eyes (and binoculars) can barely track it! I could obviously see the boat, but getting a steady focus on the sail number was fairly interesting at that speed, taking an extra 5-10 seconds!
Scott Babbage at the finish of the One Lap Dash- 2nd across the line just behind Nathan Outeridge
Blake Middleton

Fortunately both Moths that were OCS (on course side) at the start saw the recall flag and returned to start properly, but it was an interesting race management lesson learned for me. What a sight that will be to see the Moth Worlds in Belmont next year!

Thanks to Australian Olympic team member (and dual 49er World Champion and Moth European champion ) Nathan Outteridge's skills on his Moth, the Heaven Can Wait one-lap dash record around the 29 mile course was completely shattered, finishing in just over two hours!

The other high performance boats like Andrew Chapman's 18 foot skiff, Clive Kennedy's Egan 9.2 Cat, perennial top HCW finisher 'Stealthy' and the Melges 32 'Rock 'N Roll' all enjoyed plenty of breeze around most of the first lap of the lake.

Unfortunately the forecasts which had shown estimates of even higher breeze far longer into the day proved wrong, as the wind began to drop quickly.

As we sat anchored at the OLD (One Lap Dash) finish line off Toronto, the wind started to die off almost completely.

By the time the OLD part of the race time limit ran out at 5:55pm, four boats were still a quarter mile away and had to be scored DNF. Fortunately all four were still sailing in the full 24 Hour race, so they were able to keep going through the rest of the evening and into the morning.
Boats setting up to gybe around Wangi Wangi Point
Blake Middleton

Once the One Lap Dash participants put their boats away, my duties switched back to shore. I was up most of the night in the race headquarters in the basement of RMYC Toronto, keeping an ear on the VHF radios, with an occasional walk out on the docks to watch as the occasional race boat drifted past the Toronto mark just off the end of the dock.
Sunday morning view from Royal Motor Yacht Club Toronto as the mist starts to clear
Blake Middleton

Rain continued off and on most of the night, making it a challenging night for all. The challenge for the remaining boats who continued into the night was a combination of wind (lack thereof) and rain (plenty, to say the least) for most of the night.

When morning arrived, so did more rain, but this time a few squalls brought wind to match, and many of the boats that had been stalled or drifting for hours finally started moving along at a good clip again. By the time that the final 10-second countdown to the race finish at exactly 1200 happened, the fleet was finally able to take a deep breath and relax again.

Vino (Phuket Sport 8) battling a knockdown off Wangi Wangi Point. Although they recovered from this, the rig went over the side as they lost their mast shortly thereafter.
Blake Middleton

The 24 Hour Race finishes 'in place' so the biggest winners (in many eyes) were the boats that happened to be near the home buoy of Toronto at noon, while the boats at the far corners of Lake still had an hour or two sail (or more likely motor) to make it back to the club.

After the race, one boat reported completing the first lap of the lake in about 4 hours on Saturday, but didn't get around the Toronto buoy for the second time until 11 hours later!

One interesting fact was that while every boat completed at least two full laps of the lake in the entire 24 Hour race, only three boats in the fleet managed to complete three laps, and only the big catamaran 'Two Tribes' got around four times.

While the top all-time speed records for a circumnavigation of Lake Maquarie were set early Saturday afternoon for the first lap, the rest of the 24 Hour race was the slowest in the five year history of the event.

The Heaven Can Wait 24 Hour race for cancer started in 2006 as the dream of one strong man; Shaun Lewicki. It now lives on in many, many hundreds of us who are proud to contribute and participate in this amazing annual tradition.

HCW Founder Shaun Lewicki at the helm of Dora Creek Workers Club Terrar Too
Blake Middleton