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Posts Tagged ‘SXM’

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Soma Bow

Thanks to a European feel, long, reach courses, and the most festival atmosphere of any regatta, the Heineken continues to be one of the only regattas in this hemisphere to attract a vibrant big-boat multihull racing scene. Nils Erickson’s quick M&M Formula 40 cat Soma has owned that scene over the past few years, and he checks in with the best race report we’ve seen in a long time.  We’re not sure if Soma is still doing charters as her website advertises, but if you ever have a chance to get aboard, jump on it.  Top shot from YachtShots, the rest from Soma’s co-owner Meredith and Gunboat crew Jamie.

I learned an old German proverb a few years ago that I think applies to multihull racing in general, and this year’s Heineken Regatta in particular: “A smart horse jumps only as high as it has to”. If you remember the first season of the Extreme 40 class not a single boat flipped. By year two, a handful. Nowadays it seems like a boat flips every race. On a racing multihull you’d better be ready to press harder than your competitor and peer over the edge into the abyss we call the ”mineshaft” if you want to win. Just don’t go further than you have to, or you’ll be that dumb horse.

This year’s Heineken Regatta in St Martin saw the best, most modern assembly of multihulls in its history. The five Gunboats entered have (rightfully) gotten lots of love and press with their stories from Multihull Racing 1, but in addition to them were another 24 multis in 3 other classes. In Multihull 2 we had a Seacart 26, a sexy new Toro 34, a wicked fast Open 40, and perennial attendee and threat Carib Cat. We rounded out the fleet on our 30-yr old Formula 40 catamaran, Soma.

Not only was the list of boats formidable, but there were some industry bigwigs in attendance. Out of the blue, two weeks before the event, we got an email from Gino Morelli asking what it’d take to get an invite to sail on Soma. I doubt anyone doesn’t recognize the name, but Gino is the designer and builder of Soma, as well as, um, sum lesser-known boats like the first generation Gunboats (48, 62, 66, 90), Playstation, Stars and Stripes ’88, Alinghi and those quick little AC72s ETNZ and Luna Rossa/Prada.  Why one of the greatest designers in the history of sailing would want to slum it with a bunch of rank amateurs like us was beyond me, but it was an honor we couldn’t refuse. He was Soma’s Dad, and we’ve just been borrowing her.

We gave Gino his choice of jobs aboard and were happy to have his expertise on the mainsheet. Also sailing with us was multihull guru Torbjorn Linderson (ex-Marstrom, currently Future Fibres). Calle Hennix, owner of Seacart was racing his Seacart 26, Gunboat company owner Peter Johnstone was back on his 1st Gunboat, Tribe (GB6201). Designer David McCullough was racing on Slim (GB6606), multihull legend and the sailmaker for Soma and just about every fast multihull in attendance Paul “Whirly” Van Dyke was on Tigerlily (GB6603). Elvis/Team Argo (GB6204) had more collective world championships aboard than the rest of the 215-boat fleet combined. This wasn’t the usual collection of rum drunk Caribbean sailors like us on Team Soma. We needed to come correct.

The first day’s race was the Around the Island Race. There’s something pure about an around the island race.  No handicap squabbles, no BS, first to finish. That’s been our trophy 8 out of 9 years and we had no intention of letting it slip away this year. Conditions were on the high side of what’s comfortable on Soma with a puffy 18-22, and big gusts in the low 30s. Full main weather, but marginal in the puffs. The Gunboats had the first start in the 215-boat fleet; we followed 5 minutes later. After a short mile-long beat to weather we turned downwind for a run to the west tip of the island, Basse Terre. We had piled bodies at the back of the boat trying to keep her nose out of the water, and the wind was nuking. We were quickly reeling in the frontrunners Coco De Mer and Elvis. Just as we evened up with Coco we had our first HARD stuff, both bows digging in and the rudders coming out of the water. Torbjorn, the giant 105 kilo Swedish mast designer, was launched from the aft beam right through our tiller cross bar, breaking it like a finish line tape. The boat came crashing back down suddenly. In full-power, downwind conditions I only had the use of the weather rudder. I jumped to leeward and drove off the leeward rudder/tiller that was more likely to stay in the water as the crew scrambled to effect a repair. We used every scrap piece of spectra aboard and lashed a boat hook to the cross bar as a splint. I had a sinking feeling we wouldn’t last the race. “Are we pushing too hard?” I wondered. We got back on the throttle and began the upwind leg past Marigot. Conditions were great, flat water and reasonably steady wind.

Sprit CrushThe course takes the fleet into the full brunt of the Atlantic as you head up around the NE corner of the island, past the offshore island Tintimarre, and down the East coast to Phillipsburg. Seas and breeze were up, with ESE winds above 20 knots and gusting much higher. We had pulled one daggerboard up on our last tack to the weather mark, then cracked sheets and began the hot reach down the lumpy east coast of the island. We tried to crank up the weather daggerboard while barreling along at 25-28 knots but it didn’t want to budge. We blew up the uphaul line, then hurried to get a halyard to the top of the board to try to get it up. In the meantime my wife was sharing driving duties with me, getting blasted by spray sitting to leeward supporting the splinted tiller cross arm and following my lead on helm. The trimmers were ready to blow sheets at a moment’s notice in the marginal conditions, while our “floaters” were working on getting the board up. There was a LOUD crack and without looking I knew it was the daggerboard. I turned and, sure enough, saw the bottom half of our board roiling out of our wake. That sinking feeling again; we were snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and it was getting really expensive. I pushed those feelings away. We stacked bodies aft and pressed on. A steep sea was running, making the just-past-beam reach difficult in full power. If we sailed the course to the corner of the island we’d bury a bow and be upside down for sure. If we heated a touch we’d get fully airborne launching off the waves. If we dove deep we’d end up on the beach at Orient. We’d commit high for a mile or two (so we could shed power), then dive deep and soak down to the route, and repeat. We were living, but it was hairy.

At the end of the reach we met the current running around the S tip of the island and the waves got steeper. We had stuffed the bows several times already, but she had popped up unscathed each time. One mile from the finish we had our hardest nose dive yet, parking the boat, burying the bows to the main cross beam, and totally submerging our 22’ sprit. The sprit snapped just aft of the jib tack attachment. Both our furled code zero and screecher and half our sprit were underwater. The drag at the bow wanted to heat us up into the death zone and wanted to pull the bow under. The jib tack was 5’ in the air and to leeward. It was mayhem. I dove deep trying to depower. We pulled and yanked but nothing we did could get the sprit and sails out of the water. We turned head to wind, got the main off the lock, dropped the main, and began floating haphazardly in the vague direction of the finish line. We cut all the spectra lashings holding the sprit on and recovered the broken pieces. After 15 minutes of damage control we lifted our heads to see 2nd place Elvis sail around us. That was it. The trophy would be lost. The regatta would be lost. That sinking feeling was here to stay. A black pit in our stomach, we had gotten too close to the edge. Not only was the weekend going to be a total waste (the flights, hotels, effort to get to the start line), we had done thousands of $$$ in damage. Keep in mind, Soma is paid for on professional boat crew’s wages. My wife and I aren’t wealthy, we don’t have trust funds, and we just sank all of our money into buying our first house on a nearby island. She looked at me with tears brimming her eyes. We do this because we love it. The name Soma is a drug reference, it’s means the perfect drug, in this case the high you get from sailing fast. It’s an expensive addiction, and luckily my wife shares the addiction. This time the addiction got the better of us.

Just as we contemplated starting the motor and leaving in defeat, someone shouted out that Elvis had started 5 minutes ahead of us, and they were only a few hundred yards ahead of us with ½ mile to the finish. There was a chance! We dragged the main up 1/3 of the way, holding the leech away from the shrouds and limped across the finish line doing 10 knots. We later learned we finished 3m30s behind Elvis, but pulled off the fastest elapsed time by a mere 1m30s. We were elated. The weekend may be lost, but the Around the Island trophy would be ours!

Late Night Carbon PartyWe returned to the dock thrilled about our elapsed time win but dejected about the reality of our breakages. To add insult to injury, our French competitors protested us about our rating. Our rules adviser/tactician Jim Ryan and I went off to the yacht club to defend our name in the protest room. Waiting for the protest we learned that we had taken 1st on corrected despite the disasters on the water. Suddenly defeat didn’t seem inevitable. I rushed back to the boat to see if anyone was up for a late night. Gino, Chris Curreri, and Chris Hanson were a step ahead of me. While Jim and I had gotten the protest thrown out they had scrounged materials for a repair. The Gunboat crews had graciously offered tools, materials, shop space, expertise, whatever we’d need. We had a pizza party in the parking lot as the wives and girlfriends cut carbon and peel ply and mixed epoxy, the boys took a grinder to the carbon sprit and laminated a repair. Gino pitched in ‘til the very end and we walked away at 1:30 AM with hopes of sailing again.

At 5:30 AM we were back at the boat groggy and tired for a final hot-mixed layup. We bolted her back together, shoved the broken stump of a daggerboard down as far as we dared (and past Gino’s recommendations) and limped out of the bridge for race 2. We managed a 1st on day 2, a downwind course that avoided our weak point of too little daggerboard. Day 3 turned into a lottery. A short beat, a long run, then a big rain cloud that sucked out all of the wind. We saw the big brains on Elvis chase the gradient to the south, and watched as Highland Fling and Peter Holmberg found the same escape route. We followed, found some breeze, and secured a comfortable 1st for the 3rd day in a row to win Multihull 2.

Looking back, this was probably our best Heineken yet. No despite of the breakages, but because of. We went through hell and high tide. Our “shore crew” of friends, wives, and girlfriends (Sasha, Tara, Jill, Mindy, Jamie, Matt), the Gunboat crews that helped (especially Elvis), Gino’s expertise, advice, and good humor. What breakages? All we’ll remember are the good times and great people.

daggerboard recoveryIn hindsight, we probably drove the boat a little too hard day one. Alright, maybe a lot too hard. As we learned, a smart horse jumps only as high as it has to. I guess that makes me a dumb horse. Good name for a boat, that. Hmmm….

Epilogue: The Tuesday after racing my wife and I were motoring in glass calm conditions from St. Martin to Virgin Gorda aboard the Gunboat 62 we work on. She called out, “look, a shark, err, wait, no, a log, wait, no, our FRIGGIN’ daggerboard!” That’s right, 4 days later and 15 miles to leeward we almost ran over our stump of a daggerboard. We recovered it, but I doubt it can be fixed. Maybe we’ll make a bench out of it for our new house. Our first piece of furniture. Life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

 

March 18th, 2014 by admin

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Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 12.34.10 PM Bob Hillier from Line Honors reports on his ‘most worthy’ overall win as part of the El Ocaso crew in Sint Maarten.  Thanks bro!  Tim Wright photos.

 
If you’ve never raced a Caribbean regatta, the Heineken Regatta is a great place to begin, and for 2014, the crew of El Ocaso were ready for what the regatta labels ‘Serious Fun’.  Our race on El Ocaso began with Wednesday practice day and then the windward/leeward one-day Gill Commodore’s Cup.  We won our class (Series 3), and were awarded the overall trophy for the single day event.  This really set the tone for Team El Ocaso as the full power of the Heineken Regatta began the next morning.
 

Long time team owner Rick Wesslund (Coconut Grove, FL), bought the J122 this past summer from Puerto Rico’s Sergio Sagremoso, who recently went on a speed binge with the winter purchase of a Melges 32 and McConaghy 38 .  Having purchased the previous El Ocaso (J120) new in 2003 when he lived in San Francisco,Rick cut his teeth sailing on the west coast before relocating to South Florida.  Led by now-recovering North Sailmaker Anson Mulder, Rick began to form a new program including a mix of previous crew, Florida talent and Great Lakes skills.  The team stays together on other boats as well in various venues, and this fact that makes our Caribbean racing even more fun; we arrive to the regatta with a team that knows each other well, and quickly dials into the boat.  Our first regatta on the new (to us) J122 was Quantum Key West, this provided a great opportunity to learn the subtle differences between the J120 vs the J122…most notably, better performance over a wider wind range.  Taking a 4th in our section in KWRW was a solid start for the new boat; more importantly, we improved as the week progressed and our knowledge of “go fast” techniques improved.

 

Back to the St. Maarten; in my opinion, the only downside to the Heineken Regatta is the total number of races you have for the regatta.  You have the famous “Round the Island” race on Saturday, a W/L and race to Marigot on Saturday and Sunday you race back from Marigot to Simpson Bay.  It’s a long way to come for four races, no matter how fun they are.  I could be in the minority (and with over 200 entries, maybe I am), but I’ve always said I would love to see a couple more short windward/leeward races at the Heineken.  Can’t have everything, I guess!   The event does draw some excellent yachts from around the world, from the Highland Flings to the Volvo 70s.   El Ocaso’s biggest challenges came from Y&Y Poland, the First 40s Team Boston & Southern Child, and the very fast J/100 Bad Girl, skippered and crewed by local youth sailors who had a wonderful regatta!

 

We sailed Friday’s Round the Island race with a solid game plan: Get in the lead and extend (advice from a wise man from Zenda, WI).  We led to the first weather mark, rounded the offset, set our kite and pushed hard all the way around St. Maarten.  This day race is a lot of fun, sprinkled with some tension as you round the leeward side of the Island.  We completed the race in 3:33:15 and took our first of two bullets; the next win was in Saturday’s (one & only) W/L race, while we got 2nd in the race to Marigot.  Every night the regatta organizers and Heineken put on the party in different locations around the Island, Friday night is the Boardwalk (Philipsburg), Saturday is Waterfront (Marigot) and the regatta culminates in an all-out party along with the prize-giving on Kim Sha Beach (Simpson Bay) Sunday evening.

 

SXM-TrophyAs we entered Sunday’s final race we found ourselves with a 4 point lead over the kids on the Bad Girl and the solid crew of the GS43 Yachts&Yachting-Poland and the day provided plenty of drama.  After missing a shift just before the start, we found ourselves digging out from the back of the fleet and working hard to find our legs to get to the short weather mark,  in usual El Ocaso fashion we dug hard and dug out, and by the end of the third leg, we found ourselves battling for the on-water lead with the GS43.  But in typically SXM fashion, the leeward side of the Island threw things into disarray as the wind shut off in the lee of the island, with the fleet compressing right back into us.  ”Re-Start”.

 

After an hour of changing through some wonderful 90+ degree wind-shifts, we reached the prevailing Easterly breeze and we were able to hold off the most of the fleet to secure our victory.  Full marks to our crew for constant gear shifting and the patience of our tactician to keep us going as fast as possible and in the right direction!

 

Ultimately, we won our section and were told after departing the stage from our section win, “don’t go far”.  ”Don’t go far” are magical words at the Heineken Regatta (we heard the same message in 2012) & the team was honored with the “Most Worthy Performance Overall” trophy.  The Heineken Regatta is serious fun and I strongly urge everyone to put this on your “must sail regatta” list.

 

Our crew:

 

Owner/Driver-Rick Wesslund
Boat Captain/Sewer-Mike Caldwell
Tactician-Anson Mulder
Main Trim-Bobby Hillier
Trimmer-Chad Goodwin
Trimmer-Daryl Fitch
Pit-Dave Hampton
Mast-Phil Fleming
Mid-Bow-Michael Meyers
Bow-Christian Dam
-Bobby

 

March 14th, 2014 by admin

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mosquitoMany will remember the Dengue Fever outbreaks in the Florida Keys a couple of years ago, but a similar mosquito-borne virus ground-zeroed in awesome St. Maarten threatens to become a far bigger health problem in the Americas than Dengue, if you believe Yale University professor Dr. Durland Fish.  It’s called Chikungunya, and like Dengue, symptoms include high fevers, severe joint pain, and a host of other nastiness.  Also like Dengue it is rarely fatal, and there is no vaccine.  Chikungunya has been known to spread further and faster than Dengue including in more temperate climates, leading Yale to call for major attention from the CDC – attention the outbreak is not yet getting.  “An outbreak of chikungunya on French-owned Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean during 2005 caused 255,000 cases, over one-third of the entire population, within one year. Since the Reunion outbreak, chikungunya has appeared in India causing millions of cases and in Italy, which has a temperate climate,” Fish notes.  Too bad more people didn’t pay attention to this article in the New Yorker…

Should you cancel your trip to one of the most excellent destinations in the Caribbean?  Get into the thread to make your own decision.  We think a liberal daily dose of DEET tempered by a larger dose of rum should cover you for now, and instead of sleeping aboard in nasty, foul Simpson Bay Lagoon, get a room or anchor outside in the usually nice sea breeze.

 

January 10th, 2014 by admin

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