How The Other Half Lives
What does Moth World Champ Bora Gulari do when he’s got some off time in between championship events? He grabs ABN AMRO 2/Rambler/Quantum Racing alum Bear Peet and joins an old Melges 24 for the best race in the Midwest, the 54 mile jaunt around Lake St. Clair and a network of tiny channels in the St. Clair River known as the North Channel Race. And beats a fleet of much-newer Melges 24s by more than 20 minutes. Before you read the report, make sure to go to Seahorse to vote Bora in for their Sailor of the Month competition – the kid needs new boots!
The short version of the race: 7 gybes, 7 sets and douses, 1 sail change, and about 60 tacks – all happening in 25-30 knots of wind. The long version: I was sailing on USA 202 “Rum Blur” with Brian Poppert, owner Rob Bunn, and George We left the dock at Bayview Yacht Club at 7 am and were privileged to one of the prettiest and reddest sunrises I had seen a long time. We set the kite and got blasted by our first 20+ knot puffs on the way to the starting line. We’d allotted about an hour to get to the start; it took 23 minutes. It was just a little taste of what we were in for.
The entirely Northbound leg across the lake up to the entrance of the North channel was full-on. We got blasted by a couple of squall lines, and with the waves building up as we made our way to the North, it was maybe the best Melges 24 downwind ride of my life. The entire time we duked it out with Rustler and the Hoodlum, but after 20 miles of hanging on, the game now changes dramatically. Shallow water and weeds are everywhere, and navigator Bunn starts to shine, using the iNavx software and my iPhone in its little waterproof pouch. Rob navigated us flawlessly into the channel and we were able to catch our breaths for a little bit, though eventually we had to take down the kite and jib reach. George quickly changed to the reaching spinnaker, Rob and Brian attended to milking the cover back down on the spin sheets and quickly sewing the cover in place so that we could gybe. Soon after everyone had finished their tasks, the channel turned left again and we were back into a kite. This scenario would repeat itself at least 5 more times – as the channel turned right we would have to douse and jib reach around a point, then the channel would turn left and we would set and hang on for dear life trying to stay off the ground and the pilling. At one point we were blasting along doing 15 knots through the water, vang fully blown, main luffing, spin halyard down a little. I told George, "if you hear me squeal, the sheet’s getting blown." Shortly after that, I squealed and thankfully George and Brian made the big sail go away in a flash.
This is the nature of the North Channel – you could call it ‘challenging sailing’ but that wouldn’t quite grasp it, and it goes on forever – until it’s time to turn for home at the Russell Island buoy. Those same 25+ knots of breeze that made the downwind ride so excellent was now straight on the nose, with a four knot current pushing us into the wind. Wonderful, right? Not so much, as the sea state was simply unreal, and we had a LOT of beating to do! Most people might not think of this as too much fun but I confess, I was all grins. Some highlights: Tacking around sixty times (my quads are still throbbing from ducking the boom), getting a hot pizza delivered by BYC Commodoer Amsler, Club Manager Mark Stefke and the Board of Governors (those that were not racing) while we had a short reaching stretch in flat water, and having the sun come out. While George and Rob drove, I took my turn blocking waves for the rest of the crew, and lucky for me, I was smart enough to get some of the early benefits of Simon Strauss’s new Magic Marine M24 Worlds sponsorship, poaching a new set of very sweet new MX-2 gear before I left NY last week (thanks Simon…) I used my normal base layer of blue jeans and cotton Natalie J shirt, followed up with a Magic Marine soft shell top, followed with salopettes and spray top. At the end of a very, very wet race my cotton was totally dry – thanks to Magic, I didn’t even need to change before heading to the Bayview bar. Nothing but the best for this crew…
We eventually finished at about 5 pm, winning our class and the overall. If you ever have a chance to do a windy North Channel Race, do it – it doesn’t matter in what kind of boat. I promise it will be one of the best experiences of your life. For a good view into the race, check out the video here – it’s like a mini Volvo 70 ride.