Anarchist InNeedOfSomeRestraint files this report…
Boat call for The Edlu was at May 8, 2010 8:30 and upon arrival there was no sign of the forecasted 12-15 knot southerly. Instead we had 8 knots from the northeast making the 16 mile leg to our turning mark a slow beat…lovely. After rigging up and tossing off our mooring lines the crew started mused about this unfortunate turn in the weather. At some point someone remarked that the only way it could be more unfun would be if it started to teem rain and thunderstorm. I’m convinced that he either had a radar map in his back pocket or that someone up above heard him because 5 minutes later that’s just what happened. Oh and fog, not enough to be dangerous but enough to make you lose your bearings very quickly. So here you have a manifestation of what I consider to be the least pleasant weather in which to start a race… and that’s exactly what we’d be doing in 45 minutes.
Boats started to trickle in and we were pleased to see that only a few had decided to not to compete. Our IRC division was made up of 3 First 40.7’s, 1 First 36.7, a pair of J/122’s and a criminally well sailed Express 37 while we rounded it out in an X-34 called Maudelayne as the smallest and slowest boat. Not a bad fleet by any measure but also not an easy win. In the process of hoisting the sails our skipper wisely made the decision to rig up both reef points “just in case” the 25 knot SW-ly that had been forecasted decided to blow in. Nobody looked too happy about the rain but after a short postponement to get the line set the race committee sent everybody off into the fog and occasional downpour. At our start we made the decision to go in on port tack and take some sterns which launched us off the line in clear air and a good position. Some of the other boats that shared this opinion weren’t as lucky and we quickly left their screaming in our wake. Making 6 knots upwind in roughly 8 true was no bad show and for the first 5 miles or so we held our own against our larger competitors.
After an hour we were delighted to see the fog lift and the rain showers start to pass. We tacked just before the Long Island shore and for a while we were able to ignore the dropping wind (and boat speed) as we hiked (and dried) out on the starboard tack rail. The reason for ignoring this is that there really wasn’t much we could do, the weather truly had totally changed over a 10 minute period and after some valiant attempts to keep the boat going we (and everybody else out there) simply stopped. Sails hung limp… speedos read 0.00 and just like that we were back to summer racing on Long Island Sound. This was as good a time as any to break out the sandwiches and as we sat munching I hauled out the binoculars to figure out just what our next move should be. The majority of our competition was hugging the north shore of Long Island 1-2 miles south of us while 2 boats had gone north and were just off of Great Captains Island. We were sitting happily in the dead center of the sound due to the fact that the tide would be outgoing until 2:30 and we had a knot of fair tide that they didn’t. Overall not a bad position and the restart was certainly welcome.
Our first indication that the southerly was filling in over Long Island and dropping down to the sound was when the boats to the north of us started moving. By the time it crossed from one side of the sound to the other they had put a mile on us… not good! Seeing that the wind was coming we set our chute and waited for 0.00 to become 0.01 and so it did. Just as the boats to the North of us had done we hastily put some good distance on our competitors to the south. Like the weather service had predicted it became a downwind drag race to the turning mark and we had the advantage of being right on the rhumb line.
For the first hour or so of this the wind never really built over 10 knots and all indications were that the beat back home wouldn’t be too arduous and that we would never really see the predicted 25 knots… how wrong we were. Within 3 miles of 11B things started changing fast. As boats converged on our mark someone had the wherewithal to look astern and stammer out “guys…?” Sure enough white caps stretching from one shore to the other were racing down the sound at us and with them came a breeze that was looking stronger every time we glanced back. As the faster boats started passing us on their return leg the anemometer started feeling that breeze and 10 knots became 15 knots which became 20 knots. With adequate time until the mark the call was made to change the headsail to the #3. The foredeck worked fast and as the wind built over 20 knots we decided to be safe and take the spinnaker down 100 yards from the mark. This was done quickly and, save for an almost skied halyard, without drama. Then the call for reefing was made. Watching the other boats struggle with their mainsails I was most pleased with our decision to rig both reef points at the start as it was easy enough to simply pop them in, tack onto port, and start our bash upwind. My heart goes out to the mainsails on Gumption3 and Soulmate; I’ve never seen such painful looking flogging in all of my years.
Re-assessing our position things didn’t look all that bad. Our competition was still within catching distance, the waves hadn’t built past 2 feet and the wind wasn’t all that strong. In fact for a while after rounding we felt a little underpowered with our double reefed mainsail. The mood on board was cheery as we were to hanging tight with two of the boats that owed us time for quite a while. In short, if the weather didn’t get worse we were in a good place.
The forecast had called for sustained winds of 20-25 knots and for the first 5 miles of the leg that’s what we felt. Granted, thanks to the opposing tide and wind directions the waves were growing steeper and closer together. It wasn’t until our long port tack beat got us off of Rowayton however things started to go downhill. I don’t remember precisely when we saw the first gust into the 30’s but I do know that it was about there when it hit. The boat took it well and after a little cursing from those of us who slid down from the rail we were off again.
The only good thing about beating on port tack was that our angle to the waves had us riding over them rather than crashing headlong into them. This meant that up to this point, of the 8 people on the rail, only the bowman had been seriously soaked. That could only last for so long and soon it was time to take our first hitch onto starboard. The first thing to really hit us on the next tack was in fact a larger than average wave and it wasted no time in thoroughly soaking everyone and everything in its path. Over the next few minutes it became abundantly clear that this was neither fast nor comfortable course to be on but considering the proximity of the beach there wasn’t much that we could do about it. I tried to make jokes with the guys beside me as the boat and my spine slammed on and kept doing our damndest to save our time on the boats ahead of us.
Up until this point we were impressed with the fact that we hadn’t seen anybody drop out. That would change rather quickly as we bashed upwind towards The Cows. At first all we could identify was the white hull and it wasn’t until they got closer that we saw the large red lettering on their topsides. AVRA, the modified J/120, was running past us (and Stamford Harbor) under bare poles and had their sails lashed down. This puzzled us as their home port, American Yacht Club, was in the opposite direction and it wasn’t until we heard them call for Sea Tow that we guessed at their having engine troubles. Later on we would discover that as the breeze came on for them they had blown up both sails and their vang. Minutes later we saw another 40-ish foot boat motoring into Stamford which we later identified as Convictus Maximus. In hindsight it was probably very wise of them to not damage the boat, sails or spars before racing to Bermuda. Rounding out the group of retirees that we encountered in that stretch of water was Dragonfly who had thrown in the towel and motored abreast of us all the way to Larchmont.
We continued our beat for another hour and a half with the conditions worsening as time wore on. After being laid out on our ear by a 35 knot puff it became readily apparent that we were overpowered but with few options and the finish line quite literally in sight we soldiered on. At that point the waves were right on our nose and almost every one sent a glut of seawater over everybody on the rail. There was no escaping it and we joked that the skipper was getting revenge for some jokes we had made earlier. At this point I must give credit to our bowman as there were times during this part of the race where he could have used a SCUBA system. As we races past Greenwich we couldn’t see things getting any worse and getting closer to the finish line certainly brightened our spirits significantly. What else could Mother Nature throw at us?
In short, she threw “The Big One” at us and she did it while we were beating hard off of American Yacht Club where they were no doubt sitting down to dinner and grimacing as they watched boats pass in all manner of sail reduction. We had seen “The Big One” hit a Beneteau First 40.7 minutes before it reached us so there was no question that it was bad. Knowing that things were about to get a little dicey we sent someone down to the primary winch so that they would be ready to release it when, not if, the shit hit the fan. Sure enough just as the spume kicked up by the puff hit us in the face we were knocked down to the point that from the rail I was peeking at the tip of the keel just inches below the surface of the water. Just as it seemed that things were going to get totally out of control the guy on the leeward rail blew the sheet and we popped back up. At no point during this ordeal did anyone waste time by looking at the wind indicator but the general consensus was the it had gone over 45. This was certainly the upper limit of our #3 and upon seeing a string of these rather powerful wind lines coming down the sound we decided to preserve our gear and drop the headsail. While the crew had already proven their mettle in the previous 30 miles this is where everyone shined. Nobody questioned how to progress and barring a jammed shackle at the tack things went like a dream. Everybody from the bow to the helm deserves kudos for the way they did that… especially the sodden bowman. Once we had the sail below decks Maudelayne was under much better control and we sailed the next 1-2 miles under double reefed main alone. Looking back perhaps someone should have suggested we shake one of the reefs out as that would have helped us in the speed department.
After that finishing was no real hardship, the boat was no longer overpowered and we were only knocked over once by a verified 42 knot puff. Looking ahead of us I was sure that we saved our time on at least one boat (Sans-Culottes) and maybe even a second (Tenacious) and the mood onboard was jovial. It was only after we dropped the mainsail that we discovered the one and only casualty of the day: my wallet, which I had forgotten in my pants pocket, was apparently washed overboard and no amount of searching the boat could bring it back. In the end we were very proud of the fact that we kept the boat and her crew in one piece, results notwithstanding.
Looking back I’m sure that this is a race that everybody will remember and be talking about for a long time. My hat goes off to the teams that did well and to the teams that did not, just finishing the race was an achievement. Could I go back and find the 4 minutes separating us from 6th place? Yeah, but bygones will be bygones and I know my grandkids would rather hear me tell them about how wild the last 5 miles of that race were. What’s a result if you don’t have a good story to go with it eh?
Thanks to PhotoBoat for the shot.