i survived the vineyard

i survived the vineyard

Last week’s Stamford-Vineyard Race was delayed a bit to allow a hellish hurricane-spawned sea state to subside, though it still ended up as a survival conditions race for many (results here). The forum thread has some great stories like this one from ‘NyJboat’ on the dismasted Schock 40 Leverage, and this one from ‘btbotfa’ aboard the 36.7 Shooting Star.  Good vids as well – here’s Rima2 looking like a VO70 in the Southern Ocean, and here’s Thin Man, going faster than a J/92 probably ever has. A huge volume of photos are at the event Flickr site, and pro photos are at the Photoboat site. We liked this report from ‘KRC’ aboard the J/120 Soulmate:

Hell of a race. I’m actually kind of glad now that they kept us on the short course. We were fully crewed on Soulmate, but had a lack of helmsmen and much of the driving was done by myself and the skipper, with others driving in the (relatively) calmer parts. I am beat.

We totally cocked up the start, intending to be on port at the pin and winding up on starboard at the boat and having to duck everyone so we could gybe over to port and set the chute as we had intended. But we finally got things sorted out, got the chute the right way up and went on our way.

Within the first hour and a half we were already in sight of Bridgeport, and barely two hours had elapsed when we passed Stratford Shoal. That’s when things got exciting. The breeze was picking up into the 30’s and we had a couple of rather spectacular wipe outs, not counting the ones we had every time we gybed. Our first really good wipeout came as we (on port) were on a converging course with Partnership (on starboard) at about 16 knots.

I was at the helm. Our skipper thought we were going to cross, and indeed, for a few short moments as we were surfing at about 18 knots it appeared that we were. Conveniently, we fell off the back of the wave just as Partnership picked one up and had we both held our course, there would have been some really nasty crunching. At the last minute, with no other choice, I threw the wheel over and rounded up. That one took us a while to recover from, but recover we did.

Our best one came a little while after that when a wave and a puff teamed up to push the stern sideways out from underneath me. Some members of the crew swear that the spreaders took a bath on that one.

Each gybe was accompanied by its own clusterfuck, generally in the form of a twisted chute unwrapping suddenly to fill with air and round us up nicely.

Our worst gybe resulted in wrapping the chute up around the forestay nearly from top to bottom, while at the same time, the mainsheet decided that just then and there was a good enough time to go ahead and break. So there we were, three of us trying to wrestle the chute down, and three others improvising a new mainsheet. About this time, the skipper reminded us that we were supposed to be sailing the Vineyard Race, not the Gearbuster.

After sorting that one out, we decided to set a smaller, heavier chute for the last few miles to the turning mark. We lamented the loss of speed, but felt better about being more in control. Amazingly, the 14-year-old 3/4 oz chute we had been flying up to that point managed to hold together for one more race, escaping with just a couple of holes.

Somewhere in between turning all the corners on two wheels and wondering whether this next gybe would be the last for the chute, I managed to set the boatspeed record for the day at 21.9 knots in a 36 knot puff and the perfect wave. About this time, we were regularly seeing speeds between 18-20 knots, passing a couple 45-footers and almost keeping pace with Aurora as she went by. I’ve never gone that fast on a sailboat before, let alone while driving one. It’s one experience I’ll never forget, feeling the wind power up the boat as the wave lifted up the stern and just launched us. Truly butt-puckering and life-validating at the same time.

But just as all good things must come to an end, so did our joyride to the turning mark, and we hoisted the #3, tucked in a reef and dropped the chute in preparation for the dreaded beat back home. Nevertheless, we were glad to be pointing back towards the finish. The wind had fortuitously dropped from 35 down to 25, but the tide was turning and we had to cross the Race.

Driving across the Race to the next mark was some of the most difficult driving I’ve done. The sun was down, the waves were probably in the 6-8 foot range and coming from every direction imaginable. Spray was constantly in our faces as the bow burrowed itself into every wave it could find. It’s amazing we made any forward progress at all. It seemed to take hours to get to the next mark, and by the time we did, I was tapped out. I passed off the helm to the skipper and went below for a nap. However, sleep was hard to come by as we slogged and pounded our way back to the CT shore, and all too soon it seemed, I was called on deck again for a sail change. As we neared the shore, the wind began to decrease below 20 knots, and then down to 12-13. We shook out the reef, and prepared to swap jibs from the #3 to the AP #1. As I was improvising a system for tacking on two jibs to the head stay, I began to feel the deck heeling a bit more as the wind picked back up. Lucky it did just then, otherwise we might have had to make two jib changes instead of just aborting the first attempt.

As we got further and further into the middle of the sound on starboard tack, the irregular wave patterns caused several crew members to succumb to seasickness and/or the cold wetness accumulated from bashing through so many waves. Eventually it became my turn to drive again. I was cold, wet, barely awake and I could hardly read the instruments. The odd rogue wave slapped me in the face with seawater and kept me going but an hour or so of that was all I could take. I passed off the helm again at about 4:00AM, stumbled down the companionway ladder and curled up on the galley floor, dead to the world.

I woke up just as the sun was rising, with the finish line just a couple of hours away. With the sun up and drying things off, we began to get our second wind. I took another turn on the helm and got us within sight of the Cows when we heard Partnership radio in their rounding of the Cows. Up until then, we had only heard big boats like Cannonball, Gracie and Snow Lion radio in, and we figured we were doing pretty damn well. Nothing like hearing your competition radio in ahead of you to bring you crashing back to reality.

We finally crossed the line at 0944, tired, beaten, but glad to have finished. Congrats to Partnership for coming back and kicking our ass on that beat. Well sailed. We’ll get you next time!