chased, not caught
The latest from crazy cat sailor, John Casey as he takes you through their Steeplechase win.
With only two weeks to go until our favorite race of the year, the Steeplechase, the curved foils were delivered and we got to work cutting on the all carbon Marstrom 20. You know, taking a sawzall to a perfectly good boat is never an easy proposition, but with the curved foils laying on the table just a few enticing feet away, we were ready to get choppin’. The new cassettes fit in the old board slits, but the old straight cassettes had to be cut out. After pulling the Nomex/Prepreg slivers out of the case holes like the game Doctor, we sanded, fit, measured, sanded and sanded some more to achieve the “sacred geometry’ for the new foils. A little epoxy and carbon strands and the new cassettes were solidly in place. Then we gawked at the sexy weapon like it was our first gentleman’s club visit.
After a week of anticipation we arrived for the start of the Steeplechase, a race from the west side of Key Largo, out to the Atlantic, around the southern tip of Islamorada and back to the west side of Key Largo, about 100 miles total. Only one problem, forecast of no wind. We were between fronts and there was no land effect forecasted either. Since this is the only cat race I know of that allows paddling, of course the paddles came out in half the fleet right at the start in Barnes Sound. After a couple minutes of watching the fleet paddle by, I broke out our big paddle and kindly requested Bret to steer a course straight to the filling breeze on the west side of the sound. Since the M20 weighs in at only 250 lbs., we had an advantage on most of the fleet. We paddled straight to the front, tacking in the left shift and tracking straight to Card Sound Bridge in 5-6 knots, flying a hull with me on the low side, sometimes even hiking to leeward to get the hull out C-Class style. It was working. We were able to pull away from our main competition on the left side, the ARC 22 and the Nacra F20c.
There was one boat we were thoroughly worried about though. The only boat to truck to the right side, our sister ship sailed by Mike Phillips and my long time crew Kenny ‘Monster’ Pierce. We positioned ourselves on the left side fleet well, but when we converged the other M20 came flying out of the right side and entered the Card Sound Bridge with about a 200 yard lead on us. After the bridge, we stayed to their left and led them to the next shift, which put us back in control. Here is a short vid of the section from Pumpkin Key, through Angelfish Creek and out into the Atlantic.
Even though we captured the lead, the 50-mile downwind run wasn’t without drama. With every pressure wave from behind the ARC 22 was gaining. They also found more gradient outside and passed us under kite with about 20 miles to go. We turned the tables when we bounced outside. They committed inside at Rodriguez Key which was the major changing point of the race. On port, going out to sea we were running 160s all day and we started to get lifted. I said when we hit 140 we gybe back onto starboard. With that shift we took the lead back and they gybed on our hip heading south. Then the breeze shifted more left and increased. We headed into the sunset double trapped with the kite at full speed straight to the finish at Anne’s Beach in Islamorada. With it’s huge sail area, the ARC couldn’t hold our line and ended up too far outside when we dropped the kites to start reaching for the finish in 12-14 knots true. We finished right at sunset with Mike and Kenny less than four minutes behind with the ARC on their heels. It was a long day punctuated by a beautiful reach for about 10 miles.
I’ll let this video explain day two. In short, it’s a le mans start through a couple miles of shallows, then a beat to the Channel Five Bridge. The rest of the race was mostly boatspeed downwind through shallows and mangroves. The boat performed brilliantly. The vid is a bit long, but it tells the story. Hey, what else do my friends up north have to do right now but watch videos and make babies?
I love it when a plan comes together!