puff the magic dragon

Rail Meat put together a nice summary of the first part of the Atlantic Cup, which he won in his Class 40 Dragon.  As always, a great read.  Remember that part 2 – inshore racing in Newport – happens this weekend.  Go check it out and watch the thread for more news.
Apologies for not getting a post out in the last few hours of the race, but we had a bit on and I was not in a position to check in. Hopefully you all had a chance to follow along on the atlanticcup.org site where the media person embedded on Dragon was making some tweets.

I figured I would give a recap of the race as best as my sleep-deprived memory will allow. We had some very close and exciting racing with the lead changing 7 times over the course of 30 hours and 260 miles, so plenty of things to cover. Dragon also had an “entertaining” bit of mishap and mayhem occur as we rounded Montauk so I promise that if you read it through to the end your blood lust will be at least partially satisfied.

Dragon (me) pooched the start, badly. There were very fickle and variable winds in New York Harbor, and we were the northern most boat in the dial up and ended up in a completely windless hole. Boats 50 feet south of us had wind and were able to get across the line while we wallowed around, literally pointed the wrong direction and unable to do anything about it. However once we got enough wind to get turned around and under way, we were able to slowly pull back into the fairly slow moving pack and then ultimately reached the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in front of the group.

From the Verrazano Narrow’s Bridge down to Sandy Hook we ended up taking a bit of a shift and then struggled with the change from Code to Genoa. As a result, we ended up falling back behind both Cutlass and Toothface. We were low and east, towards New Jersey and on starboard tack, and as we got out of the channel to open water we were at the back of our pack of three. But… we ended up getting an inside lift that ultimately allowed us to fetch the Barnegat mark some 36 miles down the track. Once once again we were in the lead. Or so we thought. We were patting ourselves on the back until Icarus popped out something like 7 miles in front of us after apparently teleporting the damn boat. Their short cut through a 9-foot deep channel on a 10 foot deep boat was a pretty ballsy move and deserves kudos.

After the surprise of seeing Icarus back in the race (and at the front of the fleet no less), we went into race mode for the 36 miles leg to Barnegat. Cutlass went fat and fell off to the west under a Spinnaker while Dragon and Tooth face kept codes up. All of us slowly ground in Icarus, an effort that was helped the failure of their code halyard. Meanwhile we built a tiny lead on Toothface and stayed even (but inside) with Cutlass. The wind was pretty steady, which defied forecasts that called for it to drop later in the evening, but we did see a header towards the last few miles, which led to us stowing the Code 5 and deploying the Solent.

When we converged on the rounding mark, Icarus led by about 7 or 8 minutes, followed by Cutlass who led Dragon by about 2 minutes, who led Toothface by about 2 minutes. After the rounding Icarus went west towards the shore, and flew just a jib of some sort which meant we all walked through her quickly. We had switched from Code to Jib a bit north of the rounding mark, and then went to the A2 at the mark with a near flawless set and as a result quickly jumped out in front of Cutlass. Once they got going, they kept the gap constant through the night, and after starting a bit west they drifted back behind us, then a short distance to the east. Finally, Toothface fell off to the east and we were able to build a 7 mile lead on them.

In the morning, we were off Long Island and maybe 6 miles east of the Rhumb line and we still had Cutlass and Toothface in site. About 0900 the wind went very light but patchy. We were in complete glass, while Cutlass who were 1 mile to the our stern and about a 1 mile farther offshore still had air and used it to jump to a 10 mile lead. Unhappy times on Dragon! We sat there for about 3 hours making very little progress, until we finally got enough breeze to get moving under the Code 5 in a very tight reach. The key for us came when we detect a bit of righty in the winds which made the starboard board over to Long Island the favored board. That righty became a gradual shift, which ended up lifting us enough to ever-so-barely clear Montauk. Meanwhile Cutlass was over the horizon where the same right shift to easterlies ended up taking them well offshore and forcing them to go out to a farther layline in order to lay the eastern side of Block.

Around noon on Saturday when we were about 13 miles from Montauk we had a critical choice to make, which was to go down the west side of Block or the east side. I have had many chances to experience the consequences of picking the wrong way around Block, and know enough at this point to know that it is a calculus of current, wind direction, sea state and covering your competition. When we were making the call, we knew that we would be at Montauk in the last 30 minutes of the flood, that Cutlass was likely going east, and that the winds could be NE, E or SE. We also knew that the sea state would be from the east and relatively low height but with a period that would get shorter and blockier as we moved more towards the east as the tide started to go out. Ultimately, the prediction concerning the current trumped all other considerations. If we went east, we would have some set to the east and south from the ebb but if we went west were going to get a nice push as we came into Block Island Sound from the dying flood, then a bit of slack as we cut across the sound and finally ebb as we passed between Block and Point Judith. We also would have some shelter from the wave state as Bock broke up the fetch, and would be cutting across the faces during the long run down to Point Judith instead of slamming into the waves over to the east side of Block. And best of all – it gave us separation and leverage on Cutlass. We sure were not going to beat them by following them.

With the choice made, we committed to Montauk. We kept the Code 5 up which was doing fantastically well for us. We had put a good amount of distance on Toothface and based on our checks of the tracker we were actually feeling as if we had clawed back miles on Cutlass, but were still behind. And we were getting between 1 and 2 knots of push from the current as we approached Montauk and then as we rounded. And like always, just when you start to feel smug about your choices the gods decide to let loose with a little fart to make you remember your place in the universe.

We rounded Montauk and smack into a mean, blocky chop as well as winds that jumped from 8 knots to 14 knots very quickly. I was on deck about to have a cup of tea when we heard a BANG that took a while to figure out. Rob noticed that the until the Code 5 developed some unexpected sag and that the cunningham on the Code had broken. It was so so unexpected to me that I had to ask him twice what he had seen. The controlled mayhem that followed was actually captured on tape and I am sure they will be putting it up on the Atlantic Cup site. Rob geared up and like the bowman he is, went and fixed the problem. Clenching a 9-foot piece of dyneema in his teeth he went out on our 7 foot bow sprit and went to work lashing the tack back down. We were slamming pretty hard and I had a bad vision of us flicking him off the sprit like a booger from a finger, and fell off to a reach to try to help with that, but even so he was getting regularly dunked like a cop’s donut. Then his Spinlock Vest deployed, which would have been mildly amusing if it was not 55 degree water that he was getting tea bagged into, and if the race was not on the line.

With Rob safely back on the deck and his heroics resulting in a Code that was back under control, we now needed to get the sail in. The wind had clocked back to the north east as it built, and the direction and speed meant we were into Solent territory for a close-hauled beat for Point Judith.

Down came the Code and out went the Solent. The best news was that we were still able to claw back miles on Cutlass even with all of this mess going on. The boost from the current played out exactly as we expected, with a bit of slack in the first part of the sound, then a boost from the ebb as we went past Point Judith. And when we were able to see the eastern side of Block, and only able to see Cutlass with binoculars, we knew we had pulled off an improbable stunt.

The rest of the ride was straightforward. A long close hauled leg to Point Judith, a tack into clocking wind that let us then carry the Point Judith light and continue on to Brettan Reef. One tack over to Beavertail and one tack that fetched Fort Adams. World-famous photog Billy Black came out to catch us at Point Judith and the RC boats caught us at Castle Hill. We tied up, cleaned up, got some pizza, did interviews and drove back to Mystic for some well needed sleep.

The keys to us having a successful race were

  • Rob Windsor’s work in getting the boat prepped this spring. May 6 is pretty early in the year to be ready to take on an offshore racing challenge, and Rob’s efforts got us to a boat that was ready to go with no drama.
  • The quality of our sails. The new Doyle Stratis main, solent, and A2 are pretty amazing sails. And the Code 5 might be a year or two old, but it has fantastic shape and is a giant killer in the right conditions.
  • The lucky inside lift at Sandy Hook
  • The quality of our set of the A2 at Barnegat
  • The choice to go west of Block which gave us a substantial current boost.

This race has been something special so far, and I am not just saying it because we won the first leg. It has been well thought through, and very well put together. The choice of the Class 40’s as a platform has resulted in some great, tight and tactical racing at notably high speeds. The format will test our skills offshore, and test them in different ways on-shore. The effort and accomplishments in bringing the race events to a wide audience through the use of the web, tweets, facebook and media has made this race entertaining in ways that I have not seen other races match yet. And the setting of the race in NYC and Newport could not have been better. Hugh and Julianna of Manuka Sports Event Management have put on one hell of an event, and I wanted to thank them and the sponsors (11th Hour Racing, Sailors for the Sea, Thompson Reuters, Atlantis gear, Brewers Stamford, Newport Shipyard, 41 North and the Boomer Foundation) that have made it possible.

If any of you are going to be in Newport this weekend, please stop by the Newport Shipyard to say hi and check out the Class 40’s. And make sure to check in with the Atlantic Cup web site since they are going to be posting lots more content they gathered from video shot on the boats.