messin’ with texas
After years of dominance by John Tomko, John Casey takes the fight to the Texans and comes out on top. Here’s his report:
After much debate about the pros and cons of driving 22 hours from Central Florida to darned near Mexico to do the last remaining true beach cat long distance race, the Great Texas 300, we decided to throw caution to the wind.
Quite a few people told me it was too risky; having the only Cirrus R F-18 in the US meant no spares, and a race like the GT-300 eats boats and boat parts. Still, I’d already said it’s the most solid F-18 I’ve ever sailed, so I decided to put my money where my mouth is. Was it a little risky? Sure, but it turned out…not so much.
The first start arrived during a rather mild day by South Padre Island standards. The sun was out but it wasn’t the usual frying pan hot. The F18s and Nacra 20s (no, not the carbon ones) lined up on the beach and pushed off through a slight surf. Everyone popped their chutes and we were cruising in 7-8 kts almost straight to Mustang Island, about 91 nm away. This run was pretty simple. As the wind increased to single trap downwind, we were only about 10 degrees right of the finish. The Cirrus R has a really good low mode so we saw all of the competition disappear over the horizon off our beam. Game over, right? Nah, not really. As we approached the layline from about 11 miles out I decided to gybe right before a cloud line. When we reached the shore break we overstood the starboard layline a bit and had to drop the chute a couple miles from the finish. As we reached along in the brown watered chop we saw multiple GT-300 winner John Tomko going through the surf to the finish just ahead of us. How the hell did that happen? John Tomko and Ian Billings went further into the cloud line and gybed to get headed right to the finish. We let that one slip away and were behind a minute and a half after we thought we sailed really well over the preceding 100 miles.
Day 2 was, again, a simple one, and my mistake no less clear. I thought it was going to be cranked on with big waves and seabreeze, so I depowered the rig for the 100-mile leg to Matagorda. The gradient was really strong and we sailed almost straight on the rhumbline all the way there on a single trap jib reach. The breeze started off sporty but backed off to 8-12 less than halfway through. Single trap jib reaching is an art where you want keep your speed up and turn down in the pressure. Tomko and Billings are really fast in these conditions (he’s won this race 6 times) and with our rig depowered we were no match. We lost another 7-something minutes that leg. Although we made it out through the surf relatively unscathed, Team Salva Vida ended up with a broken stick – check it here.
Day 3 was a different story. From the time we hit the beach in until the start of day three we worked on rig and sail tuning. We pushed off the beach of Matagorda on a straight, dead onshore 10 knot breeze and 3-4 foot waves. It was tough getting out because of the breeze angle and wave height. We both had problems navigating the surf and our own issues to contend with. Our tiller crossbar pulled out of the leeward rudder arm during a turndown and a wave. Right when it happened I remembered the conversation I had with by buddy Bret Moss about fixing it. There weren’t enough threads holding it in, so it just popped out. If you think it might come apart, just friggin fix it! Like I haven’t learned that lesson before.We quickly spun the tiller crossbar around outside the surf line and after rescrewing in the end and taping the windward side down we were off again sailing with only the leeward rudder. We hooked up in some outside pressure, passed the fleet, and caught up to Tomko. He came out to us and we had an epic battle over the next 55 miles. He knew the leg’s features a little better and caught up when we had to drop our kite close to shore to get around that darn Surfside jetty. He rolled us on the outside pressure and dropped down underneath us and ahead with about five miles to go. The story of the leg was whoever had the outside pressure always moved forward, so we worked it from double to single trap kite to stay just outside of them. We were gaining. At the surf line it was neck and neck with us just to the outside. We were able to get position over the top, roll them and gybe clear for the finish on a nice wave for a four second win. Although we won the leg it didn’t take anything out of their almost eight minute lead. Our setup was better, but we still made a couple more changes for the last leg.
The last leg from Surfside to Galveston was also the shortest. The forecast was sketchy with thunderstorms and light winds. Just what we wanted: light and upwind or downwind, anything to stretch the time of the leg out. Making up eight minutes over 40 miles would be pretty tough though. While we rigged the Cirrus that morning our ground crew, Rob ‘Robbob’ Remmers, told us the Texans were saying it was over; that there was no way we could come back from an eight minute deficit. I’m southern too and I felt a little pang in my gut right then. Our attitudes immediately changed: Accept the challenge. Breathe it in. Use it.
Since we ultra-fixed our tiller crossbar with epoxy impregnated Dyneema and made some more adjustments to the rig to match the Sail Innovation main, we were confident our speed was good, so we focused on strategy. Before the start we saw a storm brewing about eight miles offshore, slowly drifting north toward land. It was billowing up and growing into a pretty massive white tick. This is what’s great about distance racing. We have to look hours into the future and miles up the course. Strategy is fun. We were going for the cloud.
The fleet was a little lucky that a storm cloud passed over before the start, which led to pretty respectable conditions to traverse the surf. Again, we weren’t the fastest out but at least we didn’t have anything to fix. The old distance racing mantra is, “shoreline, shoreline, shoreline,” so Tomko immediately stayed close to the beach which freed us to incorporate our offshore strategy. With a few boats between us, it was hard for him to come up and cover, although it was obvious he was going to stay on shore side. As the storm grew closer the outside paid more and more. Dalton and I discussed that a small lead coming into the cloud can be huge upon exit. When we reached the edge of the cloud I started to get worried we wouldn’t be able to get around to the other side. As the breeze clocked left and freshened we tight reached with speed on. When we reached the other side it was sunny and 15 knots! A Nacra 20, Team Chums, also made it through and we both watched the rest of the fleet behind us with their kites up still trying to escape the now collapsing cloud. We made the right move, but would it be enough?
As we went upwind we kept looking for the overall race leaders. We didn’t know exactly where they were. We kept pushing as hard as we could. When we started to tight reach in light air with the chute up I looked back and saw a blue kite in the distance behind us. I asked Dalton if it was them. He was pretty sure it wasn’t. In my mind, it was them and I tried to put distance on that blue kite. When we hit the beach we couldn’t see the blue kite boat anymore. We started counting. Time couldn’t move fast enough. When the timer hit 10 minutes we knew we had it for sure. We had put 30 minutes on the fleet and 40 on Tomko. The risk had paid off. We didn’t need any spare parts, took on the challenge and never gave up!
A special thanks to Cirrus for the absolute rock solid fast F18 and believing in us in so many ways. We have a container full coming for F18 worlds in September with a special deal. Get Yours! Thanks to St. Barth Properties Sotheby’s International Realty for helping us live our dream and Robbob and family for everything they do to get us to the finish!
If you sail cats, be sure to put this race on your calendar next year. It’s the only one of its kind. Full Results Here.