harvest loons

harvest loons

Brian Torresen and the psycho crew of the turbo Melges 30 “The Peerless” caned Harvest Moon Regatta fleet last weekend.  Here’s the story through the eyes of Katie Burns.  Be sure to check out some of the high-speed action in this Bora Gulari video.  Photo courtesy of Charley Patterson.  Results here.

When Brian Torresen e-mailed me an invitation to sail the turbo Melges 30 “The Peerless” on some random distance race in Texas, it didn’t take long to give him a loud “YES!”  I’ve been trying to wrangle a race on the Midwest’s legendary sportboat for about 3 years now, so I committed before having a clue what the race was about. As it turned out, I was in for the ride of my life.  Let me tell you all about it.

Its friendly, mellow-sounding name belies the reality; the Harvest Moon Regatta is actually a wicked 150 mile race straight down the Gulf coast of Texas. Torresen drafted Bora Gulari, Ryan Gardner, Cat Lanting, Billy Willman, and myself to put the hammer down all the way from Galveston to Port Aransas, and it was, please believe me, IN.FREAKING.SANE. I can’t even begin to comment on the capability of this group of people, but I sure as hell can tell a good story, so here goes:

From looking at the entry list for this race, you have to wonder what we were even doing there. I think there were some 200 entries, the majority of them cruisers. So, picture our start out there off the coast of Galveston: 200 biminis and dodgers and button-downs and Panama Jack hats and, I don’t know, 200 jars of Grey Poupon or whatever it is cruisers bring with them on a voyage, and then; the Peerless crew. Straight up ragtag. I don’t think a one of us had on an entire outfit. I’m pretty sure we had to tape some of our hardware and sheet bags onto the boat. We provisioned with ramen noodles and Mountain Dew and cigarettes. And, just to ensure we weren’t getting too classy out there, we used Bora’s iPhone and a15 year-old Garmin handheld for navigation. All set, right? You bet.

The start of the race was one of the more, let’s say, interesting starts I’ve ever experienced. There were a ton of boats out there, and we were one of the smallest, though the Viper 830 Rented Mule made the Peerless look like a big boat. Anyways, imagine sailing into a giant swarm of boats that all have dining room tables in their cockpits, diving boards on the transom, and these weird things called waterlines, and they’re all circling around doing the same stuff you’re doing: trying to gain the advantage on the first leg of the race. It was a riot, and since we were one of the last starts, we got to watch everyone we’d catch and pass later head down the course.  We pushed like a boat full of one-design  sailors does, only to get called over early. We circled back and recovered quickly but soon discovered that in this race, every little bit counts. There are many, many variables racing out in the Gulf, and a few minutes at the start can have exponential rewards later on.

We had a pretty solid program going for us as we slid down the coastline. Brian, Bora, and Ryan took turns on the tiller and main, while Big Billy owned the headsail and regaled us with stories of sailing to Bermuda with Clean on the Decision.  Cat ran the pit like a boss and made sure we were eating our candy bars and drinking our Dew. I served as midbow, floater, and, I’m told, comedic relief. Brian also ran all of the headsail changes, as he was decidedly the most knowledgeable on his own sail inventory and we knew things would get a little dicey out there in the dark.

During the first leg, which was maybe a little less than the first hundo miles on port tack, we switched from the jib to the masthead genoa to the code zero and so on as it was deemed appropo. We mostly sailed with the genoa, sitting on the rail and hiking when necessary, eating beef jerky and candy when it wasn’t. As the sun began to set we quickly learned that we were going to have to maintain constant vigilance about us, as the Gulf is absolutely littered with unlit oil rigs and steel structures. The only option was to keep our eyes peeled and to communicate everything we saw out on the water so we wouldn’t get owned by one of those monsters dotting the coast as far as the eye could see. It was super creepy out there with all that stuff, and the all-Michigan crew (I was adopted for the week) wasn’t used to having to deal with unlit steel in the middle of the water for no good reason. Seriously people, let’s get some lights on those things!   

Anyways, down the coast of Texas we went; we maintained 7-9 knots through the night and into the early morning as we waited for the breeze to shift and fill in from the North. We were itching for it. We kept the conversation going all night about what was coming down to us, so when the time was drawing near we were all pretty prepared/stoked to handle the pressure. However, I don’t think any of us knew exactly what to expect, and, at least for me, this race quickly became one of the gnarliest sailing experiences I’ve ever had.

It was around 4:30 in the morning and the breeze was shutting down all around us. When it completely shut off, we threw the A1 up and shifted our weight, anticipating about 20 knots of breeze to fill in from behind. The sky had turned completely black all around us, the seas were beginning to build, and we were sitting there riding the waves, feeling for every little tendril of air coming our way. It was incredibly ominous out there. I remember looking at Cat with my eyes all huge, completely wired, both of us crouched low and ready to run to the back of the bus and hike our little hearts out. And then, finally, it got to us, and …

It. Was. On!

Like I said, we had the A1 already up and ready for it, but we had talked about a fast letterbox if things went to hell.  The breeze hit us fast and hard at about 30 knots and we were sending it all the way, but we couldn’t keep the stern in the water so the call came up to ditch the big sail. We were light on weight, so we sailed with main only while we got our bearings about us, but the pounding we were taking from waves moving faster than us was ruthless (under main we were moving at about 11 knots). So up went a jib and the driver sent it once again. Everyone was in the game. I was hiking out behind Brian, holding a Tacktick with my deathgrip and yelling out compass headings every 3-10 seconds to keep him on course (too hot, bro, too hot!). Bora had his iPhone in a dry bag around his neck to keep track of all of the oil rigs we couldn’t see for shit. There were tons of those, and he navigated for us in between what felt like minefields of invisible death traps. Cat, Billy, and Ryan were fully hiked on the rail, nuts to butts, getting hosed by wave after wave (thanks, guys!), keeping their eyes peeled into the pitch black for stuff we might not want to run into.  

This adrenaline junkie crew was itching to go with some kite, but the sun was really slow to rise, and we waited it out, mostly to avoid running into a steel tower at 20 knots. Once we could see, BT took his spider monkey as to the bow to get the A6 into action, spending most of his time under a firehose. With the A6 up, I think we must have averaged 17-19 knots the rest of the way to our turning mark, with Bora mostly at the helm and BT on the mainsheet to help us surf the crazy waves. They weren’t huge waves but they were coming from all over the place, and plowing through them made for spectacular visuals but didn’t let the boat really unload.  Our top speed was just under 20 knots – still pretty damned good!

Bora and BT owned it on the helm, taking turns on the tiller and driving with such intensity that I thought for sure their hands would be permanently clutched around the tiller extension. I can’t speak enough about their skills keeping that boat on course, and I can’t speak enough for the competence of the entire crew for staying in it and alert and proactive for the entire 18 hours or so. I’ve never experienced such locked-in crew work in the civilian world, ever. But I might just still be high on the adrenaline, you know? Whatever, it was insane, it was sick, it was wild. That. Just. Happened.

When we got to our turning mark to the finish, we could see our competition creeping up behind us from the outside. Whereas we hugged the shore, the Santa Cruz 50, Passion, had sailed outside, pretty far offshore from us. Since our last mile or so of the race was upwind, it was pretty crucial for us to stay focused. We were light on weight, so we were fully hiked with a reefed main headed to the finish and fighting as hard as we could to keep Passion behind us. The finish line is up in the channel going into Port Aransas, marked by a wicked current line on one side and a rocky breakwall on the other. It was really clutch to nail our entry just right to keep in between the 2 while keeping our distance.

While the Santa Cruz made good work of us in the last leg, we managed to pull through and win Line Honors for the monohull division at about 9 in the morning. Crossing the finish line, we all looked around at each other with the buggiest eyes and the biggest shit-eating grins you’ve ever seen. We were soaked and freezing, could hardly move after hiking all morning, couldn’t see straight because of the salt in our eyes, but even still, we were probably the happiest people on God’s green earth at that moment.

So, congratulations to all of the racers, and thank you so much to the Harvest Moon Regatta organizers for the hospitality and great event! I have to hand it to you guys; the fact that you do that year after year is pretty ballsy. The obstacle course that is your race is pretty extreme and a little scary, but we had fun and are thinking about doing it again in the future, especially if a few more sporty types show up.  With a first-to-finish in our first attempt, we’re gunning for the handicap win next time.

3 quick shout outs: One to our favorite ginger shore crew, Nic Seifert, our cabin boy extroardinaire, the best doucher I’ve ever met. Thanks so much, bro, we couldn’t have done it without you! Another shout out goes to the iPhone … RIP, dude. You were a lifesaver out there. Lastly, a shout out to the wicked double rainbow we sailed by at dawn. You were inspiring. Well played.

Much love,
Katie Burns