Leaving Long Island Sound allowed us to point the bow at the Buzzards Bay Tower, and the chance to square back the asymmetrical spinnaker. With the squaring of the pole, the internal debate started on whether the A sail or S sail would be faster. Normally, we’d have a crossover chart to help make this call, but the A sail was new, so we were on our own. With only one masthead halyard, every sail change would give up precious miles with a bareheaded change, so it was critical to get the call right. Finally with the wind angle going past 150 degrees, the big blue symmetrical finally got to come out of the bag and the chatter onboard died down. Now we could enjoy the final miles to the Tower under a beautiful full moon, dolphins playing in the water around us, and 15 knots of wind.
We rounded the Tower at 3:30 Saturday morning, and for the first time in the race we needed a jib for the leg to Block Island’s south side. This leg would be a 4 hour-long tight reach, and for Xcelsior, it allowed us to make use of our waterline to add miles to our perceived lead. For me, this was a good time to get some rest.
As the brightening sky filled the cabin, I awoke to find Xcelsior very close to the bluffs on the south shore of Block Island. Normally, this is a dangerous place to be, as the wind dies and the currents get funky. True to form, we were nearly stopped, but amazingly, the Oakcliff Farr 40 was between the island and us, and sailing away! In the span of 30 minutes, she was able to sail right around us and now had a 2-mile lead. The last time we had seen this competitor was shortly after the start. For us, the urgency had returned, and the race was on again. The Farr 40 owed us time, but only about 5 minutes, so we needed to get back in front to have a chance, but first we needed some wind!
To get the wind, we needed to sail towards Long Island. Based on predictions from the navigators, this was a problem because the current would be foul at the Gut when we arrived. Based on the heading of the Farr 40, she was headed for the Race. The Race would still have some favorable current, so it was critical for us to get there, but for now boatspeed was paramount. As the boatspeed came up, we found some more pressure and soon were able to point the bow towards a waypoint in the middle of the Race. With any luck, our waterline advantage over the Farr 40 would allow us to claw back the miles we had given away near Block. Try as we might, we couldn’t gain our miles back on the reach to the Race. Then something amazing happened. The Farr 40 started to reach off to Long Island. They were sailing to the bad current! We had a chance, assuming that our weather model showing more wind on the north side of the Sound was correct.
Whatever we were doing was working. The wind was increasing and backing. Onboard chatter went from the Farr 40 to whether or not we should be hoisting the Code Zero. In hindsight, we waited too long to hoist the zero. Once it went up, it only stayed up for 5 minutes before we needed to peel to the asymmetric kite. At least that mistake didn’t cost us. In fact, we were now even in 1.5 knots of favorable current and making trees on the Farr 40 on the other shore. With the A sail finally up and drawing, we were making 10 knots directly towards the next mark, R32 off of Stamford. This was shaping up to be a 60-mile drag race with the Farr 40. The win or the loss would come down to precious seconds, so we had to minimize our mistakes and sail as fast as possible. For the next few hours, the sailing was pretty much straightforward, then the wind started to come forward. This was a problem for us. Changing to the jib top would reduce our sail area and slow us down. While Xcelsior might be forced to sail high and slow, the Farr 40 on the south shore could now VMG sail towards the finish. For us, it was essential to keep the A sail up for as long as possible. After two wipeouts, the call to drop the kite grew louder, but we fought off the onboard naysayers and kept pushing. The only way to win this race was to keep the A sail up and the boat under it.
Persistence and patience paid off. We were able to carry the kite all the way to R32, and we rounded about 30 seconds in front of the Farr 40. Squaring back for the final run into Stamford harbor, the crew was finally able to relax and savor the coming victory. After 30 hours and 240 miles, we beat the Farr 40 by only 38 seconds. We did it in weather conditions that were almost unimaginable. The predicted forecast mostly arrived. I’ve never had a spinnaker up as long as I have in this race. The winds were fresh, and the clear skies were postcard perfect. In a final natural finale, the Blue Moon raised blood red out of the Sound to signal our finish. Fireworks along the Long Island shore seemed to be exploding just for us. On the delivery back to the American Yacht Club, the crew was allowed a victory shot of rum. To thank Neptune for our good fortune, a shot of rum was also poured over the side. A Vineyard Race may never be this perfect again, but we weren’t going to risk offending nature, just in case.