A Mini Boat and Big Desire
A Mini Boat and Big DesireReport Abuse
The 21-foot Mini 6.5 is not a whole lot of boat for a bumpy Gulf Stream crossing. It’s barely bigger than my friend’s eight-person Jacuzzi. There’s not much space inside, either. Sails, stackable containers, and Jerry Jugs of fuel and water consume most of the fiberglass cavity. But then again, a lot of Mini sailors end up sleeping in the wet cockpit, one hand on the throttle and one bleary eye open.
Nope, a Mini is certainly not for everyone. But it is for Katie Ambach, an earthy, young female sailor from Rhode Island. Ambach (pronounced am-back) is one of a half-dozen Mini skippers about to set out from Newport to Bermuda on Friday, alongside an eclectic mix of keelboats. It’s the Bermuda 1-2: solo to the Land of Goslings, doublehanded back.
This one is not Katie’s first go at it in a Mini. She and her husband Drew, sailing a higher-tech Mini than that of Katie this time, sailed the race two years ago as part of a first-ever Mini class gathering in the States.
She, nor Drew, did particularly well in the grand scheme of things. Drew had all sorts of electrical and equipment problems. Katie, well, she says she had directional issues. “I was unprepared; totally wasn’t ready for it,” she tells me yesterday as we motor out of Narragansett Bay in search of wind. “Everyone says you make mistakes the first time you do it, and I made a big one.”
As she explains it, the boat (a “Zero”) and the rig were extremely off balance in reaching conditions, and tactically, contrary to what she felt was ultimately right, she somehow convinced herself to play tourist east of the rhumbline and then do the same to the other side, essentially sailing perpendicular to the interstate to BDA. Then, two days out from the finish she sat becalmed.
Not this time, she tells me as we motor along in search of wind outside Newport’s Castle Hill. “Nope,” she says with a pursed smile, her ponytail swinging side-to-side as she shakes her head. “I only have one strategy. Go straight to Bermuda.”
Joining her for the return trip is Maggie Dovelan, a recently unemployed friend from Alexandria, Va. The two met as deckhands on one of Newport’s sunset cruisers. Katie is quick to point out tat she wouldn’t do the race with anyone but another girl, noting, “There’s not much personal space.”
So her husband Drew is competing on a much higher-tech Mini. This is not a one-design class, by the way, and the boats are very, very different.
Drew’s has a canting keel and water ballast; a carbon rig and composite rigging. Katie’s, a much simpler “Series” Mini, has a fixed keel, wire rigging, and barely anything high tech in the hull. She, Drew, and a white-goateed Texan named Sam Sam Ausmus III (a Bermuda 1-2 mini veteran) built her boat with their own latex-gloved hands down at Third Coast Composites, Ausmus’ shop in League City, Tex. The boat is named EKO, a play on eco-friendly I believe, as in they did what they could to use recycled materials and minimize their emissions. Among other things, they used resin made of recycled plastic bottles, and recycled foam for the boat’s floatation blocks.
“This is Sam’s boat. He put all the effort into it,” says Ambach. And for him to let me go….ahhh [she pumps her fist]…it’s such a great race. I’m so excited to be ready this time. Last time I was teary-eyed when I started. Now it’s really my chance.”
After fruitlessly hoisting the salt-crusted UK-Halsey main (salt from her 48-hour qualifying sail in the Gulf of Mexico a few weeks back) we motored back to the harbor with intentions to try to sail once more before she leaves Newport on Friday, morning. Unlike a few of the others, still tinkering, building, and fairing bits and pieces of their boats, Kate was ready to go; relaxed, confident, and visibly eager to leave, and ready to go sailing.
for more on the 1-2 and race tracking: www.bermuda1-2.org.