Friday, Jan. 22
The Perfect Storm
The trip out to the racecourse on Friday morning was deceptive. Overnight the wind had moved to the south/southwest and built to 18 gusting to over 20 knots, but in the basin at the Galleon it felt quite calm. We raised the main in the lee, turned the corner and headed out. Of the three GP26s, Rattle and Rum was the only boat willing to race today. We had a lot of reason to head out no matter what, sitting only a few points out of first place there was still a chance to overtake the J/80 Wired. Turning out of the channel and up toward the racecourse we were glad we had brought seven crew on the boat. Little did we know that 20 knots would be the lightest we would see on the day.
There are many phrases sailors use to describe heavy conditions. “Dude, it’s nuking,” “Breeze on today,” “Man, it’s heavy out there,” all come quite short of how it really felt. We did a quick spinnaker set before the start to make sure we all felt we could handle it as the wind was up enough that not executing the set right would very likely lead to a broach or a dismasting. We had a quick set and clean douse and got into our pre-race sequence. I personally was a little nervous about flying the spin as we had two new crewmembers onboard to replace our jib and kite trimmer Joe Gibson who had to go home to attend to a family emergency and our bow girl Devon Feusahrens, who ended up in the ER after rolling an ankle on Thursday. As it turns out, I was justifiably concerned.
After our worst start of the regatta we settled into a long beat upwind. A rain line hit us and the breeze built closer to 25. It was difficult to find the top mark and call the layline with the visibility down and the rain and spray creating near whiteout conditions. Watching the J/122s and J/88s coming down the course to us I knew we would have our hands full with the spinnaker. I counted three broaches and saw many other boats just on the edge of control, but we needed a Hail Mary to overtake the J/80 for the lead so I was excited to hear the call from our skipper Moose Beasley at the offset to hoist. I eased the main for the bear away and prepared for the boat to take off.
I remember thinking as the mast hit the water, “I need to get my foot untangled from this line or I will drown as the boat starts moving again.” There was a moment of silence and calm as I struggled to free my foot and get clear of the boat, already fully on it side. As my head broke the surface I felt myself being pulled back on the boat. My longtime friend and beach cat sailor, Steve Elgersma, had for the second time in my life pulled me out of harm’s way.
What I think happened is the weather sheet got hung up on the hoist and the chute loaded up, but I cannot really say for certain. What I’m sure of is that we had a spectacular broach. We quickly assessed the situation and blew the tackline and all the sheets and heaved the chute back onboard so the boat could right. It did, and after a quick recovery we all agreed we would not be hoisting it again.
The rest of the race was exciting, but without the chute we knew we had no chance to overtake the J/80. They sailed a clean race and corrected over the fleet for another first, but this was not to be the end of the excitement for our day.
As the race finished, the breeze continued to build into the 30s. We quickly got the jib below and flogged the main in order to stay upright. All of the crew moved to the back of the bus and surfed down waves every bit of 7 to 9 feet. With the wind out of the southwest, the fetch had become infinite and the waves opposing the current in the channel were massive. As we turned left to parallel the shore and head back to the Galleon Marina we all noticed the strong odor of gasoline coming from below.
My first thought was, “I really hope the outboard starts,” Surfing down waves at over 20 knots with just the main up in gusts that topped out over 40 knots is not a good situation in which to have engine problems. In some of the heavier gusts I was genuinely concerned we would lose the rig. The trip back was intense and we had to granny jibe twice (tacking downwind) to reduce the loads on the rig. When the call to drop the mainsail came I knew we had only minutes to get it down and get the outboard secured and running before we lost control. Luckily for us we worked together as a team and the outboard started. I was truly amazed at how well the boat did in the heavy condition, but I credit our skipper Moose for getting everyone back to the dock safely.
With flights canceled and travel back to Solomon Island, Maryland, where I live on a catamaran, I am truly sorry to be leaving Key West. All those involved in setting up, organizing and officiating the Quantum Key West Race week put together an incredible event. It’s something everyone experience once. I will be getting in a northbound four-wheel drive on Saturday and hope for the best. Although we couldn’t put together a win in the ORC 2 Division, I know we left it all out on the racecourse and I made a lot of new friends in the process. Key West has been truly awesome and I know I will be coming back again next year.
Signing off until then.
Thursday, Jan. 21
Keep it Rumbling
Much before dawn the confused and plentiful roosters of Key West went off cocka-doodling. The forecast was for calling for a little less breeze than Day 2. As our crew gathered and remembered what they could from another eventful night on the town, we set up the rig tension, plugged in our number 1 jib and got the boat ready for the 45 minute ride out to the race track. With another day calling for breeze in the 14-18 knot range, we expected a long and bumpy trip out to the race committee.
A part of our pre-race activities is talking about the conditions and how we can best prepare the boat and ourselves for what we expect. We plan on inside or outside jibes, talk strategy on what modes we think will be important and talk though some way to improve on our previous issues. This crew jawing is essential to get each others perspectives on what went right and what didn’t. The wind was anticipated to veer East from East North East, plowing against the ebbing tide, creating a more steep seaway that would be a factor for our light-displacement boat. Unlike our trip the previous day, we made sure to secure our 3.5 horsepower outboard to our transom — turns out they float when boat speed is above 7 knots.
Day 3 of racing in the ORC Division began with only four points separating the leaders, Wired and Rattle and Rum. From the first start it was apparent the Farr 280s Swordfish, Diesel and Standard Deviation had dialed in their boats and would be competitive all day. As the bowmen, in unison, gave the countdown to start, we won the committee end of the line and took our option to head over to the right hand side of the course, seeing better pressure there. As I called breeze on the water, we settled in a powered-up mode to help slog through the steep chop. Small adjustments to the cunningham, outhaul and jib track and leads make the difference in these conditions; on the GP 26s all these controls are led to the cockpit, so many can be done without leaving the rail.
The GP 26 is an athletic platform to say the least. There is no sitting still anywhere on the boat. It was critical to constantly change our crew weight distribution and positions on the boat based on conditions. With a crew of six, it makes getting across the cockpit difficult, and after some issues and new injuries we found a rhythm to getting the weight on the rail as soon as possible. In some cases a well-executed tack and early rail weight meant the difference between a duck and a cross.
Rhumb Punch, skippered by John “Papa” Edwards, made some great strategic calls and pulled themselves up to fifth in ORC 2. Though the Farr 280s had great days, it was Wired who extended their lead on the fleet. At the end of the 9th race, Wired had a 6 point lead on Rattle and Rum. More bad luck on Supra Turbo, the GP 26 from Solomon’s, MD, when below one of the crew twisted her ankle and the they had to withdraw.
The dock talk was all about the impending winter storm Jonas in the mid-Atlantic and how it would impact travel home. As the races conclude on Friday, many with Friday or Saturday flights have already gotten word that they are cancelled. As some call travel agents, or rental car dealers, we discuss extending the regatta; with crew and boats stuck here in the Kew West, we might as well make the most of it. As our race week comes to an end we are forced to remember that many of us will have to head back home to cold and snow.
Wednesday, Jan. 20
Bruised and Battered
Morning came early after a few more “last” beers with some Kiwis at the Green Parrot on Whitehead Street. After a shower I passed by the mirror and paused to see the many dark purple marks on my arms and legs. Each bruise reminded me of a moment from Monday’s races in the ORC 2 Division. After I quickly taped my fingers where skin had been only days before I thought to myself, definitely all the pains and bruises are worth it. Many non-sailors cannot understand why we spend hours uncomfortable, often cold, wet and in strange positions hiking out. Every bruise is a memory that lasts only a few days, but the stories will last a lifetime.
After a short bike ride on a rented death trap, weaving down Duval with a cooler full of Vitamin C (Corona and Coors Light) I made my way to the Galleon Marina. We cast off our lines and made the hour-long trip to the racecourse. The NOAA Buoy off Sand Key was reading 16 gusting to 18 out of the East North East. Wave action would be a factor for the duration of the three races.
The first races started and the whole fleet wanted the committee boat end of the start line. All of us on Rattle and Rum remarked how fast the GP26s were able to accelerate once the main and jib were trimmed for speed.
After a solid start, it was all hands to the rail as Moose Beasley did main fine tune and drove to the weather mark. The GPs were fairly evenly matched on the beat up the course. We discovered how critical a strong hike and more bodies were on the rail. My main trimming would have to wait for the downwind leg as my meat was needed for hiking.
After rounding the offset at the weather mark, we popped the chute and headed down. It is astonishing how under control the boat felt at a speed, although not having any instruments on board I can only hazard a guess at actuals being in the 12 to 14 knot range. There was great racing between the GPs and the Farr 280s and the Fareast 28R, Eagles Eye, with close crossings on upwind legs. Our biggest takeaway was how hot the boat needs to be sailed downwind. In an effort to keep it on the step and planning, our jibe angles were much closer to 90 degrees than we had expected. We tried both outside and inside jibes, but settled on outside being the easier to execute in the higher breeze. The leeward gates made for great action and traffic.
As we rounded the right gate once and I went forward to help with a weather strip on the kite I learned a few valuable lessons. First: shrimping is best done on powerboats. A miscue on our spinnaker halyard drop left the sail in the water and almost impossible to recover on deck. Also I was further reminded how powerful profanity can be for encouragement but even more import as a motivator, though in this case the colorful remarks from our Kiwi skipper were to convey a sense of disappointment and urgency.
In the final race of the day, most of the first to round took the right gate, but Rhumb Punch went left and had a huge gain on the final leg of the final race. After a few tough moments on the first day they sailed great and into fifth overall. Rattle and Rum, the GP26 I’m on, had a good day with a bullet on the final race, but it was the J/80 Wired that quietly made a statement finishing 2,1,2 for the day and taking over the top spot in ORC 2.
It was another great day of racing with all the boats executing more efficiently.
Tuesday, Jan. 19
Bringing it to the Big Stage
As a PHRF sailor used to racing in the light breezes of the Chesapeake Bay, with the occasional offshore race to Halifax, Bermuda, or Newport, you can imagine my surprise to be invited to crew on one of three GP26s, the new hot sportboats designed by Jim Donovan. The GP26, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a fast fun and affordable rocket ship capable of keeping pace with Farr 280s in our ORC 2 division.
Our journey from the Southern Maryland Sailing Association’s Wednesday-night “Sails and Ales” around-the-cans racing to the big Key West stage involved many hands. The assemblage started with Peter Darista, owner of hulls No. 7 and 10, and his idea to bring Solomon Island’s best to Key West. He gathered his crew from Supra Turbo and friends from Rhumb Punch, another Key West regular since 2006 and said, “Let’s make this happen.”
As things fell into place, it was evident that two GPs just weren’t enough, so Serhad Ceftici, the GP26 boatbuilder from Turkey, brought his own boat into the fray. Hull No. 7 wasn’t delivered until New Year’s Eve (that’s only 18 days before Key West), but with ace Patrick Edwards putting the boats together and rigging them all, three GP 26s found their way from Maryland to Key West in race shape. It has truly been a team effort with all hands working on boats and getting them ready. Contributing to the effort was Evolution Sails’ Rodney Keenan, who outfitted the boats with new sails. Mike ‘Moose’ Beasley and Joe Gibson, from Annapolis, completed our lineup.
Our first day on the water was measured in both feet and inches, with healthy servings of both victory and defeat. In our ORC 2 fleet, the competition ranged from tricked out Farr 280s to the lone J/80, Wired. In conditions that were 14 to 18 knots and lumpy, every imaginable right and wrong occurred. For example, fighting a strong current, the GP26 Rhumb Punch fouled the pin boat’s anchor line and had to reverse off to recover.
In the next race, the GP 26 Supra Turbo found their mast inside the backstays of the Farr 280 Diesel during the start. As the team untangled itself, the fleet pulled away, but in a reversal of fortune and regaining much needed karma points, they retrieved a man overboard at the top mark. As if this wasn’t enough excitement for one day, during a port-starboard crossing situation, right-away Supra Turbo manage to find the bowsprit of the Farr 280 Standard Deviation lodged between its aft lifelines, which unceremoniously plinked off with without injury or damage. The award for critical-issue avoidance went to Rattle and Rum, skippered by Beasley. He pulled out a 1,2,1 over the three races to sit atop the leaderboard for the first day of Division 3 ORC 2.
Racing on Tuesday was abandoned, with winds gusting into the low 30s out on the Gulf, so we all had plenty of time to repair both pride and boats. Though we all said publically we should have been racing, there were many, myself included, who were glad to have time to recover. After an unplanned workday, our crews are ready to hit the line again on Wednesday refreshed and ready to race.