Trying Conditions Make the Finish Sweeter, Though Not in the Results

Though the Centennial Bermuda Race was a frustrating edition given the conditions, it wasn't all negatives for the author. SW's Stuart Streuli, aboard the Open 60 /Pindar Alphagrapics/, is filing regular reports for Sailingworld.com.

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Mark Lloyd [1] [1] Http://www.lloyd-images.com

1100 Hours, Thursday, June 22, Sailing World offices, Middletown, R.I. Wednesday at 2 p.m. I cleared U.S. customs in Bermuda-when returning Stateside the process is completed at the Bermuda airport. The customs officer asked me when I'd arrived. I had to think for a minute. "Two this morning," I said. She smiled. "Long trip, huh?" I'm not sure if she was speaking about the race, an arduous 4-day, 11-hour driftathon, or, with a soft sense of sarcasm, my 12-hour stay on the island. My brain just wasn't up to picking up subtleties. We crossed the line on Pindar Alphagraphics at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. We actually had some decent breeze for the last few hours, with the wind reaching 13 knots, the most we'd seen since shortly after the start. We even had the boat "tanked up" for a while, running with all three water ballast tanks full. But as it had all race, the wind seemed to shift against us on every tack as we closed in on the line. Of course, at that point, after nearly four and a half days of racing, all we wanted to do is cross the finish line, get the sails down, and start motoring toward the harbor. So anything but a screaming 20-knot run seemed like painfully slow progress. We had plenty of company at the finish line, mostly the smaller 40-somethings that we'd been sailing with for most of the second half of the race. At one point as we approached the line we could see the lights of nearly two dozen other boats. After dousing the sails, we started the long motor toward Hamilton Harbor. We hauled the sails on deck and while the afterguard picked their way through what is a very complex and twisty route, most of us crashed out. I lay down on the Code 0 and the next thing I knew we were turning into the Great Sound and dawn was cracking. As anyone who's read my previous posts knows, it was a frustrating trip for us on the Volvo 60 Pindar Alphagraphics. It shouldn't be a surprise that a boat made to go downwind in 25 knots struggled upwind in 5. But nonetheless, we had a group of competitive people on board and finishing with significantly slower boats was tough to stomach. However, my mood improved very quickly upon reaching the island. This was largely due to four main things. 1. Not long after finishing I spoke with my wife. Aside from the enjoyment of hearing her voice again, she told me that Bella Mente had taken line honors, a remarkable feat, just 10 hours before we finished. Knowing that even the fast boats struggled to finish was comforting. Knowing that the race was so difficult and confusing that a 66-foot IMS design beat a 98-foot canting-keel rocket (Maximus) over the finish line was also comforting. 2. While we were waiting for the water taxi to take us from the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club, where we docked our boat, to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, I grabbed a quick cold shower. I was forced to use a T-shirt for a towel, but getting at least one layer of grime off my body, and putting on fresh underwear and a T-shirt, was an invigorating experience that put a broad smile on my face. 3. We got to the RBYC by 8 a.m. local time (one hour ahead of EDT) and I had a Dark 'n Stormy in my hand not long after. There's nothing quite like a Dark 'n Stormy on the patio of the RBYC, even as the island of Bermuda wakes up and goes to work. It's the one time when a drink before breakfast isn't something to worry about. 4. As the results filtered in, it turned out we'd beaten some boats. Under ORR, a Velocity Prediction Program based rule (like IMS), we beat four boats, including the brand new Blue Yankee. Apparently the VPP also knows we're not good in light air. Under IRC, we beat one. It wasn't much, but we'll certainly take it. At 1 p.m. local time I said some goodbyes to the Pindar crew. I'd known them for less than a week, but that was more than long enough to appreciate what a fine group of people they were, great teammates for an offshore run. By 4 p.m. I was asleep in my seat as the plane turned toward Boston. Now that I have some time to reflect upon the race, it was a remarkable experience, especially considering that less than 3 weeks ago, I was trying to figure out what weekend activity would best take my mind off the fact that I wasn't doing the biggest Bermuda Race in history. There were certainly times in the race when I thought to myself, "Why the heck am I doing this?" But now, as I sit in my air conditioned office and look out toward Newport's Easton's Beach, I know that won't be my last distance race-if I could, I'd leave tomorrow and do it all over again. 1700 Hours, Tuesday, June 20th, Onboard the Volvo 60 Pindar Alphagraphics 33 degrees 11'129 W 64 degrees 17'015 N We've just gone inside of 50 miles from the finish and finally the breeze appears to be cooperating. It's not strong, just the same 5 to 8 knots we've seen for much of this race, but it's moved enough left that we're very close to laying the finish line on the western edge of Bermuda. We're aiming for an early morning finish. Maybe a little earlier if the wind picks up as is forecast, maybe more toward daybreak if it dies. As I write this, I've just come off a 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. watch. We tacked once, looking to get a little bit further to the left and meet the new breeze, but on starboard we were heading 90 degrees from the rhumbline and soon tacked back to port. Probably the most frustrating thing about this race is that there really just hasn't been a lot to do to improve either our finish or our arrival time. Since Saturday morning, we've basically been at the mercy of the wind and the routing decisions we made early on. Now I'm sure the top boats have been more active on the sheets, but in general, sailing upwind in light air isn't much different in an ocean race than it is in a buoy race. The driver does most of the work, steering to the telltales and occasionally asking for some trim adjustments. The busiest guys over the past day or so have been the two guys who operate the water ballast system. Like most Volvo Ocean 60s, Pindar Alphagraphics, which raced as News Corp in the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race has three ballast tanks on each side. We generally start putting in the first tank, usually the foreward most tank, in about 8 knots going to weather. We quickly add the other two as the breeze stretches above 10 knots. It's not a hard job, it basically involves starting the generator, pulling a few lines to open or close valves, and revving up the pump. But with the wind hovering right on the crossover between when the tanks are useful and when they make the boat hard to steer and weigh down the stern, these two guys have been quite busy. The rest of us wait for our turn on the wheel, occasionally check and adjust the trim, and move our weight as the wind dies or strengthens. Fortunately, the team assembled for this regatta is very easy going and we've had a lot of fun on the rail, the most constant topic of conversation being the freeze-dired food. Speaking of food, I think I'm going to got put the kettle on and cook up a bag of Teriaki Turkey or Three-Cheese Lasagna. Hopefully the next report will come within the next 12 hours from the patio of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. 0900 Hours, Tuesday, June 20th--Onboard Volvo Ocean 60 Pindar Alphagraphics 33 degrees 47'460 N 63 degrees 54'845 W There's really no way around this fact, the race has turned into a suffer-fest. I know it's that way on Pindar Alphagraphics and I'm sure it's true of many boats in this fleet, though I'm sure there are more than a few crews currently showered and enjoying a drink on the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club's patio. We're currently just under 90 miles from Bermuda, which ordinarily would be cause for celebration. But the winds have remained insufferably light and we're dead downwind of the finish line. The southeasterly shift we've been expecting (and hoping for) has yet to materialize and since this boat doesn't like to go upwind in light air--too much wetted surface and not enough foil area--we're fighting a difficult fight to make progress toward the finish. Twenty-four hours ago things looked more promising. We were in decent breeze and footing toward what we hoped would be a shift that would allow us to fetch the finish. A finish sometime on Tuesday was looking possible. But last night, again, the wind crapped out and we have once again found ourselves surrounded by some slower boats and not making significant way toward the finish. With the wind down below 6 knots, we've put up our Code 0 again because while it doesn't give us a great pointing angle--we can only sail around 55 degrees to the wind--it gives us slightly better velocity toward the finish because its got significantly more sail area than the No. 1 jib. This morning we got a little radical with the freeze-dried eggs and actually decided to follow the instructions. There are apparently two types of freeze-dried food, that which you can prepared just by adding water (hot or cold) and that which requires some additional cooking, usually some time in a skillet. Of course, this second group runs slightly counter to the convenience expected from freeze-dried food. To this point in the race, anyone who choose an egg dish basically ignored the instructions (mix with cold water, then scramble in a skillet) and ate something like an egg soup. It was less than appetizing. This morning, however, Simon "Lovely" Clay decided that he'd had enough egg soup and broke out a pan and made scrambled eggs for the morning watch. It was a welcome relief and a decided improvement over the soup, or so I'm told, I'd abstained from the egg entrees to this point. It gave the crew some extra zip, and not long after eating it we tacked to avoid a towering cloud covering an enormous hole of no wind. Given that we once again find ourselves in the presence of boats to which we owe a lot of time, we're not holding out any hope of a strong finish on corrected time. It would be nice to get a bit of wind and close the remaining miles in style. But I'm not holding my breath (Mother Nature is doing plenty of that). 0930 Hours, Monday, June 19th--Onboard Volvo 60 Pindar Alphagraphics 35 degrees 33'539 N 64 degrees 37'346 W For myself, the frustration peaked last night. During one watch, we made just 8 miles toward our goal, the finish line off the northeast corner of Bermuda. It was light and shifty all day and night, with the wind playing defense like a skilled boxer. No matter what we tried, it never seemed to get us significantly closer to Bermuda. At times our choices were to sail 50 degrees off course on one tack or 70 degrees on another. As we fought to keep the boat moving, it was like being forced to choose between having your fingernails pulled off with pliers or ground off with a belt sander. At least that's how it felt for me. I tried my hand at the wheel last night toward the end of my 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. watch. It was a challenge to say the least. With no feel from the helm, no stars or landmarks to head toward, and the breeze moving about like a flea, steering in a straight line was all but impossible. The groove was fleeting and I never felt like I had a handle on the 60-footer, though my crewmates were nice in reassuring me that it wasn't entirely my fault. In retrospect, as much as I'm looking forward to the comforts of dry land, what was most frustrating about yesterday was that we were surrounded by slower, smaller boats from the St. David's Lighthouse Division, which is the group of boats on which professional Category 3 sailors are not allowed to helm. We're sailing in the Gibbs Hill Division with has no restrictions on professional sailors, either in numbers or access to the helm. We owe many of these teams heaps of time, and with the race half over, it was depressing to find them minutes behind us or even ahead of us. This race has experienced a classic restart with all the boats piling up at this ridge of high pressure in the middle of the course. Still it would've been really nice to spot a boat or two of our own size. Finally, mid-afternoon, we spyed the Swan 601 Spirit of Jethou. It was ahead of us, and we owe it time too, but it started with us in the second of the two Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Divisions and is carrying a full complement of professional sailors. On the whole we were fairly disappointed with how we worked the boat Saturday night and into Sunday. So we made a concerted effort to really focus on our trimming and driving last night. The Volvo boats aren't made to go upwind in light air and are slightly underpowered, especially without a proper Code 0--ours being a little beat up and not very effective at tight angles. Nonetheless, we feel like our renewed concentration rewarded us with a successful night and when I came on watch around dawn we had a lot less company. We quickly passed a Swan 48 as the breeze built through the morning and we now have the other Swan 601, Moneypenny, and a few other boats in our division in sight. We may not be able to make up our time on them by the finish, but it will be a moral victory to get past them. We're inside of 200 miles to the finish, though the wind is supposed to back from the SSW to the SE, which will put us on the wind and require us to sail quite a few extra miles. Currently, we're making around 9 knots over the ground at a course of 180 degrees, the finish bearing 197 degrees. We're not quite hard on the wind. Since the wind is expected to go hard left, the feeling from the afterguard is to foot for speed and get to the shift first. Most importantly, we're moving. With the breeze steady, the boat is easy to sail at windspeed and we're making steady progress toward the barn. 1700 Hours, Sunday, June 18th, Onboard the Volvo 60 Pindar Alphagraphics 37 degrees 07'842 N 65 degrees 12'546 W If I had to start with a positive, I'd say that at least we're not alone. We thought we'd forged through the high pressure ridge last night and were making our way toward new breeze from the east early this morning. But by the time I came on deck for my 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. shift, we were wallowing in light shifty winds from the south. In other words, what stood between us and the finish line in Bermuda was light headwinds, never a good situation in any boat, and especially painful in a Volvo 60, which was designed to go downwind in heavy air. During the course of my morning watch, the breeze faded to almost nothing. We were forced to use our spinnaker staysail as a windseeker, but even with that we had a rash of "triple goose eggs" on the speedo. Perhaps what's worse than the speed of the wind is the constantly varying direction. It seems that just when the boat gets some momentum and the boat speed starts to crawl over 4 knots, the breeze will shift and die, leaving us to start the process all over again. It's particularly hard to drive in these conditions. As I mentioned, at least we're not alone. At some points we've had nearly 20 other boats in sight of us. Unfortunately, most are smaller and are owed significant amounts of time by us. We had 3 Swan 45s within shouting distance this afternoon, they're enjoying some nice one-design racing I imagine. Though I'm sure that's even more stressful as when one boat accelerates it's only natural to expect yours to do the same thing. We've also seen the Santa Cruz 52 Antipodes, the Swan 601 Spirit of Jethou, the Davidson 52 T-Squared, and the 46-foot custom racer Natalie J. Since navigator Dee Caffari put Bermuda into the GPS as a waypoint, our progress toward the barn (and the showers, dark 'n stormys, and real cooked food) has been very slow. We're now 280 miles from the finish. A lot of opportunity to make up some time and pass some boats, but a lot of miles nonetheless. In spite of this, and the fact that many plane reservations are currently in seriously jeopardy, there's a really positive and light attitude on Pindar Alphagraphics. Everyone seems to be handling the watch schedule fairly well, and while the freeze-dried may not be gourmet, at least there's a lot of it. No one is going hungry on this boat. As I finish this email, we've been hit by a "big" gust of breeze. We're heeled over slightly, above my head the winches are spinning and I can hear the water sluicing pas the hull to leeward. We're doing 5.4 knots toward Bermuda. I wish it would last, but I know that's pretty unlikely. I think we've got another slow night ahead of us before we get some new breeze. 2200 Hours, Saturday June 17th--Onboard the Volvo 60 Pindar Alphagraphics 38 degrees 21'215 W 66 degrees 27'252 N We're in the transition zone. Since the beginning of this race, we've known we were going to have to work though a band of very little pressure created by a pair of merging high pressure ridges. After a full day and change of reaching in 7 to 15 knots of southwesterly breezes, we find ourselves in this zone. According to navigator Dee Caffari, this is the critical time of the race. We've hopefully positioned ourselves so that we're taking advantage of a meander in the Gulf Stream to help us pass through this transition zone quickly. Right now the wind is light, boat speed jumps from 3 or 4 knots to 8 in the puffs. As the sun sets however, it'll be impossible to spot and anticipate the lulls and nearly as difficult to keep our sails and boat trimmed to the varying breeze. The good news is that on the other side of this ridge is some nice pressure from an easterly direction. More good news is we're 364 miles from Bermuda, and could be finishing sometime Monday night. Of course, we've got this ridge to contend with first, so no one's getting carried away making dinner reservations for late Monday in Hamilton. The wind gradually eased through the afternoon going from the low double digits in the morning to the high single digits and occasionally lower during the afternoon. We used the Code 0 when we could, though it once again had to spent some time on deck to fix a seam that was beginning to open up. As it's been all race, the sailing has been very easy, almost too easy. With the exception of sail changes, the helmsperson did most of the work today, steering to the telltales (or woolies, as Kiwi Campbell Field calls them) and keeping the boat moving as fast as possible. The directions from the brain trust were speed over direction. To amuse ourselves this afternoon we had a tasting session of the freeze-dried desserts we packed (one packet per day per person). We're on the full-on freeze dried program on Pindar. As a former Volvo boat, Pindar isn't really set up for any other kind of cuisine. There's a camping stove that clamps onto one side of the sink, and that's about it. Freeze-dried dessert is an interesting concept and while it wasn't all great, our three options--Cherry Blast, Apple Cinnamon something or other, and Chocolate Cheesecake Decadence--all found takers. Being a fan of dried apples, I'm partial to the Apple Cinnamon soup (I think I put too much water in it). We've still got a few boats around us. One to windward we're pretty confident is James Muldoon's 73-footer Donnybrook. My evening watch starts in 40 minutes and the big decision in my mind is how much insulation to wear on deck. Last night was quite cold, but the water has warmed up 8 degrees C since then and it's bound to be a lot warmer, plus there's less wind. I'm thinking about going with the fleece long underwear and a light jacket and leaving the foul weather bottoms on the hook in the head. But that could change quickly, just like everything else. 0900 hours, Saturday, June 17th--Onboard the Volvo Ocean 60 Pindar Alphagraphics39 degrees 30'067 W 68 degrees 08'175 NExcept for the water temperature, not a whole lot has changed since last night. We're still powering away on a shy starboard reach with the R1 overlapping reaching genoa. The breeze, which was forecasted to die, has been remarkably resilient and for that we're quite thankful. We had the Code 0 up for a few hours earlier this morning as the wind got light, but navigator Dee Caffari recently asked for a little more height and so we furled the Zero and hoisted the R1 again. Boatspeed is hovering just under 10 knots, but we're already seeing a bit of the Gulf Stream effect--the water temperature has jumped from 14 degrees C last night to 22 at daybreak to 26 now--and our speed over ground is over 11 knots.After a fabulous afternoon, we had a great evening of sailing. I was on watch from 9 p.m until 1 a.m. and had a great 90 minutes on the helm in some of the strongest breeze we've seen since the start. Helming a boat at night for the first time is never easy and it took me a few minutes to get my bearings. I was all over the place for the first 10 minutes. But eventually I was able to get it under control and rack up some nice 11-knot speeds. I felt a little like Peter Pan in that I picked a star, locked it in to the lower windward spreader and felt like I could sail until morning, or someone kicked me off the helm. (I'm fully aware I'll catch some flack for that bit of hyperbole, but hey, I haven't slept much so far). Other than that bit of helming and the few sail changes, it's been pretty uneventful. The sheets stay mostly locked off and the driver keeps the boat going at the best speed. We're using the water ballast quite a bit to keep the boat on its feet in the puffs and from getting bogged down in the lulls.We're basically alone at this point. We've got a boat down to leeward and behind that's been holding with us, and a bigger boat on our windward hip.We're not sure of either's identity, thought it seems likely the one to leeward is from another class. The boat to windward could very easily be in our division.We saw a big pod of dolphins this morning just after dawn and then some pilot whales a little bit later. But other than those sightings and the occasionally spontaneous performance from Ms. Caffari, who's still obviously enjoying being back among the general population after her 180-day solo sail around the world, that's it for the wildlife on Pindar Alphagraphics. Now I'm off for a bit of sleep. More in a little while.1800 Hours, Friday June 16--Onboard the Volvo 60 Pindar Alphagraphics Unfortunately, the whole race won't be like this. We've spent the first three hours jib reaching through what has to be the nicest afternoon of the summer to date. In a breeze that's reached as high as 18 knots and dipped as low as 10, we've been doing a steady 9 to 10 knots toward the finish line. The start was once in a lifetime experience. The narrow throat of Narragansett Bay's East Passage was packed with hundreds of boats--both race participants, of which there are 265 odd entries, and spectators--which milled about waiting for the 12:50 p.m. first gun. It was a site to behold and you can be sure there were quite a few skippers having to remind their crews to focus their eyes inside the boat. The excitement and a strong ebb tide made for a host of over-eager starters. The first class off the line, the slowest boats in the St. David's Lighthouse Division, had at least 3 or 4 premature starters and the radio cackled all afternoon with the race committee informing competitors of their need to restart. Ironcically enough, the second Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division start, which contains the fastest and most pro-laden boats in the fleet, had no over early starters, while the following start, the slowest cruising class division, had so many the race committee seemed to run out of breath listing them off. Our start, that aforementioned second Gibbs Hill Division, was nonetheless one of the most thrilling moments of my sailing career. Richard Breeden's TP 52 Brightstar took the hole shot at the pin and when a few of the boats to weather, Jim Swatz's Moneypenny and Bob and Farely Towse's Blue Yankee, got into a surreal luffing match--it's a 635-mile race, fellas--Brightstar was able to leg out and lead the fleet past the first of two government marks that had to be honored. We were squeezed off by Titan and then later Bella Mente, but found some air as the fleet cracked off around R4 and pointed their respective bows at Bermuda. As we cracked off, we quickly changed to a R1 reaching jib and then later a monstrous masthead Code 0. When a seam on the Code 0 opened up, we had to drop it and return to the R1, but the breeze filled nicely about that time and we maintained a very spritely 10-knot pace. As I write this, the bow team is up on deck, throwing a couple of nice sized patches on the sail. If the light winds that are forecasted materialize, that will be a vital sail down the track. Maximus, the fastest boat in the fleet, just rolled by to windward after three hours of sailing, and while we can see quite a few boats around us, it's hard to find anyone from our division. We think most of them are below us, sailing slightly more eastward, but at least one boat is above us, having taking the high route in the early stages.