The second leg of the Bermuda 1-2 race start was pushed up to the morning because there were maxi sailboat races going on that day as well. The harbor was full of all kinds of boats anchored everywhere because of visitors coming for the Americas Cup races. Dave and I leave the St. Georges Dinghy and Sports Club pier at about 8:30 am. Pulling away from the dock in the current and wind was not easy being closely parked between other race boats all aft in tied to the pier with our bow tied to a mooring ball. With help from a small, adroit skiff unhitching us from the mooring ball we head to the fuel dock as well as the customs office. We need pick up our flare gun. This was confiscated after the first leg of the race. Our brand-new B&G instruments are not working though they did on the first leg of the race. We have no depth indicator so the fuel dock looked precarious surrounded by coral reefs. Dave decided we don’t need to top off the fuel. Really I think, we are sailing 635 miles with a fuel tank that is not full? Okay I think it is a race and we only use the engine to charge the batteries, but still? It starts to sprinkle as we head to customs. The customs dock was full with boats that were arriving as part of a rally coming to see the America’s Cup. There is no place to dock. After calling over to the customs official on the dock, they allow us to raft to a boat and collect our flare gun.
At this point it is 9:30am, raining and we have no instruments in the cockpit. The first start is at 10:00am and our start is 10:20am. All 29 boats are now sailing back and forth around the busy harbor. The ferry boat that comes in and out of the cut is coming in to pick up passengers. I am driving around trying not to panic about the rain, the lack of instruments, the ferry, the other race boats weaving about the harbor. The first Class start with spinnakers flying and Dave turns to me and says we are going to put up the chute. I am now terrified.
The wind shifts again, the rain abates, our instruments except for wind mysteriously turn on, the ferry heads out the cut, and Dave changes his mind about the chute. “Head for the committee boat,” Dave shouts and as usual, with Dave's navigation skills, he is right on time and we are first over the line in our class. “Sail out the cut,” Dave shouts again over the wind. With Aggressive on our starboard hip trying to pass, I steer us out the cut. On the rocky left-side bank, we see spectators and we hear, Zach’s girlfriend, Margo shouting, “Good luck Carol and Dave.” We wave and we are off.
The race is on. The sky wants to be clear, the waves are less than a foot and we can look behind and Bermuda is retreating. I look at Dave and say, “You want me to grind you up the mast don’t you.” We needed to figure out what had happened to our wind instruments. If it was a connection that was bad at the top of the mast now was the time to find out. I wanted to get Dave up there while I could still see land. Up he went with camera in hand and us racing along at 6.5 knots. Nothing wrong up at the top. We concluded that it was so rough during the first leg that some electrical connection shook loose, but we didn’t want to mess with it now since we had everything but wind. Later in the season the problem was solved. It was a wire connection that should have worked and did not.
This was the first overnight and first ocean race I have ever done. I usually drive when we race around the buoys on Wednesday evenings or on a weekend race when Dave and I double hand. If we have crew I am relegated to the rail. I started sailing when we met eleven years ago and not often until the last two seasons. Learning to sail in my 50's has not been easy. Dave finds this out on day two in the ocean when we go to put up the spinnaker. I don’t remember what all those lines are. Most aren’t labeled and if they are he calls them by a different name. We laugh. I learn again and try to remember.
I had only experienced this race by watching the tracker from home in 2015. It is so easy to wonder why the heck the boat would be going that way and why are they slower than the other boats right now. “Come on, Dianthus you could do better. Get going”. Out in the ocean it all becomes clearer. You set a course, you rely on weather predictions and forecasts, instincts, wind instruments, and downloaded grib files which we also were not able to get. Two out of four wasn’t bad. Primarily in this race you want to hit the Gulf Stream at a good spot that gives you current in the right direction and get through it quickly. Secondarily you don’t want to break much on your boat.
The weather before the Gulf Stream was not bad with times where the wind picked up and the clouds looked ominous. On the morning of day two we were farther east of most boats. After sunrise, we had been becalmed for an hour or two and had just started moving again. We began to hear chatter on the radio. The race suggests that boats try to contact each other at 7am and 7pm each day for safety reasons and just to see how everyone is getting along. The radio transmits about 5-10 miles. AIS which most of the boats send and receive can see Class B boats about ten miles. We heard someone say they might as well make a nice breakfast because they weren’t going anywhere soon. Others agreed. Concussion said they were sailing 6 knots. We were sailing 6 knots. We were excited. We told no one.
Each day we would see a boat or two on the horizon. Bluebird, In Concert, Yankee Girl, Cordelia, and Concussion all passed or we passed them within a half mile or less. We try to assess where we are in the fleet but it was usually impossible since the boats were too far away.
My job seemed to me was to get Dave to sleep when nothing too crazy weather wise was happening. We never had strict shifts. For example, when we thought the tough part of the gulf stream was coming up in about three hours due to the water temperature beginning to rise I got Dave to sleep. While Dave slept, sailing alone in the ocean is magical. I remember sailing an evening shift alone during night three before the moon rose at about 2:30 am. The milky way was glorious from horizon to horizon complete with shooting stars. One afternoon alone, I saw a large tuna looking fish breach the water fairly close to the boat. We saw together magnificent sunrises and sunsets with just water between us and the sun. We ate dinner together which mostly consisted of dehydrated food which one of us added the water to. Our other meals were pretty much on our own. We also grabbed food for each other as we head up to the cockpit.
One night I was asleep and Dave was on watch. He inadvertently had also fallen asleep for an hour in the cockpit. He wakes with a start with the spinnaker pulled tight as we boomed along. He calls to me to get up. We have to take this sail down before it blows up. He looks at me and says, “We are going to do a letterbox take down.” “Okay,” I say, “what the heck is that?” I soon learn I am turning the boat so the sail can be lowered on the starboard side of the boat between the main sail and the boom then down through the companion way.
At midnight on the last day I woke after three or so hours sleep to take my shift. The wind had kicked up and we were sailing in the 7 to 8 knot range. Our remaining instruments had become temperamental at this point and were not always working. We were relying on our handheld GPS with just speed and direction. We had our mainsail and jib up. Waves were about 4 feet. Dave goes to take a nap down below. A few hours later when he wakes the waves were higher the wind stronger. As the day progressed we found ourselves surfing down waves going about 6 knots up a wave and 11 knots down. I went down below and hear a PanPan from the Olson 30, Concussion. Their mast has a large crack in it. We realize we are the closest boat. Dave calls Jason and suggests he find something to make a splint and take some strong line and wrap the mast. Jason and his ER doctor partner Rhiana decide to cast the mast. They wrap it in Dynema line they have on board around a bulkhead and the mast and coat it with quick drying epoxy. The Coast Guard decides to send out a cutter named Tiger Shark. We are contacting Concussion every hour to get their coordinates and to be sure they are doing okay. The mast holds. Dave lays down for another short rest. Fog roles in. Periodically it was hard to see the wind indicator at the top of the mast, our only wind instrument. Fishing nets start appearing that need to be avoided. Dave is awake again. Our AIS stops working. Yankee Girl calls us up and wonders why we aren’t using our AIS in this fog. Zack warns us of a fishing boat of our starboard side. Dave reefed the main sail. The wind increases. Dave puts in a second reef.
With less than 60 miles to go we get a text on our InReach from a friend on Block Island. Racing is cancelled because of 30 to 40 knot winds. We are headed straight for it and by the way we had been in first place the day before but Cordelia is closing in fast. We know now that we most likely could not take first place on corrected time, but we could take first place over the line if we kept moving. We dreamed of lobster traps getting in Cordelia’s way or Roy navigating to the wrong buoy at the finish as he had done the last race. If we beat Cordelia we also would come away with the family trophy as well. There had been eight competitors at the start. Now the competition is down to just Cordelia and Dianthus. No such luck, there is not enough time to correct over Cordelia to win in Class 3. I looked at Dave and told him to keep hand steering. The winds gets even stronger and Dave puts up the storm jib. We are still averaging almost eight knots up and down the waves.
It is now about 5:45pm. We have caught up to Cuncussion followed by Tiger Shark. Yankee Girl is behind us and the wind is blowing about 25 knots. Cordellia is closing in just 7.5 miles back. For the next four hours, we are like an armada racing for the harbor. Yankee Girl is trying to stay ahead of Bluebird and we desperately want to finish before Cordelia. We finish the race at 9:45pm second in Class 3, first over the line and 13th in the fleet of 29 boats. Cordelia finished an hour and a half later correcting to first in Class 3.
Now to get into a slip in 20 knots of wind, in the dark of night, sailing through the harbor to the Newport Yacht Club. I have put out fenders and rigged the bow dock line. I have a large flash light at the bow and am directing Dave around mooring balls and yachts toward the slip that we have been assigned. I have been up now for 23 hours and am feeling quite punchy. Dave comes roaring into the slip with Roy, the race organizer, yelling to slow down, but Dave nails it perfectly. We hand off the dock lines and we are done. Actually, we are now quarantined until Customs interviews us. No shower for us we are told until morning when they will allow us off our boat. Fortunately, customs did come to the marina that night and we were in the shower and then asleep by.
Would I do it again? Ask me next year.