Last weekend I raced with my sailing team on a Santa Cruz 27′ call ‘Hanalei.’ I’ve been sailing and racing with the owner since the end of last summer and they’ve been very welcoming and encouraging. Because I had sailed with my dad since long ago and have been chartering my own boats for the last few years, I came onto the team a little more confident that I should have been. Since the sailing I’ve done had, for the most part, been causal cruising, I had no experience with the nuance of racing keel boats, outside the calming and “soft-spoken” nature of the sport. But the skipper brought me onboard anyway and showed great patience as he taught me how to run the foredeck.
The regatta was three days long with seven different races and 17 boats in our class. Our crew was some what unique in that we sailed together throughout all the regattas during the year as a team, whereas many of the boats had just put together crews for the regatta and were, initially, a little less ‘coordinated.’ So some could say, we had an advantage.
Throughout the regatta we danced around the top end of the fleet, exchanging places with the other competitive boats and falling victim to our own mistakes and the boat. In the first race of the series, on the final upwind leg we were happily sailing ahead of the fleet when our whole boat experienced a sharp crack and the jib slipped down the forestay by a foot. The boat slowed and flattened and we fell off the mark. Looking back I saw the weathered halyard had snapped at the jam-cleat and scrambled to action. We immediately dropped the jib, untied the remaining half-halyard, attached the spinnaker halyard and hoisted again. The transition was reminiscent of a Mizell-boy snow-chain exercise, but even with speed and precision, we’d lost our comfortable lead and two competitors slipped in front of us. We rounded the weather mark and then, instead of hoisting the spinnaker and dropping the jib (so to maintain some forward thrust), we had to drop out jib and sail ‘dead-headed’ as I quickly rigged the spinnaker to the loose halyard.
Fortunately, this was our last downwind leg of the race, however there was one caveat: after the lee-mark, we had to reach, about 150 yards to the finish line. The short distance was prohibitive to dowsing the spinnaker and hoisting a jib with only one halyard. By the time the boat would be powered up, we would have been across the finish line, but we couldn’t survive if we simply dropped the spinaker, so we decided to attempt a reach with the spinnaker up, a maneuver that could over power the boat and knock us down.
As we surfed the downwind leg we made up one position and now were quickly moving on first place, a boat length ahead. Arriving at the lee-mark, we rounded to the inside of first place and, according to plan, dropped our spinnaker pole low and tight onto the pulpet and headstay and tightened hard on the sheet. The spinnaker flattened out as best it could and powered the boat up. However, it was no match to the crisp flat foresail of first place and they summarily pulled away. With second place rounding just seconds behind us, we were tense. As the final meters of the race passed our bow, two finishing whistle blasts were heard in sequence, Tweet… … … …Tweet.
We then pointed the boat toward the harbor and began to discuss the possible opportunities to fix the boat before we forfeited too many races. About halfway in, our tactician proposed attaching a block to our main halyard and running an new line through it (since we couldn’t run a new line through the mast with the equipment we had on board). Crazy enough, we agreed it would certainly work and we dropped our main, attached the block, ran the halyard, and hoisted our sails. Testing the new jib halyard, it sailed flat and fast. We were back in business, and in time for the next race. We ended the day with another third and a seventh in a short race that taxed our mental capacity for the day. The second day we finished with a first and a fifth. The first was an exceptional win because it was the long distance course, a race within the race called the Dave Diola Cup. This win was especially meaningful to our boat as Dave was once the tactician for our boat and now his son Pat was sailing in his place. We celebrated heartily. With a third and a second on the third day [Results] and one ‘throw out’ race, we were able to secure Second place overall and more importantly, we took First in the Owner Driver class.
It’s tough to beat the views from the winning pointy end of a boat on a race course filled with more than 50 spinnakers (from multiple classes) behind you. Aside from poorly tempered rum intake throughout the three day race, it was a great regatta and meaningful event! Sailing may never feel the same again, it’s going to just get better.