I noticed it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I’d like to say much has happened since in the past year and I have lots of exciting sailing adventures to share. To an extent yes, but not as much as I hoped to.
Yachtmaster Training in Antigua
In February 2013 I decided to escape the cold in New York and headed to Antigua to practice and test for the Yachtmaster certification, a rigorous and challenging practical exam administered by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) in the UK. The Yachtmaster is highly regarded throughout much of the world as the standard for skippering a boat. In comparison to the Coast Guard Captain’s licence which is only theory based, the Yachtmaster exam takes you on the water and ensures that you can safely and competently sail and captain a boat. The rigorous 48 hour practical exam covers a range of skills from understanding ColRegs (“rules of the road”) to planning and navigating ocean passages along unfamiliar coasts (using paper charts and a compass, not electronic chartplotters), as well as boat handling skills, managing and motivating a crew and meteorology just to name a few.
I have to say, between my instructor Logan and the examiner, I came away learning so much more about sailing and captaining a boat! It is one thing to navigate only by paper charts at night on the open ocean, and another to navigate an unfamiliar shoreline to a rock-strewn entrance to a bay and anchor under sail within a boat’s length of an island. All this on a moonless night as you hear the surf breaking on nearby rocks. If you think that’s difficult, try tacking upwind in a narrow channel between a reef and the main island using only a compass, your previously prepared passage plan and contour lines and transients. That was not for the faint of heart!
The Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence is a grueling exam, but for those who are keenly interested in developing their skippering abilities, I doubt you could find any better training.
Annapolis Newport Race
In early June last year, I set off with my boat, cast and crew to Annapolis to compete in the 473 mile Annapolis Newport Race. With great fanfare, we left New York Harbor in the morning and quickly headed out into the ocean only to be greeted with 20 knot winds on the nose. It was a great 120 nm sail down to the entrance to Delaware Bay, but unfortunately, one of the crew became a tad bit seasick as we were pounding into 4-6 ft waves. Then again, when is one ever only a tad seasick?
Turning into the Delaware Bay, the seas calmed down considerably and Paul cooked a delicious meat loaf that was quickly devoured by a very hungry crew. By the next morning after transiting the C&D canal, we arrived at Annapolis just as a squall came over us making for a very wet arrival.
The start of the Annapolis Newport Race looked like it could be a very interesting one, with tropical storm Andrea heading directly in our direction. However, with the race delayed by several hours, we missed the brunt of the storm and started with 15-20 knot winds out of the North. This made for a great run down the Chesapeake – for those boat which had spinnakers. Unfortunately, I had just received my new asymmetrical spinnaker two days before we headed down to Annapolis so did not have any chance to train with the crew beforehand. The strong winds and gusty conditions at race start was not the time for them to learn (I learned later that one boat was knocked down on its side for over 30 minutes until a crew member cut their spinnaker away!).
Even without the spinnaker though, we did make good time down the Chesapeake with numerous thrills and chills. Roughly 16 hours into the race, a squall on the back side of Andrea hit us with 42 knot winds. Luckily we were able to get the jib down in time, but didn’t have time to reef the main! I decided to head downwind with the main out and run with the squall. We ended up sailing at 12-13 knots before the winds moderated. That was a scary moment but because the squall was moving so quickly, we only had about 20 minutes of “thrilling” sailing! We did eat up the miles with that run, quickly making our way down the Chesapeake. Unfortunately, the wind quickly died after the squall passed and we were left bobbing near the beginning of the Chesapeake with the current taking us out past the Bay Bridge Tunnel.
On the other side of the Bay Bridge Tunnel we were listlessly drifting around like a cork in a bathtub until the current reversed and we were being dragged backwards within a couple hundred yards of the bridge. At that time I had to make a painful decision to turn the engine on and thus end the race for us. With that decision made, we motored back up the coast and had to endure 28 hours of zero wind with not a hint of a ripple on the ocean. It was only half way up the coast of New Jersey that we began to get a southerly wind which picked up as we made the last dash for home.
The other race I was looking forward to sailing last year was the Transpac Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii in early July. Unfortunately though, that was not to be and it seemed as if the gods were conspiring against me. First it was my knee that was giving me issues, then a tooth infection flared up in what I thought was one of my molars but turned out to be a sinus infection. Needless to say, it was a major disappointment as I was very much looking forward to racing and sailing again with some friends I sailed with on the Clipper race!
Around Long Island Race
At the end of last July with my sinus infection finally gone, I did manage to participate in the Around Long Island Race. That was a “fun” 190 mile race which started off of Breezy Point on the Atlantic Ocean side, then ran up the outside of Long Island, around Montauk and then down the Sound to finish at Glen Cove.
The weather ended up being less than ideal at race start as a front stalled directly off the coast of Long Island bringing rain, 3-5 foot seas and 20 knots of wind right on the nose. For many of the boats the weather was too much and almost 30 of the 74 boats which had registered either did not start or turned back shortly after the start. Then again, perhaps it was a combination of the boats and/or crews which were not prepared. After all, it is an ocean coastal race for half the course, and having 3-5 foot seas and 20 knots of wind out on the ocean is not unusual. Having said that, I did end up spending my night watch with the two crew on my watch seasick – one on the leeward side and one on the windward side (not happy with that but at least the rain helped to rinse the boat).
It was a great run up the Eastern coast of Long Island and we managed to pass Montauk Light in 10th overall and second in our division. Conditions did begin to calm down a bit as we rounded Montauk Light which helped some crew members’ spirits to improve. Unfortunately, the wind continued to drop and as we got to Plum Gut the wind had left us completely and it was up to the currents to carry us through. The rest of the race was spent trying to find and hold onto any hint of wind. At one point we had the boat pointed in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go, yet the current taking us backwards towards the still-distant finish line (ah, the “joy” of Long Island sailing!). Two crew members decided to take advantage of the windless conditions and go for a welcome swim in the hot July afternoon. Eventually, the wind picked up enough for us to continue sailing and we crossed the line in Glen Cove to finish fourth in our division.