I was really excited to be back in Annapolis for the start of the Annapolis to Newport race. I find the city a vibrant, exciting place with a long history steeped in maritime tradition. Sailing seems to be a passion here and it vies to be the sailing capital of the U.S. Along with my regular crew, Paul, Susan and Amir, we invited some of the tenants from Liberty Landing Marina to sail with us on this iconic North American ocean race. Joining us were Marcus Ansell, Jeremy Nash and Moochie Corrado, all avid sailors keen to try their hand at sailing/racing on the open ocean.
For this race I’m thankful for my sponsors who have been very supportive this season. Suntex Marinas was helpful in getting the boat ready for the race back at Liberty Landing Marina, its flagship property, and Liberty House Restaurant, part of Landmark Hospitality, provided some delicious veal and portobello mushroom meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy for some of our meals (there was so much delicious meatloaf!). I should add that Amir was a rock star in the galley. Even when the boat was heeled (leaned) over 25-30 degrees, he was happily preparing meals for everybody.
On the day of the race start, the weather forecast looked good with 15-20 knots out of the northeast. This would make for a great 120-mile run down the Chesapeake from the start off Annapolis to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Norfolk, Virginia. This year the race was set up with two race starts on separate days, the performance cruising boats started on Thursday, while the faster racing boats (like the 80-ft maxi, Donnybrook) started on Friday. The Thursday start was also different this year in that roughly 30 boats would all be starting at the same time. That made for a very exciting start, with all the boats tacking (turning) very close to each other trying to position themselves for a quick start at the front of the pack.
We had a good start and with the spinnaker flying and were quickly sailing south towards the mouth of the Chesapeake, making over 8 knots at times. There were some challenges sailing in the Chesapeake, besides helming at night without the moon or stars or other external visual references to steer towards. The first challenge is the timing and location of currents which could significantly reduce our boat speed if miscalculated. Second, is the heavy commercial shipping traffic (tugs and barges, freighters, tankers, etc) which need to be avoided. These ships travel quickly through the shipping channels and you do not want to be crossing closely in front of them! Third, are the fish traps – some marked on charts, others not – which are a hazard at night. The fish traps are a series of poles with nets stretched between them, often without working lights to show their location. You do not want to get caught up in these!
In spite of those challenges, we safely and quickly navigated down the Chesapeake and by 0600 Friday morning we crossed the Bay Bridge Tunnel in fog and headed out into the open ocean for the next part of the race – a 330-mile beat (upwind sailing) to Newport.
Before we were out of cell phone range from land I grabbed the latest weather forecast, and that forecast was not good! The new forecast called for 26-32 knot winds right on the nose with 10-15 foot seas by Saturday night. Because it would be on the nose, it would be a rough, rough pounding in the waves with apparent winds in the 35-40 knot range. To put it mildly, that would not be pleasant. In reviewing the forecast, the winds did look lighter if we stayed closer to land but that would add extra miles to the route. Deciding to put the safety of crew and boat first, I opted for the longer, but safer route closer to shore.
However, before we headed on our new route to Newport, we had a nice surprise waiting for us. Shortly after we rounded a navigational aid which marked the turn to Newport eight miles offshore, Susan, who was at the helm, shouted that the boat had suddenly stopped! I ran up from down below wondering if we had grounded or got caught in a fishing net. We hadn’t grounded as we were in 45 feet of water, and I couldn’t see fishing nets under the boat, so that didn’t appear to be the cause. Then Amir noticed that the anchor had dropped and was holding us fast! Apparently the force of the waves crashing against the bow had knocked the pin holding the anchor out. And, because I had forgotten to ensure it was lashed down (big learning experience for me!) the anchor was free to drop with all 220 feet of chain and rode running out.
It was a tense half hour, as Amir and Paul struggled to bring the anchor back onto the boat. In the middle of raising the anchor, another sailboat, one of our competitors, emerged out of the fog and heading toward us. Fortunately, the crew saw us and quickly changed their heading. They must have wondered what we were doing with our sails up but going nowhere! The rest of the day was uneventful as we settled down into our watches, and continued our race towards Newport.
Saturday was a mixed day. It started out with more fog and just a light breeze. Eventually the wind picked up as thunderstorms built up around us. Fortunately, the storms passed on both sides of us, saving us from strong squall conditions. I found out after the race, that some boats which went further east were hit with +50 knot winds, and one boat was knocked down (mast in the water) and had its hard dodger ripped off by the strong gusts! Several others had their mainsails ripped by the winds.
We had another small adventure – this time positive – on Saturday when Jeremy decided to try his hand at fishing. It didn’t take long, and within fifteen minutes he proudly caught a fish, the first time one was landed on my boat.
By 1830 on Saturday, the clouds cleared and the late setting sun came out, promising a clear night full of stars. This was a nice change from the previous nights of dark skies and constant fog and mist, water dripping off our eyebrows.
The rest of the race to Newport was smooth sailing and everybody was happy to have a watch under the beautiful night sky with the stars shining brightly overhead. The rising moon late at night was also a stunning sight as it slowly lifted above the horizon. It also helped that we had some delicious left over meatloaf sandwiches to enjoy during the wee hours of the morning! Thanks again to Ken Trickilo, the executive chef at Liberty House Restaurant. The early morning sunrises were also a sight to behold.
During the following two days, we were fortunate to see dolphins and sea turtles swimming around us. We even passed a few large Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish. One sight that caught those of us up on deck by surprise, was a picnic table floating leisurely far from land with a bird perched on it as if waiting for crumbs.
Rounding Block Island, all the crew came up on deck for the last sail into Newport and the finish off Castle Hill Light. It was an exciting time to finally cross the line after 460-miles and the crew burst out in loud cheers!
Four and a half days with seven sleep-deprived people on a small boat, sounds like a recipe for conflicts and short tempers. But, that was not at all the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite, and I was very happy with the camaraderie and the positive attitude had by all. I hope everyone came away with a sense of wonder and excitement that ocean sailing/racing can bring.
P.S. – It was sad news to hear that a great, kind person and excellent sailor at Liberty Landing Marina, passed away shortly after we returned. Seymour Friedel will be warmly remembered for the smile he brought to our hearts and the joy he had for being on the water.