And we’re off! At least we were, in the beginning…
After days of waiting around in Colon, Panama for one of the boats to have their gearbox fixed and eventually replaced (hand delivered as pieces in check-on luggage as the other one express mailed was held up in customs) we slipped lines in the early evening. Our goal was to motor through the night until mid-day (roughly 100 miles) in order to pick up the beginning of the trades. The reason for this was that there tends to be little wind on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.
The other boat finally caught up to us by early evening and with fair winds the race officially got underway with a LeMans start. It’s always exciting starting a race, particularly with a LeMans start. For those that are not familiar with a LeMans start, it is one in which all boats are lined up sailing with the mainsail up and all crew waiting behind a certain point on the boats (in our case, the coffee grinder). As soon as the start signal is given, the crews race forward to raise the headsails. Needless to say, those boats in which the headsails are raised and trimmed the quickest, have the advantage. Our first scoring gate or waypoint was 738 miles from the Panama Canal in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispanola.
We had a great start, with the crew working quickly to raise our Yankee in record time! It was also exciting to be sailing again with the trade winds and the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Brisk 17 knot true and 25 apparent winds (the additional wind from the boats forward motion sailing into the wind) and 6-8 ft swells made for some fast sailing. Unfortunately, during a sail change our Yankee 1 was nearly washed overboard, acting as a drogue or sea anchor and slowing our progress as we struggled to bring it back on deck. Finally, with 10 of us pulling for a good half hour, we were able to bring it up on deck with only a small tear on the sail and 3 stanchions (posts on the side of the boat to hold the guard rails) broken. Next time, we need to make sure that as soon as the one sail is dropped, it is properly lashed and brought on the upwind side of the boat.
Unfortunately, the winds did not hold very long and by day 3 they had already begun to ease. Nevertheless, still being in 3rd place helped keep us motivated. I think the crew is very motivated to have a podium finish on this race, and I know I am! After our 2nd place win crossing the North Pacific Ocean, it would be very exciting for me to arrive home with a 1st or 2nd place finish! Then again 3rd would be fine as well. Actually, just the opportunity to race from San Francisco, through the Panama Canal to New York is a wonderful opportunity that I am very grateful for 🙂
Day 4 was, I have to admit, a depressing day. The winds kept getting lighter and lighter and despite multiple sail changes (from Yankee 2 to medium-weight spinnaker, to light-weight spinnaker, to wind-seeker, to Yankee 1) we kept on seeing our boat speed dropping. The biggest fear I had, was after all that hard work in which we had climbed up to 2nd place, finding ourselves in a wind-hole could quickly land us at the back of the pack. Fortunately, it looked like the other boats were experiencing the same weather pattern as we were.
At one point, we could see 7 other boats around us which is very unusual after 4 days of racing. Normally by that time, there tends to be quite a spread between the boats as each have their own opinion of where the better winds are. I think that the one difference here, is that in the Caribbean, the trade winds are pretty consistent. 17-20 knots of winds, with gusts up to 25 and wind direction of 90 degrees, plus or minus 10 degrees.
The end of day 4 saw us in a neck-to-neck race for 2nd with Derry Londonderry and De Lage Landen with Gold Coast Australia within closing distance. It was a nail-biting time as we were only 60 miles from the scoring gate. Adding to the tension, was our boat speed which at times dropped down to only 2 knots! At least, DL and DLL were experiencing the same lack of wind. Nevertheless, frustrating to say the least!!!
Today, I am starting my mother watch for 24 hours, cooking and cleaning for the crew, but at least I was able to wake up this morning to us taking 3rd place through the scoring gate. Now, New York awaits!