Nothing like a warm shower after 5 days to make you feel like a new man!
As you may know, we missed out on 3rd place by a few minutes. The crew worked extremely hard and sailed what I thought was a near perfect race. I likewise put a huge amount of effort into this race.
The race started out with lovely conditions racing out of Newport. Of course, the forecast was ominous, but improving, and about 30% of the fleet did not start, including such well prepared boats as the 2 Navy entries. With lighter winds on the west side of the course and better currents, the path we took was mapped out well in advance. We had an excellent start – and were on our way.
We quickly settled into the passage routines and enjoyed a lovely dinner. Although the conditions were supposed to deteriorate quickly, the conditions actually kept getting better with light winds and clear blue skies. It quickly became apparent that the strong high pressure system was moving farther south than expected, and the developing low would not be as strong.
The most memorable moment of the race was, after sailing through a pod of large whales and many Dolphins, a very curious small sperm whale breached 3 times right next to our boat (less than 100′ away!!) and was obviously checking us out! A moment we all will never forget.
Having sailed north a month ago, we knew we needed to sail either well east or west of the rumbline. Going east leaves one tacking to Bermuda at the end. The only question was how far west we should go. When we did not find the eddy currents where expected we straightened out our course and tried to minimize the miles. This turned out to be a good call, but the boats that went east did better this time (we think).
The conditions did indeed deteriorate south of the stream, with winds up to 30 knots briefly. The new sails were excellent, and the innovative batten system for the jib a big help.
But perhaps the key sail was our asymmetrical. When I picked up the sails I was quite surprised it was a 3/4 oz instead of a 1.5oz as expected. Nevertheless it performed admirably and helped us keep up with much larger boats before and after the high winds. However, the combination of large waves and somewhat fluky winds led to quite a few collapses.
30 hours before the finish, there was one collapse too many, and our only asymmetrical ripped just above the clew with the foot and leech tapes also completely ripped off. We got the sail down but it was a mess. I immediately announced we needed to fix the sail which some of the crew had a hard time imagining. But we knew lighter winds were coming. I started at 8pm and by 11 had the 16′ foot tape and a few tears repaired. Then I started on the much longer (45′) leech tape and the worst damage – the separated clew patch.
18 hours of nonstop work by Martin assisted by Sean, John Roberts and others the sail was repaired. I only slept 2 hours that night. The winds were dying over the last 2 hours of repair work and we were working crazy fast. There were bets as to how long the sail would last but even close reaching in 10 knots it was fine, and the entire crew
knows a whole lot more about sail repairs!!!
The winds did turn to the SW and we ended up a hard on the wind for the last 10 hours, but the asym was key for 4 hours of sailing where it boosted our speed by 2 knots. If only we finished it one hour sooner we would have been on podium.
Everyone loved the experience and had an amazing time. The great memories will last for longer than the unhappiness over our near podium finish.
Colette and Martin will be sailing the VAr back with hopefully Ivan. Of course additional crew would be welcome!
Today’s Pre-Race Update:
Varuna is in Noank this Am and will leave for Newport at 8am. ETA around 2pm.
The weather for the waters enroute to Bermuda / just north of the stream are challenging – Bermuda (euro model) shows the low quite far to the south while NOAA sees it stronger and just south of the stream – moving north on Monday. The 96 hr 500mb chart is also ugly. I suspect there will be a one day delay in the start of the race as the stream would be very tough to cross with steep breaking waves if east winds over 25 knots. South winds as expected Sunday are no big deal.
James Coffman, long time former student and member of Sound Sailing Center, captained his Hanse 375 (which is the same hull as the VAr 37), with Martin van Breems (founder and owner of SSC) in the afterguard. Jim Boyle, a long time SSC instructor and professor of Oceanography was the navigator.
We initially planned a route through the islands, based on a light wind forecast, but by the start, the winds were strong enough to ignore the tides and head straight down the sound from the start of Stamford with winds out of the SE. Within a few hours the winds backed to the South, and we popped the chute, allowing us to put some distance between our competitors with winds over 18 knots and boat speeds over 10 knots. Unfortunately, the 3/4 oz kite blew out after a roundup, but we still had gained some good distance. Then, the wind totally died, and we were left flopping around the sound.
Even worse, the boats close in to shore were moving! We went into wind seeker mode (which the self tacking jib is great for), and managed to get the boat moving. To our great relief, we soon got some wind, and the boats more inshore were dead. Within Martin’s 2 hour watch, there were 6 sail changes!
As we approached Plum Gut well after dark, James decided to hoist our 2nd kite, and again started making tracks through the night all the way to the north end of Block Island. We sailed through a thunderstorm, and dropped the kite just a minute before we rounded the bouy. Then we started the upwind passage With winds in the 17-19 knot range we were double reefed. They dropped a little as we rounded the southern end of Block, just as dawn broke. We soon realized we had put a considerable distance between us and all the other boats in our class.
Passing back through Plum Gut, we had, in advance, planned to follow the LI shore very closely to avoid the foul tide. There was also a slight breeze very close to shore. We soon passed almost the entire fleet, as virtually all the other boats were parked or drifting backwards off Plum Island.
We continued our fast pace, and although the larger boats in the fleet slowly caught and passed us as we raced down the sound, we knew we had them on corrected time. Avanti, the overall winner, passed us just before Port Jeff. Avanti is a Hanse 430 we delivered and have worked on. As we passed Bridgeport, then Fairfield, Westport and Norwalk, the winds lightened but we kept moving. Soon we were off Stamford, and as the last of the sun’s light faded from the sky, so did the wind. We were less than 100′ feet from the Cows, the final turning mark, and only a few hundred feet from the finish line, when we started going backwards in the strong ebb tide. Boats less than 200′ in front made it around the Cows and were soon enough in the reduced tidal area, and so kept moving. We anchored, then after 40 min we began the move forward and pulled the anchor. After gaining 50′, we started sliding back again, so down went the anchor. Almost 2 hours later we finally gained enough breeze to make headway against the tide, rounded the Cows, and sailed to the finish line! We knew we had won our division, with all the other boats well behind us, but overall winner was not to be ours this time.
Still, it was a great race, and winning our class is nothing to sneeze at. The challenge to do even better in Newport is upon us! The Var 37 should be back in the water at the end of the week, after over 100 hours of racing bottom prep. The new sails have arrived, and next week we will tune up against Gemini before we head to Newport.
We hope you will join us for a send off party / cookout on Sunday June 12th from 2pm to 4pm! The Block Island trophy will of course be on display.