From the beginning things were hairy. We fried a battery during the load, and one of our crewmembers got stuck in traffic so we were late leaving the dock. We got pounded progressively worse as we approached the start and we had reports that the weather was going to build all night. When we went to set the main, I slipped on the cabin top and lost the main halyard. That was close to a showstopper because I don't think they would have sent me up the mast in those conditions, but luckily we were able to head into the wind and get the halyard to blow back on to the deck. And yes, I felt like an idiot.
With our late departure, we thought we had missed the start, and considered turning around so that we didn't waste two days sailing for nothing. But I guess we figured we had come as far as we had so we might as well find the starting line. All starts had been delayed, so we were OK, but as we checked in by radio our gun went off, so we were several minutes late, but still in the race.
Boats were being thrown around quite a bit, so it didn't look like anyone was too aggressive at the start. Staying clear of danger seemed to be the priority. A few minutes before the start, I caught my cartridge-activated life vest on a shroud and blew myself up like the Michelin Man. And yes, I felt like an idiot.
Through the start the wind was on our nose as were the seas. These weren't monster waves, but they were steep so we were pounding pretty hard. The Olson 911s is a really solid boat, but in conditions like this I think you always expect something might break. We were leaking through the mast and a porthole, so nothing was going to stay too dry, but when you are taking waves over the deck every 20 seconds or so, I don't think there is any hope of staying dry anyway.
We sailed our number 3 and a full main for the first hour or so, but we were getting more and more overpowered. We eventually set a reef, but Kelly, the boat's owner was resistant to set the number 4 or storm trysail. He didn't think we would be able to make much headway with those sails. With the new configuration we were more stable, and we started settling in for a long, tough night. I give Kelly and our other driver Bengt a lot of credit, their heads were always in the race. We were tacking to stay on course and take advantage of every shift.
I am not going to pretend I wasn't nervous. I wasn't terrified, but I was now wearing a life vest that I would have to orally inflate if I went in, and things were certainly intense on deck. I asked Bengt if he thought we could safely continue, and he said yes but it wasn't going to be any fun. He and Kelly know what they are doing so that was good enough for me.
My stomach did calm down, not that I was ever that close to throwing up. I just felt lousy. So then you start the mind game . . . The only way to warm up will be to go down below, but if you go down below you’re going to be sick. Not to mention we really needed the weight up top. It was going to be a long night!
Then we saw Seafeather heading home, and though nobody wanted to be the one to say it, I think everyone wanted to throw in the towel. I said I wasn't going to ruin anyone's race, but I'd vote to go home if they wanted to. I am pretty sure the vote was 6 - 0 in favor of turning around.
Then, as Kelly said, we were going to have some fun. The waves were now on our transom, as were the winds. Perfect surfing conditions. I have raced on Poppy for 3 years, and probably on a good downwind leg we have had a few moments in the 8.5 knot range. Well on the way home, we surfed at speeds as high as 18.9 knots. Sometimes surfing for 10 - 15 seconds at a time (that is a guess, but definitely lengthy intervals).
We weaved around some ship traffic and noticed that nobody on the passing Carnival Cruise ship was outside . . . I wonder why. We monitored a Pan Pan over the radio, when another boat in the race, Laurelai reported that it was taking on water. A Coast Guard chopper and 47 footer were sent out as a precaution but they were able to make it in safely. Once we heard they were safe I joked that I was surprised they could even tell they were taking on water . . . who wasn't!
The weather held up pretty good past Sandy Hook, but we were able to start dinner cooking. Anne had cooked a Beef Goulash-Stroganoff dish that tasted great. And as we approached RYC around 9pm I think we were all feeling pretty happy about the decision.
The next morning, my friend Thad, who had done the race last year on Poppy, sent me a text saying all but 9 boats had withdrawn and he had been concerned about us. I had the complete opposite experience he had the year prior, when it was basically a 3 day drift around Long Island.
So I am 0 for 2. My first experience in ALIR was about 20 years ago, and the weather was pretty similar. We dropped out of that one after about 30 hours (maybe less) taking on water with three very sick crewmembers. Maybe I am the problem!