The 2010 Vineyard Race did not disappoint, except on the following fronts:
1. It beat the crap out of everybody
2. It made lots of people seasick
3. It seemed to never end
4. It broke lots of gear
5. It deprived everyone of sleep
Other than that it was fantastic. I raced on Poppy, an Olson 911s owned by Kelly Robinson and Valerie Shwerk out of Raritan Yacht Club. We had a crew of 7, and I think at 30 feet we were the smallest boat in the fleet. We won our division, PHRF 3 as well as the Cotton Blossom Performance Trophy (best corrected time on the Seaflower Reef Course). With Hurricane Earl busting by the coast the day before, we had beautiful skies and 70 degree temperatures at the start, but the seas were rough and the wind was up. The start was great with 60+ boats, including some gorgeous big boats like Gracie, Carina, and Vela Veloce to admire.
We kind of knew what we were in for with 20kts+ of wind from the stern and 4 - 6 foot seas. It would be a raging sleigh ride up the sound and a rough beat all the way back. We started conservatively with a #3 jib and full main. Once we cleared our air we hoisted our spinnaker, a .6 AP. Definitely a light sail for the conditions but we seemed to be doing all right. Our drivers, Kelly Robinson and Bengt Johannsen had their hands full keeping the boat from crashing, but the condition were very good for our particular design. We saw speeds touching 14+ knots and we must have been averaging about 10kts.
Everywhere you looked there was carnage. Boats were being knocked down left and right, and sailmakers were high-fiving each other as chute after chute blew apart. We went by a Shock 40 which had lost its mast after a backstay failure, and we heard the radio call when a crew member on another boat suffered a head wound (I later heard he was OK). That stuff was scary, but I think that was the worst of it. I did hear that a sailor lost his life over the weekend on the Sound in a different regatta following a boom-strike. Very sad.
We were being conservative, just trying to keep everything together. We dropped the chute at every gybe (chicken gybing) to be safe. We suffered a spinnaker tear, and a lost spin halyard early, and a little later, we heard a huge pop as one of our spin blocks blew off the rail. That was a scary moment, but it missed everyone. We decided to keep flying the #3 inside of the spinnaker. It didn't seem to hurt anything and it was helping with stability. It certainly kept us moving through the chicken gybes.
We ate dinner early because we knew once we turned the corner we were going to be in for a pounding. Just before the mark we lost and wrapped our last spin halyard. Our #3 was up at the time, which was good because we couldn't get it down for the duration of the race with both halyards wrapped around the headstay and sail head. Then the real pain began as we rounded the mark. We lost one crew member to seasickness almost immediately after the turn. We were down a bunk and the pounding was pretty rough. The winds were consistently above 20, and I am sure we saw 30+ in the gusts. We reefed the main, and charged on.
I was on the first watch of the evening. Hanging on the rail we drank a lot of seawater, and checked our tethers often. The water was warmer then the air, but there was a lot of it being dumped on us with each wave. Eventually I was cold and wet. We didn't get passed by many boats on the way up, but the big boats started mowing us down in the first few hours of the upwind leg. They were probably sipping champagne and eating crumpets; laughing at the idiots in the little boat! We just kept the boat going as fast as we could as the current worked hard against us.
My shift ended, and Ann Myers (RYC's commodore) and I thankfully got off the rail and went below. For the next four hours I was huddled in the top of the quarter berth just glad to be out of the elements. Anne was at the bottom in her own cocoon. She is much tougher than me and managed to get some sleep. I just laid there happy not to be quite as cold, but mostly bracing myself against the constant shellacking!
Towards the end of our off-shift we lost our watch's driver to seasickness, so Bengt and Kelly were resigned to double duty on the helm. I managed to get one more layer of clothing on, but it wasn't enough. My second shift was uneventful . . . tack, get on the rail, shiver, repeat. . . tack, get on the rail, shiver, repeat. We seemed to be making little progress over ground. Finally, I went off watch again, and I was cold, tired and ragged. Unfortunately, the cabin was in disarray at that point. The skipper was sleeping on the cabin sole, there were terrible smells related to sea sickness and the head, and gear was strewn all over. I stayed below for 10 minutes and realized if I didn't get back on the rail, my insides would be on my outsides. So I threw my gear back on, tethered up, climbed over the seasick crewmember chumming his guts into the cockpit from the companion way and said, "Hey boys, I am back here for the duration". And there was at least another 7 hours to go from that point. Fortunately, my twinge of queasiness subsided quickly.
There was a little mercy as the sun came up on Sunday morning, but the sea state and wind were as strong as ever. Finally, in the early afternoon, the wind dropped slightly, but we couldn't change sails with the fouled halyards so we just stayed with our #3. I am sure that cost us some time, but everybody else was having issues out there so it probably wasn't that big a deal.
We got a horn from the race committee as we entered Stamford Harbor around 2:30pm. It was grueling, but we all felt a sense of accomplishment. We had no idea at that point how we had done in the race. I made a quick trip up the mast so that we could get the jib down and then we went into the dock (running aground twice in front of the yacht club . . . we were tired and wanted to give SYC something to laugh at). We then ate voraciously, and said goodbye to 4 of our crew members. Kelly, Anne and I stayed at Stamford Yacht Club for another few hours waiting for the tide and dreading the delivery home. We were sure it would be a slog of a ride from the Sound through New York Harbor, but we finally ran into some good luck. As we left the harbor, we were greeted by a beautiful sunset and calm waters.
We listened to music, ate a nice meal, and talked about the trip and just about everything else. Finally, around midnight, we were in the East River and I headed for a bunk, where I got about 2 1/2 hours of rest. To that point, I had slept maybe a total of one hour, but never for more than about 5 minutes in a row.
So that is the story. It really was a great experience. Definitely not easy, but very rewarding.
Kelly Robinson, Valerie Schwenk, Bengt Johannsen, Johann Bloc, Jerry Orabona, Anne Meyers, Ethan Garr