Besides the look on all the lubbers faces when you tell them you are racing in the NOOD, the good times, the competition, the venue, the St. Pete Yacht Club, and the Mount Gay Rum make this one of my very favorite Regattas. Some people just come to race in Florida in the winter but I live here, so I came to win. I did what I could to my boat (A Corsair F-31R trimaran) with my limited resources. At Key West Race Week in January I accepted the offer of Doug Harkrider (current F-31 National Champion) to sail with me and provide additional crew Ron Goldfarb. I even managed to get my boat to the Regatta on time.
My first clue as to the education I was about to receive came when Doug grabbed the starboard cap shroud to steady himself for the long step from the dock to the float. Almost before his foot touched the deck he said “Your rig is too tight,” and it was like the starting gun sounded. I had been listening to and watching and studying the multihull wizards that sailed the F-28R’s at Key West Race Week so I had already installed the spinnaker halyard clutch on the mast that everyone said was imperative. I had taken off much of the excess weight that I knew would be unacceptable. Ron, one of Doug’s crew last year at Nationals (hereafter referred to as “Speedo”) looked at my bimini and said “What kind of sail is that?” So after only one trip to the truck with all three of us carrying multiple armloads we were ready to go for a short sail. As I guided the boat out to the bay they bent on sails, ran lines, and looked questioningly at my home-made spinnaker launching bag. And then just before it was time to raise the sails Doug looked at me and said, “Where do you sit when you steer? I hope it’s not there!” I knew that hiking out would be required so I made for the windward float. I am not particularly fleet afoot, so I can’t help but wonder what Doug was thinking as I crawled out to the net but I refrained from asking. They raised the sails and made a myriad of adjustments and explained to me that my job was to steer, and from outside the cockpit. I knew the helmsman was supposed to concentrate on steering. Every time that I crew that is what I tell the skipper. Steer the boat, don’t look over there, shut up and steer the boat. Unfortunately I am not used to just steering, usually I also trim the main and call tactics.
My own words were destined to haunt me all weekend. The first few drills went pretty well, I think. Doug and Speedo certainly knew what they were doing and I did try very hard to concentrate on the tell-tales. Shortly we returned to the dock and prepared to go to the skipper’s meeting at the Yacht Club.
After the skipper’s meeting, Southwinds Magazine had invited the multihull class for dinner and drinks at a local establishment, where we talked, gleaned a little local knowledge, reunited with some people from last years Nationals inFt.Walton, met some of the competition and indulged ourselves at the host’s expense. Thanks, Doran.
Friday, race day one, we headed to the course. I reveled in the awed expressions that the F-31 and the other F-boats extract from everyone that sees them. So confident in our coolness was I that when Doug suggested we fly the chute and gybe a few time down to the starting area I was ready. I’m not sure which gybe it was, first, second, or third but my confidence ran into my clumsiness combined with a spinnaker sheet and the VHF and I test the water temperature, thoroughly. A tad nipply it was but aside from being a little shocked I was fine and floated around in my life jacket listening to the Race Committee until Doug and Ron doused the chute and retrieved me. I guess I needed to justify my decision to not allow them to leave the boarding ladder at the dock. I was embarrassed but ready to race by the first start.
We were over early and gybed around, heading to the right side of the course and a quick recovery. I do have a little problem pinching, Doug was kind enough to remind me a few times and I think I was doing better by the end of the weekend, although now that I think about it, he may have just gotten tired of telling me. Two things were made clear to me more by observation than instruction. 1. Crew weight is forward and low in light air especially if skipper weight is large, high, and aft. 2. The mast rotator is much more critical that I had imagined. I equate it to the backstay tensioner on a leaner. We finished first and corrected to 2nd and I was pleased. The second race was less pleasing, Joe Rome on the other F-31 shut us out at the start line, so we started next to last, misconstrued the course change, and (you can add your own list of standard excuses). We corrected to 7th and vowed to do better.
Saturday the wind was up, estimated 15 to 20, and my home made spinnaker launching bag was not up to the task. After wasting too much time trying to make it work, the solution turned out to be that Speedo would lie on the chute upwind to keep in on the boat while Doug worked the boat and I steered. Incredibly we corrected out to third.
The next solution for the chute was to launch from the companionway which worked much better in the brisk breeze. Most importantly, Ron got to return to crew duty from riding the chute through the waves. In the second start, Doug told me where he wanted to be and let me try to get there, I was perfect, it was probably the best start I have ever had. First on the line with clear air and I learned a new phrase, “waterline them to death”.
This time crew weight was high and behind the cap shroud. As the forward half of the main hull lightly skimmed across the water at 14 plus knots I began to understand. Some of the other boats were working out their issues too and making improvements, Tri Southwinds’ 27 was consistently fast, Joe Rome’s 31 was keeping the pressure on, and Robert Remmers’ 24 was cleaning our clock. We managed two more thirds for the day without too many more incidents. One near incident had to do with the leeward rounding in the middle of about 11 Sonar monohulls. We were coming in on starboard making 9 or 10 knots while this string of Sonars doing 3 or 4 knots on port did not really want to make us a space. I guess the probability of being forked persuaded them because a hole did open up, and we wiggled through as Ron pulled the Chute down to windward and Doug got us all trimmed up for the windward leg. A side note here, if you ever race against Harkrider and his crew and you lose, do not despair. They really are quite exceptional trimaran sailors.
Sunday the wind was a little lighter but still brisk. My start was a little less perfect this time and we had to gybe back under the line, then headed right. On the next tack the bolt holding the tiller extension snapped and I had to steer from the cockpit while Doug and Ron made repairs. They found a bigger bolt, drilled out the bracket and the tiller with a bit that should have been much sharper, and then after we rounded the windward mark and set the chute, reassembled the hiking stick. I was impressed, hell I am still impressed. We manage to eke out a fourth. In the last race we focused more on Joe Rome at the start which let some of the other guys out. Then I had fog on the brain at the windward mark and luffed the chute too long. Just could not seem to move the tiller the right way. Anyway we ended up with a fifth. I am tickled to death with our performance. Doug and Ron are truly awesome. Doug had a solution for nearly every issue and Ron handles those sails like handkerchiefs, and we are not talking about small sails.
The competition was very tough. Doran has spent the time and money to make his boat right, his sails fast, and his crew is outstanding. Joe Rome was also well equipped and has a real drive to win, I suspect his time racing Indy cars may have something to do with that. Cushing, Remmers and Rome corrected in front of us in that order.. As for me, I didn’t win any big trophies but I got five coffee cups for five good finishes, knowledge that I hope to retain at least half of and an experience I will never forget. My life is good and getting better.