A Day at the Races -March 6, 2003
The stalwart crew of 'Mati-J' in the Around Stocking Island race
At 0745 hours this morning there was a rap on the side of the boat and a cheerful, "Good morning, 'Little Gidding!'" Eileen buried her head deeper into her pillow and moaned. David gulped the last of his coffee and bounded up the companionway steps laden with tubes of sunscreen and an assortment of fishing gear. Our friends from 'Interlude', Jack and Joanne and their terrier Indy, were alongside in their inflatable dinghy. David handed down the stuff he was carrying and called back to Eileen, "See you later!" From below, Eileen mumbled, "Good luck." As he clambered into the waiting dinghy, David thought he heard some less charitable comments, something about the time of day and the wisdom of sailing in circles.
It's Cruising Regatta week in George Town in the Bahamas. Ever since the opening night festivities last Saturday, the harbour has been a frenzy of activity. Sunday was children's day, with games and competitions for kids of all ages, involving both boat kids and local Bahamian children. There was dinghy racing Monday morning and a sand sculpture competition in the afternoon. Tuesday was the first day of racing for the big boats - a triangle course in Elizabeth Harbour, timed for high tide to minimize the number of competitors going aground. Yesterday, there were volleyball games during the day and a softball tournament in the evening. And today was the second big boat race day - the venerable Around Stocking Island Race & Fishing Contest.
Last year, David crewed on 'Unity', winner of the coveted Turtle Award for finishing dead last (see our March 28, 2002 log entry). This year he and Jack and Joanne (and Indy) were recruited as crew by our friends Janet and Berj on 'Mati-J'. Now at first glance, 'Mati-J' might look like she'd give 'Unity' stiff competition for the Turtle. She's a 38 foot home-built ferro-cement sloop with 23 year old sails and all sorts of cruising paraphernalia lashed to the lifelines and standing rigging. But as the crew assembled on board this morning, everyone decided they had a serious chance of winning something other than last place. Jack, an experienced sailor with international racing credentials, was chief tactician. David was in charge of fishing - a prize is given to the boat catching the longest fish going around the course. Joanne called sail trim and was responsible for ensuring the headsail didn't snag on any protruding gear - like the wind generator and boarding ladder - when the boat tacked. Janet and Berj shared steering and sheet handling responsibilities. Indy was in charge of crew morale.
The start was staggered according to each boat's racing handicap (using a modified version of the PHRF rating system), the slowest boats starting first. In her class of five boats, 'Mati-J' had the second last start. Running before a lively 12 knot breeze, she was closing on the boats ahead of her by the time they reached the cut at the north end of Stocking Island - despite the fact she weighed at least twice as much as her smaller, lighter rivals. Then it was a long slog to windward down the open ocean side of the island.
'Kittiwake', a Pearson 35 sailed by an former Olympic sailor, smoked by, hugging the shoreline. "I don't think we'll take first place," Jack commented.
'Charis', a 37 foot fibreglass ketch just in front of 'Mati-J', chose to take a long outside tack. The other two boats in the class, 'Unity' and 'Outrageous', stayed in. "Forget 'Charis'," Jack said, " if we stay with 'Unity' and 'Outrageous' and pass them we've got at least third place - good for a pennant." David added, "I think we'd better catch a fish, just to be on the safe side."
A couple of miles from the top of the island, 'Mati-J' passed 'Outrageous'. A short time later 'Outrageous' radioed the race committee to announce she was dropping out because she was getting low on ice and didn't want to spend the rest of the day alone on the ocean with warm beverages. Then a trimaran in the multi-hull class, "Flying Fish", announced on the radio they had caught a 35 inch tuna. There was a strike on one of David's lines and he reeled in a barracuda. It was a mere baby, about 24 inches long. "That won't do," he said, and released it.
About half way down the island, 'Mati-J' overtook 'Unity' - giving her another chance to win the Turtle. David caught another barracuda, another baby. "Where are your big brothers and sisters?" he asked as he liberated it.
'Mati-J' approached the mark at the south end of the island just as 'Charis' came in from her transoceanic tack. The two were only a couple of boat lengths apart after rounding the buoy. "I think we can take her and grab second place," Jack said. Indy wagged his tail. David said, "I'll keep fishing."
The wind died. The laws of physics as they apply to the movement of 28,000 pounds of half-submerged concrete began exacting their toll. The transom of 'Charis' slowly dwindled on the horizon ahead. Janet passed around sandwiches and drinks. David changed fish lures. Indy fell asleep.
Six hours after the start, 'Mati-J' crossed the finish line, secure in third place. David reeled in the fishing lines for the last time. "I'll take this over the Turtle Award any day," he claimed. "And next year, with a bit more wind and maybe some new lures, you never know what we might do..."