The Marblehead/Halifax Ocean Race 2007
by Joe Murli
OK…..well for those of you that got the updates from our cruise last year you might remember me swearing that Tucana would never sail to Nova Scotia again. At the time it just seemed like an offense to the sailing gods to not sail South into warm tropical waters. The idea of taking a perfectly good Summer sailing season, warm air wafting through the hatches as the morning sun rises, warm waters inviting you to jump in for a refreshing swim, the smell of coconut oil on the beach…..yes the idea of giving all that up to dodge freighters and living in your foul weather gear for a solid week while poking through the fog to catch a glimps of some rock that people tell you is beautiful just didn’t seem like the sort of thing that inspires me to sand and varnish all Winter long.
But here we are doing it again this year! At 13:00 today we will be crossing the start line of the Marblehead/Halifax Ocean Race as one of 131 boats officially participating in the race. We are Sail Number USA52416 racing in class PHR-6 and you can follow our position on the website at (http://trackinfo.fistracking.com/Marbleh2007/).
The crew is well seasoned on the boat and you might remember them from prior years. Louise is our zen sailor, Bill is the guy who took his first sailboat ride about 4 years ago on one of our Hunters Moon runs to Block Island and now has more hours on deck of racing boats than any of us (he’s also our designated mast monkey), Frank who is not only the best galley chef on the race but again provided invaluable help all through the Winter in getting the boat ready with repairs. And of course yours truly. Yes you might notice the new hair (lack of) style. We decided to shave our heads as a show of solidarity, and yes after 30 years the mustache is also gone but that’s another story to be shared under different circumstances!
The weather promises to be favorable for our boat, she likes wind, lots of wind so the weatherman is predicting 20-30 knots tomorrow and just to keep us from getting bored 8-10 foot following seas. I will do my best to keep you all apprised of events while off watch so stay tuned.
July 9, 2007 12:00
Distance to Brazil Rock 172 NM
Well since the skippers meeting I’ve pretty much gone through the full range of emotions. Initially we were told that by now we would be approaching 20-30 knot winds further followed by 8-10 foot seas I was happy to hear that we would get the kind of wind Tucana likes to sail in and through to myself “OK we have a shot a a respectable showing this time.
Then the starting gun went off and we cross the line, and cross the line, and cross the line. Soon we were surrounded by every boat in the fleet all bunched together at the start line, drifting more or less aimlessly with no wind whatsoever. Discussions of port side versus starboard side tack, windaward leeward boat, and other fine points of right of way become moot when you have no steerage and boats start to bang into one another. We had to fend off at least one boat twice by hand and foot. Nice enough crew we thought briefly about starting the BBQ and cooking up some steaks, maybe even cracking open a couple of cold ones with the others while waiting for some wind at the starting line!
Eventually through whatever forces in nature exist the boats spread apart and we each took up our strategies for the first leg of the race. We thought we would psyche out the competition by picking the worst possible line and pointing out where there was no wind by example. Funny no one really took the bait by following us into these holes though.
So as nightfall approached we hunkered down for what we thought would be a more exciting sail…..we hunkered down for 3 knots of moonlit sky and glass smooth seas. The crescent shaped moon came up over the horizon with an intense crimson color looking like some surreal sailboat spinnaker light up in the night coming right at us from a distance.
We had cloud cover all around us making for a dark night punctuated by the sounds of whales spouting near us repeatedly for over an hour. Strange experience to hear such creatures so close and not be able to see them.
So for a little comic relief at watch change just as Frank and Bll were settling in at the controls we hear Bill shout “oh no!” and turn around to see his PFD deployed unexpectedly. Good to know these things really work.
So anyone got wind!
July 10, 2007 12:00
Distance to Brazil Rock 121 NM
Waiting eagerly in anticipation of the 20-30 knot winds and heavy seas instead we find ourselves becalmed with a gang of seagulls swimming circles around the boat and hanging out in our shade. They paddle lazy circles around us as some messenger from the gods telling us that we chose the wrong rout.
That is not to say the last 24 hours have been boring, not in the least. Yesterday evening we had a front come through with heavy rains and wind gusts up to 22 knots along with the requisite lightning for good measure.
We took on some minor damage in the process. The whisker pole broke off its mast mount and wedged itself into the jib foil threatening to poke a hole through the sail. We turned down wind to take the pressure off the pole secured it on deck and lashed it down with no problem.
As the wind continued to build and darkness coming upon us we decided take the main down to better deal with the heavy weather going into the night and just fly the jib and the mizzen. As we brought it down we found a broken batten car and just to keep it all interesting as I was pulling back on the leech to flake it down I ripped off a piece in my hand….OK for those of you that are not up to the sailor talk basically the wind and rain came in started breaking things from the front of the boat to the back and left us in a dead calm with a bunch of broken parts to fix….how convenient…….you got to love this ocean racing thing!
So all night long we were contending with 0-3 knot winds pointed in every direction but the ones we could use and no mainsail. So far the competition for distance made good between the two watches on board has been at best comical as we struggle to hand the boat over to the other watch no farther away from Brazil rock than we were when we took over! At the end of one 4 hour watch we travled one nautical mile. Believe me it’s no fun spending the night playing light air in heavy fog fighting to keep from going backwards!
Frank as usual added immeasurably to the morale of the crew throughout all of this with his feast of home made chili ala Froanc. A fantastic sequel to the Froancs and beans he made on Sunday night. Oh lets not forget the pasta ala Froanc we had last night with also made a great lunch today reheated with anchovies, grated parmigian cheese, ala Froanc. We are all speculating what he has in store for us tonight. Crazy passage so far but we eat well have fun.
July 11, 2007 12:00
Distance to Brazil Rock 100 NM
Screaming through the night at hull speed under just Jib and Mizzen. We still haven’t had the opportunity to repair the main. It sounds like a freight train down below as Tucana crashes through moderate seas at full speed with her weather decks under water. Fog is thick, weather is wet and cold, tell me again why we are sailing North?
Great sailing at last!!!
Finally miles are melting off the log at a good pace and we cheer at the end of each watch over distance made good. Only wish we had this yesterday but can’t complain when it’s this good.
Dinner tonight was home made pizza….we may not be the fastest boat in the fleet but life is good aboard and after all that is what it’s all about isn’t it?
July 12, 2007 7:22 (Atlantic Time)
Speed 7.2 knots
Crossed the finish line!
The miles continue to fall as we leave Brazil Rock behind us and approach the finish line in Halifax harbor. Tucana is galloping along between 6.4 and 7.5 knots through the night as though she can taste the end of the race. We’ve been racing along at this pace in dense fog for so long now it no longer seems like anything unusual. We stare at the compass in the dark trying to hold course as best we can as the quartering sea does all it can to throw us off. No land, no clouds, no stars or moon to use as reference. Only the instruments and a maze of green dots on the radar screen hour after hour and now night after night.
As we make our marks in the approaches to Halifax Harbor we radio Harbor Traffic Control and the excitement builds with their welcoming us into the harbor. Just one major problem now…..how the hell are we going to find the finish line in this fog? We have coordinates for the buoy mark on the port side, no problem. But the starboard side is the committee boat and is supposed to be anchored approximately 400 feet away at a bearing of 110 magnetic….easy for you to say but visibility is only about 50 feet! Oh by the way there are cargo and cruise ships on the radio and we can hear their horns all around us. Oh by the way there’s a tall ship festival in town and they are coming in at the same time. Oh by the way the finish line has us crossing the shipping lanes smack dab in the middle. Have a nice day folks!
Well we approach the finish line working the chart plotter and the radar. No boat yet, no boat yet, no boat yet.
The buoy is so close you could touch it and then coming out of the fog there she is! 7:22AM Atlantic time we cross, hear the horn, and make our way up the bay to check in…..we made it
Fourteen boats started in our class and only 9 finished the race, we were one of the 9. After all we’ve been through even finishing last feels like an accomplishment. No air at the start, becalmed for over a day, heavy wind, fog, rain, thunder, lightning all behind us now. All we feel is the sense of a successful passage to Halifax and a need for dry clothes and directions to the closest bar!
OK so the sail up to Halifax was not exactly like the images conjured up in your favorite Jimmy Buffet song or the sense of steel drums on white sand beaches but….this city is fantastic!
If you remember we were dodging tall ships coming into the harbor. Well they are all in town for the festival and Louise and Bill worked their magic, pulled some strings and got us a berth right smack in the middle of it all. Here we are tied up next to the Bounty and right on the seawall in Downtown Halifax with thousands of people walking by striking up all manner of conversations with us. To top it all off we were officially designated a tall ship with all of the rights and privileges assigned to the crew of all the other ships. Parties, free access to all the ships, and these really cool badges that we get to where letting everyone know we are crew on a tall ship.
We even had official liason officers assigned to us to make sure that we were well taken care of while in town. Two of the nicest people I’ve ever met and they just couldn’t do enough for us. In fact the entire city was very welcoming
and hospitable everywhere we went.
Now of course that requires some fast talking when you are face to face with a real tall ship crewman. Invariably the greeting goes something like this “so which ship are you on?” “Tucana, the shortest of the tall ships in the harbor!” “Really how is she rigged, barque, brig?” “Ah no, er, ummm, she’s a ketch….38 feet.” (voice trails off)
In any case Tucana participated in the Parade of Sail” along the waterfront. We dressed ship to the nines with our colossal American flag, string of signal flags, and of course what has now become our mascot our 5 foot bottle of Goslings rum.
What better way to punctuate a great trip and a memorable experience. But all things must come to an end. Till next year!