Last September, I along with the core of Team Bitter End was lining up for the Stamford Vineyard Race aboard two separate boats. For most of my teammates, this was their first offshore race. The experience ignited something in each of us, and nine months later we were hurtling towards Bermuda in the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division as one of the youngest teams in the history of the Newport Bermuda Race onboard Oakcliff’s Farr 40 Blue. With encouragement from pre-race coach Richard Feeny and Oakcliff Sailing’s training program which brought in rockstar coach Libby Greenhalgh and an excellent sponsor Bitter End Yacht Club, we went from green big boat racers to prepared bluewater competitors.
We were trained, focused and ready to go! Then, as our start was approaching the race committee signaled a postponement. Sailors and spectators watched a major squall pass right by Castle Hill Lighthouse. Helmsperson Sophia Comiskey remembers, “Right before starting, there was a collective calm on the boat, mixed with a bit of nerves and stress about the weather conditions we were experiencing, and what we knew was to come.” In an instant, we went from preparing to ping the pin to a mad dash for a controlled douse. After a quick recovery and a loss of breeze, we found a line of better air, and began moving forward on the overall fleet. We had only just started. It was stormy, windy and rainy and we had a long journey ahead. Our team kept that collective calm, and sure enough we were quickly reminded to stay positive when a full rainbow appeared just to windward of us.
Every challenge came with an opportunity. After some technical difficulties updating weather data, we chose to largely stay east of the rhumbline and found the large eddy in the Gulf Stream we hoped for, with currents that gave us a 3.5 knot boost on day two. On the morning of our third day at sea, our gooseneck pin started to pull out. We were lucky to catch the issue, repair it and we were back on course within ninety minutes. Sailing fast was our main focus, but without taking too many risks. We later learned that the small holes in the sail that we repaired were nothing compared to some of the damage other teams had sustained. By choosing to change to a smaller jib earlier, or anticipate conditions and sail a gentler angle, we not only saved gear, but also precious time and miles that other teams lost when they were slowed with damage or overpowered by a squall.
For the full story and some wonderful onboard photography, go to this link at Windcheck Magazine.