Sunday, June 4, 2017

Figawi 2017

The morning of "the big day" the crew was running late, and after Friday's debacles on the feeder race course I honestly didn't care if we started on time, just that we got to Nantucket without any mishaps. Catching the very last launch to leave the HYC dock that morning might have stressed out some crews, but we were surprisingly not worried. Coming out of the harbor and witnessing 200 boats eagerly awaiting their time to cross the same starting line is always a sight to be seen. They gave us one of the longer courses, at 25.6 nm so this meant we had a slightly later start around 10:58.

We were very lucky to have an awesomely talented crew of 9; including 4 Catamounts, and 1 lucky Irishman. Adam Ceely was calling tactics/wind and he did a phenomenal job throughout the nearly 7 hours of racing.Once again it was a predominantly downwind race. We started with the 155% genoa up, less than one boat length from Lyric who was OCS and had to return to the line to restart. We gybed as soon as we had a lane of clear air, and in the process we happened to squat on Dark n Stormy's air. They were forced to gybe back towards the West where all of the cruisers were sailing slowly wing-on-wing. We on the other hand headed wayyyyyy out to the East as the northerly breeze slowly died. Once firmly on the far left side of the leg, we did a couple gybes to avoid sailing into dead zones and did a great job of connecting the dots, linking up puffs and keeping the boat rolling. We had several close interactions with much bigger boats who started ahead of us, and were able to maneuver around them with relative confidence in the light wind.

About 3/4 of the way to the Tuckernuck Shoal buoy, a wind line approached and we noticed several boats to the east of us were forced to sail away from the mark for a period of time while they doused their spinnakers. We were proactive in our sail change, and had the genoa up and ready for when the wind line hit us allowing us to climb over and roll several much bigger boats. We had maintained our lead over dark n stormy, but lyric had had been the farthest east and got in the new wind first. We rounded tuckernuck shoal and headed upwind on a 3.5 mile beat into a strong current. At this point the wind was around 10 kt, but still very shifty and we put in a tack when we felt our first big header, about 5 minutes after the rounding. This was well timed and Dark n Stormy was again suffering from our bad air and were forced to tack back into the header and over to the right side of the leg as we went off into cleaner air on the left. Dark n Stormy had one this class for the last 5 years in a row, and we had to do everything we could to prevent a six-peat. Unfortunately this was one of those instances where current was a more dominating factor than the wind and when we re-convened with them we were behind by a boat length or two. This time, they tacked on top of us and forced us to clear our air again. This time the current was so foul, that our tacking angle of 135 degrees puzzled both me and our tactician. But yet again we headed left for clean air, and DnS went right to get out of the current. This is when luck won us the race. The wind clocked around another 30 degrees, and we were able to lay the mark from where we were on starboard tack. This also meant that DnS had over-stood by many many boat lengths and the extra distance they had to sail hurt them badly.

We did a very wide rounding at Great Point to avoid being swept onto the mark, and by now we were leading our class (unbeknownst to us).  Just 7.5 miles of light air reaching stood between us and the finish, and the current was finally in our favor. Unfortunately the wind basically vaporized, and we were struggling to keep the boat moving through the water. It was almost as if our current induced sweep over the ground was causing apparent wind to barely fill the sails enough for us to keep some tiny semblance of momentum. As the wind continued to drop it began to look like we might not finish within the allotted time. I became fidgety, and was struggling to keep my focus on the helm so I passed it off to Connor Aswad and went down below to clear my head. We were yet to hit our J quota for the day, so I twisted up a pair of fatties while proclaiming "I'll bet none of the other owners have to roll their own!" At some point it sounded like dark n stormy were riding a puff and making a comeback; trying to roll over the top of us. I emerged from the cabin with a pair of walrus tusks, and they were a mere 10 feet away and to windward of us! We had a good laugh and I offered to try throwing one to them. Instead I lit them both, passed them opposite directions around the cockpit where the entire crew appeared to be casually sitting in the stern. Immediately the smoke filled our sails, along with some of the wind that was propelling DnS. Thankfully our bow was still ahead of theirs and our air was clean. As we sailed ahead I'm sure they could smell our sweet stench - also a friendly reminder that they were in our disturbed breeze. Gavan the hilarious irishman even said "More like Narc-n-Stormy".


It was still uncertain whether we were going to finish in time, and as the breeze shifted slightly we made the decision to hoist the brand new Code 0 sail for the first time to check if the stripes matched our color scheme. Nothing like a little head-sail ADD to risk blowing a perfectly good lead right? The extra depth compared to the genoa definitely allowed for some extra power, but as the apparent wind shifted forward again and we decided to go back to the genoa, dousing the kite into the cockpit. 15 minutes later, the wind shifted back yet again so we re-packed and re-hoisted the Code 0 again. This time it was up to stay, and it propelled us over the finish line where the race committee on Gun Smoke suggested we cover our ears before firing off the shotgun, only half a boat length away from us.
We couldn't believe that the gun was for us, we thought maybe some other boat to leeward had just won their class, but sure enough we'd just won the f'ing FIGAWI race! We were actually 22nd out of 47 boats on the long course, but this was still a major check mark on my bucket list! We were so stoked that we hoisted the battle flag inside the spinnaker and carried it all the way past Brant Point Lighthouse practically all the way to the boat basin before putting our sails down and starting the engine. It was a dream come true! We got a rockstar's welcome on the island, including a free suite  where my mom now works at the Nantucket Hotel - overlooking the boat basin! Everyone we encountered seemed to know that we'd won figawi, and we assured them that "We're Still Winning!!!" as we celebrated all weekend long. After awards we rushed straight to Cisco Brewery only to remember that it was a Sunday and we'd arrived right at last call. Since my brother and brother in-law both tend bar there, we still managed to get the trophy filled with one massive ice-free F-yeah cocktail with 4 XL straws so we could all pass it around and share the rewards!

Figawi juxtaposition: an Irishman drinking English rum in front of an American flag on a boat named after Native American currency 

Sailing to Nantucket, regardless of the race, has always been personally significant for me. A large part of my closest family lives on the island now including my sister and her two island born kids, Tyler Jr and Hazel Jane.

Monday's delivery home was quite possibly the worst sail I've ever done. It reminded me of deliveries to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, minus a dodger. Nasty NE wind, heavy rain, and air temps in the 40's. Hypothermia was a real threat. We hung out at Straight Wharf drinking cocktails (with a crowd that resembled last call on a friday night, not  noon on a monday) delaying our departure until 3PM in order to let the worst of the rain pass, and to catch a favorable current back to woods hole.  We got in at 8PM soaked to the core and lacking simple motor skills for things like knot tying. We logged over 120 miles on Wampum's keel in 4 days, which included two days of strange tribal rituals in a tent on a faraway island.

Finally, all of that vacation time spent in the driveway, chipping barnacles, wet sanding the bottom, installing electrons, rushing to paint the nonskid in narrow windows of warm weather, drilling out new thru-hulls the day before launching, doing my own legwork to correct Kingman's fuck up, the 12+ attempts to run a new mast head cable, the entire paycheck put towards entry/dockage fees, taking on another roommate for the summer to make sure my mortgage gets paid, ALL of it was FINALLY worth it.

Next up, the Mattapoisett Spring Round the Bay pursuit race out of my home town. Then hopefully the Whaler's Race hosted by New Bedford Yacht Club which is 105 miles, with marks at Nomans, Block Island, and Cuttyhunk, on the first full moon of summer and the shortest night of the year.

Figawi Feeder Race

Friday May 26th was Wampum's first race of the year. It was a pursuit race from Falmouth harbor to Hyannis harbor with no major turning marks, just general guidelines to keep everyone in the deep water. With a with the breeze out of the West, it was a downwind drag race with the strong flooding current also behind us. So, a bad day to be over the start early. Instead, we started about 15-20 seconds late with no head-sail up and promptly hoisted the red A2 once clearing the committee boat. The breeze was clocking all day, and very puffy up to 23 kts but terribly inconsistent. We made several very bad gybes, when really we should've only needed to do one or two if they'd been timed properly. The swift current was not always directly behind us, and while approaching Succonnesset shoal we seemed to be getting swept hard to the North, rather than to the East. It forced us to do another gybe which was poorly timed and caused a severe hourglass twist in the head. So twisted that it required dousing the kite onto the foredeck to get the twist out. This was a blessing in disguise, as moments later we saw the depth gauge rapidly plummet, followed by two soft skims across a small sand bar. Had we been fully powered up we may have been heeling enough to miss these completely, but we also would've been significantly more powered up and had a much harder time sailing around the remainder of the shoal. Once around the shoal, we re-hoisted and sailed back out into the middle of the fleet. With a big 50'+ cruiser headed our way we gybed yet again, but with very poor timing as a shifty puff prevented the main from coming through. Momentarily we were wing on wing before I SPAZZED  and heated up our angle in an attempt to unload the main and flop it over to the new side. However, by now the puff was on in full effect the spinnaker was heavily loaded up, and we promptly broached. As I was calling for the pit person to just blow the halyard and put the sail in the water, we somehow managed to get enough forward momentum through the water for me to turn the bow back downwind. On the next gybe after that, we got another very tough hourglass in the head of the spinnaker. Once again we had to drop it onto the deck. Firmly at the back of the fleet, and with the wind clocking around to a more N angle, we made the call to switch to the small jib instead. It paid off as we rounded Hodges Rock for the final leg which was about 80 degrees true wind angle and about 20 knots. We managed to hold off a couple much bigger cruisers despite our lack of waterline, and surfed over the finish line at around 11 knots SOG. Our tails were thoroughly between our legs. we were cold and soaking wet, but everything was still in one piece.


2017 Prep

Lots of upgrades this spring for Wampum. Most notably, we re-painted the decks with kiwi grip and installed a new suite of sensors, a digital display and a new chart plotter from B&G. We also got a new code-0 / A5 from Hood Sails which made its debut at the figawi race. We also made a new main sail cover and new sheet bags from purple sunbrella.

I was scheduled to launch May 15th, but delayed to the end of that week due to the timing of tides and needing a high tide for my deep keel to fit under the travel lift. On the night before I was supposed to launch the boat I got a message from Kingman Yacht Center that they'd had a problem putting my rigging back together and that I shouldn't bring my boat in. As it turned out, they'd galled the threads on my lowest spreader cup where the V1 shroud meets the V2 and the D2 shrouds. They were trying to convince me that my only option to make it in the water in time for figawi (which i was already significantly invested in attending) was to weld the cup solid, cut the tip off the spreader put the cup in place and re-weld the spreader back together. I was a more than little skeptical, especially once I visited their shop and saw my rigging sitting on the dirty metal chip laden floor. AND, they wanted me to pay the welder and rigger for extra time, even though they were the ones that had caused the issue in the first place. I was furious at the thought of losing my entry fees, and the fact that Kingman refused to accept any responsibility. But I had to play it cool, and not freak out in front of them because they were still my only hope of getting the boat off the trailer and into the water, IF we could get the rigging repaired professionally in time.

So, rather than have the parts welded, I picked them up from Kingman and brought them to R&W Rigging in New Bedford on a Saturday afternoon. Less than 1 week before figawi! By some small miracle they were able to find a single replacement cup (they have long since stopped making these parts) in a spare bin at another rigging shop in Fall River! They did the assembly, re-flared the rod rigging V1 and V2, and got the parts back to me on Wednesday so the mast could be reassembled. The boat launched the next day Thusday in a cold driving rain. I rigged the lifelines, boom, mainsheet, backstay etc. that day and on the high tide around 6PM we motored around Bassats island and out into buzzards bay in the fog. We put up the red spinnaker and had a nice downwind run in a light NE as it slowly got darker and colder. We sailed into woods hole under main alone, in the pitch dark and thick fog. The very next day was our first race... Realllllly down to the wire. Pun intended. 

Nantucket Race Week

Shortly after crossing the finish line (last, again) wednesday August 14th, we were greeted by Michael Moore aboard The Boss who volunteered to shuttle most of the crew ashore from the vicinity of bird island. Three of us remained onboard to deliver wampum to woods hole that night under a full moon. The A1 was still rigged from that night's race, so we put it right back up and went surfing at 12kt downwind, across buzzards bay in a warm steady thermal Sou'wester. We doused it in outer Hadley's Harbor and sailed the main alone and favorable current straight down the main channel of Woods Hole.

Wampum spent the night in a slip at the WHOI dock for the night and on Thursday morning we continued another 32 miles to Nantucket on one loooooong starboard tack. My mom was onboard and it was her birthday. She enjoyed driving the boat, drinking a bud light before noon, and napping in the sun.

Once on Nantucket we dined on some fine fungus and picked up the skippers bag at the Nantucket Yacht Club. Panerai watches was a big sponsor, and had a pop up euro lounge out on the dock with Peroni, Prosseco and  everything else Italian. From there we hopped on the Cisco shuttle and had ourselves some F'yeahs and Blueberry lemonades at the 888 Distillery.

Friday began the racing with Windward/Leeward courses, twice around with 2-3 mile legs. We had a stellar crew with 5 catamounts and one secret Stork weapon. Steve Widdis trimming headsails, Laura Einchorn in the pit, Trudy on bow, Will Streloh trimming the main, and Ian Stork calling tactics/squirreling. The location of the race circle was about half way between the entrance of Nantucket harbor and Great Point. This meant for relatively flat seas both days, and since we were racing in the lee of Coatue there were several interesting persistent shifts around the course. We took two bullets on Day 1, which was virtually unheard of for Wampum. Prima, a J105 crewed by Nantucket Community Sailing kids and instructors was close behind with two 2's.

Saturday's wind was a little lighter and we were happy to be fully powered up with the 155% genoa on the upwind legs. We botched the first leeward mark rounding of the day, and a late douse turned into a big mess. It caused us to sail several boat lengths downwind unnecessarily before we could start going back upwind. Clio, another J105 crewed by NCS kids was able to pass us and defend their lead for the rest of race 3. On race 4 we had the opposite problem, when (against Ian's advice) I called for an early douse and we wallowed slow and deep for several boat lengths before rounding the leeward mark. Luckily the wind was getting even lighter and the J105s were not able to keep up.

At the last windward mark rounding of the day we were neck and neck with two 12 meter yachts and Wild Horses (a W76 that Trudy and I have both crewed on). We rounded ahead of them but I could feel them breathing down my back on the offset leg. Since they were not using spinnakers, they rounded the mark and went dead down-wind while we were able to reach away to the right. Despite the massive boats on the same course, we sailed the leg in mostly clean air and were able to extend away from them. We nailed our last gybe perfectly and came back at them on port but quite a few boat lengths to leeward as we approached the finish line. We also managed to converge with the Dorade, the famous 52 foot S&S yawl from 1929. Since we were several minutes ahead of our competition I considered taking the spinnaker down and finishing behind these legends, but Ian insisted "We got it!".

And so we crossed the finish line just two boat lengths ahead of Weatherly, Colombia, Wild Horses and Dorade all of whom were overlapped crossing the line. As we sailed into their MASSIVE collective wind shadow we basically stopped dead in our tracks, and took the kite down. The mega beasts behind us were having a shouting match over a right-of-way issue which resulted in colombia being DSQ. As they all sailed past us wing-on-wing (and Dorade with a spinnaker still flying) their booms and whisker poles sitting perpendicular to their long skinny hulls the boats making them each effectively 70 feet long, and 70 feet wide. I was stunned! This was the highlight of the season. Winning the final race, winning the regatta, and being among some true classics. In the photo at the above link (taken from Weatherly?) you can see our red kite and the other boats around us.

We were also given 2nd place in the Dick Gifford memorial trophy for best performance at the regatta. Second only to the W46 Mustang who put up a straight picket fence score line and a fully pro crew. This award has extra significance for me, since Dick Gifford was my brother in law's grandfather.

On Sunday was the Opera House Cup which is only for wooden boats. It is an impressive parade of boats like The Blue Peter, Santana, Merilee, Tilley XV and too many others to list. Since the party that night was sold out, we opted to deliver home to Woods Hole that day, sailing downwind to tuckernuck shoals as the entire 100+ boat fleet was close reaching back to their finish. We even managed to get a photo of W76 Wild Horses, W46 Mustang, and W37 race horse all sailing side by side. It was a jaw dropping parade of bright work and status symbols.

Buzzards Bay Regatta

After 5 days of sailing to/at/from Edgartown, Wampum rested for a day in Woods Hole before the delivery across buzzards bay to Marion on Tuesday August 2nd. It was a beautiful sunny day and Wampum heavy man Manolo aka Greg Dik had a cousin with some friends visiting the cape who had never sailed.

The following day started the August Wednesday Twilight PHRF series at Beverly Yacht Club. We got a solid 6th out of 6 finishers (Crazy Horse retired before finish) with 10 whole minutes between us and the next boat. We even shrimped and tore the A1 a few boat lengths before the 1st windward mark. With only 2 days before the next regatta on our home turf we were lucky to have a sailmaker onboard who could fix the sail the next day. I fought the urge to freak out. By sunset the smiles on the crews faces were as if we'd just won.


Friday August 5th 2016 started the Buzzards Bay Regatta hosted by Beverly Yacht Club in Marion. On even years the event is hosted by New Bedford Yacht Club. A few years ago in an attempt to increase participation the first day of the regatta became a distance race with a 1300 start. The race counts towards the points of the regatta but also has the standalone Dick Fontaine Memorial Trophy. It was meant to seem like a less intense format than 3 straight days of windward/leewards.

We had a good crew including Sam and Oliver Moore, my dad Tom Sr., Chris Land, and Andrew Kirk. The course sent us from Bird Island upwind to quicks hole, then to G13 off Woods Hole, and back to Bird Island. We opted for the right side ducking into mattapoisett harbor and behind west island seeking flat water before taking our long starboard tack across the bay.

The next leg was spinnaker reach on a hot angle with a freshening breeze. We had a couple small trips but mostly managed to keep the boat flat by playing the vang. A fairly clean gybe at G13 had us screaming back across the bay towards bird island. Without the finish line in sight I was a little greedy and kept the boat speed up rather than soaking low. This meant we that once we could see the line it was too late to keep soaking without sacrificing too much boat speed. We were forced to do another gybe half a mile before the finish. By now the breeze had gone from fresh to frightening and I oversteered through the maneuver causing the kite to load up on the new side and round us up. I recall tremendous pressure on the helm and using both hands to push it up with my feet firmly planted on the leeward side of the cockpit. It was no use, we were stalling out, pinned on our ear. All of the tension was spontaneously and suddenly released when the old chaffed spinnaker halyard parted. With the head of the sail no longer attached, the boat began to right itself as the spinnaker laid down over the water. Sam and Oliver were immediately on the rail grabbing the sail by its foot and collecting it inside the lifelines so fast that it appeared to shimmer as it skimmed across the surface of the water. I figured we would just nurse our way downwind to the finish under mainsail alone, but the crew had other ideas. They took a quick inventory of heads, and promptly re-hoisted the spinnaker on the jib halyard! Still it wasn't enough. We got last place on corrected time by 1 minute and 5 seconds.

Saturday morning began with a hangover. We had a replacement halyard to install, so I went up the rigging and dangled a messenger line. After what seemed like an eternity hanging in the harness we were able to snake it into the right place so Sam could grab it from deck level. Time was ticking, and we missed the first start. We could only dredge up 5 crew with variable experience. The wind was already 20 knots, gusting higher. We put in a reef, sailed the 3 miles out to the course, and decided we had little to gain by racing but a lot to break. We spectated some of the inshore fleets for a bit, and went in for the day.

Sunday morning was sunny and calm in the morning. The wind was so light that all of the boats were completely adrift and several were having swim calls. After an hour or so a light SW filed in. With the flatter seas and our big 155% genoa we had a big advantage to the J105's who had ruled the day before. But the big sail means we're a lot less maneuverable and it takes much longer to do tacks. A couple of tactical errors and one stubborn cruiser from another class prevented us from walking away from the J105's on the first two legs, and the breeze started to fill in stronger which made our only advantage disappear quickly. We managed to get a 9th out of 10, beating Ed Lobo in Waterwolf. By the second race the wind seemed like it would continue to build so we switched both headsails opting for the #3 jib and the A2 spinnaker. We got around the course, but were DFL by over a minute. It was a tough regatta. This year it's  New Bedford Yacht club's turn to host and they've decided to add a kiteboarding class! More on racing kites later....