race started on Friday, June 20 off Castle Hill, Newport,
Day started with a blustery SW breeze gusting well over
20 knots up the bay in Portsmouth, where ESMERALDE was
in her slip. Both Bruce and I were exhausted after
a really busy week of getting the boat ready, me working
on the Race Web Site and race committee, Bruce getting
the business organized to run in his absence, and saying
good buy to the new puppy, Hot Pepper, who went back to
his breeder for the duration of the race.
After a final weather
briefing in town, we drove up to the boat and did the
final prep work. Friends Peter & Jane off the
Sabre 402 Sketch came over with JANE's FAMOUS
BROWNIES (!!!) to give us a proper send-off. We
cast off, and headed out, both feeling edgy and
frazzled. Not a great way to start a 630-mile
ocean passage, but not really that unusual.
Getting ready for a trip like this is always
We motor-sailed up the
bay, and as we approached the starting area we entered
the mob-scene that always collects to watch the
spectacle. Fortunately the breeze began to settle
down and turn into more of a quiet southerly.
Start after start got under way as we bobbed back and
forth under main. By the time we started it was a
lovely summer afternoon with about 12 knots of breeze in
bright sunshine. Perfect, really.
We had an OK start,
ALMOST hitting the buoy, much to the delight of the
spectator fleet gathered at that end of the line.
We sneaked by with inches to spare and got a huge cheer
from those gathered nearby. Only after we arrived
in Bermuda did we learn that our picture had made the
front page of theNewport Daily News the next day.
What a thrill!
There was a large,
favorable eddy between the start and the Gulf Stream.
The trick, especially for us smaller boats, was to work
our way west and get into the eddy for a 2-4 knot boost
towards Bermuda. We worked our way west and south,
and for the first 24 hours we hung-in there with the
leaders. Then we made our fatal mistake: they kept
pushing west; we decided we'd gone far enough, and
pointed towards Bermuda. Although we got a boost,
it wasn't much. Those who went further west got a
much larger boost, and they had a better lay-line for
entering the Gulf Stream and pointing towards Bermuda.
The Gulf Stream
After the eddy, we
poked around in light and shifty conditions for a day,
waiting for the wind to fill in from the SW, and looking
for the entrance to the Stream. Frustrating time.
The breeze wouldn't do what we expected--or wanted--it
to do. While we had light stuff, the folks to our
west got the breeeze first and started the move into the
By the time we got the
breeze, from the SE, we were too close to the Rhumb
Line...maybe ten miles west of it. We were able to
flop onto port tack and head just west of bermuda...a
great line. Unfortunately, the breeze quickly
began to clock into the S and SW, which put our nose
directly into 4 knots of counter-current. We
weren't going anywhere. The alternative--tacking
back onto Starboard--was just as bad, as we were pointed
towards Portugal and heading there at about 12 knots
over the bottom, with no hope of EVERY getting out of
the stream. We ended up taking back onto port and
clawing our way VERY SLOWLY out of the stream in
building wind and seas. Wet, confused, exhausting
and uncomfortable. It took a long time, but we
finally broke out of the stream very near the rhumb
Happy Valley - NOT!
Once out of the stream,
the wind continued to build out of the southwest.
It was gray, squally, and uncomfortable. On top of
all that, we had two knots of current flowing north,
slowing us down to 4-5 knots over the bottom. We
dealt with this for over 100 miles. Demoralizing.
Meanwhile, the folks off to the west were power reaching
in 20 knots of breeze with no counter-current. We
were hard on the wind, fighting squalls, and dragging
through the counter current. We thought we'd never
get through it.
IT wasn't until the
last day out that the wind finally tweaked west enough
for us to ease sheets. By Tuesday evening the seas
flattened out, the sky cleared, and we cracked off for a
lovely evening sail into Bermuda. FINALLY!
We were demoralized, though, knowing we were well off
Daybreak on Wednesday.
Now it gets fun.
We were exhausted.
I had input the finish line into the plotter the week
before the start, and had labeled the buoys...but
labeled them wrong. We ran for the shoreward buoy
instead of the seaward buoy, and rounded the wrong way.
Only at the last minute did we see two boats behind us
cross the line properly. I did some quick
re-thinking, and we re-finished the race, this time
properly. More demoralizing.
The sun rose, and we
began to motor around to Hamilton.
After passing through
The Narrows, Bruce went below to make bacon and eggs.
We needed comfort food. While he was below, I
heard a big splash behind us, and turned to see the
radar pole & instruments dragging in the water behind
us. Big fire drill, and we got it all on board.
All I can say is that we were very lucky that it
happened after the finish, and not during the race.
We lost all our electronics, had to pilot our way
through the reefs, and order all new gear from Defender
to be shipped down. More demoralization.
And a final blow.
After waiting our turn for berthing instructions, we
proceeded into the RBYC marina. No one mentioned
the big rock right at the entrance to the marina.
We planted ourselves on it and had to be towed off.
Jeeze, can it get any worse?
We got ourselves tied
up, and collapsed. Hours later, revived by a few
Dark N Stormies, we emerged and began the fun that would
It is a great race, no
matter how you do!