The forecast for the 53rd Annual Oxford race sounded pretty good: 15kts. out of the north. The crew situation was not. Sadly, I was unable to put together a full crew, but thankfully, I did get a solid commitment from my lead foredeckman, Scott Whaley. Singlehanding to Oxford was a no go, but double-handed…well, we'll give that a go.
Thursday night I gave Scott a call to see what he wanted for lunch and catch up on some race details, and was shocked to hear that Claire, the Whaley's 2 1/2 year-old Corgi, was extremely ill and at the vet hospital. As I believe most dog owners feel, the Whaleys felt like Claire was a part of their family. Scott said he'd get back to me about the racing.
Friday night, I was relieved to get an e-mail from Scott letting me know he would be coming to Oxford. I didn't find out until the next morning that Claire had to be put down late Friday. Although sad, Scott felt the race was would be a welcome distraction and Crystal's parents were coming to town to help with the kids anyway.
After some prep work, we headed for R2 to start the race early Saturday morning. It was blowing out of the north, but more like 20kts. with gusts up to 25. Scott, being the foredeckman that he is, wanted to pop the chute right away. I was a bit concerned about the gusts.
We started about 1/2 boat length behind Infinity, CB Currier's boat, and started chasing him down the bay. When he set his chute and started to pull away, there was no other choice but to raise ours and go.
We had a bit of trouble getting it up. We raised it, but I didn't put enough wraps on the which. So while I was pulling in the sheet, the halyard slipped and the sail came down. When I reached to grab the halyard, I didn't properly cleat that spinnaker sheet, so that ran free. Soon we had the spinnaker full up, but the sheet blowing in the wind.
It was quite a site to see Scott trying to grab the sheet when it went in the water. When a gust hit, the line acted as if it was electric fly and spinning around angrily. Scott finally grabbed it and got the sail under control.
A while later, thing got out of control. The wind was too puffy and shifty for us to handle by ourselves. When we dropped it, I rope-burned my hand something fierce and the sail got wildly out of control on the way down. I have this great image in my mind of Scott standing on the cabin top with his back on the main sail, completely covered in the blue and orange chute trying like mad to get it down below with all the wind and waves throwing us around.
After that it was whisker pole time, baby! We were about 7-10 boat lengths behind Infinity at this time and the other four boats behind us were quite a ways back. As we rounded a mark to go up the Choptank River, we had this sneaking suspicion that it would be difficult to get ahead of Infinity.
Approaching the Choptank Light we would be changing from a beam reach to close hauled to go to the finish line. There might even be need for a tack. Infinity decided to reef their main due to the high winds. We knew we have trouble with depowering against Infinity and decided that since there were only two of us onboard we would leave our main full.
Infinity's reef took place about 10 minutes from the mark according to our GPS. That gave us 10 minutes to narrow their lead and when we rounded, CB was yelling, "NO ROOM" at the mark. We were right on his tail.
Sure enough, Infinity started to move on us as soon as they came up to close hauled. At about 5 boat lengths ahead, Scott and I were of the opinion that we'd very likely come in 2nd. Rather than risk running aground, we made our penultimate tack and Infinity soon followed suit. When we tacked back we decided to do so because we are only two people and tacking is a pain that way! We decided that we didn't want to risk missing the line and have to make another set of tacks.
When we tacked, we couldn't believe our eyes! CB crossed right in front of us, kept going a bit then tacked back, but he had given us the lead in doing so. We didn't need to tack again, so we could sail a straight line in and while he was to windward, he was behind.
In a 4 1/2 hour race, we were in the lead for roughly 45 seconds. It was just the right 45 seconds.
As you might imagine, Scott and I we whooping and hollering when we got the gun. That was a lot of fun!