A Race to Remember
By John Jacobs owner of Misty, a Gulfstar 36 Auxillary Sail
Most of the fleet was in position for a port jibe down wind start in the fifty four mile ocean race from Ponce de Leon Inlet to St. Augustine Inlet. I decided to take the starboard jibe, cutting across their path with the right of way. All three classes, twenty two boats, were all starting together. I was a little late to the line and a boat forced his way right in front of me. I screamed "starboard" but he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. I decided to forget it. He was not in my class and it wouldn't do me any good to protest. I was about a minute late to the line. As I passed almost under the bow of the committee boat, I jokingly asked if I was over early.
My wife, Cozette, and I had been racing in the local series sponsored by the Halifax River Yacht Club in Daytona Beach, Florida for five years. There is a series of Sunday afternoon ocean races around the buoys and a few special races. The race to St. Augustine is one of their main events and is co-sponsored by the St. Augustine Yacht Club. The field is divided with separate classes for boats flying spinnakers, boats that don't fly spinnakers, and cruising boats which are only allowed cruising Dacron sails and must deploy a bimini. Our boat, Misty, is a Gulfstar 36 auxiliary sail, a boat which is built for cruising and is not known for its speed. We enjoy the racing and usually do well in our class, but we don't have the budget to compete with the really competitive boats, so we have been content to stay in the cruising boat class.
I had been studying what I could do to get a little more speed out of Misty. The one thing that stood out was the propeller. I always let the three bladed propeller spin, but it still seemed to produce a lot of drag. The more I read, the more I became convinced that the propeller drag was really significant. I decided to invest in a folding prop. I was convinced that the twelve seconds per mile that was added to my PHRF was no where near enough to offset the speed lost to the prop. After researching, I decided that what I wanted was a Gori two bladed folding prop. The only problem was the thousand dollar price tag. After weeks of searching, I finally found a used one for a hundred and fifty dollars. The seller said that it was pretty worn and would need re-pinning. I decided to take a chance. When the prop came, it was in pretty bad shape. I talked with several prop shops and none would even try to repair it. Finally, I found a combination prop shop and foundry in Jacksonville and I dropped the folding prop off there. The owner said that he could repair it for about a hundred and fifty dollars. After not hearing from him for several weeks, I called and he said that they would have to completely re-cast the hub because the pin holes were so worn and it would be two hundred dollars. I told him to go ahead, pouring good money after bad. The summer dragged on and there was only one regular series race left when I finally got the prop back with what looked like a new hub. I dug out my old scuba tank and installed it the day before the race.
There is one boat sailing in the cruising class, Sailaway, a Pearson 31, that always wins. His PHRF is higher than Misty's and he usually beats us to the line by fifteen minutes or so. No, I didn't beat him this last race of the series with my folding prop, but I was not far behind. I was pleased with our boat speed, but felt that our strategy had been wrong. To be truthful, I was a little disappointed with our performance and was wondering if my new prop was worth it.
The St. Augustine race started at six thirty in the evening the Friday before Labor Day, 2006. A tropical storm had just passed through on Tuesday, but the weather was forecast to be beautiful. The wind was predicted to be ten knots out of the west, with a sea breeze shift to the south. As the boats assembled for the start, we had a flat sea and about five knots out of the south. The run to St. Augustine is about three hundred degrees, magnetic, so the rhumb line dictated a port jibe broad reach. It was perfect for the spinnaker boats and the non-spinnaker boats were putting out double headsails on poles. The cruising boats are restricted to a single headsail. A down wind start with twenty two boats is a sight to see.
Was everybody out of step but Misty? Two boats joined us in our starboard jibe start. Were we gambling or expecting the obvious? There was a north to south current. When current is bent by the shoreline, it usually speeds up. There should have been less of an adverse current off shore. The prevailing wind was out of the west. The solar heating causing a sea breeze had diverted it to the south. Surely it would go back to the west when the sun set. In a down wind race, the boat the furthest down wind is ahead. If the wind shifted to the west, the boats on the east side of the course would be given a big advantage. So Misty and two boats following her headed to the east of the rhumb line, out to sea. We had the genoa poled out wing on wing to starboard. Even with our late start, within a half an hour, it was obvious that we were doing better than the fleet of boats near shore.
I don't think I have ever seen a more beautiful sunset. There were a few lightning showers in the distance, but not threatening to us. The sky was about three shades of blue and the ragged clouds left from the sea breeze front were many shades of red and gold. The wind was still light, around eight to ten knots and I could not believe that Misty was consistently doing six to seven knots through the water. She had never sailed this well before. As the sun was setting, we got a wind shift to the west. We jibed the main and kept the genoa poled out on to starboard sailing a broad reach with about a hundred and fifty degrees of apparent wind on the rum line to the St. Augustine sea buoy, still some forty miles away. As the sun set, we were looking back at most of the fleet which was a mile or two off shore. We were about four miles further out. Renegade, a spinnaker class Santa Cruise fifty two with a base PHRF of negative fifteen was ahead, but still within easy sight. I was navigating and trimming, and Patrick, our only crewman, other than Cozette and I, was hanging tough at the wheel with a following sea. Misty was moving like she had never moved before in light air.
The moon illuminated the ocean until almost midnight. As it set, you could sea the milky way in all of its mystery. We were startled by several shooting stars. The wind shifted again to the west. We took the pole down and were on a reach with the apparent wind about eighty degrees, still at no more that ten knots. We were consistently doing seven knots and occasionally saw eight when we got a gust and caught a wave. At one thirty, we heard on the radio that Renegade had crossed the finish line. I quickly did some figuring and realized that, with our handicap, we could beat her on corrected. We could see several running lights to the west and behind us. We could see only a few running lights ahead of us. I had been trying to keep up with who they were, but I had lost track. I was pretty sure that there were no cruising class boats in sight. We kept listening to hear boats report crossing the finish line. Silence! I could tell that Patrick was getting tired. We had swapped off part of the time, but he had been at the helm for most of the eight hours of racing and would not give it up. He was doing a great job. We were within an hour of the finish line. Toki, a non-spinnaker, Moorings 51, crossed the line. A quick calculation. we can beat her on corrected time if we really go, but it will be close. A few minutes later Impatient, a fast Olson 30 spinnaker boat crossed the line. She has to give Misty time. More silence! The flashing light on the sea buoy is just ahead. There is a boat just ahead of us. The Last Mangas, a Beneteau 36s7 that is a consistent winner in the non-spinnaker class, crossed a few boat lengths ahead. At three forty nine, Misty crossed the line.
We hung around the sea buoy for a while and then followed a local boat into the St. Augustine inlet in the dark. We started the raft up of boats at St. Augustine Yacht Club and then slept. After a great day hanging around the pool, we attended the cookout and awards presentation. Renegade got the trophy for crossing the line first. Misty got the award for the best overall corrected time. Not only had we won our class, we had beaten the whole field. Was it the folding prop, the current, or the wind shifts? Probably a combination of all three, but it was certainly a race to remember for Misty and her crew.