Adventures in Sailing #3 – Around Long Island Regatta

Today is the start of the Around Long Island Regatta which begins off Rockaway, Queens, near the Ambrose Light Tower and finishes 190 miles away, at the entrance to Hempstead Harbor.  I competed in this race a number of times and had great and not so great experiences, as each year is so different.  This afternoon, the weatherman is calling for gusty thunderstorms, which should make the start quite interesting.  But not every adventure on the sea involves thunder and gale force winds.  The opposite of a gale can be just as miserable.    This race is competitive yet friendly, where serious racers and first timers all compete together.  Unfortunately, sailboaters are by their nature, very competitive.  Once the horn blows signaling the start of the race off Ambrose, all bets are off.   Ambrose Light Tower was built in 1967 to help incoming ships navigate in to New York Harbor.  The original light tower was replaced in 1996 after an oil tanker heading to Perth Amboy New Jersey, rammed into it.  The current light tower was built in 1996 and strangely enough, was rammed in 2007 by another ship.  So the new light tower will need to be replaced as well.  Apparently, there are some captains who think a lighthouse is a target as opposed to a guide.  Race time as always, was late afternoon and would finish two or three days later, depending on the boat, wind speed and direction.  I looked forward to the evening because if there was a full moon, it was almost as bright as if the sun was shining.  The moon is incredibly bright when you’re on the ocean and away from artificial light.  Sailing the south shore of Long Island is every sailboatman’s paradise because every afternoon, the wind blows at 10 to 20 knots.  It’s as reliable as old faithful.  When the race started, the wind was blowing out of the south, south east at 20 knots.  Great wind speed, great direction.  If this kept up we could sail all the way to Montauk with few if any tacks.  But by the time we approached Fire Island, the wind just died.  It was a dead calm and we were running directly parallel to the south shore of Long Island approximately one half mile from the beach.  This was absolutely the worst scenario because with eighty percent of the race ahead of us, we were a long way from finishing.  We threw up the lightest weight sale we had, that wasn’t a Spinnaker (a large, usually colorful sail, used in downwind sailing and very light air) and hoped to catch any puff of air available.  We creeped along at 2 knots.   We were determined to make the best of it when a swarm of green biting flies and mosquitos attacked us; not just five or ten but thousands.  The only remedy for that was an old-fashioned fly swatter and towel over your head.  It reminded me of the scene in the African Queen when Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn are attacked by mosquitos as they approach the shore to anchor.  It wasn’t quite that bad but nothing like I had ever experienced.  I swatted flies and mosquitos for what felt like the entire night.  One guy from another boat jumped in to the ocean to escape the onslaught.  The boat wasn’t moving so it was a reasonable decision.   I can only describe the feeling as madness.  We of course couldn’t eat because they had made their way down below and we needed to keep all of the food clean and safe as we had one, possibly two full days ahead of us.  As dawn approached, we had made little headway.  We were able to see just how badly eaten we were.  We were covered in bites.  I would have preferred 40 knot winds and fifteen foot seas over what we had experienced overnight.  The only positive was a ten knot breeze had kicked up as the sun rose from the water in front of us.  Tired and hungry, it raised our spirits despite the wind coming right at us, out of the east.  We would need to tack continuously, but as least we were moving and the mosquito swarm was gone.  The boat was covered in dead mosquitos.  At 11:00 AM we were parallel to the beaches of South Hampton.  We still had a long way to go but we were zipping along at 7 knots.  We finally made it to Montauk Point and were prepared to tack when we heard a loud, booming siren.  Sound carries on the water and it’s often difficult to tell from which direction it’s coming.  At first I thought it was the lighthouse fog horn as there was a hazy fog.  But as we looked out to the south and east we saw what appeared to be a huge ship coming towards us.  We immediately tacked to get out-of-the-way and realized it was no ship.  It was a nuclear submarine and it was heading out to sea, in all likelihood from the Groton Submarine base.  We were being warned off and we were only to happy to oblige.  In the water, large subs are unbelievably imposing.  The problem with this maneuver was it had set us off course and from my estimates we were in third place in our division and wished to hold on to at least third.  But as we tacked back on to course, another one of our competitors passed us.  The wind was blowing at a steady 20 knots and was favorable now that we had made a tack towards Block Island Sound.  At last we would have some time to shower and eat.  We were moving along at 7.5 knots and making up some ground from the previous night’s dead calm.   As we passed through Plum Gut the tide was moving quickly and the water was choppy but we had a nice heal and nothing was going to stop us at this point.  That is, until a boat cut in front of us and hit us on the starboard bow just back from our bow pulpit.  He was able to tack back and avoid an all out full speed collision but we suffered major damage to the pulpit.  In his failed attempt to pass us, he almost caused a serious accident.  And Plum Gut is not the place to pull such a maneuver.  We protested and the boat was ultimately disqualified but we had $4,000 in damage.  That would be the last of the excitement as we sailed on since there was no damage to the hull.  We finished the race in fourth place the following morning.  We were tired, and the boat was filthy and damaged.  After we docked and showered, we headed off to a seafood restaurant where we ate tuna and sipped Macallan 18, looking back on our mosquito adventure that now seemed quite funny.  It was nice to be back on land but only for a brief time as we were heading back to Montauk for repairs and much needed R&R.

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