Adventures in Sailing #5 – Govenor’s Cup Sailboat Race

For many years in mid September a sailboat race known as the Governor`s Cup took place on a course that started at the Battery, in lower Manhattan, raced through the Narrows past the Verrazano Bridge and finished back at the battery.  It wasn’t a very long race, about 17 miles but it could be a handful.  For one, in the area known as the Narrows the water can be very choppy and the winds often strong.  Of all the years we raced in the Governor’s Cup, one stands out from the rest.  It was a hazy day and the wind was blowing at a steady thirty knots and gusting.  There was no real reason, it was just one of those days.  We knew it was going to be a tough day when the mast of a boat one hundred meters ahead of us came crashing to the deck causing people to jump in to the water to avoid being crushed.  We plucked two men from the water and deposited them back on their boat although their day was obviously done.  It was a horrific site with rigging lying everywhere and two people hurt fairly seriously.  Imagine fifty-five feet of aluminum mast crashing on top of you.  The two injured men were removed by the coast guard and transported to the hospital where they both made full recoveries.  But the foreshadowing was thick enough to cut with a knife.  As we approached the starting line, it was crowded with every type boat conceivable.  There was not much room to maneuver so you have to be very careful.  I threw out the bumpers in case we did make inadvertent contact with another vessel.  We were in the first group of boats to start the race so it was important to stay near the start despite the traffic.  You also have to be careful to stay behind the line prior to the start.  You don’t want to jump the gun or cannon in this case.  But no sooner did we start then we made our first error.  With the wind blowing at thirty knots we should have reefed the mainsail and put up a 110% jib.  Instead we put up a 150 with no reef in the main.  It was a mental error that might cost us.  It was too late to change it, as the wind was coming out of the south east and we were heading south south-east which meant we were close hauled and pointed far up in to the wind.  It also meant with that much sail up in this wind, we would be uncomfortable with the railing under the water.  The only thing we had on our side, is we knew the boat could take it.  She could handle anything we could throw at her as she was “overbuilt” as they say.  The mast was heavier, and the rigging was thicker than necessary so we weren’t worried about the stress on the boat or rigging.  We sailed like this all the way to the bridge.  We passed under it circled around the buoy and headed west.  This tack which put us on a beam reach which is a comfortable and fast point of sail so we would not need to change the sails until the downwind leg.  As we rounded the buoy and headed north we dropped the genoa and raised the Spinnaker.  We did this well and were now cruising along at 8 knots.  All was going perfectly until the wind suddenly and unexpectedly changed direction.  It was now coming out of the northeast and blowing at thirty-five knots.  It caught us completely by surprise and the boat was “knocked down” which meant it went all the way over on to its side as far as it could before going over.  I tried to undo the sheet but couldn’t get it loose.  I ran down below and took out my fishing knife which is razor-sharp.  There was a problem however.  If I cut the sheet with that much tension on it, I would probably get lashed really badly.  But I had no choice.  I cut the sheet that was in the water and hoped it would loosen up more easily which it did.  The boat came right back up.  This all happened in under thirty seconds although it felt much longer.  We grabbed the sail that was mostly in the water and brought it on deck.  But now we only had the mainsail and would need to hoist up the jib.  At the time this all happened we were in first place.  We had now dropped to third and the boats behind us were closing in.  We managed to hoist up the jib and get under way.  We were again making great time in the heavy wind and were now firmly in control of third; not bad considering.  We actually were closing on the second place boat when he made a sudden tack.  We barely had time to tack as he was coming right at us.  However, since he had the right of way we would have to tack in order to get out of his way and avoid a collision.  Sail boatmen are a different bread.  Not only do they hate to lose, they will do whatever is necessary to win, even crashing the boats if they can get right-of-way.  This maneuver was clever and put us at a disadvantage but there was still some time left before we would cross the finish line.  We sailed away from him in order to get some distance and avoid this from happening again.  We were now on our last tack and heading for home; holding on to third but closing in on that same boat.  How nice it would be to beat him after he forced us off our course.  As we approached the finish line we were one boat length behind and closing.  Unfortunately, we just ran out of real estate.  If we had another one hundred meters we would have overtaken him.  But that’s sailboat racing.  Very little happens quickly in terms of speed unless you’re on a multi-hulled boat.  We finished third overall and were not unhappy with that result on a very tough day.  Besides, unlike so many of the boats entered in the race, we were truly racing just for the fun it.

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