Sailing Week 99

This is Jeff’s journal on the experiences of racing Out of Bounds in Antigua during the 32nd Annual Antigua Race Week

Friday, April 23, 1999
I arrived on an American Airlines flight from New York at 1:40 PM. I don’t know what it is about the NYC to San Juan flight. I’ve taken the flight a number of times to reach the Caribbean hub of San Juan to catch a puddle jumper to the other islands. There always seems to be about 15 screaming babies on board. And they usually all sit in the rows directly in front and in back of me.  Must be a FAA regulation on this flight. I was forced to rent the outrageously expensive $5 headphones to watch the abysmal movie “Meet Joe Black”.  I don’t know which was worse, the blood curdling crying or the movie. Things could only get better.

After retrieving my luggage and a huge sail bag loaded with our new spinnaker, I ambled out and caught a taxi to the Antigua Yacht Club.  There, on the dock, was Bill.  I hadn’t seen Bill or Out of Bounds since December 1997 when I left Australia and flew back to the states. We caught up on things over a beer at the Last Lemming and then headed out to the boat. 

Grasping the lifelines, I swung myself out of the dinghy and unto the deck.  A rush of emotion swelled inside and it felt like I was home.  A big hug and a kiss from Suzie and Elma brushed the flight troubles away.  Also on board was Mick, Elma’s boyfriend.  Elma, Suzie’s sister, and Mick had flown in from Australia. Mick was looking for work as crew on a sailboat after Sailing Week ended and Elma was joining Out of Bounds all the way back to the States. And of course, there was Lucy, the small white Lhasa Apso that Bill and Suzie adopted in Australia.

I stowed my gear down below and we all sat on the deck talking about the coming week.  Bill had managed to get tickets to the big Mount Gay party that evening over on Galleon Beach. This was extremely important as the tickets entitled the holder to the most sought after baseball caps in the sailing world; a red Mount Gay Antigua Sailing Week cap.  About this time, Alex slid along side in a water taxi and the group was complete. Off we went for the first of many official ASW parties.

After taking the dinghy back in, we ran across Lyster and Sheena Denny with their kids Tom and Jess in tow.  We had first met them and their yacht “Truant” back in early 1997 as we crossed the South Pacific.  As Out of Bounds continued West, Truant and Out of Bounds would bounce off each other in various locales. In the cruising community, this makes for lifetime friends and strong bonds. We all hopped a cab and headed off.

The night passed quickly and we called it an early night, as there was still much to do on Out of Bounds to get her ready to race.

Saturday, April 24, 1999
Bill, Suzie, Elma, and Mick had taken a number of items off the boat to make it lighter for racing.  They accomplished this with the help of Tim and Etien off the 45’ catamaran “Camisa”.  The crew of Out of Bounds and Camisa had first met back in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  A big thank you to the Camisa guys for all the help. 

The next task at end was to get the spinnaker measured to complete our racing rating.  Bill and I hopped a taxi and met Tony Maidment, the ASW measurer. After pulling the spinnaker and measuring it, he gave us our rating, a 0.936.  This meant our elapsed time would be multiplied by this rating and that would be our corrected time.  For example, if we finished the course in 100 minutes, our corrected time would be 93.6 minutes.

Bill got out the ASW division chart and we looked at our competition.  We were rated at the same rating as the other Swan 46’s! Even though these other boats had Kevlar racing sails and no living items on board, we rated the same. There we were with the same tired sails that we began the journey with 32,000 miles ago, all our clothes, food, and of course, Lucy the pooch.  We tried to change classes from Racing/Cruising 2 to the less competitive Cruising with Spinnaker Division. No go. The race committee thought that we were too competitive. If Out of Bounds doesn’t meet the conditions for Cruising class, we argued, what does??? So, we stayed in Racing/Cruising 2 and vowed to do our best.

Later in the afternoon, Chris Lukas and Marc Fleuette flew in from New York. At least now we had some people with race experience. I should mention that Bill, Alex, Suzie, Elma, and I had no racing experience whatsoever.  Mick has a heap, and along with Chris and Marc, things were starting to come together.  We were still waiting for the remaining two crewmembers, Berke George and Leathem Stearn to arrive. 

The eight of us, Bill, Alex, Suzie, Elma, Mick, Chris, Marc, and I headed out for a quick practice sail and a look at the used .75 and 1.5 ounce spinnakers that I was able to buy at the last second before heading to Antigua.  We practiced spinnaker hauls, gybes, and takedowns for about an hour and a half and then headed back to the mooring.

Over a recap conversation with Chris on the drills, he was amazed to learn that while cruising, we would throw up the asymmetrical spinnaker and then leave it up for days at a time. While on passage, the line “Should we gybe today or tomorrow?” was often uttered on OOB. This really blew Chris away…

At about 11:00 PM we started to get just a tad worried.  The first race was at 9:15 AM the next day and there was no sign of Berke or Leathem. Seeing as Leathem was our helmsman and Berke was our mainsail trimmer, we justifiably concerned. But just as it usually happens in the islands (“No worries, Mon!”), they both arrived a little before midnight.  Time to get some sleep and prepare for the first race.

Sunday, April 25, 1999: First Race
We pulled off the mooring at 8:30 AM and headed out. This was to be the first time we had all sailed as a crew and we practiced a few tacks. The positions were, Leathem; helm, Bill; tactician, Berke; spinnaker/mainsail trimmer, Chris; jib trim/grinder, Mick; jib trim/grinder, Jeff; mast/pit, Alex; mast/pit, Marc; bow, Suzie; spinnaker pack/tailing, Elma; spinnaker pack/tailing, Lucy the pooch; mascot.

Copyright Kevin Johnson, Carib Photo 1999
OOB passing Rio on the
downwind leg during race 1.
Copyright Kevin Johnson
Carib Photo 1999
At 9:05 AM, the 10-minute warning cannon sounded and we were in the hunt. Leathem has loads of racing experience at the helm. He expertly jockeyed us up to the line and we went across the line in fourth place.  Kookaburra, a Swan 46 Mk I that had won the class last year was across first.  In our class were a Sunfast 52’, a Swan 57’, a Swan 51’, five Swan 48’s, three other Swan 46’s, a Frer’s 50’, five J120’s, a Swan 44’, three Sun Odyssey 51’s, and a C&C 37’.

One thing that struck me as surreal due to all my cruising experience was how close all the boats get. In cruising, you spend most of your time trying to stay as far away from other boats as possible while sailing. Here we were, with two boats only five or ten feet off starboard and port.  Amazing.

This first race was to be 28 miles from the south part of Antigua up to the northwest tip of the island. About half way through the race, a dark and rain-laden front started to move in from the north.  Leathem steered us farther west and we were able to pick up some wind and speed.

Copyright Kevin Johnson, Carib Photo 1999Coming into the fifth mark, we had a ton of speed and saw that a number of boats had stalled just short of the mark.  Fifteen boats were basically stopped dead in the water bouncing off each other. We managed to skirt around a few, but just then the wind filled in around the mark.  It kept filling in to the point where it was a full-blown rainsquall. We got a couple gusts at around 30 knots, 25 steady and took off. Then… nothing. It was raining so hard, you couldn’t see more than 50 meters.  We were sitting in the middle of the squall, almost going backwards with the current.

It was amusing to see the other racers looking all over to OOB dips below a swell
after rounding onto the
downwind leg, race 1
Copyright Kevin Johnson
Carib Photo 1999see if there was any wind any place else.  It would then gust to 20 knots for 5 minutes and then go back down to nothing. Gust to 30, then nothing.  This went on for a good 40 minutes.  We had to have hoisted and doused the spinnaker at least 3 times looking to grab some ground. Kudos to Suzie and Elma for packing and then repacking the soaking wet chute!

Next came our biggest mistake of the race. While we had done well to this point, a misreading of where a mark was located had us sail nearly a mile away from the best course. By the time we found this error, we had slipped back a number of places.  Correcting course, we rounded the last mark in 7th place.  Going in on the outside of the port rounding, hard on the wind, the jib halyard snap shackle at the top of the mast released.  The jib luffed as it fell and we beared off to starboard as Bill yanked the spare jib halyard off the mast.  We hauled down the jib and attached the spare jib halyard and reset the sail. We regained some speed, but not enough.

We crossed over the finish line and heard the air horn sound to signify our finish.  We had finished in 11th place on corrected time.  Only 12 minutes separated us from the first place boat, Vellamo, a Swan 48. Those on board that had never raced let out a yell.  Our first race was over.  We were wet and cold, but still excited about our finish.

More to come, stay tuned!

Copyright Tim Wright, PhotoAction 1999

Preparing to gybe, Race two, out in front of a J120 and a Swan 48
Copyright Tim Wright,
PhotoAction 1999

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