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An Old-School Maverick Fastnet  - 14 August 2017

Every two years it begins with pageantry and the sharp reports of bronze starting cannons, hundreds of colorful boats gliding gracefully on a Sunday summer morning, cheering spectators along the Cowes promenade, helicopters whump-whump-whumping overhead and film-crews crisscrossing the start area on fast rubber boats. Families and friends line gather along the ‘Castle’, waving goodbye, sending their loved ones off on an expedition or to war - or perhaps both.

Behind the show and bravado sailors confront their own fears and insecurities as they set out on this most iconic and challenging of all offshore classics – the ‘Everest’ of sailing -- the Fastnet Race. It is not the oldest race, nor at 600 miles the longest, but it ultimately envelops newcomers and veterans in its special history and tradition, its famous boats and legendary skippers, and in its tragedies and resilience.

Out of tragedy came many of the safety and training advancements that have saved scores of boats and lives. Over 350 boats readied behind the start line, each carrying a range of traditional and more advanced electronic safety equipment, every boat inspected and qualified. All crew have undergone first aid and offshore safety training, in addition to special drills and practice.

Two days before the start Maverick and crew were eager to start. As a Fastnet gift she sported a new OneSails mainsail, our much-loved three-year old mainsail now happily retired to delivery duty. Maverick rested in her berth, clean and dry, our training and qualification complete, but Ken Parsons still nursed a chest infection that proved troublesome in the Channel Race two weeks earlier. With strict qualifying requirements, including sufficient time together on the boat, a crew change appeared out of the question. On the other hand I suspected after a full year qualifying and readying Mav for this major race, Ken would try to ‘gut it out’.

With long-time Dutch co-skipper Raymond Roesink on family holiday in California, I had one other option – experienced doublehander Patrick ten Brincke filled in admirably earlier in the season in the #RORC North Sea Race, but was committed to the fully-crewed fellow Scheveningen boat ‘Plan B’.

After a series of e-mails and calls Patrick became our ‘Plan B’; the RORC committee approved his qualifications, and more importantly Frans Driessen, the skipper of Plan B, graciously agreed to let Patrick move to Maverick (and a dinner is in the offing). Our preparations took a new twist, as Patrick is over 2 meters tall (over 6’5”) but I learned during the North Sea Race he has the metabolism of a hummingbird. I immediately went to Waitrose’s and doubled our usual provisions, keeping mind the Dutch preference for ‘belegde broodjes’ - sandwiches.

We tacked back and forth behind the line, watching the two smaller boat classes starting before us. Like most experienced boats we had a clear plan for the start and the initial 13 miles of tricky tides and shifting winds in the West Solent. We are the lowest (slowest) rated boat in our IRC 2 class, and our first tactical challenge would be whether to aggressively start in the Castle end, with a swift favorable early tide, or a bit further out from the scrum of bigger and faster boats, hoping for clear air.

The first two starts did not help with this quandary, and demonstrated how herd mentality takes hold. The first starting group, the smallest of the participants, formed a long line and paraded from the north part of the line to the south, converging on the Castle end of the line. Twenty minutes later, bearing in mind the first start, the medium sized boat group spread across the middle of the line and started well away from the Castle end. As our start time ticked down we sailed powerfully toward the Castle end, unfortunately pinned well in among the other 60+ starters with the same idea.

Much of the drama and tension of this 600 mile race occurs in the first minutes and hour, with close racing and tacking. As the cannon sounded we crossed in a flash mob of big boats, but curiously enough just above fellow Dutch and Ijspegel doublehanded competitors J-Quattro (a sister J-120), and Junique, third DH in the 2013 Fastnet and one of the pre-race favorites. Further ahead another Dutch duo and race favorite, the specially pimped J-122e Ajeto, started on port tack in free air and the swiftest current, a gutsy move and impressive opening gambit.

Like a golfer who goes on about shooting a birdy in an otherwise uneventful round, those who sail regularly in the Solent take great satisfaction and speak almost reverently about ‘having a good Solent’. The first few minutes were a rollicking affair in bad wind and chop, but holding our own with the big boats. Junique had a moment of red mist in tight traffic and a few of us veered away to avoid a collision, with some expressions of displeasure in their direction in English, French and Dutch.

As the class spread further we tried to sail in the better current along the south Solent, tacking quickly and neatly. As with Ken and Raymond one of our simple pleasures is to out-tack close-by fully crewed boats, and even greater joy when the fully crewed boat makes a sloppy tack and ends up below us. Patrick also enjoyed this little game, but it is much work and we were both puffing within the first 30 minutes.

Staying is the faster tide in the main channel and tacking when necessary for clean air, we managed a good early Solent. The tide differences are significant, and an hour in we were pinned down by two boats close above us on starboard tack. We sailed increasingly deeply into a patch of dead water, and after a few futile gestures to the nearest skipper I shouted to his rail meat (crew seated on the rail) that the tide was F%$#* here and we wanted to tack. Not quite forbidden outside help, but the word swiftly passed from rail meat to trimmer, and trimmer to skipper and belatedly she tacked back to port. We worked back to the main channel, as frustrated to lose a few minutes to others in our class as we would be in a short course race, but with 600 miles left to win back the lost ground.

At the west end of the Solent the channel between the Isle of Wight and mainland narrows and the current picks up strength. The forecast for the first hours called for light to moderate winds, and some of the boats chose light weather jibs accordingly, while we appreciated our choice of the medium jib as the winds hit the high teens. We began to overtake boats in the earlier starting classes, but more significantly, the spectacularly big and fast maxi class caught up with the field. Sailing quickly and tacking cleanly and repeated among a hundred other boats in a confined area is hard work and stressful, but we watched Rambler 88 sail close to the Island shore in less favorable tide to keep far from the fray, finally tacking up and trying to work through the armada ahead of them. This also poses issues for Corinthian boats and skippers with short attention spans – how can you focus on helming and sail telltales when some one of the most impressive and leading-edge boats of our era is passing 50 meters to windward, with the ever inspiring chalk Needles promontories lying to leeward?

Like many offshore racers we download digital weather forecast files before the race (‘grib files’) and employ navigation software to help plan our course routing. We periodically wrestle with differences between what the software proposes and our gut feel from sailing in these waters, and in this case the software routed us far south from the Solent to eventually take advantage of a favorable wind shift. Our first instinct, discussed in detail the night before with our shorecrew (Ken), was to head north to the coast and then tack into the St. Alban’s ‘race’, where the tide speeds up along an underwater ridge. We managed huge gains the previous season when we ‘caught the race’ perfectly early in one competition, and as we headed with a smaller group south I gazed back longingly at the larger group tacking North.

Though a long race over several days, the time-honored wisdom is the winners and losers are determined the first days along headlands of the English south coast. We continued south for several hours, the wind direction remained steady, and whether impatient or influenced by the herd we finally joined other boats sailing back north toward St. Albans. In late afternoon the tide began to ease just as we arrived at the south end of the race. It is like coming to a field party after all the cool kids have left, finding only a few laggards lying around among scattered empty Dixie cups. Patrick commented before the race about my experience on the Solent and potential advantages, and I had made a tactical hash of the critical first hours of the race. We lay far from our class leaders, and would need to work even harder to even claw pack a decent position.

Deeply disappointed and kicking myself, and now tiring from helming since the start, Patrick took a break below while I engaged the autopilot and slumped back on the cockpit seat. Within a minute I heard a ‘clunk’ and Maverick slowly turned to windward and luffed. I yanked the wheel and steadied her. A clunk on a boat is never a good sound, and by definition something decidedly mechanical. A logical, technical mind, when sufficiently fatigued, throws reasoning to the wind and hope springs eternal. I pushed various remote control buttons, and then tried the classic Microsoft solution by powering the autopilot off and then on. This did not yield a miraculous cure, and with dread and a fair idea of the issue I opened a stern locker and peered in. The autopilot drive motor lay motionless on the bottom of the hull, the remnants of a connector pin on the end, and a gap in the steering quadrant where the motor once connected.

I let Patrick get in a short rest, and when he popped his head up next, before I could tell him the news, he asked ‘Boterham?’ (Sandwich?). This would become the second most repeated word over the coming days, but a good reminder that eating well and saving energy would pay dividends later.

The 10mm (1/2”) steel connector is designed for the high torque and repetitive load, and we did not carry a spare. We decided to try lashing it in place with extremely strong Dyneema line, and I slowed and steadied the helm as Patrick leaned into the confined compartment, angled the motor in place and made a secure lashing. We tested it briefly and decided to use it for sail changes and emergencies, until we could figure a better repair. Patrick looked astern and then announced another problem – weed on the rudder.

No doubt it had sapped some speed and Patrick grabbed the boat hook - a still-essential 18th century tool carried on every 21st century race boat. Unlike the grass mats found in the Ijsselmeer, long ribbons of tough brown weed trailed a few meters behind the boat, but too deep to catch with the hook. We heeded up to the wind and backed the jib, stalled the boat, and Patrick grabbed and pulled off the alien tentacles strand by strand. Again painful to watch a few nearby boats pass by and sail ahead, but we enjoyed better speed once it was cleared.

After St. Albans we tripled down on our inshore tactics hash and fought strong tide by Portland Bill to gain some later tide relief closer to the coast. We joined a Mad Max mix of race boats from across classes, united by the scars of a difficult early race but stubborn enough to head into the bay to eke out some consolation. Mav sailed strongly in a moderate breeze and easy seas, and on a cloudless night a rising full moon illuminated our sails and cockpit like a spotlight shining from behind. More than 500 miles lay ahead (and several pages more for those of you still with us), time to appreciate the time and place, and to slowly catch up with our class.

We took turns hand steering through the next day and evening, making steady progress and balancing the increasingly dated computer routing with our reckoning of wind and tides. Passing Salcombe we tacked into the bay, trying to gain relief for several hours of foul tide (tide running against). In theory our speed and timing would give us a nice boost out of the bay by Lizard Point and along the headland as the tide turned favorable.

Contrary to our increasingly less trusted routing, in early afternoon the wind dropped to 10 knots, then to 5, and several hours later fell away to a whisper. With far too much practice this season trying to keep Mav moving in light airs we kept her inching ahead while others struggled. One nearby boat slowly rotated around, and with apparent wind from the tide, sailed with a few knots speed in the wrong direction. In the twilight a friend on a nearly boat (Fandango) greeted us across the still flat water, and as the tide turned we ghosted ahead with them toward the headland. After sunset a near full moon rose, and a breeze filled in. We picked up speed, boosted further by the strengthening tide run along the headland.

We alternated helming every few hours, and perhaps sensing our fatigue and disappointment dolphin periodically swam along side, or raced out ahead. They are always a welcome distraction, and a true wonder. We faced another tactical decision as we approached the Scylly islands off Land’s End – whether to pass south, north or between exclusion zones around the shipping lanes. Two years earlier we headed north with the tide but stalled in a wind hole, while the forecast just before the start called for higher winds and a very bumpy Celtic Sea. We elected to ride the favorable tide and sail below the first exclusion zone, then angle north of the Islands. Just as we cleared the zone we crossed tacks with J-Quattro; having comfortably led them early on we recognized we had lost further ground in Salcolmbe Bay.

An earlier gale and day after day of low pressure systems had built the Celtic Sea into a big, irregular mess, with regular small breakers and occasional swells over 4m, and everything else in between. Wind held in the mid 20s and we put a reef in the mainsail, and worked hard to maintain speed and pointing as we pounded upwind in the darkness. Maverick boasts a large rudder, with more control in most condition, but with a small wheel and heavy steering loads in big seas. We shortened our helming stints to 90 minutes, not enough time for a decent rest below but enough to rest aching shoulders and backs. Periodically we fell off a wave and slammed into the trough, and in each case I habitually utter a version of the F-word. Bigger the slam, sharper the epithet. After a particularly bumpy patch Patrick’s tousled head appeared in the companionway – Broodje? In the last hours it had been relegated to the second most uttered word on Maverick, but even in these conditions a sandwich break was always welcome.

Through the night the VHF radio crackled with emergency calls, retirements and Coast Guard actions – dismasting, rig problems, a boat with structural issues. A reminder of the fragility of our craft and our mortality, and though impeded by a failed autopilot, other boats endured far tougher problems.

One of the drawbacks of doublehanded hand-steering is that the near-exhaustion induces deep sleep, and it is nigh impossible to roust your partner from his slumbers without going below. After one hard stint I tried shouting and stamping, before finally leaving the wheel, jumping below, and shaking poor Patrick until he opened his eyes to see my wild-eyed mug. This caused quite a fright, or perhaps it was caused by shuddering and flapping of sails as ghost ship Maverick rounded up.

The following afternoon the winds and seas eased, just as we approached Fastnet Rock. We again sailed in a rag-tag group of boats – the tail end of the big boat IRC1 class, a smattering of boats in our IRC 2 class, and a number of smaller IRC 3 boats. Any disappointment in standings is forgotten as we approach ‘The Rock’ , the iconic jagged mount with a century-old lighthouse standing watch. Close enough to the emerald green coast of Ireland to smell the peat and Guinness, we noted a few boats drifting in a windless patch closer in, and elected to round it a quarter mile out. In other circumstances we may have been deflated to lie next to our Dutch doublehanded friends on the smaller J-109 Firestorm, but we recognized they were sailing a superb race and we enjoyed calling out to them and taking a few photos as they passed by the Rock.

After rounding we were set for a long downhill (downwind) run back to Land’s End, and we readied the smaller running spinnaker. The autopilot held momentarily before the lashing failed, and we improvised the hoist by butt-steering and slowly setting the tack line, sheet and then hoisting. The dark blue filled, and the shallow wind angle drove us quickly ahead and away from the smaller boat. By way of celebration and in honor of my country of birth, Patrick came up from below with a special surprise – instead of a typical broodje, he cooked cheeseburgers. Unique in taste and presentation, it will nonetheless forever hold a place in my canon of favorite cheeseburgers.

For then next 12 hours and through another crystal-clear night we flew over the water, riding waves and roaring along in gusts, hitting a record 15.16 knots during one grin-inducing long surf. Groups of dolphin regularly came by to play, and in many ways the dolphin reflect their country of origin. The English dolphin are friendly but somewhat reserved, while the Irish dolphin are joyous, unrestrained, and as unrestrained as an Irish band at closing time.

We gave away much time early with tactical miscues, and continuous hand steering is les than optimal, but our spirits continued to grow as we held our position or pulled ahead of nearby higher rated boats, and hopefully began belatedly to claw back a few places toward respectability.

Rounding Bishop’s Rock, south of the Scyllys, we pressed on under our now beloved spinnaker, several hours later reaching Lizard Point – the last headland before a straight line to the finish in Plymouth. We debated whether to cut close to the point, with Patrick not yet as vocal as Ken or Raymond in these matters, and as the tide would soon turn favorably we decided to push close in to try to catch a favorable race. Rounding the Point we steered up higher to the wind, just as it picked up as it accelerated around the headland, and though heeled hard we sped along at 10 kts over ground. We pushed ahead of a few boats rounding further out, and within the next hour most of the boats with running spinnakers either took a less favorable deep line, or reverted to white sails.

In the last 30 miles we sailed closely by the fully crewed Triple Lindy, an American boat no less, who gave us only a few minutes on rating. Both crews kept focused in this final race-within-a-race, and as the wind moved further forward they dropped their spinnaker and reverted to white sails. We pressed longer on our trusty reaching spinnaker and edged a hundred yards ahead, but as the wind worked even further forward we finally decided to drop the spinnaker. Lacking the autopilot we talked through the steps, which involved me holding tack line and halyard with different numbers of turns on winches, and belly-steering as Patrick went forward. The crew of Triple Lundy took in the show as we bore away and safely completed the drop, and they moved slightly ahead as we set and trimmed our jib.

We weren’t done though, and looking back they watched us set and unfurl our A0, a small close running spinnaker. We pulled abeam, and soon ahead, and it was our turn to watch a crew scurry around. Sometimes competition and testosterone clouds reasoning, particularly among Americans, and they decided to re-set their spinnaker and try to trim for the shallow angle. In the closing miles we pulled further and further ahead as they struggled to keep the sail filled and the boat on course, finally loosing control and sending thAn Olse troops back to the bow to take the nasty thing down. We held the A0 a while longer for good measure, and with the wind now well ahead we furled and dropped it smartly to hold our lead over the Yanks.

With over 600 miles completed we took in the lights of Portsmouth a mere 4 miles away, but entering the bay the wind dropped quickly to only a few knots. The tide had just begun to turn against, and we slowed to barely a knot over ground. I immediately relived the nightmare windless finish in the 2011 Fastnet, idling for hours within a few hundred yards of the line, and my dark mutterings contrasted with Patrick’s eagerness to finish. We had a tough race and nothing could be crueler than to stop, or even anchor, in a wind lull before the finish. Within a few minutes the wind gods relented and a gentle breeze rose up, tickling the water, pushing Maverick ahead at 3 kts, and raising spirits ever so slightly. We finally crossed the breakwater and waved as a horn sounded and a finish light flashed from the old light tower. Time for a handshake and smile before dropping sails and wordlessly motoring to our berth in Plymouth Marina. We were allowed to motor a past the barge used for the fireworks competition, and as a final treat the barge erupted with shrieking rockets and bombs bursting in air as we passed a hundred meters away.

For most sailors three parts of the Fastnet forever hold their hearts and memories – the start, with pomp and ceremony followed by a few hours of intense close-quarters combat; the almost spiritual rounding of the iconic Fastnet Rock; and the finish, the emotional culmination of the preparations, struggles, and hard work. The first Fastnet is always special, yet each brings new memories, challenges and satisfaction. In the top tier of doublehanded sailing the autopilot is an essential third crew – some of the top boats use them up to 90% of the time, because as one leading skipper notes ‘It steers better than I do’. Perhaps someday we will also have sensors and systems that trim better than people, a glimpse of the future seen on the America’s Cup boats. I'll be happy to remain in the past.

We ended up a respectable 10th in the IRC2B class and top third of IRC 2, and 23nd in the 60-strong Doublehanded class. We also bested the other three J-120s, the closest finishing nearly four and half hours behind. The Dutch Doublehanded contingent also made an impressive showing -- from Ajeto's contrary start to their second place finish, Junique's earning 8th position and Wim van Slooten's Firestorm finishing strongly in 12th place. On one hand we would have had an easier time and better result with the autopilot -- but we wouldn’t trade any finishing places for this very special old-school, hand-steered, broodje-fuelled Fastnet.

[Photo courtesy the talented and charming sailor-photographer Bob Bradford]

Up, Down, and Around North Holland – A Much Belated Write-Up

We’ve developed a special affection for the classic Ronde om Noord Holland (Around North Holland Race), not only because of pleasing results and trophies, but for the unique challenges posed by the 110+ mile course as well as the always warm welcome and dedication of the organizing team.

For over 20 years the classic race has combined legs on the inland lakes with a long night through the shallow and eerie Wadden Sea, finally taking competitors out to the North Sea and along the Dutch Coast to the organizer’s home port, Ijmuiden. Every year over 150 boats of all types and experience take part, including a large class for the top Doublehanded boats as part of the season series, and the race committee’s work is complicated by separate starts and finishes for each of the three legs, as well as helping shepherd the race fleet through locks between the inland lakes and out to the Wadden Sea.

The race is organized by the YSY in Ijmuiden, a busy commercial and fishing harbor on the North Sea and the entrance to the North Sea Canal, which bisects the North Holland Province. While the race starts on the fresh-water Markermeer outside the quaint town of Muiden, in the shadow of its medieval castle, Ijmuiden is one of the few locations in Holland intentionally targeted by Bomber Harris during WWII, and the town suffered heavily during attacks on the harbor facilities and largely unscathed Atlantic Wall bunkers positioned high in the dunes. The bunker area is now a museum park, and though overgrown with seagrass it remains a moonscape.

Like Rotterdam, Ijmuiden port was swiftly reopened and frugally rebuilt after the war, and while it may not have the outward charm of the picturesque villages on the Ijsselmeer, it is a city of big shoulders and a warm heart. I appreciate the history and elegance of the Royal Yacht Club in Muiden where we are hosted before the race, but I have always felt more at home amid the unpretentious and sometimes offbeat exuberance at the Ijmuiden prize giving.

Both competitive and leisure sailor friends actively post on Facebook, an over the first part of the season we heard tales of a weed infestation on the Markermeer. Some postings often decried lost places and races, though this seems to have changed into an unspoken competition involving who could post a photo of the nastiest mass of seaweed cleared from rudders or keel. This close knit community also shares tips on clearing weed, and warnings where it infestations were particularly bothersome.

Puttering out from Muiden to the start area, the motor labored and we slowed by a few knots; after stopping and reversing and thick meter-wide mat of green plants emerged from the bow. Nice to also join the Order of the Weed and share the pain with our neighbors to the north, but after the fourth time that we backed out from weed it preoccupied our pre-race discussions. Does it get any better as we sail north on the first leg? In what circumstances do we stop racing and back out?

We enjoyed a nice breeze, matching the 10-15 kts forecast for the whole race. Several of the crewed classes started before us, and we managed a conservative but thankfully weed-free start. Wim van Slooten and Firestorm made a masterful tactical move and started in clean air on port tack, passing ahead of the entire field and winning an early lead. We soon worked our way up to the lead boats at the upwind buoy a mile from the start, but in the interim the wind strengthened to the high teens. Our long-standing Ronde tradition is to rationally select jib (or rig a spinnaker) based on the current conditions and forecast, and for the weather to very quickly reassert who is boss. As other boats rounded and hoisted their spinnakers we had to decide between using (and likley endangering) our already vulnerable light spinnaker, or re-rig for the heavier spinnaker. Raymond Roesink pulled off a relatively quick change and within a few minutes our smaller and heavier spinnaker snapped full. We roared ahead and chased Gerben Bos on his newer and quicker J-122 Jetstream, slowly gaining ground on the boats around us.

We sailed a relatively high line to the mark, and as the wind built further to the mid and high 20s we saw speeds up to 13 knots. We stayed on the edge of control, and Jetstream and Maverick periodically made up and lost time to each other whenever one of us rounded up or broached. Gusts in the high 20’s sowed carnage among the fleet, with some boats pinned over, spinnakers noisily flapping out of control, and crews struggling to drop their kites and resume under white sails.

No pain, no gain and we pressed onward, though fell off in gusts. We also began uncharacteristically nosedive whenever we built up speed and our top speed dropped, and no doubt a particularly pesky mat of seaweed had affixed itself to our keel. Within a mile and a half of the first leg finish line we got the spinnaker safely down, close by Jetstream, and we crossed the Leg 2 finish line only seconds behind them.

Motoring to the first locks in Enkhuizen, to pass from the Markermeer to the Ijsselmeer, we stopped and backed away as we dropped the mainsail and spied the pernicious grass-mat floating along side. We were happy to leave the weedy lower sea behind, far more sympathetic to the Facebook tales of woe.

In prior years we elected to change jibs in the shelter of the lock, which would be a cue for the wind to change again. This time the wind showed no sign of reverting to the forecast, and we decided change to our newly delivered heavy weather jib. Our old heavy weather jib had served faithfully during the previous 2+ seasons, but had lost its shape and strength. John Parker of OneSails designed a smaller and flatter jib that could be reefed (made shorter and smaller) in very heavy winds, and the current conditions seemed a perfect fit.

On the second leg we would sail into the wind westward from Enkhuizen to Medemblik, then fall off toward Northeast corner of the Ijsselmer and the locks between the Wadden Sea in Kornwerderzand. We crossed the second start and as we cleared the shelter of the harbor mouth the wind kicked in hard. Maverick heeled over and picked up speed, again straining to catch up with Jetstream ahead. A further incentive on this leg is the Medemblik Trophy, awarded to the fasted boat on the leg among all of the crewed and doublehanded boats. We won the trophy two years ago and placed second last year, and all of the doublehanded fleet take great pride in holding our own against or bettering fully crewed boats.

By the time we reached Medimblik in mid afternoon we were giddy about the new jib, having sliced past many boats in the earlier starting classes and opening up a lead over all of the doublehanded class except Jetstream. We rounded the Medemblik mark and set a course for an intermediate buoy, sailing too high an angle for the heavy spinnaker. We saw Jetstream under spinnaker, heading too far east of the mark and our call to advise about the intermediate mark went unheard or unheeded, but as we neared the mark position we spied the buoy further off to port. The cause of the boo-boo was unclear, but it meant we could have hoisted the spinnaker from the last rounding. Slightly red-faced we hurriedly but belatedly set the big blue sail, and fell off slightly toward the leg to finish.

The wind blew unabated in the mid 20s, and periodically gusting up to 30 kts, and its inevitable toll on sails, gear and crews was evidenced by periodic retirement messages on the VHF radio. We pushed onwards, no guts, no glory, and within a mile and a half of the penultimate mark we fell off in a ‘lull’ of 22 knots and safely grunted the spinnaker down. As we rounded this mark we steered up slightly, but soon the wind drpped to ‘only’ 18-20 knots and eased further behind. Unfortunately the finish lay a few miles from the last mark, and in our only costly tactical error we lost minutes to the trailing fleet, and in particular big Endorphin, as they remained longer under spinnaker. Nearing the line we noted Jetstream apparently sailing too far west of it, then sailing back toward the finish ship, and then away from the locks. Unknown to us they took hard to ground late in the leg, and to all of our disappointment would prudently elect to retire.

Like other boats we debated whether to immediately go through the locks and quickly restart on the Wadden Sea – but with several hours of tide against us -- or wait an hour for less foul tide early, but with more time with tide against during the last hours of the race. We chose to press forward and entered the lock at the very back of a group of earlier starting boats.

Exiting the lock in early evening we tried to head to wind to hoist the main, but a cruising boat motored across the bow and we fell off. We came up a second time but again fell off in traffic, finally circling back and getting the mainsail up without further ado. We entered the Wad with our now-beloved heavy jib and a reef in the mainsail, chasing a gaggle of crewed boats that had started ahead of us, as well as a group of sails far off in the gloaming who had exited on an earlier lock cycle.

As darkness fell we tacked against tide in the shallow sea, one eye on the depth meter and another on the often less experienced and overpowered boats we were passing. We picked off one after another, many smaller but some larger and normally faster upwind. Mav was balanced and fast, even in the heavy winds and uneven seas, as we tacked for hours though the Wad. We also tried to extend tacks toward the edges of the channel to spend less time in the heavier current against us, and as we neared one of the channel markers I called out the depth – “Seven, five, three, TACKING!”. At the same moment the boat decelerated against soft sand I turned the wheel hard over and Raymond released the jib sheet. In a falling tide we faced getting stuck for hours or having to retire and quickly get hauled off, and over several excruciating moments Maverick heeled, wiggled, and broke free from the Wad’s clutches. We lost a little time but escaped far worse, and for the rest of the Wad we tacked far from the edge of the channel.

Many boats ahead fell off slightly as we passed, with occasional waves to crew on the rail. A few tried to pinch up higher but we groused and then put in a few tacks to clear them. Late in the Wad only a handful of big crewed boats lay ahead, and the tide turned quickly and swiftly with us. We made a steady 9-10 knots over ground as the building tide pushed us out the Wad, but entering the North Sea we soon faced much bigger and confused seas, and waves breaking both over the bows and periodically from the beam. Many of the top doublehanders trust their sophisticated and carefully programmed autopilots to steer in even the most extreme weather, it cannot ‘see’ what is looming ahead and can be confused in heavy conditions. Through the night we hand steered, squinting against spray and darkness for a strip of breaking water at the crest, and falling off the back of the wave to soften the landing and keep speed up. Sometimes a rhythm would emerge for a few waves, only to be broken by a wave of grey water sweeping back from the bow.

Unbeknownst to us at the time over a third of the fleet had retied at this point, with one man-overboard (quickly recovered), several injuries, and two dismastings among the major problems. Seasickness became rampant; Raymond’s bouts have become impressively brief, and in this case he bested his prior recovery periods. Sitting next to me on the combings he suddenly leaned forward, ejected his supper, sat back upright and said “The next wave will wash it away”. He resumed trimming, and a few seconds later the next breaker washed his dinner back to the sea.

We had one last moment of excitement, angling in towards the coast. We still had several meters water under the keel but could make out lights and the dark shape of the dunes. For certainty Raymond popped below, popped quickly up, and said. “We’re tacking”. Which we did very quickly.

Around 1:00 am Raymond asked “Do you need a break from helming?”. Over the years I have learned that this is more an order than a request, as he or Ken can sense when the focus is lost. We alternated helming over the next few hours, passing two last boats, finally chasing Goaia, the much bigger (43 foot) and sole remaining crewed boat several miles ahead. In the first light we took in the sea state, more agitated and bigger than sensed in the dark but now easier to maneuver though in the faint light. Nearing the Ijmuiden breakwaters we had nearly caught up to Gioia and just missed the chanced to be the first boat home.

We crossed the line at 5:30 am, first line honors for the doublehanded class, and as we later learned, the best time of all boats on the third leg. At the prizegiving the Doublehanders gathered together and told stories, sharing a meal together and refreshments. Endorphin held their nerve and spinnaker on the second leg and for the second time a doublehanded boat won the Medemblik Trophy. Following their terrific start Firestorm earned third place, Hodspur second place, and last years winner Maverick again took home the first place trophy.

Postscript: For years the Ronde Race Committee has prided itself on impeccable timekeeping and immediate results, but a combination of technical issues and workload associated with retirements disrupted the scoring. A little more than a week after the race the Committee sent an apologetic e-mail to all participants, noting the issues and the effect on some of the results. Over the years we have not had any meaningful difference between our race declaration and start/finish times, and those taken by the Committee. We (and others) were advised of differences between our recorded times and their new times used in their revised results, but as a consequence Patrick ten Brincke and Harmen De Jong on Hodspur have a better corrected time by several minutes and move up to first place. I can think of no other boat and duo as deserving to win this difficult and testing race, and we are most pleased to applaud them and stand just below them in second place.

RORC/EAORA East Coast Race - Dying in the Wind, 17 June 17

A long, draining RORC East Coast Race with Ken Parsons, 128 miles in light wind from Burnham on the UK East Coast to Oostende, Belgium. Wind died away completely near the finish, two hours to cover the last miles, and a few boats still outside the harbor trying to finish. Maverick finished fifth on time, bested a crewed sister J-120, and again picks up the North Sea Yacht Club trophy for the doublehanded class.

Redemption Among the Zephyrs – 50 Mijl Doublehanded, 29 Apr 17 

Living near a busy highway or tram tracks you somehow manage to filter out the noise and sleep peacefully. Same on a sailboat, where routine sounds fade to the background – water rushing long the hull, wind whistling through the rigging, the tick-tick-tick of the winch and various creaks and groans as the boat heels in a breeze. Even when deeply asleep off-watch below, an abnormal noise will prompt any shorthanded sailor to rise with a start and reach for their boots, ready to come above to help.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning I sat bolt upright, the sound of a gentle breeze having given way to absolute silence. No lapping of water against the hull, not a trace of breeze. Living with light wind anxiety disorder (LWAD) has become a heavy burden.

During the week before a race my co-skipper and I excitedly trade text messages like schoolboys, particularly if we might enjoy big wind and mean seas. While other crews tense and clench up as the forecast deteriorates, one of our mundane work meetings will be interrupted by a text message -- “It’s going to blow like snot!!!!! ;-)”.

For every advantage there is a disadvantage, and we’ve struggled, swore and suffered in light wind on Maverick. The old girl breaks loose in a moderate breeze, but like her crew she sulks and stubbornly holds back in very light air. With our sailmaker John Parker and OneSails we’ve crafted a sailplan that works well in nearly all conditions, though giving up some light wind performance for a slightly better rating. For most races this have proven a fair bargain, and in particular for the Ijspegel Winter series, but this year we lay becalmed in the finale and watched our podium position drift away. At the prize giving Chris Revelman (from the deserved series winner Junique) at first consoled, but then added a hard truth – “You are only as good as your last race, so I hope you have a chance to race soon”. Sailboat racing is a wonderfully complete sport, hard work in fresh air on ever-changing but ever beautiful water, but also testing focus and adaptability. Like any sport a taste of success makes the losses ever more bitter, and a series of light wind losses burned in the back of our throat.

Over 100 doublehanded boats converged on Lelystad Haven on Friday evening, carried on a fresh breeze and hopes and dreams for the traditional season opener, the 50 Mijls. The forecast called for fine late spring weather but virtually no wind during the race. We repeatedly checked among three different wind models looking for a chance of wind, each as unsettling calm as the other, and faced the real possibility the race would be called. I met up with Gerben Bos by his lovely new J-122 Jetstream -- a quicker and much younger 'cousin' of Maverick. Ever the optimist he noted “No wind forecast, but that means it can only get better!”.

I awoke with a start at 4 am Saturday, the silence was unnerving – not even snoring from Raymond Roesink in the forepeak cabin. A few fitful hours later we quietly readied Maverick, silent and resigned to the conditions yet finding faint hope as a few knot breeze rippled the harbor and stirred flags and banners. We headed out to the start area, hoisted our light wind jib, enviously eyed the boats with big overlapping genoas, and steeled ourselves for a disappointing start to a new season.

Until relatively recently only a few doublehanders braved 40 foot or larger boats, with their big loads and hefty consequences when things go wrong. As the breeze climbed above the 5 knots needed to start, 14 big boats impressively crossed behind the line, boasting among them a rich and successful doublehanded history. We positioned ourselves to start on the committee boat end of the line, gently trimmed the sails and steered gradually higher in the final seconds, and managed a few knots speed as we crossed the line in clear air.

We slipped quietly along, edging ahead of the boats near us, and approached the first mark near the lead -- just behind the national doublehanded champion Ajeto but ahead of the other big J-boats -- Jetstream, Batfish, and a sister J-120, Jipper. The following mark lay several miles upwind, and in a steady 5-8 knot breeze we tried to stay in clear air as we overtook a few of the J-109 class that started before us. Bart Desaunois and Gewoon Nick on Batfish stalked us on their larger and faster J-133 -- a familiar situation over the years and we managed a greeting and resigned wave as they overtook us, trailed closely by Jetstream.

A mile from the next mark the wind slowly dropped, along with our spirits. We saw Batfish and Jetstream well ahead and nearly stalled, and decided to tack away and hope for better wind to the south. Jipper caught up and drifted past, benefitting from a large overlapping genoa. They gave us time on handicap but we would need to stay close.

The wind varied over 1-4 knots and shifted unpredictably, and after missing a few shifts we managed to tack a few times on the right side of the shift. Progress to the mark was painfully slow and several boats from lower and later starting classes sailed among the big boys. We said nothing, frustrated and impatient but still keeping close to the class leaders.

We could make out a light rippling on our side of the course, not exactly the cavalry arriving but some respite from the now-oppressive calm. A light breeze filled in and shifted to just behind our beam, and we scrambled to hoist our A0 reaching spinnaker. We pulled smartly ahead and managed several knots boat speed, passing Jipper as they readied their spinnaker. Trimming and steering ever so lightly we were soon over 5 knots speed, heading to the mark and quickly closing the gap to Jetstream and Batfish.

We held the A0 as late as we could and dropped it cleanly next to the mark. Ajeto lay a few minutes ahead, followed by Batfish and Jetstream, among a few of the J109s and other interlopers. Jipper sailed 100 meters behind, with the large Pogo 12.50 Knubbel hanging in surprisingly well in the light conditions.

Soon after tacking one of the Heiner Talent J-109s crossed just ahead, and the Heiner kids quickly tacked to put us in their foul wind. A proper move when challenging another boat in their class, but contrary to traditional practice among mixed classes. Given their youth and enthusiasm we did not react at the time, though after the race Raymond offered the helmsperson a gentle and paternal explanation of cross-class courtesies.

In some ways light air sailing is more mentally taxing than man-handling Mav through the rough stuff, calling for focus, fine steering, and sensitive trim. Our Ispegels pro Erik van Vuuren noted we sailed admirably high but gave away speed in the Ijspegel finale, and in the shifty whispers of breeze we fell off a few degrees further, concentrating on holding speed at the expense of a few degrees pointing. It reminded me of the old Virginia saying – “Pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered” – and taking what we could we closed slightly on Ajeto far ahead and kept closer to Batfish and Jetstream.

The afternoon wore on and the 100-something doublehanded boats spread across the Markermeer, an array of white, grey, yellow and black sails moving slowly in patches of breeze. The Race Committee wisely decided to shorten the race, and at the next mark we were instructed to pass between a buoy and rubber tender, before heading to a finish line inside Lelystad harbor. Nearing the penultimate mark we slowed again in a lull and watched helplessly as Batfish and Jetstream moved easily on a band of wind through the mark. We lost precious minutes and tacked twice to clear the gate, trailing the well sailed Firestorm from the J-109 class.

We noted Knubbel heading past the gate and directly toward the harbor, and decided to hail the duo on the VHF. As a German boat the Dutch instructions may not have been clear, and soon after our call they headed back toward the gate. Jipper followed us through the gate, setting up the five big J-boats to secure Class 1 line honors.

With a broad reach to the harbor entrance we again hoisted our A0, while Batfish and Jetstream continued well ahead on upwind sails. Wim van Slooten's Firestorm also hoisted a gennaker and engaged in a passing dual with another J-109, and as they were distracted we drove below them and worked hard to eek out a few tenths more speed. Our gap to Batfish and Jetstream narrowed, and we overtook the latter while they struggled late to set their gennaker.

Passsing the breakwater we furled and carefully dropped the A0 and trimmed for an upwind finish. Having sailed a summer series years ago we were on familiar water, and held our line until close to the inner breakwater. Firestorm lay outside and asked to tack, and we offered they were welcome as long as they passed behind us. In this case closing further on Batfish and Ajeto understandably took precedence over case cross-class courtesy, with pleasantries exchanged between the two long-familiar boats.

The wind rose slightly in the final minutes and Mav crossed the finish with a little pace, trailing Ajeto and Batfish but ahead of the remaining Class 1 fleet. A rubber boat raced up to take a finish photo and hand over cold beers, an enduring 50 Mijl tradition. While the little boats would dominate the overall standings in this slow light-wind race, we anticipated a strong finish in our class.

We are not the most demonstrative boat but the two big guys grinned broadly and wordlessly exchanged a spirited high-five. After dropping sails Raymond brought me an alcohol-free beer from below. Crisp and cold, it washed the bitter taste of the last Ijspegel away, and we toasted a fine start to the new season. Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre on Ajeto again signaled they are the boat to beat this year with their class win, but our 2nd place class trophy perhaps meant more to us -- we finally knocked an overgrown light-wind monkey off our backs.


A Winter’s Tale – Ijspegel Trophy, 12 February 2017

Despite lying further north than Calgary, or even St. John’s Newfoundland, the tepid remnants of the Gulf Stream moderate our weather along the North Sea coast. Coupled with rising temperatures over the past two decades, and depending on age and temperment, we either enjoy or endure only a few modest snowfalls along the Dutch coast each winter.

Sunday morning we awoke to several centimeters (2 inches) of snow, clean and fresh and silent. Walking to the harbor it crunched underfoot, passersby smiling, kids by the old locks laughing and throwing snowballs. I arrived early to Maverick, following only one set of footprints along the dock, first setting the heater on and then the kettle – time for coffee, and to let the warm cabin help thaw the snow covered decks.

The lazy Sunday morning idyll below decks ended far too soon, as Raymond Roesink and I joined other crews in sweeping the topsides clear, freeing up lines and winches, and rigging for a mid-winter race. A festive spirit prevailed, like kids taking advantage of a carefree snow-day.

The forecast called for a moderate breeze, 11-16 kts, building somewhat through the afternoon. We motored to the outer harbor, sheltered by warehouses and big trawlers, and smartly hoisted and set the mainsail. If we had a Euro for every time the offshore conditions didn’t match the forecasts we’d be rich sailors, or could afford newer sails. Just outside the breakwaters we powered forward in a cold 20 knot east wind, making quick progress toward our familiar red start ship Albatros.

The snow and cold deterred a few competitors, particularly some of the high-strung and high-maintenance thoroughbreds in the top crewed class, but most of the hardy doublehanded class readied for the first class start. A biting cold wind held in the mid 20’s, with moderate seas, and we positioned for a clear line to the start so that we could quickly tack over and gain from more favorable tide offshore. Aproaching the line at full tilt we benefitted from an atypical gap by the Albatros, and briefly kept Junique in our lee before a swift tack to port. The rest of the fleet carried on toward the coast on starboard tack, and when we crossed tacks by the first mark our gains were clear as Junique followed a few lengths behind. Windsprint and Firestorm lagged further behind, with little Panther nipping at their heels

The next mark lay a few miles upwind, and we held off the hard charging Junique in the building wind. With winds gusting and sometimes sustained in the high 20s we decided to re-rig for the smaller heavy reaching spinnaker. Blowing out spinnakers in heavy winds is an expensive business, so rounding first we waited for trailing Junique to make their move. No guts, no glory and they quickly readied and hoisted, and we soon followed. With wind now howling in the high 20s, and gusts above, we kept the jib up to prevent a wrap and to depower slightly. Junique experienced a halyard problem and left their jib up not out of choice, but held a deeper line with their runner. 

One of the disadvantages of sailing in front, trying to keep the spinnaker full and trimmed, and managing the helm in strong winds and building waves is that time bends and the complex mental arithmetic goes madly and maddeningly wrong. Junique dropped their kite and gybed toward the mark, while we carried on like a banshee toward an anchored freighter. 

We simultaneously realized we had carried on far too long, Raymond scrambled forward to douse and drop the kite, and Murphy reared his little red-faced mug in form of a jammed forward hatch. There is a scene in the classic German war movie Das Boot (The Boat), where the U-boat crew run along a low and narrow corridor to battle stations, every second and action critical to their survival. Though some what less dire, but with some trepidation leaving the unstable, speeding girl on the autopilot, I let loose the wheel and swung down the companionway, dove forward through the narrow forward bulkhead door, freed up the frozen hatch handle and swung it fully open before pivoting and racing back through the boat, up the companionway, and back to the helm. 

We resumed the drop and gybed to the mark, Junique suddenly a half mile ahead and the trailing boats now close behind. Rounding the buoy and hardening up to the wind Mav struggled under a full main and number 3 jib. We decided to bit e the bullet and trade a little time for control and better speed, and slowed to put a reef in the main.

The doublehanded boats faced high winds and increasingly messy seas over the latter third of the race, and we slowly chipped away at Junique’s big lead while opening up a gap to the Windsprint, Firestorm and Panther. We would finish the race with a short downwind leg and could gain back some further time, but rounding the last mark Raymond, having been lashed by spray and cold wind throughout the race, looked back with blood-red basset hound eyes, and modestly said he was having trouble seeing. Sending a big blind man forward for the sake of a few seconds seemed a bit cruel, as well as thrashing the spinnaker again, and like the other doublehanders we elected to finish under white sails

Returning to harbor the sun glistened from the streets and rooftops, nearly all the snow had melted away through the afternoon. A snowman greeted us from the harbor wall, suffering in the sunshine and leaning like an old Dutch church tower. We gathered for the prizegiving, sharing stories and warming up in the packed clubhouse. The race was very much a replay of the race two weeks ago, with a similar outcome -- Mav had a wonderful rollick but we dug ourselves a deep hole mid-race, crawling out enough to take second place less than a minute behind Junique. The oldest boat, Off Course, again demonstrated her offshore pedigree with a well-deserved third place finish, narrowly besting Panther. Hard work for everyone on the water, but no Dutch winter series would be complete without snow, sloppy seas, and a mean east wind.

When x + 1/2x + y = 2: IJspegel Trophy 29 January 2017

Maverick relishes a sloppy wet rollick in the North Sea, and after a short mid-winter break we looked forward to messy seas and strong winds to open the second half of the Ijspegel Trophy series. Sheltered in the outer harbor we set the mainsail, a matter of pride to hoist together and quickly grunt it up faster then nearby crewed boats. Multiple forecasts called for winds around 13-16 knots, with gusts to the low 20s, but this is January on the Dutch coast and exiting the breakwaters we leaned hard into a cold 22-26 knot blow.

We pitched through the rollers outside the harbor mouth, spray parting each side of the bow, and made our way west toward the start area. A wave caught the foot of the jib and pilled a fold of it into the water, and Raymond Roesink reflexively sprang forward. I helpfully headed bow to wind and he quickly secured the sail on deck. Bow to wind unfortunately is also bow to waves, and as I watched from the comparatively sheltered and dry cockpit several grey sheets of water battered and drenched my stout co-skipper.  

Every civil engineering University course features the 1940s Tacoma Narrows Bridge film, where heavy wind caused a suspension bridge to resonate and fail – leading to the redeisgn and strengthening of nearly all existing suspension bridges. in simple terms, at a certain wind speed and angle masses of concrete, steel and cable began rhythmically undulating and swinging. A particularly exciting segment -- just before the span disintegrated and collapsed – shows a brave man who had retrieved a dog trapped in car left mid-span, wobbling and weaving his way back to safety like a drunken sailor. Just like the man in the video, Raymond lurched from sea-rail to shroud, finally teetering along the side deck before plopping down along side me in the cockpit.  

In hefty weather our committee boats are far from comfortable; the big red trawler Albtross rose and fell slowly, while the smaller Dickson rolled and pitched nearby. The Race Committee announced the marks or the middle distance doublehanded course, a combination of fixed navigation buoys and temporary inflatable buoys ‘X’ and ‘Y’. We always enter the marks in the navigation computer, but cling to old school practices and make a simple drawing with bearings and distances. A few of the roundings appeared backwards (port instead of starboard); moments before the start Raymond queried the Race Committee over the radio, but with no response.

This day the doublehanded class had the honor of starting first, but also a chance for the Race Committee to send us away before the crewed classes started their upwind-downwind drudges. Our plan was to start on the start ship (Albatros) end of the line and quickly tack out toward stronger favorable tide further offshore, and we set up on a line toward the imposing bow of the Albatros. We lined up just outside the slower Off Course, but our sister J-120 J-Quattro came in parallel to the line and along the Albatros, forcing Off Course to fall off to avoid a collision, and in turn forcing us off the line. Off Course registered their displeasure, though the shouts and sentiments would have been much harsher had one of the more experienced boats barged the line like this. The doublehanders are well familiar with each other and J-Quattro gave the universal ‘I effed up’ wave and dropped back for a penalty turn. A consequence of experience rather than aggression, forgiven this time.

The circus at the start cost valuable time, but coming back up to the wind we picked up speed, and sailing higher than the smaller boats ahead and soon tacking out as planned. We settled into the leg, slightly overpowered in the gusts with the #3 jib and one reef but holding a good line. Junique Raymarine Sailing Team managed a clean and fast start but sailed further inshore, and they held a healthy lead when we first crossed tacks. Following a second tack we crossed only a few lengths behind, and took further encouragement as we rounded the first mark close by.  

The wind held in the low 20s, and coupled with bumpy seas spinnaker handling in these conditions can be challenging even for a full crew. We elected to hoist our smaller A5 reaching spinnaker, the blue sail filling and accelerating us ahead shortly after Junique set their smaller gennaker. We both opened up a lead on the trailing fleet, many taking the safe option to sail the leg under white sails and a few hardy competitors hoisting their kites.

With no reef on their mainsail and a deeper-running gennaker, Junique extended a modest lead. Gybing (changing the direction of the boat while running downwind and hauling the big gennaker from one side of the bow to the other) is a challenging maneuver in heavy winds, with a number of unpleasant possible outcomes. Nearing the next mark we both managed to gybe without drama, and we held our drop as late as possible to claw back a little time at the rounding.  

We came around the buoy and headed toward the ‘X’ mark a few miles off. Maverick loves nothing better than a shy reach in a stiff breeze, and with the sheets eased we plowed ahead at pace. After a few minutes we noted Junique taking a higher line. A much higher line. We had no idea what they were thinking, but one of the burdens of being in front is you have nobody ahead to validate your course. Raymond popped below and quickly returned. “We need to come up”. In the alphabet and algebra X comes before Y, but the course laid out by the Committee, had us first going to the Y mark and then the X. Or the other way around. We were very confused.

Mistakes on Maverick tend to elicit dark oaths and multi-lingual epithets, or in cases like this a quiet period of reflection and mourning. An honest mistake, but Junique now lay far ahead with less than half the race left. More seriously, Firestorm and Windsprint took advantage of our error and closed the gap behind us, with plucky little Panther Sailing Team pressing the two bigger boats. The wind dropped slightly to the teens and we quickly shook out our reef, adding sail and speed. We trimmed and coaxed the old girl, rounding the Y mark just over a half mile behind Junique and continuing the chase on the upwind leg to the now-cursed X mark.  

We grew our lead over the trailing boats, and nearing the last mark Junique sailed well ahead though we had taken a small bite out of their lead. Rounding the mark we quickly hoisted the bigger runner spinnaker, holding a better line and speed than earlier under the reacher. Junique crossed the line first with Maverick a few minutes behind – they hold a faster rating and it would be a close finish corrected time. Firestorm and Windsprint took the horn over 10 minutes later, followed closely by the persistent Panther.

Returning to harbor we noted several of the doublehanded and crewed boats already moored, having suffered in the harsh conditions and now tending to their wounds. Crews folded damaged sails destined for the sailmaker, or took stock of broken bits.  

Most of the doublehanders gathered together at the prizegiving, as always a supportive cheering section for our close-knit class. Panther earned their cheers for a nice third place just ahead of Firestorm, while Maverick’s comeback fell short by a mere 13 seconds to take second place to her steady sparring partner Junique. We didn’t get our algebra right this time, a lesson learned and another step forward.

Maverick Wins 2016 Dutch Doublehanded Award - 25 Nov 2016

A wonderful, enjoyable and successful sophomore season on Maverick, and the old girl rewarded Ken ParsonsRaymond Roesink and me with the 2016 Dutch Doublehanded Award. 

This is a special honor, based on nominations by peers and selection by a jury of top Netherlands shorthanded sailors, and we are pleased to share the podium with Ajeto and Panther after their impressive seasons. Though I missed the ceremony as I was still in the US with Josetje and family for Thanksgiving, Raymond called me just before the winner was announced so we could share the moment. 

The lion's share of the award was earned by Raymond and Ken -- for their strength and work ethics, for the strong partnerships and friendships we have forged, and for putting up with the old guy and his periodic tactical flights of fancy.

Celebrating 100 Miles with Friends – 11 Sep 2016

Darkness comes earlier each evening though the land still holds the warmth of a long summer. The train heads North first toward Amsterdam, though orderly Holland fields now flecked with straw, or plowed again deep brown and raw. From Amsterdam a bus ride along the North Sea Canal, past working harbors and otherworldly cranes loading freighters under spotlights and on to Ijmuiden, where Maverick and 20 other sailboats are neatly lined along one of the marina piers, ready for one last race.

Walking down to the docks, sail bag slung over one shoulder, I encounter Jesse Mulderand from Push Up heading the other direction. “We’re next to Maverick, didn’t see Raymond Roesink but we’re going to check in at the race office” Jesse noted. I tagged along for the short walk to a harbor office; for most races the registration process is friendly, brief and clinical, and while the 100 Mile organization is no less thorough and organized, it embraces a relaxed and welcoming style. A warm greeting from the race director Joop ten Bokkel and the YSY volunteers, and an invitation to join the committee and a few crews around the table for some snacks and refreshments. 

We walked back to the marina and along our reserved dock, admiring the depth and diversity of the Dutch doublehanded class. Shiney modern racers next to aging but beloved older boats, a host of big boats with massive loads and smaller boats with more forgiving traits, all well sailed and carefully set up for doublehanding. Familiarity and respect, greetings and chats on the dock as the class gathers for a final deciding race to close a long season. 

The 100 Miles Doublehanded holds a special place, one of the oldest Dutch shorthanded races with a storied history. First held in 1951 for crewed boats and revived a decade ago as a shorthanded event, it traditionally routed the fleet 40 miles out to the middle of the North Sea, around two solitary buoys marking the ‘Brown Bank’ -- an undersea ridge once rich with fish -- and back to the Dutch coast. In the intervening years the Bruine Bank marker buoys have been retired and a new course devised to keep clear of the busy shipping lanes into Ijmuiden, skirt the ever-growing offshore wind turbine parks, and rout the fleet past anchorages.

Mid-summer Ijmuiden harbor is busy with transiting sailors and holiday revelry, impromptu parties in cockpits along the docks, shouts and music until a very late sunset. Early September the docks fall silent early as the doublehanders rest for a tough overnight race. A still morning brought the sounds of crews readying sails and running lines, the smell of coffee and the sea beyond the breakwaters. The organization reflects the race, and instead gathering in a tent or boatshed to hear a few dry speeches on the rules and weather, the 20+ crews and race committee gather outside around a picnic table, chatting and sipping coffee while Joop offers some updates and encouragement. Each boat is called out and receives a goody bag from the lead sponsor, Tuned Rigging, and best of all, breakfast pastries. 

One by one the fleet exits the marina and hoists sails, heading north across main channel and trying to avoid long ear-splitting warning horns from pilot boats or the fast-moving freighters. We enjoy unseasonal sunshine and a modest breeze, warm enough for shorts and tee-shirts, and the fleet crosses back and forth behind the start. Several years ago the Royal Ocean Racing Club Race Director complimented the Dutch doublehanders on a competitive yet undramatic start as compared to some of the crewed boat classes and with a full season of competition we know each other’s tendencies and limits. 

In this case a very short line was laid, so that all 20 boats just might fit in side-by-side, and we decided to work our way from the start ship end and find an open slot along the line. In a superb example of herd mentality 19 other duos had precisely the same idea, and we approached the start ship end en-masse. Not enough room to duck the scrum, no room to tack out, we soon luffed up as Sparklings was luffing up to port, Sail Select and Barracuda wedged in from the start ship end, and we all endured a few sharp words from Junique Raymarine Sailing Team as they approached and veered away from a wall of boat. On the plus side Mabel’s video of the start has garnered many views on Facebook and YouTube, and somehow contact was avoided and the fleet made the dirtiest of clean starts.

Just after the horn we lay a few inches behind Sail Select, and could nearly touch Sparklings alongside, and again luffed off some speed before tacking to port. The first mark lay upwind a mile off, and in clean air we held speed and height. Tacking back to the mark we lay ahead of most of the fleet, and rounded just behind Junique with Batfish leading the parade and the J-111 Sailblij just behind them. We cleanly hoisted our big blue running spinnaker and settled into a long 26 mile downwind run along the coast. The four big J-boats led the way, with Endorphin keeping pace, Maverick looking a bit flash with the colorful blue and white kite among four plain white spinnakers. Hodspur and Pushup trailed and a gap opened up as expected between the higher rated big boats and the smaller competitors. 

The wind shifted periodically and we expected the tide to turn against just before the next mark, so we worked to run as deep as possible. Though slightly behind the three other large J-boats and Endorphin we lay slightly deeper and as we approached the mark they had to beat further against tide to round the buoy. We made up time and rounded close behind, and set off on a 15 mile upwind leg to the next mark.

We appreciated our light clothes when running downwind with 13-18 kts wind and sea on a warm fall afternoon, but as we rounded the mark and hardened up we drove through the waves and chop that had built through the day. Raymond sits next to me on the upwind side, and as I saw the first sheet of water break over the bow and fly toward us I reflexively hunched over. Raymond is a big man and successfully blocked all of the spray, but grumbled about needing to change and headed down below. I managed a minute or two of sliding off or around waves before we caught another, with a broad sheet of water soaking me. Raymond soon returned and it was my turn to trade summer wear for heavy fouls. 

Prior to the race we work through the course and consider the effects of tide and any expected changes in wind strength and direction over the course of the race. Our navigation software and instinct told us to first tack south after the mark to gain from the earlier tide change at the coast, as well as a component pushing westward. The rest of the lead group tacked over and we followed suit, but as the wind was expected to shift and tide would build as we aproached the mark, we soon tacked back. We held good speed and sailed close to the wind but increasingly felt very much alone.

Tacking back a few hours later we would soon have a chance to see if either route held an advantage. Batfish and Junique held on the southern tack the longest and emerged further ahead than expected, followed by Sailblij a few miles ahead of us, while Endorphin had also tacked west earlier and lay closer. We crossed just ahead of Endorphin but held a significant upwind edge, opening up a ¼ mile advantage over the next half hour and confirming our fears about taking the disadvantaged tack too early. With 60 miles to go we still had time to catch up with the leaders, but we would need to race hard and smart through the night.

Rounding the mark in the weakening late afternoon light we eased the sheets ever so slightly, and Maverick picked up pace as we headed west to the next mark. The tide was still running across our line from the North, and we took a heading to bring us to the mark. As the wind shifted we sailed higher to the wind, ever so slowly gaining Sailblij and Junique, with Batfish sailing fast and alone far in the distance.

We approached the next mark, rounding smartly and hardening up again for an upwind leg to the South. While we had gained incrementally on Sailblij and Junique and put Endorphin even further behind, we could make out the sails of the next group – Hodspur, Sparklings and PushUp – far behind but too close based on our ratings. While there is much motivation to catch leaders and faster boats, it is only exceeded by the desire to outrun boats that are chasing you.

Through the evening and into the night we tacked south, slowly gaining on the boats ahead. We settled into comfortable trim and took breaks on the helm, trying to maintain focus and fight fatigue. We watched Batfish, and later Junique and Sailblij rounding the mark ahead, and took some measure of pride that we lay closer.

The final two legs bring the fleet back from a starry night far offshore and back into the modern world of offshore platforms, wind turbine farms, freighters moving quickly along the shipping lanes, flashing buoys and the odd fishing boat working through the night. We eased of to a beam reach, and weighed fatigue and night work on a bumpy foredeck with getting the A0 set. We matched speed with the boats ahead but would not gain further and still needed to increase our lead over the lesser rated boats chasing us. Raymond readied the sail, I hesitated, and halfway through the leg I said “Why not” (or something coarser but similar) and up went the small reaching kite. Mav leapt ahead, a slightly mocking ‘Why didn’t you do this an hour ago?’, and we stated to take a serious time back from the lead boats. 

We neatly hoisted the jib and dropped the big sail just before the next buoy, and trimmed to sail just off the wind. We sailed close to the flashing red masts of a wind turbine park to the North and past a field of anchored freighters to the South, the lights of Ijmuiden growing clearer ahead.

The very last few miles of the course is sensibly designed to minimize encounters with massive steel boats, routing us north of the breakwaters and then due south to cross perpendicular to the shipping channel. As we neared the penultimate mark we heard the traffic center trying to reach some of the boats ahead, who were no doubt monitoring the race channel instead. Think of kids on stingray bikes, crossing between trucks while listening to music in their iPhone. Raymond has a particular gift for calming agitated traffic masters, explaining that the racing boats were likely on another channel and noting we would monitor his channel until the finish. This earned a warm compliment from the Traffic Master, and no doubt a number of freighters took comfort that at least Maverick would not be lolling about ahead, oblivious to several thousand tons of freighter bearing down on them.

We crossed the finish, a line between small red and green light houses on either side of the inner harbor, the fourth boat home and fourth big J-boat each of them higher rated than Maverick. We dropped sails and motored into the marina, tired and satisfied but realistic we may have set ourselves back too far early on. We tied up and filled in a finish declaration (an anachronistic form, no doubt given a new lease on life by lawyers), and set off toward the marina end of the finish line.

We walked in the darkness toward the red breakwater light, gravel crunching underfoot, and greeted Joop and Mabel de Vries. The trailing boats were arriving, voices crackling over a handheld VHF and flashlights briefly illuminating their sails. They duly recorded the finish times, but also greeted each one back.  Bart Desaunoisfrom Batfish joined us, and we enjoyed watching our doublehanded family coming safely home after a long night on the North Sea.

Crews slept through the morning, and later in the afternoon mixed and matched for a now traditional competition in the marina on Optimists – small dinghys used to teach children to sail the world over. Before the prizegiving most of us gathered by Batfish, the biggest and fastest boat among us serving as our unofficial flagship. We enjoyed music, race stories, tales of earlier 100 miles, teasing and affection. Finally someone said “Shouldn’t we all be at the prize giving?”. For many races the prizegiving is the focus, the reward at the end of the day, but for the 100 Miles it is another element of a special weekend, secondary to the race and time together celebrating the season and our special discipline.

Under one rating system (ORC) Hodspur earned the win on corrected time, bringing then to equal points for the season with Ajeto but second for the Shorthanded season based on tiebreakers. Batfish earned line honors, second in ORC, and first place under the IRC rating. Junique made a clever change to improve their rating before the race and nipped Maverick in ORC for third place, while Maverick took home a handsome second place trophy in our preferred IRC rating. 

We said our goodbyes after the dinner, soon returning to our home ports, back to club races and winter series. We’ll cross tacks again next year in the 50 Mile season opener, shouts across the water and vying for position and points, the promise of a new season and renewed competition. And just as surely in September we will all come together again for a warm welcome, a fine last race, grown men and women splashing around in Optimists, perhaps a prize, and a circle of friends on the dock talking late into a cool fall evening.

The Comeback Kids – Cherbourg Race 2 September 2106

Cowes lies at the mouth of the River Medina on the northern tip of the Isle of Wight, East and West halves linked by a clanking ‘chain ferry’ that shuttles 100 meters back and forth, pulling itself along two arm-thick iron chains fixed to each bank.   It is the ancestral home and still beating heart of yachting, with regattas for the top racing teams in the world, Corinthian teams from all over Europe, and the very best classic yachts.   Through the summer the streets are decorated with colorful regatta flags and banners, the sidewalks thick with smartly dressed sailing teams, tourists from ‘the mainland’, and during music festivals, woefully under-dressed young visitors in shorts and rubber boots, clutching sleeping bags and blankets, looking little different than photos of Woodstock in 1969.

Walking down the winding High Street at the end of the summer, the festivals and big regattas now past, I can take in the hodgepodge of different shops and storefronts, an eclectic mix of sailing fashion shops, musty old chandleries, trendy new restaurants and centuries old pubs.   More than appreciating the quaint brick buildings,  narrow cobbled streets and inspiring views of sailboats boats out on the Solent, after several half-seasons  racing offshore from Cowes I have my own traditions and rituals, favorite spots and familiar faces.  I arrived a day early before the race, time enough to ready Maverick for the last race in the UK Royal Ocean Racing Club​ series, but also time to unwind and enjoy a last day in Cowes until next Spring.  

Like any village it does not lack in characters, and with each year I feel further welcome and acceptance.  A comfortable pace each trip and each day -- delivering freshly imported stroopwafels to Sue and Jess in the Cowes Marina office; catching up with Mark or Paul on the Sally taxi; a nod and smile to the chain ferry attendant. Always picking the last checkout aisle at Waitroses, ever since the time big John stopped ringing items when I hurriedly bagged my groceries, looked me in the eye and said “Relax, this is the chill till”.   Enjoying a prawn and avocado sandwich at a table outside Tiffins, and chatting with a (the)  local yacht designer.  A wonderful meal at Mojac’s, where Helen can always find me a table.  Perhaps someday I will be lucky enough to be considered a seasonal local character.

Late the afternoon before the race I met up with Nick Elliott​, the RORC Race Director, as I enjoyed a coffee by Town Quay.  We shared a laugh and with mock seriousness I registered our displeasure about the pre-race web/press article.  “We’re going to post a copy of Louay’s article on the bulkhead for motivation.  It was all about our class (IRC 2), but only talking about the top 4 (Mav is in 5th).   Not a word about Maverick”.  Nick noted that Louay writes about the boats he knows best, and concentrates on the top of the standings.   “We’ll just have to beat the top 4 so that he has no choice but to write about us”,  I added with a thin smile.

The harsh reality is the retirement from the Iles de Ouessant race several weeks earlier would cost us any chance for a top three finish for the season; Louay had no reason to write about Maverick before the race, but we were seriously pissed off at ourselves and high winds and simple twists of fate, and needed a dog or two to kick.  We had a comparatively short, 75 mile sprint to Cherbourg and though the lowest handicap of all the boats in the big boat classes, we were spoiling for a fight.

Late afternoon we headed to the start, near low water.   As we motored down river toward the Solent we saw the chain ferry stopped and one of the big, shiny modern racers (Katsu) motionless just ahead of it.  They had tried to pass too close and their deep bulb keel had snagged a chain, and with much turning, shifting crew weight, heeling and motoring they finally drifted free.  A timely reminder to be careful, and surprise that Katsu went on to start the race without checking in the damage.  Ken wryly nited that “If I were on her I’d be staying on deck the whole time”.

We would start to the east,  a modest breeze from behind and current carrying us to the line in the ebbing tide.    Some grey mist and drizzle visited just before the start, along with a wind shift, and we debated been the smaller reaching spinnaker and the big runner.   No guts, no glory and we opted for the big blue runner.  

The biggest danger to a spinnaker start in current and in moderate and shifting breeze is starting too early, and then having to drop the big kite and work upwind against tide to re-cross the line.    We held back and managed a safe and conservative start but in clear air at the lower end of the line, and with a shallow wind angle we worked hard to keep Mav steady in gusts.  

Mav held good speed, though Nunatek and boats further north in the main channel gained a slight advantage from stronger tide.    We kept close company with much higher rated A’Assifa and Class 40 Arwen, and as darkness fell we approached the imposing No Man’s Land Fort.   Just before the fort we hoisted the jib and carefully dropped the spinnaker, Nunatek close ahead along with a gaggle of smaller boats from the first start.

Mav loves sailing just off the wind, and as we headed to two marks off the east coast of the Island we began working through traffic.    Our plan was to point higher and though we would initially sail against stronger current on the island side, the later current would first push us east, and then westward as we approached Cherbourg.  It is all about timing, and threading a needle.  If late in the race you are east of Cherburg and the tide changes, you face a brutal fight against tide to work back toward the finish.   We’ve been there and won’t repeat that mistake.  

We sailed a high angle, and late in the evening a big boat tried to work above us to windward.     The would try to ‘pass and gas’, giving us their foul air.   “Who is that?” I asked.   Ken checked the chartplotter and popped his head up  -- “It’s Arthur”.  The same top 4 Arthur in Louays article that doesn’t mention Maverick.  More importantly, the Arthur that in an earlier race had called for us to tack when were were in deep enough water well away from the shore, who then covered us for a long painful tack into deeper water with current against us.   They had called for the tack because of their disadvantaged position in our lee and not because it was necessary -- to us a grievous breach of sailing etiquette.  

Maverick can point higher than Arthur, and as she is also lighter we can quickly pick up speed by dropping down only slightly.   We dropped slightly, they followed, we came up higher,  and we gained a few meters.   We continued the game until Arthur lay close by, and then came up even further.   Arthur slowed, we heard murmurs across the water, and she finally ducked down below us.   Dean Wormer – Dead!  Niedemeyer – dead!.

It rarely pays to buck all of the boats, including most of the series leaders.   On the chart plotter Nunatek, British Soldier, and Pintia from our Class 2 lay well ahead but further east, together with most of the smaller boats in our dual handed class.  We held fast with our strategy, but not without several discussions when we became one the most westerly boats.   Maverick and nearly all of the fleet use the same navigation software, ‘Expedition’, but we also stubbornly hold to old fashioned practices.  Ken has an ancient tide book, with detailed and meticulously drawn tide current charts around the Island and near Cherbourg.   As we neared the southern end of the island the tide would pick up, but rotating closer to our beam, and would push us east but with better speed toward Cherbourg than the line of green lights merrily bobbing along a few miles east of us.

The tide shifted as expected, and the wind rotated as expected from our weather files.  It would be a tight angle but we decided to hoist the high reaching sail, also called an A0 or Code 0.  After we won the Around North Holland Race earlier in the season one of our Dutch competitors dubbed this sail ‘De Moordwapon’ – ‘The Murder Weapon’, a piece of sail making genius from John Parker and One Sails.   The luff needs to be tightened as much as possible, and we fly it with our bowsprit half-extended  to reduce loads at the base of the pole.  Once hoisted we winch the halyard until we hear unnatural noises, and then use the hydraulic backstay to tighten it even further.

The top 4 all lay to the east, fighting for position with each other and unaware that we would soon have our vengeance.   We eased off and unfurled the Code 0, first heeling and then flying across the light waves,  the demon steed Maverick in full fury and both of her crew grinning like fools.   Nunatek fell far behind, we passed Arthur, and then we overtook British Soldier.  Three of the top 4 lay in our wake, as well as nearly all of the doublehanded class.    We teased her up as high as we could, wrestling her back down when overpowered by gusts.   The wind dropped to 10 knots within several miles of Cherbourg and shifted dramatically, and we dropped the Code 0, hoisted the jib, and sailed close to the wind.   We had the angle and breeze to make the harbor entrance at daybreak, before the tide changes.

Less than 1.5 miles the finish we could make out Pintia only a mile off.  We had them easily beat on handicap, but as dawn broke the wind stopped.  Not just dropped, but as we neared the entrance, and as Pinia finished, we drifted on a mirror.   At the same time the tide mercifully turned and began to flow from the west, nudging us slowly toward the gap in the breakwaters.  We ghosted just past the buoy marking the edge of shallows and rocks, and with Shaitan, British Soldier, and Orange Mechanix we tried first hoisiting our spinnakers, and then quickly dropping them.  

We reverted to closely trimmed sails and several of us drifted together in one knot current the painfully long mile to the finish.   We crossed just after Shaitan, who started 10 minutes earlier, to secure line honors for the doublehanded class, and just ahead of British Soldier.   As we dropped the jib and prepared to motor in British Soldier lay along side, and one of her crew congratulated the two tired guys on Maverick for a great race – a true class act.

The class win was cruelly snatched away by the sudden lull at the end, but despite the lowest rating in the class and sailing doublehanded we managed second line honors and second place in IRC 2.  The lull allowed trailing doublehanded boats to cut the lead, and we ended up the first DH boat in time, but 4th on corrected time.   

We completed a fine RORC season,  several wins and podiums, but also challenging courses, terrific sailing, interesting delivery trips, and most especially, time to enjoy another summer season with a host of characters and friends in a wonderfully quirky village on the mouth of the River Medina.

Falling into a Hole -- Cowes to St. Malo Race, 7 July 2016

On a simple paper chart the race from Cowes on the South coast of England, to St. Malo in French Brittany, traces a gentle 150 mile path from the Solent, past the white chalk pinnacles at the western edge of the Isle of Wight, and across the southwestern English Channel past rocks and islands to the medieval grey-stone ramparts of St. Malo. On the water this classic race has challenged, perplexed, and humbled sailors for over a century as they face fickle winds, swift and fast changing tides, and keen competition for ornate trophies and silverware from another era.

Like most offshores the Royal Ocean Racing Club St. Malo Race unfolds like a play in several acts, often with complicated plot twists, heroes and villains, and surprising endings. The year the curtain raised to reveal an armada of colorful boats closely crossing behind the start line in a surprisingly strong breeze off of Cowes. Even with hours of sailing ahead the start of a major offshore race is little different from any of the youth dingy races starting in harbors and rivers across the land. The countdown to the start, moments of anticipation and nerves, brings out our true selves; the mean kid bullying the starters around him (or increasingly, her), the whiner, the docile kid aiming to please, the leaders and the followers. After the gun it is as much barroom brawl as ballet, boats racing in close quarters and crossing tacks, harsh shouts across the water, high-stakes swordplay as boats and crews test each other and themselves

Just as the basic rules of sailing are little changed across the last century, traditional wisdom still applies to the Solent: “Wind in the South, start in the South”. This year we faced a strong tide against for the start and the first hours of the race, and the most experienced Solent racers instead gathered at the North end of the line. The starts are staggered by class, with the smaller and slower boats starting first, and the bigger and faster boats starting second. Mav has the lowest handicap of all of the bigger boats, and we try to start with good speed and out of the lee of some of the behemoths in the combined big-boat classes. The forecast called for wind in the low to middle teens, but we were on the edge with wind in the low 20s before the start, and tucked in a reef on the mainsail. It would cost us slightly in pointing and when the wind dipped, but would be welcome if the wind piped up further.

Maverick built up speed nicely as we approached the line on starboard tack, ducked below a few slower but bigger boats, and turned up hard to the wind for a tidy start. We immediately looked for a moment to tack to port, so we could head toward the coastal shallows to take advantage of lesser tide against us. Soon nearly all of the boats tacked to port and headed toward the coast, where we together ‘short tacked’ to remain in the shallower area, paying close attention not to run aground. We would normally pay close attention to the depth meter, but it picked the absolute worst time in the race to stop working and we instead kept an eye on the bigger, deeper-draft boats around us as very expensive but reasonably accurate minimum depth alarms.

As we sailed further down the Western Solent we began to overtake boats from the smaller classes and cross tacks with boats of similar speeds. We were edging close to our doublehanded sister J-120 Nunatek and after crossing twice with First 40 Arthur we found ourselves on the same tack and just above them, putting them in our lee. Far from the the true shallows Arthur's helmsman called for 'water'. In lay-terms, if a boat is sailing toward an obstruction or risking going aground, it will call for 'water' to a boat with right-of-way above them. It is a gentleman’s sport, and the right of way boat will tack to allow the other boat to tack away from the danger. 

At this moment we were also passing another doublehanded boat, J-105 Diablo-J, and we were as peeved as they were by having to tack early and remain in deeper water. After Arthur tacked they sailed above us, and our speed over ground quickly dropped as we entered the fast current in the deep channel. I gestured that we wanted to tack back, with no love, and demonstrating a fundamental difference in our common language I uttered ‘asshole’ at the same moment Ken muttered ‘arsehole’. As we came back to shore we trailed Nunatek by another 100 meters, a testament to the effects of current between the main channel and closer along the coast.

The tide turned as we approached the end of the Solent and the iconic Needles. The short wind-driven waves soon gave way to irregular and chaotic chop, and we picked up speed over ground as the tide flushed us out the narrows. In Act I we managed a reasonable run out of the Solent and lay in a good position within our class, while Act II would open with a long upwind beat toward France.

In the bumpy conditions and stiff breeze we continued to hand-steer, and sailed quickly and high on the wind. Nunatek sailed lower and later slightly slower, and we began to overtake lead boats in the smaller classes like Foggy Dew and Winsome. We spotted a target ahead --- the generally faster, fully crewed J-111 British Soldier. A few hours into the leg we worked above them and closed to within 50 meters, and as the wind dropped slightly to the high teens the shook out their mainsail reef and edged further ahead. We followed suit and soon pulled along side and upwind, but exchanged waves as we edged past them. 

The course skirts the edge of the shipping lanes; one minute we’d spot the far-off shadow of a freighter ahead, and minutes later it would churn past at impressive speed. As darkness fell we neared the first outcrop along the French coast, the ominously named ‘Les Casquets’ (The Caskets). It marks the northern edge of the Channel Islands, with tides racing around submerged sea-mounts, islets and ridges. We approached the lighthouse with weak tide with us, while British Soldier elected to pass much closer in. They parlayed local knowledge and some nerve into a quarter mile advantage, but we again had a target ahead to focus on.

Just past the Casquets we fell slightly off the wind and opened Act III. Mav loves the sheets eased slightly and eagerly raced ahead, allowing her to crew to also ease off slightly as she powered smoothly through the waves. Time for coffee and chocolate, and for each of us to indulge in a short break below. Perhaps also wanting to take part in a favorite French summer pastime, and expressing solidarity with our depth meter, our speed meter now decided to go on strike. This skewed the numbers for the other meters, and on one hand it was dark and the meters were useless, but on the other hand we have faced this problem before and sailing old school posed little problem. 

Our next mark was Les Hanois, several rocky islands at the western edge of Guernsey, and we remained in favorable current further offshore before tacking back toward the lighthouse. Through the night we had worked past Shaitan and then British Soldier, and as we passed Les Hanois we also took small pleasure to see Arthur sailing well behind. With over 40 miles to the finish it was no time for overconfidence, and we continued to push hard. 

Our last mark was the Les Minquiers, another lighthouse marking shoals and rocks off the coast of Jersey. The tide began to turn against us several miles out, and we soon crawled against a 2-3 knot current. We decided to sail in close to the lighthouse and rock shelf, to get some relief from the tide, and Ken checked the navigation computer regularly. As we closed to within a half mile he popped up and advised “The computer has decided to update itself”. Yet another labor action by our electronics staff, so we would have trust our timing and perspective to decide how close to sail to the rocks. In the next few minutes the tide dropped and then propelled us ahead as we sailed into an eddy. As first light glowed on the horizon we tacked away and benefitted from this final push, turned the corner, trimmed for the new course and the finish scarcely 15 miles away.

I can now confess to a moment of overconfidence. We enjoyed a steady though weakening breeze but Shaitan lay nearly 4 miles back and Nunatek struggled around ‘The Minkies’ and fell nearly 2 miles behind. We held a modest lead in our class and we looked forward to the finish and Fruit-de-Mer in St. Malo.

The week before Maverick's three double handed crew -- Raymond, Ken and I -- joined up for the long delivery trip from Scheveningen to Cowes. Soon after departing the wind rose to the mid 30’s, and well into my 5th decade I finally had a moment of mature judgment. We pitched about in the darkness, the three amigos were three men in a tub, and I decided to return to Scheveningen to wait for better conditions. We set out again 5 hours later with wind forecast on the 20’s but 8 hours later, off the southern Dutch coast, wind shrieked in the 40s and Raymond and Ken went forward to drop and tame the jib while I worked mightily to hold Mav steady in 5m seas. At that moment my greatest wish was for flat seas and sunshine, champagne sailing and the simple chance to eat, shit and sleep normally. A week later, as we rounded 'The Minkies', was the worst possible time for my wish to be fulfilled.

I went below for a rest, premature visions of a gilt trophy and a pocket full of points in the season standings. The gentle rocking over waves and gurgling of water moving past the hull soon gave way to stillness and luffing of sails, and came back above, with far greater angst and anger than in the middle of a gale on the North Sea. A short three-syllable cadence of the f-word as the wind fell to a light breeze, and then away altogether. Nearing the end of this final Act I felt like Richard II, confused and desperate, crying out “My kingdom for some wind!”.

As we drifted slowly, catching a whisper now and then, we changed down to the light weather jib, and worked toward the west to not be caught against the tide when the wind returned. Later we could make out the dark sails of Shaitan and Nunatak moving slowly in the distance, steadily eating away our lead and then moving ahead. We spent hours in this cruel lull, at one point slowed slightly by a long tail of seaweed on the rudder but mercifully distracted by trying to clear it. By the time a weak coastal breeze filled in our competition had sailed miles past, but with a deeper angle to the finish we set the A0 spinnaker. We picked up speed and managed a final steady run toward the finish, closing in on Nunatek and Shaitan but running out of time. 

The curtain rises for the Epilogue at the St. Malo Yacht Club, teams gathered for refreshments and banter, speeches and trophies. Much of the fleet still drifted in the tide in the flat water off St. Malo, sailing slowly toward the finish. We learned we took 3rd place in a formidable double handed class, a welcome consolation after the agony of the lull. Shaitan persevered and fittingly won the class, and Nunatek nicely played the tides and patchy wind and earned second. Unfortunately the perfect Summer weather arrived several hours too early for Maverick, but we now had time to enjoy the bright sunshine, soft breeze, fresh Fruit-de-Mer, and the captivating beauty of Brittany.

A Fine and Fast Ronde om Noord Holland - 20 June 2016

Every sail race has a special moment, usually a deft move or tactical revelation, other times a breakage or critical mistake. At the prize giving after any race sailors are engaged in reliving these moments, cupped hands imitating sailboats, moving across the water in their mind’s eye.

Halfway through the 20th edition of the Ronde om Noord Holland (Around North Holland) Race we led a group of boats into the locks, to transit from the Ijsselmeer inland sea to the narrow channels and tricky tides of the Wadden Sea. We were completely drained by the last leg, hard work in shifting wind. As Raymond Roesink and I secured lines to bollards on the lock wall we noted a familiar, grinning face at the top of the lock – Joop ten Bokkel, the race Director. “Didn’t we see your twin brother back at the Enkhuizen lock?” I asked. Joop laughed and then tilted a long pole down, with a package in the net on the end – a complimentary snack. Fuelled to this point by strong Dutch coffee and chocolate, we wordlessly made short work of the warm, juicy sausages. No words, only contented carnivorous sounds and energy for the long night ahead. This was indeed a special moment, one made possible often unseen and unsung efforts of the 60 volunteers who run the Ronde. They also take their cue from a Race Director that speeds overland from lock to lock, equally ready to take lines and hand out hot sausages.

The evening before the race the fleet the gathered in Muiden marina, in the shadow of the red-stone medieval Muider Castle. Early arrivals like Mav rested in open berths and the latecomers rafted together along the length of one dock. Crews greeted each other, familiar and friendly after competing through the first half of the doublehanded season. A rainy night gave way to grey skies and a gentle breeze, with even less wind forecast in the day and evening ahead. Not Mav’s favorite conditions but the same wind for all boats, and over morning coffee we weighed conditions on each leg, sail choices, and planned our race.


The Ronde is a challenging 100-mile loop of the North Holland Province, crossing the inland lakes, out to the Wadden Sea and concluding with a 25 mile leg down the North Sea to Ijmuiden. The 150 entries comprise crewed and doublehanded racing classes, contending with shifting wind and land effects across the lakes, narrow passages and tricky tides in the Wadden Sea, and offshore seas and current in the North Sea. Small committee boats wait at the start and finish of each leg, and between the two inland lakes, and from the lakes to the Wadden Sea, a now-familiar and well-trained team of volunteers shepherd groups of boats through the locks. 

In the countdown to the start the doublehanded class sailed back and forth behind the line, most realizing the committee boat end was favored. In the final minute most of the boats converged on the same small patch, well mannered and bobbing slowly ahead in the collective foul wind. We found a slot near the committee boat and planned to quickly tack out, but Firestorm came to the line well after the main scrum and delayed our tack. We finally tacked above them and built up speed in clean air, noting a small freighter crossing the field toward us. The low slung black ship angled closer and closer, and in this case sail gives way to steel; we tacked hard over and sailed just behind, through their wind shadow and boiling wake.

We painfully surrendered any early gains and neared the upwind mark in the middle of the field, further annoyed as Moshulu fell off and impeded our line. We were scarcely a mile into the race, and vengeance would soon be ours. After rounding we hoisted our A0 reaching gennaker, expecting a tight wind angle and facing constant work to hold speed on the upcoming 23 mile leg. Moshulu hoisted a kite and faded below and behind, and soon Maverick overtook Push-Up as they gamely tried to hold a higher line with their symmetric spinnaker. Our sister J-120 J-Quattro, improving each race, kept close early under their white gennaker, but ultimately fell off the line and pace. We held Mav on the edge with the A0 and moved up to second pace on the water, leading the big X-43 Bixmile and closely following the higher rated Endorfin. We traversed the Markermeer (lower Ijsselmeer) in just under three hours, overtaking many of the earlier starting crewed boats in the last mile, and finished the first leg in Enkhuizen in second place on the water.

We faced a stiffer 12-17 kt breeze than forecast in the first leg, and exactly as the year before we used the sheltered time in the lock to quickly change from our light wind jib to our medium jib. After exiting the lock the wind slowly dropped, and exactly like the year before we changed back to the light weather jib. Busy hands are happy hands, and the transit time passed quickly. The race rules stipulate a 90 minute minimum and 2 hour maximum to transit the lock and cross the start for the next leg, and to maximize favorable tide for the last leg we set our sails and crossed the Enkhuizen start line just after the 90 minute mark.

Due to the forecast light wind the Race Committee slightly shortened the second leg as well as the course through the Wadden Sea. We would tack upwind toward Medemblik, competing on this leg for the Medemblik Trophy for all classes that we captured the year before, and after passing Medemblik harbor we would ease off for a run to the Den Oever locks. As we started the leg the faster rated Endorfin and Bixmile followed closely, and we concentrated on trim and holding our position. 

Grey skies gave way to sunshine and scattered ‘Simpsons’ clouds - so named by my youngest - when the small puffy clouds look exactly like the opening credits in ‘The Simpsons’. The wind periodically shifted 20 degrees or more, and later back again, with around a 10 minute cycle. Recalling Fred Imhoff’s sound advice from ‘Winning Isn’t Luck’ (now available from Amazon ;-)), we could gain by tacking before the shifts, and getting lifted with each shift. We tacked early to anticipate the shift, while boats behind tacked in response to the shifts, and over the next hour to Medemblik we built a comforting quarter mile lead.

Uncertain where the mark by Medemblik lay, we made our only mistake of the race by easing off and sailing a several minutes to the wrong mark. We soon spotted the correct buoy and quickly hardened up on the wind, rounding the buoy and trimming for a shy reach. We continued to overtake the earlier starting crewed boats, sailing a higher line and passing on the upwind side. In close racing other boats would sail higher to make the pass harder, or force us below, but the big dog was in a groove and we exchanged waves with crew on the rail as we passed each boat.

A blue-flagged Committee boat tooted us over the line, and we dropped sails and motored quickly to the locks. The sooner through, the better the current through the Wad and into the North Sea. One group of the earliest starters had just ceared the lock, and we entered the lock as the first boat in the following group. There was Jaap, big grin and offering us the warm and welcome sausages. One of our perennial close competitors, Push Up, caught up to the group while we waited for the lock. Traditionally Dutch sailors at locks display the same discipline as at the cheese counter, where everyone knows whose turn is next, but Jesse Mulder also wanted to get to the re-start as quickly as possible, and as the lock entrance opened he worked his way ahead. With a charming, bad-boy smile and purposefulness he worked his way up to the front, ready for a duel on the next leg. 

Due to a very narrow channel on the first stretch of the Wad, we faced a 4 mile motor run to the next start. As the lock doors slowly swung open it was like the “Gentlemen, start your engines” moment at an auto race, and we led a parade up the channel, with Push Up following immediately behind us. Arriving at yet another Committee Boat we hoisted sails, cut the motor, and entered the Wad in twilight. 

The Wadden Sea is truly mysterious, flat water masks the swift current, and near high tide the vast shallows and sand flats are covered by a thin layer of water. We switched one of the meters to show the depth, tacking frequently, quickly and quietly to remain in the deeper water with faster-running current. We pulled steadily away from Push Up, as well as J-Quattro who had also caught up while we waited for the lock, and sailed just ahead of the fastest of the crewed boats, the J-133 Batfish. Batfish is a consistent top doublehanded competitor but for this race Bart Desaunois (quite literally) entertains a full crew. We neared the next mark with Batfish closing in, and delayed our tack slightly to remain above him. They smiled and gestured as they endured a period of our foul air before powering past, and then returned the favor by sailing higher and leaving us in their wind shadow.

The current strengthened and we sped along at 10 knots over ground as we neared the narrow gap between Texel Island and Den Helder, and the Wad spit us out into the North Sea. Darkness had fallen and we faced a tight angle for the A0 reaching gennaker but dared to hoist it. We struggled to keep the big sail stable and filled, falling off toward the coast to maintain form and speed. As the coast drew closer and the sound of breaker could be heard. Raymond signaled his preference for going back to the jib by going to the foredeck and readying to hoist, but as we sailed across the transition from the fast current exiting the Wad to the more moderate southerly coastal current, the wind angle shifted back and we raced ahead. We took turns trimming had helming, holding big Batfish close and passing most of the remaining earlier starters. The wind periodically shifted further behind and we contemplated changing to the running spinnaker, but in each case it shifted back and we benefitted from our sail choice. In the last miles the tide turned against and our inshore line paid further dividends, as we faced weaker current in the shadow of the breakwaters.

In the wee hours of Saturday we closely followed the crewed Batfish and Nyx over the line, capturing line honors for the doublehanded class. The rest of the fleet followed, the smallest boats fighting tide and wind to finish mid-morning. Like the rest of the race the evening dinner and prizegiving was not only perfectly organized, but relaxed, friendly, and gezellig. Doublehanders are a close-knit group and hang together, whether on the water, in the locks, or at a big table in the middle of the tent. We cheered Jam Session and Push Up as they collected their third and second place trophies and appreciated their support as we walked to the front, greeted Joop yet again with a big smile, and collected our 1st place trophy. There is nothing like the taste of victory -- except perhaps the taste of a hot sausage in the middle of a long race around North Holland.

Maverick Wins Ronde om Noord Holland - 20 June 2016

First Place Doublehanded, class line honors, and third line honors (from 149 entries) for Maverick in the 20th Edition of the classic Ronde om Noord Holland (Around North Holland) Race. Great weather, big field, top competition, amazing organization, and a memorable result.  Story to follow.

Old-School Sailing and Redemption – East Coast Race 28 May 16

There is a comforting tranquility to lying on a swinging mooring on an early summer afternoon, the boat rocking in the gentle waves on a vast river, white sunlit sails moving lazily in the deeper water further down the estuary. As the tide falls broad brown mud flats emerge and the river contracts to a meandering swath a hundred meters across, a field of smaller boats dry out on their sides and seabirds pick along the shore, the smell of silt and seagrass, the taste of Mersea oysters. Beyond the shore the village of West Mersea, the square stone tower of the Norman church rising above the cottages.

The following day we would be heeled up and racing hard across the North Sea back home to Holland, but time now to enjoy a simpler place and slower pace, to plan the race and rest. I called Andrew on the VHF, the Harbor Master/mooring tender/launch driver, and he was soon along side to bring me to the town waterfront. We puttered between rows of moored yachts, shiny new race machines and family cruisers, project boats and derelicts with long green beards swaying below the waterline. 

Ken had just arrived after a long drive from the south in holiday weekend traffic, standing with his kitbag in front of the West Mersea Yacht Club. We walked up a short driveway toward a stately yet modest two story white clapboard clubhouse, joining other crews relaxing on the lawn and looking out over the river. It took little time before last year’s race came up: “Well done getting her to the finish with that nasty spinnaker wrap”. In a moment the serenity of a still Summer eve was disturbed by the memory of a violent 50 mile slog in 25-35 knot winds, Maverick somehow managing to finish on mainsail alone, our heavy spinnaker wrapped on the forestay. After an eternity together on a pitching foredeck we had it partially contained by spare halyards and sheets but a big blue section high up gyrated wildly in the howling winds. I nodded and smiled and said I hoped we would do a little better this time.

After a quiet dinner we took the launch back to Mav, settling below and running through the course. Nearly all offshore sail racers use modern race and route optimization software, downloading the latest digital wind forecasts before the race. Mav is no different, except we step back into the last century and pore over paper charts and tide tables, and prepare a crib sheet with the compass bearing and distance to each way mark, which direction to round them, and the strength and direction of the tidal current each hour along the route. 

West Mersea lies up the River Blackwater and the race start was scheduled at 6:00 am, just past high tide, ensuring enough water to pass over early shallows and to help push us over the line and down river in the event of light conditions. We obsessed and fretted over the forecast in the days leading up to the race, fearing unfavorable light conditions, but motoring out the start in the early morning hours we enjoyed a brisk breeze, forecast to hold until evening. If the breeze held we would make it to Breskens just before the tide turns against at the Westschelde and the wind dies.

The Committee Boat displayed banners and flags from her forestay, lying at anchor just west of a long black pole called ‘Nass’ sticking out of the shallows. Harkening back to the beginning of yacht racing, and with origins further back in the age of great wooden warships, traditional old clubs adhere to the series of letter and number flags during the start sequence. During the pre-start doublehanders tend to focus more on traffic and positioning than on the flags, and we angled toward the committee boat and called out to Bob: “Four minutes?”. “Yes, four minutes”.

A very small field, but we crossed back and forth behind the line among the leading boats racing offshore on the UK East Coast (EAORA). Four of the entries held top positions in the current regional standings, led by the playfully named ‘Woozle Hunter’ -- the small and venerable Sigma 33 had captured three straight offshore victories, and was well known to Dutch offshore sailors after winning the North Sea Race overall three weeks earlier. The current number 2 boat, the X-332 Ape-X, also posed a threat on handicap. Amazon, a quick SunFast 3200, won the regional series in 2015, and in our IRC 2 class we would contend with bigger and higher rate boats in the Arcona 410 Brave, and the Grand Soleil 43 Principessa. Prior to the race we hoped for a few bigger boats as incentive and sparring partners for Maverick, but also to potentially shadow and follow down the shallow river in the early stages of the race.

The English boats know each other and the River Blackwater well, and Mavarick was welcome yet an interloper. We recognized that the Nass pole near the committee boat marked the edge of shallows, and expecting faster current in the deeper water at the far end of the line we set ourselves up for a start near the pin end. As we built speed and sailed down the line Principessa, the largest and highest rated competitor in the race, sailed toward us with right of way on a starboard tack (after the race one of the other skipper noted "It was a bit cheekly”, which is expressed more colorfully in American English). Our calculating, rational mind told us to dip below him and head to the far end as planned, but we threw tactics to the wind and as he tacked back we hardened up along side. It was not so much that a red mist descended but the opportunity to make an early statement, and over the next minutes we put him in our foul wind -- we ‘gassed’ him. A tidy row of crew on his rail had to look at two maniacs sitting opposite them, high up on the cockpit combing of a smaller and much older J-Boat grinning as they drove ahead.

We unexpectedly found ourselves in the lead, with a momentary panic as we realized we were not following any boats that know the river, and as we sailed directly to the early marks we regularly glanced back at the trailing fleet to ensure they were holding a similar course. We also faced some early challenges onboard – one of the jib hanks had worked free and affected the trim, but we faced a bigger issue with the electronics. The speed meter stopped working, and except for the GPS speed and course over ground, the other meters displayed bizarre numbers. Without valid wind and speed data ‘Nikki’, our autopilot, wouldn’t hold a straight course. We tried a few resets and reseated connectors, costing time as Ken left the rail to go below, but with no success. We faced a long day of staring at tell-tales and steering by feel. 

After exiting the estuary we rounded north and headed into the wind, tacking along one of the bands of shallows that guards the English east coast. We held a small lead over the other two big boats, with the smaller Amazon nicely keeping pace in the shifty wind and chop. Watching a less than sharp tack by one of the big crewed boats gave us added incentive – “Let’s show them how we do it.”. We’ve spent a lot of hours on the boat and have our timing down, and over the next few hours we showed off a series of crisp tacks. A little less strutting and more attention to the course would have been a better balance – on one tack the chop suddenly became more pronounced, and the depth fell quickly. I noted “We need to tack…NOW”, which required no translation to the other English, and just as we tacked away we felt a small bump as the keel grazed the edge of a shallows. A quick, understanding glance, as we realized the consequence had we sailed further, in falling tide…

We reached the northern edge of the shallows by mid-morning, only the closest boats still visible behind us in a light yet persistent mist. Grey sails against a grey background, with Brave lagging less than a mile behind but were beginning to close the gap, followed by Principessa and that pesky Amazon. No time or place for profound conversations onboard, but we do pass time asking obvious questions. “Who’s in front of us?” “Nobody”. “Who’s behind us?” “Everybody”. We enjoyed our time in front yet remained realistic, as the Arcona and Grand Soleil are faster in nearly all conditions, well sailed, and benefit from full crew. They would improve their trim and speed over the hours ahead, but we needed to hang close enough by the end to beat them on corrected time.

We faced a quandary as we rounded the northern mark and headed west-southwest for the long leg across the North Sea. The instruments were useless and the old computer course was only modestly helpful, but we need to determine the best heading to compensate for the cross tide over the next 8 hours. A favorable tide had helped speed us north, and would shift southwards for 6 hours, and then north again at the end of the leg. The frail white crib-sheet fluttered in the wind, filled with scarcely legible notes on tide and bearings, we mentally averaged tide and drift, and agreed a compass heading that would first bring us below the mark, and then carry us up to it over the last hour. We had another groundhog-day conversation about the loose jib hank – dropping the jib and reattaching it would cost valuable time, but we’d gain a tiny bit of speed. We talked through the fastest way to do it, and managed to partially drop the sail, reattach the loose hank, and re-hoist in less than 30 seconds. We then discussed why we didn’t do it a lot earlier.

As we settled into the new course Ken asked if I wanted a break. Both Ken and Raymond can feel when the helming becomes less focused, or we begin weaving like a drunk, and the effects of 6 hours on the wheel were minor compared to the effects of multiple cups of coffee over the same period. A long, relieving time in the heads, a bit of chocolate, time to stretch and look around, and then back in the saddle again.

Over the next hours Brave further narrowed the gap but sailed a higher course. We rechecked our now tattered old-school crib sheet several times and held steady on our lower course, trimming with each wind shift and constantly looking over our shoulder at Brave. We crossed one of the Belgian shipping lanes, at one point Ken commenting in English English that a massive tanker looked quite intimidating as it approached us bow-on, which roughly translates to American English as “Holy shit, I hope we pass in front”. The same tanker ever so slowly altered their course a few degrees north, doing us a small favor as trailing Brave elected to bear off slightly to keep clear. 

Our crib-sheet calculus paid dividends as we approached the Goote Bank buoy on the Belgian coast, the tide carried us nicely to the mark while Brave gave back some of their hard-fought gains as the came down further to it. We rounded and headed closer to he wind as the sun broke through the mist and seas moderated. We still held a modest lead but with a third of the race left and Brave on the warpath behind us. 

We trimmed constantly over the final hours, speaking even less than usual. Sailing is a highly technical and logical sport yet retains much superstition and ritual, and as we both considered the improbably possibility of line honors, it would bring bad luck to broach the subject. At one point Ken turned to say something and I couldn’t help but blurt out “Don’t even say it”. He smiled and asked if I wanted a snack from below. 

The tide helped carry us northeast toward the finish and we managed an impressive speed over ground, but Brave came back yet again to narrow the gap to around a half mile. We still couldn’t shake them completely, and in the last miles we would expect the tide to turn and easing wind. We rounded the penultimate mark and bore away, and rather than a slow a safe ride to the line we quickly hoisted our ‘A0” reaching spinnaker and picked up speed as we drove the last three miles to the finish. At one point Ken reflexively ground hard on the sheet to gain a further tenth of a knot, and with visions of parting shackles and sails in the water I gently asked him to just leave it be. Time to coast in and enjoy the moment.

We crossed the finish line outside the entrance to Breskens Marina, grinning knowingly as we shook hands. We were completely drained, slowly dropping sails and tidying up. Brave finished several minutes later and sportingly offered they congratulations across the water, and we thanked them later as much of our performance was down to having another boat to keep us constantly worrying and working. 

The prizegiving that night was a close-knit and comfortable gathering at the Breskens clubhouse, with an embarrassment of silverware. We took first place in our IRC 2 division, retained the North Sea Club cup as the top (and sole) doublehanded boat, took second overall to Amazon (who sailed a phenomenal race to win on corrected time), but took the most pride in accepting the Ailish Salver (silver platter) for line honors. Doublehanders generally compete on small and medium sized boats in the RORC series, and it is likely the first time a doublehanded boat has managed line honors in a RORC race. We admired our hoard back on the boat, our reward for a long day of starting line statements, tell-tales and crib sheets, old school sailing and redemption.

Guard Vessels and Flat Seas - Vuurschepen/North Sea Race, May 2016

Maverick hissed through the night over a calm North Sea, the Milky Way arching across a clear sky, the mast lights of a few leading boats ahead, and a growing number of smaller and slower competitors lying astern and to the south. The annual Vuurschepen Race started in the early evening off the Scheveningen coast, following the path of the long-retired red light vessels that once marked safe passage from Holland to the harbors on England’s East Coast. Over decades and lifetimes the route is little changed, except for new man-made obstacles in the form of wind-turbine parks, oil platforms, and fast moving freighters and container ships. 

The 12-strong doublehanded class started first, some early time lost as Maverick struggled in light breeze and traffic on the ship end of the line, and against current to the first upwind mark. More time was lost on during a short early leg up the coast. We first set our small reaching A0 gennaker, and as the wind backed further behind the boats with deeper running spinnakers held an edge. We stemmed our losses in the last mile with a smart peel to our big blue running kite.

After rounding the second mark the fleet headed west toward England. Settling into a gentle upwind reach Maverick slowly earned back time and position, with much attention to navigation and course to account for the north flowing, and later south flowing tides over the next 12 hours. As Raymond went below for a short nap we discussed a large platform looming ahead – though miles away the De Ruyter Drilling Platform was lit up like a cruise ship, and our optimal course would carry us just past it to the north. 

The soothing sound of Maverick gliding through the water was suddenly interrupted by a call on the safety channel on the VHF radio: “MAVERICK, MAVERICK, MAVERICK, THIS IS AURORA G, GUARD VESSAL FOR DE RUYTER PLATFORM, PLEASE GO IMMEDIATELY TO CHANNEL 8.”

The vessel had noted our course toward a ‘caution’ area around the platform, and after some discussion we agreed to pass north of the platform, above a marker buoy lying to its north. This kept us on our planned line, and we made good progress until a half hour later, when an older and more determined voice interrupted the darkness: “MAVERICK, MAVERICK,MAVERICK, YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER OUR AREA, IMMEDIATELY ALTER COURSE 30 DEGREES TO STARBOARD AND PROCEED 2 MILES NORTH BEFORE CROSSING.”. The second guard was uncompromising, and we angled north far from our line, slowing down and cursing the Auraura G, a faceless older Dutchman, big oil companies and their arrogantly assumed sovereignty, and this cruel twist of fate.

In the past we (like our competitors) have lost places due to breakeage , handling issues, and fickle winds, but a major rerouting for a platform was a rude new experience. Adding insult to injury, the extra miles to the north would cost us again going south, as we were forced north of our earlier optimal line and would fight the current in the last hours. 

We approached the English coast after daybreak, the fleet converging on the North Shipwash buoy before turning south and heading to down the coast to the finish in Harwich. The price of our encounter with Aurora G was highlighted by the smaller but finely sailed Panther Sailing Team arriving just before us, and akin to pushing you kid brother out of the way we somewhat brusquely worked past them upwind. We found ourselves side-by-side with Maas, a fully crewed J-122 – a faster and more modern version of our venerable J-120. We enjoyed a few hours match racing them, holding high with our small reaching spinnaker (A0) and keeping pace. We welcomed the distraction from the fate that was sealed for us hours earlier, and after crossing the finish line we motored up the river Orwell to the Royal Harwich Yacht Club.

One of the true joys of the lay-day in Harwich between the Vuurschepen Race and the North Sea Race back to Scheveningen, is the annual North Sea Club lunch at the Butt & Oyster pub in Pin Mill. It begins with a mile-long trek from the marina, along the banks of the river and through a few dark and cool stand of old forest, to a centuries-old pub on bend in the river. Strollingin pairs along the narrow walking path, it lends itself to soft conversation but more so to quiet time to take in the sights, sounds and smell of idyllic English countryside.

The lay-day is not ulike half-time in other sports, a time to rest and mend, adjust tactics, to put any earlier disappointment behind and focus on the race ahead. Doublehanders tend to flock together and support each other off the water. We sat at picnic tables in the sunshine, watching boats sailing on the river and enjoying our lunch and refreshments, joined by pro-sailor and fellow doublehander Erik van Vuurenfrom Panther. We recounted the race over and I sought his advice on trimming our finicky light jib, much appreciating his help and patient explanations.

At daybreak the now 50-strong fleet, swelled by a number of UK based racers, motored down the still river to the estuary, and out to the start line off the coast. We dreaded a light forecast yet again, but readied ourselves for the longer race back. The North Sea Race started in the 1940s and remains a minor classic in European offshore racing, a 180 mile test in often trying conditions. We managed a few podiums over the years, crewed and later doublehanded, always with the special pleasure of finishing in our home port Scheveningen. 

The 13-strong doublehanded class started last, and even with many hours of sailing ahead of us the top teams jostled and jockeyed for position along the start line. Mav worked down the line, away from any possible fray and foul wind at the start ship end, and managed a workmanlike start. A minute after the gun one of the smaller boats tacked back and came across our bows – as luck would have it Panther, who we gassed on the last leg of the Vuurschepen Race. In a moment of miscommunication they were obliged to quickly tacked back, a few sharp words were exchanged, but we soon tacked away and left them unmolested.

During the early upwind leg the advice from Erik on Panther at Pin Mill proved valuable, and with improved speed in the light conditions we crossed tacks close to the faster and higher rated Ajeto and Batfish. In a replay of the start situation with Panther we watched Zeiljacht IL Corvo approach on port tack, forcing us off our path at the last moment. Co-skipper Ard Moerman glanced over a moment before crossing, with the impish grin of an 8 year old boy caught with his hands in the cookie jar, and we decided this bit of naughtiness did not warrant a protest – they will owe us sometime in a similar situation.

We soon started picking our way through the smaller crewed boats that had started 10 minutes earlier, a game of overtaking that kept us focused and entertained. An hour later we rounded a mark and fell further off the wind, and we hoisted our reaching A0/Code 0 sail. The breeze held slightly stronger than predicted and we kept pace with the other bigger boats and opening our lead over smaller competitors.

We enjoyed an fine race through the afternoon, champagne sailing in gentle seas and sunshine. Rounding a large wind-turbine park we tacked to the north, keeping company with big crewed boats like fellow Scheveninger Ijsvogel, and the bigger UK based J-133 Assarain IV. Folks at home following the online tracker watched Maverick rise up in the standings, pushing toward the overall lead.

We anticipated and dreaded lighter conditions that were forecast, and around 6:30 pm we noted a slight drop in wind. We intentionally lay on the west side of the line to the next mark, as the wind was also forecast to shift further to the east and we would arc directly to the mark. Within an hour the seas became glassy as the wind dropped to a whisper. The larger Il Corvo lay a few hundred meters ahead and rotated around in ultra-slow motion, trimming to a whisper or chasing phantom zephyr. On the AIS tracking (a manadatory position reporting system) we watched with despair as our competitors only a mile to the east made slow but steady progress northward, while the little boats behind also lay in faint breezes and gained ground. 

A few hours later a weak wind returned and we began moving slowly ahead. We had lost much time in the interim, and in the darkness we worked toward the next mark, a massive light tower with a forgettable identifier that we have nicknamed EIEIO. The wind perked up and as we approached the flashing white light periodically illuminated our sails and a handful of boats around us, and after rounding we hoisted our spinnaker, and started a long shy spinnaker run to the Smith’s Knoll buoy and the beginning of our North Sea Crossing. 

We trimmed the kite through the night, overtaking boats along the way – including a few that we had the pleasure of overtaking a second time, who had missed what in hindsight seemed like a nasty personal lull. Hometown boats Griel and Ijsvogel lay close by while a few smaller boats edged closer from the south. 

The Smith's Knoll Buoy, though small and unassuming, marks the end of the shoals and banks protecting England’s east coast. It lies at the end of the northward passage and the turn toward Holland and home, and has such an iconic status among sailors it now boasts its own Facebook page. We sailed side-by-side with Assarain and dropped our spinnaker close to the buoy, with a sharp last minute turn away to avoid a custom Smith’s Knoll black strip along our midships. We reckoned the tides and modest wind, set our course, and sailed through the rose dawn and early afternoon eastward toward the Dutch coast and home.

By mid afternoon we could make out the low Dutch coastline, again frustrated as the wind dropped. Light wind conditions favor the smaller, lower rated boats and there is an element of ‘wind lottery’ as some boats lie in still patches while others enjoy a breeze -- though often their luck reverses. We had lost considerable time to the bigger boats ahead during the earlier lull, and again we struggled to maintain boat speed in the dying breeze. As the wind shifted further ahead we tacked toward a buoy near the coast, still match racing Team Griel, Assarain, and now fellow doublehander Push-Up. As fate would have it we approached the De Ruyter platform again, and in a painful moment of Déjà vu a call came over the VHF: “MAVERICK, MAVERICK, MAVERICK, THIS IS GUARD VESSAL AURORA G…”. With some obvious exasperation we explained that we would be tacking west before nearing his precious caution area, and the familiar older gentleman responded “Are you the same boat that approached us a few days ago?”. “Yes, and we’re tacking…”. 

Several minutes later we heard the guard vessel hailing Push-Up, but with no response. The Auroral G is a huge converted trawler, and in the distance we could see it approaching Push-Up from behind at full steam. As it neared the little blue sailboat it sounded a very, very long blast on its horn, finally getting the attention of Push-Up. We soon heard Jesse Mulder offering a meek apology, and promising to turn away immediately.

The wind fell off further as we rounded the last mark, close to Griel and Push-Up. We each hoisted our light spinnakers and struggled to keep them filled, discouraged to spy a small armada of smaller boats approaching under their colorful spinnakers a few miles behind. In a still and bright late afternoon we sailed slowly against tide the last miles to the finish, and then heard the first finishers arriving at the line – the lead boats had also hit a lull before the finish, and as a consolation we had gained back much time on the leading boats. 

In very light conditions the last miles are frustrating and interminable. In the well-fished North Sea we do not see an abundance of sea life, but Raymond pointed out a massive, nearly 1-meter across jellyfish as we drifted past it, another odd moment in an odd race. Though struggling to keep moving against the tide we enjoyed a spectacular red sunset before finally approaching the finish ship in the gloaming. In the last hundred meters we lay within a rag-tag group of small and large yachts, the former looking forward to high finishes and trophies, the latter resigned to a lower finish, but we much appreciated the toot as we crossed the line and a familiar voice on VHF acknowledging our finish.

After mooring and tiding up we visited the race office, crews sharing drinks and snacks, swopping stories of fickle winds and missed opportunities, but also about the deep red sunset and music heard across the water from the brightly lit beach clubs along the coast. Our corrected finish would put us in the bottom half of the doublehanded class, but in good company with the other larger doublehanded boats. Race Director Nick Elliot noted that we had been at or near the lead at one point, and while we dropped to 11th overall, we were pleasantly surprised to learn we had taken third place in the IRC 2 class (the second of four classes, with larger boats like Mav) with the combined doublehanded and crewed boats. 

We were deterred by a zealous guard vessel, teased and bested by light winds, but thoroughy enjoyed two memorable races in sparkling conditions, and another very special time with friends along the River Orwell.

A Change of Seasons - Ijspegel Trophy 3 April 2016

The final weekend of the IJspegel Trophy​ series marks our official end of winter.  In warming weather and softer breezes the final places are earned, trophies hoisted by the winners,  but quickly our attention turns to the new race season.   For most other sailors the first weeks of Spring are a time for sanding,  painting, and launching the boat anew, while the winter racers invest hard work in harsh conditions, and have honed their teamwork and tuned their boats for the season ahead.

Our unpredictable North Sea winter weather – from cruel gales to completely windless race days – forced cancellation of several early races; the season finale would comprise races on Saturday and Sunday for the “Atom Cup”, but more significantly would decide the winners and final standings in the coveted Ijspegel Trophy.

As the biggest and fastest boat in the doublehanded class Maverick has proudly led our class to the line in previous contests, but on corrected time we largely split first and second place with our smaller J-Boat sister, the J-105 Panther Sailing Team​.   Maverick would have to win both final races to take the trophy from the quick black cat,  a tall order as Mav tends to dawdle in light conditions.

Dockside Saturday morning crews could be heard across the flat water, shouting greetings and stacking unneeded heavy weather sails and gear on the pontoons.  Despite a forecast of virtually no wind our big red committee boat, the 50 year old former trawler Albatros, optimistically steamed out of the harbor.   The racing fleet soon followed, sails flat on the boom and deck, motoring through the stillness to wait for wind in the start area.

We bobbed around waiting for wind, a long hour until a faint 5-6 kt breeze lightly rippled the water and the Race Committee began the countdown to the start.   The top fully crewed class started first, big boats slowly pushing against the current and finally across the line .  Five minutes later the horn sounded for the second crewed class start, and the much of this large class struggled in their collective foul air and drifted slowly over the line.

The doublehanders waited another five minutes for their start, with Maverick building up speed to cross near the far end of the line.  A few of the crewed boats had yet to cross the line and found themselves in our start, but we managed a well-timed run in clean air and for a few happy moments we glided nicely along unimpeded.   The doublehanded class sails a medium distance course but our first mark lay in the same general direction as the upwind mark for the crewed classes, and we soon found ourselves amidst the crewed boats (nice photo by Frank de Bruin​ below, Mav mingling with the crewed fleet).  Joule tacked closely ahead, we exchanged greetings with Lucifer before clearing their wind shadow, and we slowly pushed through the lee of the two Dehlers, Griel and Redan.

We began an extreme slow-motion drag race to our first mark, and Raymond Roesink​ and I trimmed and shifted weight as gently and gracefully as two fellas our size can.   We managed to hold a higher line than Panther, and pulled steadily ahead of them, Firestorm and the trailing fleet.   

We crept along against the tide, managing a few knots over the ground, while Panther sailed below and slightly behind us a few hundred meters off but angling further away and losing time.   We tacked to the mark and the wind dropped further, and the Albatros announced over the VHF that that our race would end at the upcoming mark.   We ever so slowly tacked to the mark, trying to coax speed toward the finish, and shortly after crossing watched Panther sail into some breeze and start making up lost time.  

At the prize giving we discovered we took first place, with Panther a close second and Firestorm just behind them.  We lay two points behind Panther overall, with a final decisive race on Sunday.   The doublehanders flock together at the prizegiving and we tend to share information and tips, even in the middle of a race series.  We chatted with Erik van Vuuren​ and Yvonne Beusker​ from Panther about the last part of the race, and noted that the current coming around the Zandmotor (Sand Motor) a nearby man-made sand promontory protecting the beaches to the north, may have pushed Panther further away from the mark in the last few hundred meters.

Sunday began cool and grey for the grand finale, and Mav’s two crew readied sails and lines and griped about another light wind race.   As on Saturday we’d need to sail a smart and faultless race to win.   In a light 7-9 kt breeze the first two crewed classes started cleanly and thankfully would not clutter the field ahead of us, one less worry.  We lined up for the start and worked our way down the start line,  ready to harden up and drive over the line.   In the final seconds we picked a spot just above Tyger, a lovely new Salona 33.  She’s much smaller and doesn’t point quite as high as big Mav, and we’d gas them briefly with only a pang of guilt.   As we came to the line Tyger pointed higher and higher, forcing us up and slowing both of us to a crawl.  Panther started nearer to the start ship and drove past our awkward, luffing standoff.  “Peter, a little lower please” I asked.  I could see Peter’s head pivot slightly over, but he held his position with grim determination.   “We’ll both go faster if you fall off a little”.   Peter eased off and we soon worked past, but for an excruciating minute or two we lost time to the rest of the field.  

It was hound and hares, and we held a high line and slowly ground out a small lead over Panther and Firestorm below us.   They tacked out early as we continued toward the first mark, which lay in nearly the same place as the day before.   In theory the tide would turn first closer to the coast and we should gain ground in the others, but in a shocking lapse of reasoning we did not consider the dreaded ‘Zandmotor Effect’ that befell Panther a mere day earlier.   When we tacked back up to the mark we had fallen behind Panther and Firestorm, though with more than half the race to go.

We began a long spinnaker run north, the tide pushing us even faster ahead.   We drew ahead of Panther and opened a nice lead, and then passed Firestorm a few hundred meters from the next mark.   We dropped our big spinnaker later than usual but still a bit too efficiently, while Firestorm delayed their drop and slashed in between us and the buoy around 15 meters from the mark.  It is customary among doublehanders to hold course and exercise some care in traffic on hoists and drops, as the boats are usually held briefly on autopilot.   Firestorm began their spinnaker drop late and at the mark decided to drive deeper to aid the drop.   They angled across our bow and we were forced to punch at the buttons on the autopilot to fall away.  We averted a collision by a few inches though the damage would have been minimal, except perhaps for us sodomizing Wim with our bowsprit.

In anything but the last race of a competitive but friendly winter series we would have protested, but nobody wants to win in the protest room.   We finally sailed below and around Firestorm, with Panther now close behind, and concentrated on the last third of the race.

We were really hoping for a ‘Rocky’ ending -- one eye closed by an early head-butt from Peter, strength sapped by the Zandmotor, and a late gash over the eye from Wim.  Bloody but unbowed, we opened a small lead again on the last upwind leg, rounded the final mark, quickly hoisted our big baby blue kite, and finished the race with a screaming fast shy spinnaker run to the finish.   There was no time left for the knockout punch,  and we fell short at the end.   On corrected time Firestorm earned first place, Panther held on for second, and Maverick ended in third place for the day.   

We had a fine duel with Panther throughout the series, with Firestorm coming on strongly and Off Course also improving and placing in several races.  Instead of saying we came up just short at the very end, I’d rather say that Panther came up big for the series.   We’ve also preserved our run of taking first or second place for the series for the last four years, though each year the doublehanded class grows larger and stronger.  No doubt a few more young guns will come to town next Winter to take on big Mav and Panther.

We move on now to the Dutch doublehanded series, including the National Championships, and then the UK RORC doublehanded series.  There is no better way to prepare for the coming season then the Ijspegel Trophy – tough conditions and currents on the ever-changing North Sea.  Our thanks to the committee and volunteers for a tremendous and hugely enjoyable competition.

Winners gathered up their silverware and drifted off from the ceremony, crews and competitors said goodbye and made plans for the season ahead.   With the changing of seasons we move on to new competitions and challenges.  I talked with others about the upcoming doublehanded races and tried to put the close loss out of my mind, until  Peter ambled up and said quietly “We had words with Erik before the start, and when I saw the dark hull coming up behind me, I thought it was Erik.  I’m sorry.”

Getting Back Up After a Fall - Ijspegel Trophy 21 March 2016

A few weeks ago in the wee hours of Sunday morning I sat deep in a big leather chair in front of a wood fire in a lodge in the American Rockies, trying to get news of a sailrace 10,000 km away along the coast of Scheveningen. The rustic fire sputtered as did the internet connection, and I shifted expectantly between slowly updating marine tracking sites, real-time wind reports, and stuttering video from the Scheveningen Live beach cameras.

Maverick is lying a few points behind the ably and amiably sailed Panther Sailing Team in the annual Ijspegel Trophy winter series, and with only a few remaining races I was called to the annual company offsite. Having only joined the week before it seemed imprudent not to attend due to pressing sailing matters (and more important offshore races ahead to ‘explain’ and work around), so instead our friend and shorthanded stalwart Ad Lagendijk stepped into the breach. 

The tracking websites display boats as small arrowheads on a map of the coast, the positions updates every few minutes. On Saturday Ad and Raymond Roesink had earned third place in the light airs that do not suit Mav well, an impressive result for a new partnership. Our hopes were higher in the moderate and building breeze Sunday as the doublehanded arrowheads moved slowly away from the Albatross, but early in the race Maverick suddenly changed course and slowed dramatically. She was too far out to see in the ragged video and in trouble.

After several interminable minutes Maverick picked up speed and headed toward the harbor. She was sound, not dismasted, and nobody had to come to her aid, giving some measure of relief. An hour later Raymond sent a message and a few photos – a series of unfortunate events led to a broken outhaul (the line connecting the back of the mainsail to the boom); as the mainsail was hastily dropped, the boom kicker, a spring and metal tube contraption that holds the boom upright and rigid, sheared in half. To add insult to injury, the hydraulic backstay adjuster was losing pressure and leaking oil like an old man pisses.

Last Sunday Raymond and I went to the boat early, to further attend to her wounds and ready her for the next Ijspegel race. We had removed the kicker for expensive surgery elsewhere and re-rigged vang lines to hold the boom, a reefline was seconded for the outhaul (with the never again forgotten safety strop), and an old line and purchase was fitted to bypass the hydraulic adjuster and provide modest backstay tension. 

We headed out to the outer harbor and carefully hoisted sails, the jury-rigged repairs seemed to hold, and in a light breeze we exited the breakwater and rocked along on moderate seas. Though carrying a few nicks Maverick felt lively and both she and her two crew were eager for some racing. The doublehanded class would start toward the north, into the wind, and the tide was beginning to turn from south-flowing ebb to north-flowing flow, changing first along the coast and gradually further offshore. We decided to start close to the big red Albtross committee boat, and to tack as soon as possible toward the coast to pick up the tide and some additional apparent wind. 

We crossed behind the line before the start and waved to Ad, the doublehanded gypsy now filling in on Team Firestorm. As they sailed along on starboard their fellow doublehanders Happy distracted by the Class 2 start, barreled toward them until Wim and Ad sharply fell off and avoided a collision by less than an inch [as a sign of the times Happy’s onboard video of the near-collision became big social media hit the next day].

With the first and second crewed classes safely away on their races, a five minute countdown began for the doublehanded class start. The wind fell below 10 kts, a disadvantage for Maverick, and we built up speed in the last minute to cross close to the start ship and to pass quickly through its wind shadow. The start film shows the doublehanded fleet bobbling along toward the startline in a tidy and closely spaced row, the best start of all the groups. As gun sounds the image is momentarily obscured by the lovely grey OneSails of Maverick as she whooshes past. A voice is heard in the background, greeting Raymond – in the future, please don’t distract the big guy.

Soon after passing the startship we tacked to port and settled into a 5 mile leg to the NAM fixed buoy. We focused on speed and height, slowing in the lulls but nicely regaining pace each time the wind rose to 10-12 kts. To add some excitement we targeted the laggards in Class 2 that had started 5 minutes ahead, hoping to pick one or two off before they tacked back to their upwind mark. We took some pleasure as we neared big Antares, and then passed close behind One Wave Ahead.

As expected we picked up the tide earlier and with it some additional apparent wind. Panther and Firestorm followed closely, and the former could not sail as high an angle and opted for more speed to hopefully benefit further from the early turning tide closer to the coast. For some time we sailed in parallel but they fell further away, and then slightly behind. Firestorm kept in touch behind and slightly above us, our lead narrowing when the wind dropped but pulling away steadily near the end of the leg when the wind built to 11-14 kts. 

Rounding NAM we hoisted the big light blue running gennaker, and settled in to a downwind leg to the next course mark. We led the field and kept an eye on the red-orange gennaker of Firestorm a few hundred meters behind, trailed closely by Panther under their familiar black-white kite, and Majic Potion, displaying impressive progress under their new owners. 

In our first season we discovered the many ways not to drop a gennaker (often too late and into Neptune’s clutches), and with hard earned experience and a new gennaker sock we readied for the first drop. We were running against current but at a pacey 8 kts, and to allow enough time would hoist the jib around 0.4 miles from the mark, then douse the gennaker, drop her into the forward hatch, and trim for the rounding. 

Severely underestimating our new-found skills, at 0.4 miles we hoisted the jib, doused and dropped, and would have admired our handiwork were we not 0.38 miles from the mark and sailing downwind under white sails against the strengthening current. We slowly and painfully approached the mark as the rest of the field gained ground, though Firestorm also dropped their kite early and suffered the same slow crawl to the mark.

We finally rounded and trimmed for a shy reach (wind slightly ahead). Mav truly loves a good reach, and it is a joy when she powers up and begins to heel, digs in and builds up speed. Tide was now running strongly across the line, and benefitting from our instruments we sailed a true course over ground to the next mark. We lengthened our lead and hopefully earned back time that was lost on the early gennaker drop, and feeling somewhat lonely we readied for a final downwind leg to the finish.

The final leg was almost directly downwind, and advantage for symmetrical spinnaker boats like Happy and Off Course while the gennaker boat (Mav, Panther, Firestorm and Majic Potion) would need to gybe the massive gennakers a few times to keep pace to the finish. Crewed boats involve 4 or 5 in the gybe, and shifting Mav’s 135m2 of sail from one side to the other doublehanded requires careful coordination and timing, along with some muscle. Bad race ending things happen if it doesn’t go well, as we also learned last season.

We insinuated ourselves into the crewed boat field as we neared the finish, Team-Redan Ned crossing smartly upwind ahead, and we followed the Class 1 boats downwind toward the the finish. The first gybe was a thing of beauty but too early, and nearing the finish we needed one more gybe before crossing. The big sail came across but sagged toward its evil nemesis, Mr. Forestay, and the top began twisting into the dreaded ‘hourglass’. Raymond sprang forward and hauled mightily on the back edge of the sail, I steered slightly higher to allow the wind to push it out, and with relief it filled full and fast and drove us over the finish line.

At the prize giving we were pleased to learn we took first place on corrected time, with a decent margin over Panther in second and Firestorm in 3rd place. We clawed back a point in the standings and put the bumps and bruises of two weeks ago behind us, but like all of the other Ijspegel crews we enjoyed a beautiful early spring afternoon out on the water and a cosy and close celebration afterwards. Two more races, two more chances, and like the other doublehanded Ijspegelaars we’ll be winter-hardened and ready for the season ahead.

Big Wind and Little Jibs - IJspegel Trophy 7 February 

Wind whistled through Scheveningen harbor as crews readied for the long awaited resumption of the Ijspegel Trophy Winter series. The Race Committee weighed a forecast of building wind through the afternoon against three cancelled races before the winter break, and led by example as they ventured out in the committee boat Albatros, a smaller motor cruiser Dickson, and a rubberboat to try to lay course buoys.

Hefty weather brings both bravado and caution; 20 boats soon followed the mothership and her tenders to the start, while a fair number of others deciding to spare their kit, crew and blushes for another day. 

A classic recipe for self abuse and a cardinal racing sin is to put too much sail up for the conditions. The mainsail area can be reduced by ‘reefing’, where it is lowered and the bottom potion is tucked away, and racing boats have a range of bigger and smaller jibs to use in different wind conditions. Is not uncommon for sailors to gamble on a bigger jib or delay reefing, often driven by bravado or a form of one-upmanship, and in years past we would pay the price as the boat would become overpowered in building wind, heeled uncomfortably and making as much leeway as headway.

As we rigged and readied in our slip the moderate-to-heavy weather #3 jib lay on the deck, but just before heading out a bracing gust of wind through the marina inspired an unusual moment of maturity. I hauled up the small #4 heavy weather sail, electing this time to err on the side of caution. We set sails in the outer harbor and hobby-horsed through the rollers outside the breakwater, and made our way to the start area. The wind outside is always a fair measure stronger than in the marina, and held above 20 knots and gusting into the high 20s. We cut through the big chop and whitecaps, crossing with the other boats around the Albatross. 

Other Race Committees might have postponed or cancelled the race in these conditions, but one of the strengths of the Ijspegel series is the opportunity to race and train in more trying conditions. This especially applies to the doublehanded class, with 6 of the 9 entries up for a challenge and exchanging waves as we waited for our start. The earlier two Ijspegel series races were in light conditions, not Mav’s favorite, a we looked forward to some smash-mouth sailing.

The larger crewed class started first, with two boats making the start line as three of their number retired with various wind-induced maladies before the start.  Moving Intelligence crossed first, well heeled with a gaggle of crew on the rail, followed by a more overpowered SCA People. The smaller boat crewed class brought 9 of their 17-strong class out to play, with Joule having to retire just before the start, and departed at the gun more as a parade than a chorus line.

The doublehanders start last, and we decided to start on the far end. We suspected a slight advantage, and also readied to start on port -- the tide was beginning to turn and we wanted to head further offshore where it was still running favorably.  Panther Sailing Team also decided to head to the far end on starboard tack, and just before the gun we decided to tack back to starboard. We had our Murphy moment as the loose jib sheet caught on a hatch and kept it from tacking fully over, killing our speed. As we pounded along Raymond Roesink quickly went forward and cleared the line, but Panther lay slightly behind and below and we had to hold course. We were gaining on PENNY-WISE and Team Lucifer Sailing Team, and after Panther tacked we followed suit. With a reefed main, the #4 sheeted in, and Raymond and I sitting our substantial selves up in the rail we settled into a bumpy but stable line and held good speed. Panther tacked back and had fallen well behind, and 15 minutes into the race we drew to within a few lengths of the venerable and massive Antares from the crewed classes. 

The first course mark for the doublehanders was one of several fixed buoys marking the ‘Zandmotor’, a large man-made sandbar a few miles down the coast from Scheveningen. Winter storms can displace buoys, and one of the disadvantages when leading a race is discovering the mark is not quite where your charts and GPS tell you it should be. We finally spied with our own eyes a pair of buoys, and tacked toward the nearer with hopes it was the correct mark. Big Mav had a good run to the Zandmotor and Panther now lay several minutes behind, impressively leading the bigger Firestorm and sistership Majic Potion, with Happy and Off Course keeping pace. The tide had now turned against, and after confirming it was the correct buoy we overstood it by several lengths and then tacked back to round it. The spring tide was now running stronger than expected, and as we rapidly approached the unforgiving steel cylinder we decided to quick tack twice and round it with some margin. The lost time was much preferred to a yellow racing stripe.

We had rigged the heavy weather gennaker for downwind legs, but we were now seeing 25 knots steady and gusts up to 37 kts. Far ahead we noted the crewed classes running under white sails, except for a single red spinnaker – top crewed boat Saffiier Nitro showing her stuff. Given our substantial lead we headed downwind under main and with the jib re-sheeted aft on the former spinnaker sheet. In 27-33 knots wind Mav roared ahead around 10 knots, periodically hitting 12 kts. The Race Committee called the fleet on the VHF and advised us that there would be no further racing for the crewed fleets, and the doublehanded class would finish at their next mark. 

As we approached the final bouy and finish, the Dickson motored toward it from the other direction to create a finish line. We were sitting out in the open in a near-gale on roiled seas, while they were ensconced in a warm and well-appointed cabin on a motor yacht. As we crossed they tooted the tooter, and we saw instead that we were riding a stable steed through the waves, while they were bouncing and rolling madly about. I’d much rather be sailing.

We relaxed in the Spuigat Clubhouse, time for renewed acquaintances after the winter break, race stories and refreshments, and prizes. The doublehanders as usual hung out together in one corner and cheered all of the winners, but with added enthusiasm for their fellow shorthanded sailors. Impressively, five of the crewed boats retired before the start or during the race, while all of the doublehanded boats finished. Firestorm earned third place and Panther managed a nice second place, and big Mav took line honors and first place. In big wind and waves, a little jib and a grown up decisions made all the difference.

Light Airs and Winter Lights - IJspegel Trophy 13 December

One of the sayings in Holland, particularly along the coast in Winter time, is that we get to enjoy several different weathers per day. Sunny skies quickly give way to miserable grey drizzle, or like last Sunday, an overnight gale races past, leaving still air but roiled and confused seas.

The last three Ijspegel Trophy races had been cancelled due to extreme conditions, twice by hefty storms and once when a dead calm and mist settled on the harbor. After the latest storm raced past the northern islands, toward Denmark and points beyond, the wind died to a whisper. The Committee and crews alike were eager for a race, and anxious, soft conversations carried over the glass-flat water in the harbor. “Do you think we’ll have a race?”. Arched eybrows, head tilted and a palm turned up -- the restrained Calvinist Dutch version of the Gallic shrug. “Maybe, we’ll at least head out and try.” 

We readied Mav, choosing the light weather jib and spinnaker. Mav revels in nasty winds and messy seas, while light air conditions require much focus, trim, and slow careful movements by the two big guys. Before heading out we heard that Edith, co-skipper on the fine doublehanded boat Panther Sailing Team, was injured; normally doublehanders can reach out to our close fraternity and find an able replacement, but in this case the other co-skipper, Yvonne, asked our local professional Erik van Vuuren(coincidentally her partner) to step onboard. It brought back memories from little league, when an opposing team would bring in a 6-foot ‘kid’ in need of a shave, who then threw 90 mile fastballs past a bunch of 10 year olds. It was not quite that dire, but many of us have enjoyed Erik’s counsel and advice over the years and he certainly can keep a boat moving in the light stuff.

We joined the line of boats leaving the harbor, and as we exited the breakwater we pitched and rolled in seas still unsettled in the aftermath of the gale. As a bigger boat this would work to Maverick’s advantage upwind, but with wind around 5 kts it was uncertain we would even manage a race. Leading to the start we sailed and drifted slowly among the other boats, close to our trusty startship Albatros. 

As the committee announced the course marks for our doublehanded course over the VHF radio, Raymond Roesink (The Professor) went below to chart the course and enter waypoints into our navigation software. We bounced and rolled and soon Raymond re-emerged; the big fella looked a bit like Shrek, green with squirrel cheeks and a sense of urgency. This occurs once per season and with a few efficient honks he donated his breakfast to the fishes. Years ago I would gently ask how he felt, and allow him a several minutes to relax and regain focus. He now recovers quite quickly, so this time I generously gave him about 15 seconds before I noted that he needed to get back down there and finish. 

The countdown for the big boat crewed class commenced, but a minute beforehand a horn sounded for a postponement. Race manager Peter later noted instability in the wind, but perhaps also that most of the boats were in no great position to start and he spared some blushes. After a short delay the new countdown commenced and the first group slowly pulled away. 

The larger second crewed class started 5 minutes later, a rag-tag affair with a few boats getting away smartly, others stalled by the line, and a few shamed boats creeping along in the shadow of the start ship and crossing shortly before our doublehanded class one-minute warning.

A stiff current ran across the course, and starting into the current in light wind we decided to run up the line to the far end. Panther lined up closest to the pin, and we dillied while Team Firestorm dallied ahead and had to slot in between them and Happy. It was not the first time that the doublehanders showed up the crewed classes with the best start of the day, and we collectively bobbled slowly away to our first course mark.

We drew slowly away from Happy and carried on, but noted Off Course, a venerable IOR-era race boat with a big overlapping genoa, enjoying a nice turn of pace. Several of the other boats followed Panther (Erik) after he tacked back early, while we drove toward the shore. Our first course mark lay a half mile past the upwind mark for the crewed classes, and we sailed far enough so that we would just clear their mark, and stay out of their foul air, on our next tack. As we came within a few lengths of the yellow buoy Firestorm circled around it and readied their spinnaker, heading straight at us. We luffed up (went head to wind), killing speed but allowing the off-course J-boat to drop under us. We contemplated protesting them, but hastily hauling their spinnaker down and turning back to our first mark seemed punishment enough. 

We built a nice cushion over Panther and rounded our upwind mark first, but took our sweet time hoisting and setting our big baby blue running spinnaker, compounded by a shallow and less than ideal angle. In contrast Panther and her ringer pro managed a quicker hoist and better line, and we sailed parallel to them against the last of the tide. We underestimated the effect of the current on our wind angle, and pushed on… and on…against the current. When we finally gybed back the wind was just behind beam, a bit high for our running spinnaker, but we built some speed and closed in on the next mark. Panther gybed even later but still lay ahead, though as we reached the mark we had narrowed the gap to a few boat lengths. We neatly dropped our spinnaker and rounded the mark, and began two upwind legs in the light an fickle breeze. We both leaned low on the lee side, steering gently and nursing what speed we could manage. 

We steadily pulled away from Panther and the others, and led by nearly 5 minutes by the time we rounded the final mark and started a final spinnaker run to the finish. We joined in among the crew boats on their last downwind leg, staying outside in clear air and keeping pace before gybing back for the last stretch. We took line honors but dropped to third on corrected time, with Panther earning first place and the coveted Albatros Trophy and Off Course sailing a fine race to take second position.

Back in the harbor crews joked and laughed as they tidied up, a combination of relief in finally getting in the race and a measure of early holiday spirit. Darkness falls very early in Holland near the Solstice. At dusk in the clubhouse after the prize giving, strings of lights on a few boats flickered on, and then a few more, until across the harbor Maverick and tens of other boats were lit like Christmas trees. It is lovely new tradition, bringing light and good cheer to our harbor and neighbors, and with it we also wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Big Dog Takes the Old Dog for a Run - Ijskegel Race 9 Nov 15

On off-weeks from the winter IJspegel Trophy Races, an alternative race series is held offshore from Scheveningen. To the causal observer, the Ijskegel fleet is a stark contrast with the Ijspegel boats -- a seeming rag-tag band of cruisers, small family sailboats, and a few well worn racing boats sailing under white sails (no spinnakers) around fixed marks. A similar simplistic view is that there is only one different letter in each name but a world of difference, the Ijskegel considered a ‘fun’ race while the Ijspegel represents top-class competition. 

Having raced in both series for several years, looks can deceive. Nearly half the Ijskegel boats have distinguished race pedigree, like Moshulu, Iluka, Jutter, Blondie and Marlijn. A few ‘Ijskegelaars’ are also competing in the Ijspegel Trophy (Iluka and Maverick), and some of the ostensible ‘cruisers’ like Pietjekoppe, Rapketel and Challenger manage their share of podium places. The Kegelaars represent many years of race experience, with more than a few crews sporting more white than grey hair, but the ostensibly more relaxed format and atmosphere gives way to earnest competition and rivalries on the water.

We try to fit in a few Ijskegels during the season, a chance for an enjoyable sail and to work a little further on handling and tactics. Raymond unfortunately had a family commitment on Sunday, so it would allow some practice solo racing against the crews. I dislike going to the gym and am a bit creaky for much running (besides scattering small children as I lumber along), while sail racing provides a surprisingly complete workout. This is generally not evident until the next morning, as I hobble around the house with the proudly earned soreness that comes from hard sport. In the two seasons with So What, a nimble 33 foot boat with modest loads, it was a simple pleasure guiding her around the Ijskelel course. Maverick is 40 feet and carries a much bigger sail plan, and with it comes heavy loads and a very hefty workout.  

Sunday morning the Ijspegel crews arrived to mist and feeble winds in the harbor, readying boats and greeting old friends as well as newcomers. As the mist thankfully lifted boats made their way out the harbor, hoisted mainsails in the outer harbor, and sailed out the breakwaters in a freshening breeze and unseasonably balmy (or at least until a few years ago...) conditions. The downside of solo sailing is there is no Raymond or Ken standing at the mast to help hoist the big mainsail, and coupled with a desire to make nice show of the hoist, I grunted it up quickly and soon shed the heavy coat and fleece.  

Outside the harbor lie four buoys in a diamond pattern called ‘The Drains’, a few hundred meters/yards apart. There are larger, yellow and black buoys lying east and west, and two smaller yellow cylinder buoys anchored north and south. The Ijskegel start is always between the east-west pair of buoys, heading approximately 1.5 miles south to the fixed S1 buoy off Kijkduin, a small village just south of Scheveningen. Competitors round the buoy, head back to the drains, and then circle them counter-clockwise twice before heading back south to the S1 buoy. Two of these ‘laps’ constitutes the race. Rounding the marks requires multiple tacks and gybes, with a stiff tide running along the course. Even when the faster boats draw ahead they will encounter slower boats around the Drains on the second lap, necessitating close-quarters handling to work through the traffic. In summary, the so-called ‘fun race’ is over a tactically challenging course, with frequent maneuvers, handling in close quarters, running tides, and a lot of experienced boats and crews that give no quarter, even to solo boats. 

Prior to the 12:00 start the 22 entries crossed behind the line. For the Ijspegels a new start line is laid for each race, and part of the pre-race is checking each end of the line to see if it is skewed, or if there is a ‘favored’ end (shorter to the first mark). Experienced Ijskelaars are well aware that the line beween the Drains buoys is well skewed, ergo everyone wants to start as close as possible to the East buoy. A few of the newcomers or less confrontational boats are satisfied to start in relative solitude further up the line, but 15 other boats all converge on a narrow stretch next to the buoy. Unlike the Ijspegels starts, shouts are rare and boats tend to find their little patch of water, or make a little room for others, and instead of a tight line of boats crossing together it resembles a closely grouped Roman phalanx.  

In the southerly 15-17 knots breeze the big dog Maverick was straining at the leash, and in the last minutes before start I tried to keep her safely away from the crowd along the line. A quick few tacks with a minute to go, sails hardened, speed increasing, I looked for an opening near the east buoy. The first door looked like it would close, luffed the main to bleed off a little speed, and nipped just ahead of Sea Beryl to cross a little late. We were bearing down at pace on a wee boat, and as we closed within a few meters we dropped lower and passed through her similarly wee lee. Rapketel bobbed merrily alongside and Mav gassed her, though they managed a nice wave.

The first leg to the S1 is a drag race, and having crossed near the buoy Mav was in relatively clear air. A few of the big boats crossed earlier and lay ahead, Dinox and Moshulu leading the way, and Mav managing to hang in fifth position just behind the bigger X-Stream and Knight of Hamble. Mav’s kid sister J-109 Jitters held close behind early, but big Mav eased slowly away.  

Closing in on S1 we had to put in a pair of quick tacks, costing a little time to the leaders, and after rounding S1 we sailed downwind back to toward the drains. Boats with genuas (large headsails) pole out the sail, or use a ‘human’ pole and have a crewmember hold it out, while boats like Maveric with smaller jibs struggle with poor sail form when the sheet is eased (and nobody to go forward). Prior to the start a crew from another boat looked inquisitively as I riggged spinnaker sheets before a non spinnaker race, and as we rounded the S1 he would have seen that this sheet was also tied on the jib, and when ‘tweaked’ with another line, made for much better form. On the downwind leg, with a following current, we opened up a further lead from the boats behind and hung with the lead group.

The longer legs to and from the S1 pose little difficulty solo, but the serious work is in the roundings. Not quite enough hands to steer and trim main and jib, so a more deliberate and slower set of steps. Other boats are given a little more space, and extra distance is taken after each mark (‘overstepping the mark’) to make sure additional tacks will not be needed -- unlike the first S1 rounding. We completed the first rounding of the Drains with little drama -- but thoroughly winded. Lots of tugging string and grinding winches, no major issues, except that Iluka was looming large on the stern. We elected to quick tack early and work closer to the coast, where the tide usually runs slower, and tacked back later for a direct line to the S1. We held a slightly better edge over Iluka as we neared the S1, and with a better second rounding and gybe we held them off on the return leg to the Drains.

Iluka is well sailed and would gain ground at the Drains, so the next set of roundings was nervy but quicker. We both merged into boats finishing their first lap, and had to oick our way through a few laggards. The higher rated X-Stream, Knight and Dinox held position ahead, with Moshulu surprising the trio by hanging with them. Finishing the second roundings and starting the last upwind leg to the S1, Pietjekoppe tacked across Mav’s bow (albeit with a warning shout), and an abrupt easing of the main and jib allowed us to duck her. No allowance given to the solo boat, nor none expected. The maneuver lost little time but again Iluka was close astern and a combination of trimming and sitting my rather substantial self as far out as possible helped gain a few precious meters.

After rounding the S1 a third and final time, the home stretch leg returns to the drains and a finish by the east buoy. We rounded S1 and gybed neatly, tweaked our spinnaker sheet to good effect, and opened up our lead over Iluka. Marlijn gave sporting waves as they passed closely on the way to the S1, and we crossed fifth over the line behind the big three and an impressive Moshulu.  

Moshulu earned first place on corrected time, followed by X-Stream, but the welcome surprise was managing third place in Maverick. It may not be the Lord-Hoity-Toity Cup, and on first blush the Ijkegel may look like a bunch of club boats out for a fun race, but it never feels that way out on the course -- or the next morning.

For Old and New, a Fine Start to the IJspegel Trophy - 18 Oct 2015

Depending on the competition, the atmosphere dockside before a sail race can broadly vary.  Tension is typical before a long offshore races, obsessive checking and rechecking, nervous laughs, diversion from the trials and possible risks ahead.   Inshore events tend to be more festive; a during the course of the event some teams (and sailors) forge friendly bonds and mingle amiably, while other teams nurture grudges and enmity toward other competitors, the sea, and life in general, their crews sullen and unpleasant.

The IJspegel Trophy​ Winter Series, now entering its 41st season, is held in frequently testing conditions on the North Sea off the coast of Scheveningen.  For most teams it provides an opportunity to compete on a high level, but also to train, try our new sails and gear, and to introduce new techniques and crew before the next season.   For many it is an annual rite, with a surprising number of crew and skippers celebrating decades of past Ijspegel Series.   

Instead of becoming a grizzled and insular group, is much the opposite.  The atmosphere dockside is relaxed, new teams are welcomed and their boats are complimented and scrutinized.   Oldtimers share tips and tricks to help newcomers learn the tricky tides and shifting offshore winds (and as a quid pro quo, subjecting newbies to ancient mariner stories after a few beers in the clubhouse).

On a cool, grey Sunday morning, walking along the dock to Maverick, crews old and new readied for the opening race.   A wave here, a short greeting, a short stop to welcome to a new skipper and crew. I passed Antares, a substantial older 54-foot cruiser-racer, who brought some unexpected notoriety on themselves and the Ijspegels a few years ago.  One of the most popular international sailing websites published a sequence of photos where the massive Antares rises up off a wave, and then crashes down on a much smaller boat, like a killer whale broaching the surface before biting into a hapless seal.  It was yet another good story for a venerable older boat, but one that can still show a thing or two on the course.  

The youngest Ijspegel team this season is a group of talented Delft University students sailing a small and quick Mumm 30, while the Antares crew averages about 40 years older – or more.   As I walked by I told them it was nice to see a grown-up crew, and their skipper Frans smiled and quickly responded “No, it’s an old folks home”.

I walked past Team Griel​ and Team-Redan​, two nearly identical Dehler 39s that have sparred for the Trophy over the last seasons, both crews readying to renew their rivalry, and finally to Maverick.   Light winds were forecast, to fill in later in the day, and the start time was pushed back an hour.  This allowed more time to give co-skipper Raymond Roesink​ a brief instruction on the spinnaker snuffer that I first tried out a few weeks earlier durig the 200 Miles Solo.    It is a long white sock with a collar that helps douse and control the big spinnaker, and we pulled it out of the forehatch and coiled it on the foredeck like a 16-meter albino python.  

The initial reaction was little different than if I had chucked the thing into Bokito the Gorilla’s cage at Rotterdam zoo – no doubt the big fella would touch it, stroke it, sniff it and lick it, and play with the bright red lines.   As evidence of our evolutionary progress Raymond did much the same, albeit far quicker than Bokito and without sniffing or licking it -- at least not when I was looking.

Growing bored with the new toy, and wanting to try it out under sail, we joined the line of boats motoring out to the harbor mouth to flat seas and a only a ripple of breeze.   We hosited sail near the startship Albatros and sailed slowly around the start area, and practiced using the snuffer.   After an hour the wind began to shift and fill in, and Mav joined a few of the other big dogs sailing back and forth by the Committee boat as if to say “Look at me, I’m sailing, enough wind, let’s start”.   The only thing missing was wagging tails and excited yapping.  

We would like to think it had an effect and soon the familiar, comforting ‘voice’ of the Ijspegels came over the radio:  “Ijspegel Teams, this is the Albatros”.  Start times were read out for the two fully crewed classes starting ahead of us, as well as the doublehanded start time and our course marks.  

In the lead-up to the start Antares called the start ship, and reiterated their request to change from the first class, with some of the quickest big boats, and to take their more familiar place as a gentle (most of the time) giant among the mid-sized boats in class 2.  After some deliberation Race Director Peter Anink​ came on the radio, and gently advised they would start this race in the top class but the committee would look consider changing their class afterwards.

Race starts reflect overall preparedness of the group, as well as the traits of individual boats.   Rather than heading to the same upwind mark as the crewed boats we would first head to a fixed navigation buoy just to the east of it, and we expected the rest of the doublehanders to join us on the much favored pin end.   In the minute before our start we built speed along the line and headed directly to the far end buoy.

Last year after the Doublehanded class started in the North Sea Race, the race director commented that he had rarely seen even a fully crewed class start so nicely lined up.   In this case the obviously rusty, rag-tag doublehanders staggered across across the line over several minutes.   No worries, the Ijspegels are the right series to work out the kinks, and no doubt we’ll have a smart line in a few races.   Newcomer Tyger (though with experienced doublehanders Peter and Jessica) crossed first near the far end and Maverick followed a few seconds later with pace, while the rest of the group slowly worked their way toward the line on the start ship end.

Neither Mav nor her two crew particularly relish light conditions, and in the first upwind leg we opened up some distance whenever the breeze rose above 8 knots, and then looked nervously over our shoulders as the wind dropped.  Rounding the first mark we hoisted the spinnaker and made a careful, deliberate set, while Panther Sailing Team​ gained on Tyger and the others, and quickly set her spinnaker a minute behind us.    We held our postions until we neared the coast, where the wind gradually dropped and Panther gained ground.   Gybing back toward the mark the wind slowly returned and we sailed a shallower angle,  and with additional speed we extended our lead over Panther, Majic Potion, and Tyger.   

Coming to the next mark we readied for the spinnaker drop.   Before adding the snuffer we initiated drops well before the mark, as it took time to tame the big blue sail, and to stuff yards of the gossamer cloth down the hatch before the wind pulled it free or it fell into Neptune’s clutches.    A few hundred meters away we hoisted the jib and Raymond very quickly drew the snuffer down, and moments later the sail was safely below – it worked like a charm, but unfortunately we were still far from the buoy and reduced to a crawl under white sails.   Panther drew ever closer, holding off on their drop until the last moment, and our hard fought lead was cut to a hundred meters.

The next leg was into the wind, and again we slowly edged ahead.  Rounding the second to last mark we eased off on tight reach, Mav’s absolute favorite, and with wind again up around 10 knots we drew away from Panther, who was closely followed by Majic Potion.   We soon rounded the last mark and set the big spinnaker for a downwind run to the finish.

On the way to the finish we heard Albatros radio that the second race for the crewed boats was abandoned (stopped mid-race), as there had been a significant wind shift.   We were making good pace under our running spinnaker, which works best when the wind is well behind the boat.   Soon the wind began moving forward, and Raymond energetically trimmed.   Wind off the beam is not the best angle for this sail and we heeled further over, but managed good speed and barreled along toward the finish.  The refugees from the abandoned race milled around on the course ahead, but the Albatros reminded them to get out of the way as the doublehanders were coming to the finish.  

Not all boats heard the call, but they could not miss a big boat with a huge baby blue spinnaker coming like a train.   Moving Intelligence SailingTeam​, winners in the top class, gave us a cheer and took a few photos as we passed (many thanks, Anita Bakker​).   With a toot from the start ship we crossed for line honors and paused to watch the Panther and Majic finish.   The cool black J-105 (the baby sister to our bigger J-120) crossed several minutes later, but close enough to take the win on corrected time with Mav placing second.   Majic (also a J-105) followed a minute later to capture third place and ensure and all J-Boat podium.

As we headed back t the harbor we heard Wind of Change, another new doubehanded entry still on the course, ask if they would make the time limit or should they break off and head in.   Race Director Peter paternally reassured them that Albatros would be there, waiting for them to finish.  At the clubhouse afterwards prizes were awarded to the top finishers, but this year there is a new trophy to recognize a special performance.  The biggest cheer of the afternoon rose for the wise elders on Antares who, despite their reservations about having to compete in the top class, managed an impressive third place finish.  For old and new, a welcome start to the Ijspegel Trophy.

200 Myls Solo - Together Alone 

A highlight of this season was competing in the 90th Fastnet Race doublehanded. The Fastnet is perhaps the most famous and storied sailing competition, but in its own quiet way the Dutch ‘200 Myls Solo’ has also become a classic race. With careful and devoted stewardship this unique season-closing race has grown steadily and is now limited to 100 entries, and this year celebrated its 20th edition. Like the Fastnet it too has been touched by tragedy, but it has also moved forward and become a well-established goal and rite of passage for Dutch solo sailors. 

The race represents a healthy cross-section of boats and sailors, from top shorthanded skippers and race boats to family sailboats and one-offs, men and women, old and young, proud veterans and eager rookies. It is a competitive race for line honors, trophies and top positions, but it equally is a personal race, a test of individual skill, endurance and perseverance. Not all starters finish, but all starters and finishers are equally welcomed and embraced by their shorthanded sailing family.

Boats gathered before the race in Batavia Haven, on the eastern shore of the Ijsselmeer inland sea. The 90 entries, ranging from 6 meters (21 feet) to over 13 meters (43 feet), lay double and triple rafted at the docks. This season we had our share of problems with spinnaker handling, particularly trying to tame and safely drop the big kite. As recommended by several other doublehanders I picked up a spinnaker ‘sock’ earlier in the week. Try to think of the sock as a 16 meter (53 foot) long nylon condom with a rigid collar, that you can pull down over the spinnaker from the deck. It takes the wind (and force) out of the sail , which can then be dropped like a big sausage (or wiener) through the hatch. 

In late afternoon I was trying to first figure out how to best load the sail into the sock, and then how to raise and drop it. No doubt having seen my artless tugging and floundering, Bart (Batfish) stopped by and took time to share his techniques, tricks and pitfalls. This is typical of our shorthanded community, and his sharing would prove invaluable over the course of the race.

Unlike most races with fixed start times, given the number and diversity of boats a broader start window is provided. Onboard trackers record start times and buoy roundings, supplemented by mandatory written logs. A fair number of the impatient and obsessed started in a scrum when the window opened, while I left the dock 20 minutes later with a few other mature sailors. The start line lay across a gap in the breakwater, in the shadow of the giant installation sculpture ‘Crouching Man”. Nearling the line we admired a rainbow of brightly colored spinnakers heading off toward the west. I hoisted the big sock with tack and clew lines loosely set, and then pulled the cord to draw the sock up to the top of the mast – voila! -- the light blue spinnaker blossomed out and Maverick picked up pace as she crossed the start line. I fervently hoped this sock would work as well when it was time to drop the spinnaker…

Fellow Scheveningen sailor Jan de Bruin on Esxcape trailed just behind, while just ahead Sander van Doorn set a black spinnaker on his new Mini ‘Stinkfoot’. Mini sailors are a breed apart (evidence the boat name from Frank Zappa) and Sander has already made a mark in this French-dominated solo class. The boats are the size of a compact auto, weigh as much as a large cow, yet carry gobs of sail on a mast four stories tall. In the healthy breeze Stinkfoot rose up and outpaced the bigger boats ahead, and was soon pushing toward the front of the fleet.

Dockside before the race I tried hard not to show any frailty, but perhaps one or two friends noticed a slight limp, as well as some difficulty hearing. Maverick had been carefully prepared for the race, and carried a full compliment of required safety equipment, though I procrastinated until the morning before the race to visit the neighborhood Doctor, for the first time in many years. I had a slight blockage and ache in my left ear, and after noting this the young Doctor asked me what I thought the problem was. This is standard practice in Holland, the doctor wants to first understand the patient’s perception of the ailment, and had I stumbled in with an arrow protruding from my chest I would have faced the same question. I noted that I thought I had a blockage from wax, and as I had a sailing race the next day it would help to have it unblocked.

The Doctor peered in my ear with the timeless conical ear-looker with mini headlight on the tip, and agreed that I had a lot of wax in my ear. She said she could clean it and drew a huge steel syringe out of a drawer, filled it with warm water, and handed me a half-moon dish to hold under my ear and catch the water and gunk that she would carefully rinse from my ear.

The sick and wounded in the waiting room were no doubt taken aback by the single, deep bellow from behind the Doctor’s glass door. The doctor immediately stopped injecting water under high pressure into my head, while I looked in the dish and expected to see bits of grey matter. She peered in the ear, paused and said “Blood. Have you been putting anything sharp in your ear?” I quickly replied “No, I thought it best if I left that to you”, but the Anglo-Irish humor was lost on her, and she noted she could do nothing else until the “ear-flesh” healed, except for some drops that might help.

On the way home I picked up the drops at the pharmacy, and once home I administered the required 3 drops. They needed to remain in for several minutes, but I also had a thousand things to do, so I briskly walked around the apartment with my head tilted at 90 degrees. It made for an interesting new perspective and was quite manageable, though I misjudged the distance rounding the sofa by about one centimeter (1/2 inch), which is approximately the width of the little toe on my right foot. This time my neighbors heard a single deep bellow, eardrops dribbled down my neck, and my mangled little toe quickly swelled fat and purple.

Coming to the end of the first spinnaker run, with compromised balance and a throbbing toe, I half walked, half crawled to the bow, and carefully doused the spinnaker and dropped it into the forward hatch. Each time I knocked the toe against the rail or deck gear I would try to suppress a small cry, but being half deaf I didn’t have to listen to my own pathetic whimpers.

But I digress. With the spinnaker safely below I rounded the first mark and eased the mainsail and jib for a half-wind leg, one of Maverick’s favorite points of sail. The disadvantage to starting later was the need to eventually pick through and pass smaller, earlier starting boats -- though a healthy differential in speed, and some gentlemanly gestures by some boats to allow me to pass on the upwind side, minimized time lost in traffic. 

Rounding the next buoy I hardened the sails for two upwind legs. A steady wind on the shallow Ijsselmeer quickly gives rise to short, quick waves; a bigger boat like Maverick can dig in and power through the waves, while smaller boats like Sander’s Mini are battered like a red-headed stepchild and have to ease off and sail a less direct line to keep up speed. I gained steadily on Sander, and coming to the next mark managed to power inside and tack ahead. There were many more downwind legs to come, and Sander would no doubt scoot past me and other big boats again.

The fleet behind continued to round this buoy to finish the first 27 miles on the southern part of the inland sea, the Markermeer, and motored toward the Lelystad locks. It was a welcome hour break to transit the locks, with greeting and chatting between skippers and time to refresh and snack. Exiting the locks we faced a long day and night ahead before our first mandatory rest. The first leg was hard in the wind and Maverick gained ground, but was followed by a longer shy spinnaker reach. Readying to re-hoist the spi I found the foot of the sail and lines for the sock twisted and confused, and with uncharacteristic discretion but lost opportunity I tried to sort out the mess on the foredeck. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, and while deep in ‘race mode’ it was impossible not to appreciate near-perfect conditions on one of the world’s loveliest sailing areas.

By late afternoon we had worked our way back up to the lead boats, passing Sander yet again and now among the 10 leading boats. Harris on Black Magic Woman and Klaas on Hjarta kept pace with the higher rated boats, and it took much focus and trimming to edge past each. At dusk Maverick was thundering along on a shy reach at 8 knots when Sander unexpectedly flew by under a white reaching kite. We rounded the next mark a half hour later in darkness and soon saw Stinkfoot bouncing and weaving along in the chop ahead, and we enjoyed the opportunity to again return the favor by passing him upwind at pace. We soon came on Wim on Firestorm, and again had to focus on trim and boat speed to work first above and then past him.

We continued late into the night, our sails and the sea lit silver by the nearly full moon. There is a special beauty to night sailing, as well as challenges. The historic harbor towns along the coast – the ‘pearls of the Ijsselmeer’ – provide a beautiful background of colored lights, behind the flashing white, green and red buoys, running lights from barges and freighters, and the mast lights of sailboats ahead or crossing tacks.

Past midnight I finally managed to pull past Patrick on Hodspur, and as we approached Hindelopen I finally drew close to Richard on Sparklings. In the heat of competition it is hard for any individual to let up, and though tiring and losing focus I was prepared to continue onwards with Richard. The wind was also dropping, and a key tactic in this race is try to fit the mandatory rests into periods of lighter winds. I was relieved to see him pull up and begin to furl sails; I followed suit, as did Patrick close behind. I also recalled from several years ago the narrow entrance to Hindelopen, with unlit buoys along the channel, and drew alongside Richard to ask if I could follow him in. Better left to younger eyes, and not to the limping, half deaf man with foggy glasses on Maverick.

We soon tied up on the visitor dock and a deep sleep came quickly. Rising at dawn a light mist hung over the mirror-flat water in the harbor. Though established in the 13th century Hindelopen remains a sleepy town of less than 1000, with rows of small red-brick houses with high-peaked roofs along the cozy harbor. It is an idyllic village to visit in summertime, but even more tranquil and restful during a brief Fall respite for some weary solo sailors. 

We had covered 107 miles in less than 18 hours, including time transiting a lock, and waited in the harbor as the mist lifted and the wind filled in. We would be treated to another day of mild temperatures and bright sunlight, and the breeze from the northeast smelled of the farms and newly turned fields of Friesland. Sparklings set her sails first and restarted, and after some fiddling with the spinnaker rigging I hoisted the big blue spinnaker and took chase a mile behind. 

The fleet spread out across the Ijsselmeer the previous day and night; through the second day we increasingly crossed paths with smaller boats on other legs, often close enough for a wave or a few words of encouragement. Mabel on Dreamcatcher hailed us in passing, perhaps noting the encounter in her entertaining social media updates. We again had a target and sparring partner in Sparklings, and our gains upwind and running just off the wind were returned on downwind legs, where Richard managed much faster hoists and drops. Better to be deliberate though slower than to rashly invite Murphy and Neptune to make life far more complicated.

Our confidence grew with each spinnaker run, but as the only kite with the sock was the big runner, on a few occasions we found ourselves running shallow and heeled well over, hanging on by the grace of a big rudder. For the second evening we enjoyed a long, lingering red sunset (red sky at night…), and approaching the end of a quick spinnaker leg Sparklings was but a few hundred meters ahead. I had the routine down cold – halyard trailing with a turn on the winch, partially hoist the jib, go forward with the sheet in hand, drop 20 degrees deeper and quickly pull the sock line as the spinnaker collapses, ease the sheet, hold the sock over the open hatch, hug the big sausage and pull it down…until I peripherally saw blue nylon slipping quickly past my knees. Having spent far too much time fishing spis out of the sea earlier this season, and a lot of time early in my life playing rugby, I released the sausage and dove to the right, tackling as much cloth as I could. With a combination of cursing and wailing I hauled as much of the mass as I could from Neptune’s evil grasp, lay on it, clicked the autopilot remote to bear away from the buoy looming ahead, and then pulled the last bits out the water and stuffed them down the hatch. 

Sparklings gained some distance during this wrestling match, and we had no recourse but to trim the sails and try to gain back lost ground. Nearing the next buoy, perhaps some divine intervention to keep this match race close, I saw Richard converging on the buoy at the same time a large freighter. His mastlight tracked first one direction and then the other, lost time and no doubt more drama than desired with this close encounter.

We rounded the next course bouy shortly after Sparklings, having made up only a little time on the day -- but not enough give Mav’s faster rating. We both elected to take second rest stop in Enkhuizen, though no chance to take in one of the most charming towns in North Holland, and again fell into a deep sleep soon after making fast.

We had completed over 180 miles but still had to fit in another 7 hour rest stop. One stop must be at anchor, and after daybreak I transited the locks and restarted with a short spinnaker leg to Hoorn. I rounded the second to last mark and saw the three boats ahead – Bart’s Batfish, Jesse’s Push Up and Gerben’s Jetstream -- lying at a nearby anchorage. I motored over and set the hook, with Sparklings arriving shortly thereafter, and faced 7 hours of mandatory rest – time to tidy up, snack, nap, snack, and prepare for the last leg.

Through the morning and early afternoon boats joined us at the anchorage, and we exchanged waves and greetings as the newcomers arrived. The earlier arriving boats departed when their 7 hour stay was completed, and I too weighed anchor as soon as my rest period ended. In light seas and a modest breeze the 8 miles to the finish passed quickly, though the wind dropped in the last mile to keep us on edge. As I pulled into Batavia Haven Bart, Jesse and Gerben took my lines and offered a cold iced tea. This brotherly/sisterly gesture would continue through the night and following day, and into the next day for last boats in. 

Maverick ended up third on line honors, but will end up somewhat lower on corrected time when the final results are released. Races are for winning but the 200 Myls is also about individual challenges, and facing them together. One of the last arrivals, Minke Kersken’s little Sirius, was greeted by earlier finishers with cheers, horns and flares. This is the essence and charm of the 200 Myls, and I trust in the long run this memory will mean more to Minke than a dusty old trophy.

It’s a Family Affair – 100 Mijl Bruine Bank Race, 13 Sept 2015

During the last five years doublehanded racing has become one of the fastest growing and most competitive disciplines in sail racing. In major offshore races the doublehanded class rivals the crewed classes in size and quality, with top duos often finishing on the podium – and periodically winning outright. Four years ago only three Dutch boats finished the North Sea Race doublehanded, while this year 18 duos started, and three cracked the top 10 overall.

This explosive growth is as much about participation as quality. Some of the top skippers and talent from crewed programs have transitioned to doublehanded racing, and each season the preparation, practice, and performance reach new levels. Through this recent growth, and the increasing number of doublehanded races each season, these hearty duos have become intimately familiar with other teams, rivalries have surfaced and friendships have flourished. This small and specal ‘family’ has become close, proud and protective. 

A frequent sight in Scheveningen harbor, and in most any harbor around the world, are kids learning to sail in tiny ‘Optimists’. When you put a bunch of kids in dingys you soon see their individual characters come through on the water; talent begins to emerge, hard worker are rewarded with improvement, and above all close bonds develop between sailors and within the group. Put a bunch of adult doublehandeders on the water and the behavior is not that much different the kids, with occasional hard words hurled across the water but more frequently gentle teasing and laughter. 

The 100 Mile Bruine Bank Race is the traditional close to the Dutch Doublehanded season. Similar to the RORC Cherbourg Race the final season standings are at stake, but the intense last race is also be followed a year-end celebration. This year 24 very familiar duos chatted and readied in the Ijmuiden Marina, enjoying warm and sunny early Autumn conditions. Heading out to the line the waves and greetings soon gave way to focus and determined positioning before the start. 

Though 100 miles and a long night on the North Sea lay ahead, in the minute before the start we collectively hardened up sails and picked up speed the line. Nearly everyone realized the start ship end of the line was favored, and too many boats converged on the same small patch of water. It was no different than a jumble of Optimists with kids calling for rights and yelling warnings; four boats were forced to cross early and had to return to the line, while on Maverick we managed to peel away at the last moment and pass just behind the stern of the startship, pivoted next to a Sander van Doorn on his little Mini, and crossed the line less than a minute late. It proved fortunate as a scrum of boats sailed slowly together in a cloud of foul air, while we slotted into relatively clean air next to Hodspur and soon tacked over toward a first marker. 

We rounded the upwind mark in second place, just behind Endorphin, and started a 20 mile run up the Dutch coast. The modest 10-14 kt breeze came from slightly ahead and everyone started the leg on white sails, but over the next 30 minutes the wind gradually shifted closer to the beam. Endorphin hoisted their Code 0, and we followed suit with our A0/Code 0. The wind angle was at the edge for this small, flat reaching spinnaker, and we worked hard to hold angle and keep speed. Together with Endorphin we began pulling ahead of the field behind, prompting Junique Raymarine Sailing Team to set their reacher and make it a three bot race to the next mark. 

Over the next 90 minutes the three of us further ahead, and we approached the next mark in close formation. We furled our Code 0 conservatively early and Junique pulled along side. A few boat lengths from the buoy Junique began to angle across our bow, Pascal briefly side-eyed us from behind the wheel like a kid about to smack his brother when his parents aren’t watching. Forced toward a big steel buoy a few feet ahead we swung the bow to starboard and above Junique, only wising our bowsprit were a few feet longer so that we could prod the kid ahead and wipe his smirk away. 

We quickly set our big blue running spinnaker, settling in just behind Endorphin and Junique. The big J-boat with her bigger spinnaker gradually moved ahead, while we enjoyed miles of trimming and jousting with the well-matched Endorphin. We began the leg with comfortable lead on the trailing fleet. The other bigger doublehanded boat and fellow Ijspegalaar Windsprint drove under her big red spinnaker a few hundred meters behind, but unfortunately a few of the swell-sailed smaller boats were coming up fast. They were led by the perennially strong brothers Pol on Yeti, who executed a spinnaker change during the leg worthy of a fully crewed boat, Team Firestorm, and Exxellence Hodspur Sailing Team storming along ahead of higher rated competition.

Over the next two hours we coaxed a little more speed out of Mav, but like the last scenes in “Butch Cassidy” we kept looking back at Yeti, Firestorm, and Hodspur, asking each other “Who are these guys?”. No doubt the other ‘big kids’ on Junique and Endorphin were thinking the same. Several miles before the the next mark a hugh drilling platform loomed dead ahead, angular and black and incongruous in the middle of open sea. The Coast Guard radioed Endorphin on the VHF and reminded them (and all of us, indirectly) of the 500 meter exclusion zone around the platform. Junique was well ahead and passed just outside the zone, and Mav and Endorphin did the same. One of the boats just behind was heading more directly toward the zone; it was our season finale and we also counted our competitors as friends, and rather than waiting for an infraction we felt a twinge of compassion and called them on the VHF. They did not respond to three calls and sailed close to the platform. There was no danger or real advantage, but with the Coat Guard monitoring it is never good form to raise attention or provoke further scrutiny or rules in the future. We would have a word or two with our brothers after the race.

A few miles past the platfiorm we gybed just after the course buoy, crossing just ahead of Endorphin. Junique lay almost a mile ahead but we would still hold an advantage on corrected time, though we did not yet have enough cushion on the three smaller boats persisting behind us. As darkness fell we gained some time on Endorphin and Windsprint, having played the tides correctly, and came to the halfway mark a few minutes ahead of them. We readied for the spinnaker drop, and in the growing breeze a fat beam reach -- Mav’s favorite point of sail – lay ahead. 

It has been a long season, and we have had our share of teething pains and lessons learned dropping the big kites. We prepared slowly and carefully, and it was a fine sight to behold. Leaning forward to release the tack line, the small auto-pilot remote control fob around my neck must have been caught against a line or combing, and ‘Nikki’ the autopilot proceeded to smartly gybe. We have had far too much practice recovering from nasty spinnaker situations, and at this point Murphy must have decided that enough was enough. I took control of the helm, gybed back, and we finished the drop cleanly. Endorphin and Windprint caught up but we only lost a minute or two, and after rounding the buoy we were roaring along in the darkness on a rollicking broad reach. 

We slightly bit into Junique’s big lead while racing close to Windsprint and Endorphin. At the end of the too-short leg we rounded the buoy next to Windsprint and sailed higher on the wind, but each time we edged ahead to pass them our rival would head us up. We both lost speed and like two brothers giving each other dead arms there was nothing gained and only shared pain. We waited until the next time Windsprint bore up on us and drove down behind them. We built up enough extra speed to open up some separation and slowly pulled out of their foul wind. 

We pulled away from Windsprint and Endorphin, but faced a long upwind leg to the finish. The tide was also changing and would build against us later. Though they lay nearly 2 miles ahead we held a narrow edge on Junique in corrected time, but they have the ability (and skill) to sail higher and faster than nearly every other doublehanded boat. As the wind and seas built we held our own on some tacks but with growing fatigue we steadily lost ground and time. Junique was no doubt focused and did not want to be shown up by her kid brother, and just before daybreak they crossed the finish line along the Ijmuiden harbor entrance and took well-earned line honors.

During the last 15 miles we opened up a satisfying mile lead over Endorphin and Windsprint, and crossed the line second. Unfortunately we did not build enough of a lead over trailing boats Hodspur, Firestorm and Yeti, and finished 5th on corrected time under the ORC rating and 3rd place (with Junique 1st and Firestorm 2nd) under the IRC scoring. We took some further consolation by finishing just ahead of a trio of top Dutch doubehanded boats – Push-Up, Jam Session, and SparklinGS. 

Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre on Xcentric Ripper, with four impressive victories earlier in the series, earned the coveted 2015 Shorthanded Dutch Doublehanded Trophy, while strong performances by Firestorm and Push-Up nudged Mav just off the podium into 4th place for the Series, followed by Sparklings and Panther Sailing Team -- but with improving results and optimism for next year (and a lot more spinnaker handling practice during the upcoming IJspegel Trophy).

The race was superbly organized by Joop ten Bokkel and YSY, and the Noordzee Club, with a varied and tactically challenging course crafted by Ad Lagendijk. This also held true for the prize giving, also well planned with a terrific array of psizes sponsored by Tuned Rigs & Ropes. Best of all, the kids that hours earlier argued and fought on the water sat down for dinner as a family, sharing stories, proudly cheering their siblings and friends, and making plans for the next Doublehanded season.

Watertaxi Wisdom - Cherbourg Race, 4 September 2015

Following three memorable late summer sailing seasons in Cowes we have much affection for this unique village, with our favorite restaurants and shops, friendly waves or a nod from sailing acquaintances on the street, and an opportunity to escape and enjoy sailing in a very special place.   It is far from the real world and to journey from Scheveningen to Cowes entails many forms of transport; a tram to a train to Schiphol, flight to Southampton, train, bus, and ferry, and finally crossing the River Medina to East Cowes Marina by either by the Sally Water Taxi or by walking upstream to a vintage ferry.  The latter crosses back and forth, rhythmically clanking as it propels itself slowly across on two iron chains the thickness of a man’s arm.   It is formally named ‘the floating bridge’ but everyone more aptly refers to it as ‘the chain ferry’, and though tired and rusting it is a charming means of transport back to an earlier time.

When returning to ‘town’ the ferry lands on the south end of the West Cowes High Street, narrow and winding, lined with low brick buildings from the 17rth and 18th century.   It hosts an eclectic mix of trendy restaurants and chip shops, long-established pubs and wine bars, flagship stores for the top sailing clothiers and decades-old ships chandleries.  The latter are effectively classic old hardware stores dedicated to boats, slightly disheveled and musty, a quirky mix of old and new, ropes and lines, blocks and shackles, waxes and lubricants, balms and magic potions. 

Maverick needed a few small items, and on the way to a steak pie lunch I stepped in, (and again back in time) to the old Chandlery on the south end of High Street.  Though seeking only a small off-size shackle I made the obligatory walk through the confined aisles, adding some winch grease, and a sealant, and some tape.   When night sailing Raymond and Ken wear head lamps, which strap across the forehead like miner’s lights and provide focused red or white light while working in the dark.  Though used to working the back of the boat in the dark (sometimes literally and figuratively), I appreciated their utility -- except when Ken or Raymond inadvertently turns to say something and blinds me.   At the register I noticed the headlamps behind the counter, and asked the clerk what he recommended  ”These are really handy, we have a few types, these are less expensive but I wouldn’t use them, and this is a good one".  It was 28 pounds, which seemed a lot, and I told the clerk "I’ll think about it” – with much the same meaning as when you tell your kids that you’ll “think about it”. 

With my needed and unneeded boat supplies, and fortified by a steak and ale pie, I opted for the water taxi back and chatted with owner/driver Mark about changes in the harbor.   A new breakwater was nearly complete across the middle of the harbor mouth, designed to protect the small boats on moorings from waves and swell during winter storms. “Has it helped?”  I asked.  “Don’t really know yet, but it has a big effect on the tides around it.   We get a stronger race through the west channel, and along the outside of the breakwater.”

Back at Maverick I completed items on the perpetually regenerating To Do List, and then tucked in to another chapter of a sailing book.   Fred Imhoff is an acclaimed and accomplished Dutch sail racer who has written a new book entitled ‘Winning is Geen Geluk” (Winning Isn’t Luck), which stresses the use of logic and analysis to improve race performance.   It seemed timely as during the Cherbourg Race the previous year we squandered much of our tremendous start and run through the Solent when we ended up on the wrong side of the changing tide near the finish.

The first Cherbourg Sail Race (Rally) was held in 1831, and while it has taken slightly different forms and name over the years, it remains a relatively short 75 mile race from Cowes, through the Solent, and then directly south across the Channel to Cherbourg.     It is the closing race of the UK offshore series, with final rankings, bragging rights, and a measure of progress over the season at stake.   We enjoyed a  warm early evening and light northerly breeze, joining 60 other boats sailing up and down the start line.  As with the other RORC races the line runs south to north, from a buoy just outside the Castle on the north tip of Cowes, nearly a half mile to a bouy marking the northern end of the line.  

The most critical early tactical decision is where to start along the line.  Tidal current varies significantly along its length, and the wind can behave differently closer to land on either end.   The time-worn local adage is ‘Wind from the north, start in the north”, but last year we started in the south with fellow Dutch boat Tonnierre de Breskens and three others, and gained a modest advantage during the 15 mile run to the Needles.   Leading to the start this year nearly all of the boats congregated by the far north buoy, while Tonnierre and few other boats sailed part way down line to ‘check out’ the southern end, before moving back to the North end of the line.   

As Mark had noted the day before, the current was racing fast across the outside of the breakwater and especially over the first 100 meters from the south buoy.   The buoy was tilted back ay an angle by the water streaming by it, as if it were towed at a few knots.   We would gain an advantage with stronger current, more apparent wind from the current, and a component of current exiting the river that would push us outward and provide more time before the first tack.  

Ten minutes before the start all 60 other boats had moved to the north end, and we sailed alone at the south end.   We were starting with the top 4 classes, some boats sailed by professional crews, and with some of the top tacticians and navigators in the world employing the latest navigation software and detailed weather models.   We confess there was a moment of doubt and we briefly discussed ‘splitting the difference’ and heading further north up the line, but thinking logically we realized we would be in weaker tide with no other advantage.  I also recalled one of the lines from the book – people tend to do what last worked or based on emotion, but neither are sound reasons.   In for a dime, in for a dollar we lined up for the start very close to the southern mark, feeling very much alone but confident.

We crossed the line at the cannon, with nobody nearby to appreciate it, but within a minute the wind died and we slowed.   I could imagine the blue blazers in the ‘Castle’ at the southern end of the line peering through their binoculars and chuckling about the comeuppance for the impudent Dutch boat that dared to start at the Castle end.   But we slipped along swiftly in the strongest tide, the wind returned as quickly as it left, and we gained boat speed.

Several minutes after the start Ken remarked that we were sailing faster than the rest of the fleet to the north, and stealing a glance I could see boats far to the north creeping along, giving each other foul wind, and even a few boats calving off the herd and  angling  south toward us.   We tacked as needed to remain in the middle of our personal jetstream, and after 25 minutes we remained ahead of every boat in the top classes.   

At the 30 minute mark the first boat from our start caught us, a IMOCA 60 with canting keel (a very fast, high-tech rocket ship, for the non-sailors), followed 5 minutes later by the Ker 51 Tonnierre de Breskens.    The previous year on the smaller So What we were also ‘punching above our weight’ and sailing with the higher class through much of the Solent.  I would ask Ken “What are we?” and Ken would respond, “A small boat”.   I would then point out another boat and ask “And who are they”, and Ken would add “A big boat!”.  This time we were taking the David and Goliath fight to a whole new level, and I asked “What are we?”.  Ken didn’t miss a beat and responded “A big boat”.   I then asked “And what are they?”.  Ken didn’t hesitate –- “Really big professional boats!”.

In the two hours to sail down the Solent the wind built further as darkness fell.   We raced along, a row of mastlight ahead and behind, and approached the end of the Needles and a turn South toward Cherbourg. Before rounding we rigged to hoist the bigger, light running spinnaker, but the wind held at 17-20 kts and at a shallower angle, and soon several boat near us struggled noisily to hold their course and control.   Sail changes doublehanded tend to be slower than on a fully crewed boat, but it made sense to change to the heavier reaching spinnaker for the first part of the leg.   We swapped over and had a clean hoist, our speed rising as we sailed onward in blackness toward France.   

Within 10 minutes of setting the heavier spinnaker the wind dropped to 14 kts, and shifted a further 15 degrees behind us.   An unfortunate bit of luck as we would lose some time changing to the lighter running spinnaker, but we quickly readied the big spi on the rail and prepared to drop the heavy kite.    We endured a host of issues in early races with spinnaker handling, and a combination of solid advise from other doublehanders, changing our procedures, and practice have helped make our drops more routine, relaxed and faster.   

It is a tricky sequence of steps for two persons (and Nikki, our autopilot), where fully crewed boats may have 6 crew involved in setting and dropping a spinnaker.    Ken goes forward, opens the forward hatch, we hoist the jib, Ken takes a retrieval line we have rigged to the lowest forward point of the sail (the tack) and readies to pull that end of the sail under the jib.   I stream the halyard in the water behind the boat, sheet the spi in, take the lazy sheet off the winch, loop the halyard around the winch, drop deeper, blow the tack clutch on Ken’s call, sheet in further, open the halyard clutch with one hand on the halyard tail, and as Ken pulls the spi down I am ready to go forward and help take in the foot and keep it from the clutches of Neptune.

 Just as we readied for the drop a boat passing to lee began to angle closer, and I went back to manual helming to open up some space, and then steered deeper for the drop.   Sheet in, tack clutch open, tack coming in, halyard clutch open.  Spinnaker pushing outward and down as the halyard runs fast through the clutch.  Slam the clutch shut but the bottom of the spinnaker is already in the water and soon the big sail is dragging alongside.   

Cursing like…sailors and virtually stopped in the water, we both realized the consequences but first needed to recover the spi, hopefully undamaged.   It was my bad and only appropriate that I would have to winch the top half of the sail out of the water.  As we grunted and cursed the magnitude of my mistake was  regularly underscored as boats once far behind passed by in the darkness.   Our easily defendable lead to the finish soon became a growing deficit.  

A seven ton racing yacht in top condition, clean and well rigged, with hours of race experience, and in less than 5 seconds a commanding position whistled through an open clutch.   Accustomed to working the lines in darkness and by feel on the clutch, distracted and impatient, I realized I had looped an adjacent spare halyard around the clutch.   I then thought about the damned 28 pound head lamp.  

We stuffed the wet but thankfully undamaged kite down the hatch and soon rigged and hoisted the light running spinnaker.   We had lost a half hour but no sense to dwell in it -- there would be plenty of time for that after the race.  We had no inclination to rest and concentrated further on trim, boatspeed and refining our strategy over the rest of the course.  The tides would change before the finish, and setting (and revising) our optimal course could gain back some time.   We decided to gybe and head west early and use a boost from the tide, and to set up a favorable line to the finish after the tide turned back eastward.  As a reminder of both paradise lost and the challenge ahead we passed just astern of our fellow J-120 Nunatek,  who had trailed us by several miles behind us at the Needles.

Other boats also gybed west,  though we held the line later based on the tide predictions.   We again relied on analysis, with less concern that we were further west than the rest of the boats nearest us, and after gybing back we converged with the more eastward boats toward the finish.   We took a small measure of satisfaction that our routing gained a few miles back on boats that followed a more direct line to the finish.   In the early morning hours we rounded the south fort on the Cherbourg breakwater, alongside the much faster rated J-133 Jings.   We anticipated an ugly result, but perhaps not as dire as expected mid-Channel while fishing a sail out for the water. 

We finished in the bottom half of the doublehanded class, though bested our sister boat Nunatek and a few others.   We surprisingly placed in the middle of the IRC 2 class with the crewed boats, though gutted to see we finished less than 30 minutes out of first place.   We also earned just enough points to meet one of our goals --  top 10 for the season in both classes (10th of 89 double handed, 9th of 101 in IRC 2).  Nearly all of the boats ahead of us had sailed 7 or 8 races to establish their best 5 scores, while Maverick only entered 5 races and had no chance to improve and 'discard' lower point races. 

Maverick has proven quick and competitive, and remains patient and forgiving of mistakes by her still-learning crew.  This was a tough result but with many lessons learned – and some from unlikely sources.  Mark from the water taxi trumped the experts with observations on the strengthened tide, and we took time to confirm it before starting alone on the favorable end of the line.   Fred’s guidance to follow logic, even when it counters emotion or gut feel.  And most importantly, heed the advice of the chandlery clerk --  oh how I wish I were 28 pounds poorer today!

A Maverick Fastnet - 22 August 2015

The end of the annual Cowes Week Regatta is marked by parties and pageantry, the RAF Red Arrows airshow and an impressive fireworks display over the Solent. Crews pack the pubs on the Cowes High Street, celebrating and commiserating late into the night, but for the 370 yachts readying for the biennial offshore Fastnet Race it is a time for last tasks, and for rest and reflection. For most crew the race represents the culmination of months of preparation, including safety courses and qualifying races, and will prove a test of character and skills over the historic and challenging 608 mile course.

Sleepless nights and pre-race nerves are not the exclusive domain of the Fastnet first-timers and Corinthian crews, but also for the professionals in the top classes. Entries include the fastest and most technologically advanced monohulls and multihulls, all competing for the official trophies but also to decide private duels between powerful owners and teams.

Off to the Races

Late Sunday morning boats began to leave their berths in the Cowes Marinas lining the river Medina, merging into a procession out to the Solent. Instead of first hoisting race sails the participants are required to pass an inspection boat with their mandatory storm sails in place -- small triangles of heavy fluorescent-orange cloth. These sails are also a vivid reminder that the Fastnet is a long offshore race with potential fast-changing and severe conditions, and many of the safety innovations and rules are a consequence of earlier Fastnet tragedy and loss.

The starts are staggered, beginning with the smaller classes and finishing with the top classes and boats. The exception is the multi-hulls, who are given a clear start to allow them the safest and fastest start to their race -- the trimaran ‘Spindrift’, seemingly a cross between a swooping pteradactyl and a Star Wars X-fighter, spans nearly a third of a football field. In the light winds the big trimarans struggled to gain speed and lumbered slowly away, a few TV helicopters overing behind and chased by a small pack of media boats.

Even with over 600 miles and several days sailing ahead, the starts are as competitive as a short regatta race and any gains can pay back handsomely later in the race. We watched the starts for smaller boats in the IRC 3 and 4 classes, and with little wind and a building westerly tide pushing boats toward the line, several of the yachts were forced over early and had to return to restart. The tide was running stronger end of the line closest to the Cowes ‘Castle’ and her start canons, and as our IRC 2 start approached the majority of the 72-strong field bunched closely toward that end. We held back from the fray and positioned ourselves in a relatively clear section a hundred yards further up the line, trading off some of the tide advantage for clear air, and as the last minutes counted down we were carried down toward the line. 

Several boats miscalculated and drifted across early – and faced a slow sail back to re-cross the line – while fellow Dutch doublehanded Junique timed their ‘drift’ perfectly and coupled a strong start with terrific positioning in the strongest part of the current. They were closely followed by another top Dutch duo on Xcentric Ripper, and while we momentarily appreciated this exemplary start by our friends, we also worked back toward the swifter channel to help stem their early gains.

Sailing down the west Solent in a big fleet is exhilarating, with the larger boats overtaking the smaller ones, boats of all classes crossing tacks and employing short-race tactics, and later the biggest, fastest, coolest maxi boats slicing their way through the fleet. One moment we are heading toward the shallows and trying to tack out from our sistership J-120 Nunatek, but moments later top Dutch crewed boat Baraka was forced to duck us – but managed a few waves to their fellow Dutch competitor. 

We held good speed with our light number 1 jib and began setting up and passing the backmarkers in IRC 3 and 4. Nearing the Needles we noticed a huge, evil looking thing with black hull and sails coming up the south shore quickly on port tack – Jim Clark’s (Netscape) 100 ft ‘Comanche’. As we continued on starboard I remarked to Ken “Let’s make the big guy duck us”, but Comanche accelerated away and gracefully glided past, through the fleet ahead, and onward to line honors a few days later.

The Solent exits to the open sea between a picturesque line of white chalk promontories along the west edge of the Island called ‘The Needles’ , and a shallow, shifting stone and gravel bank marking the northern limit of the channel called ‘The Shingles’. Sailing swiftly in now moderate wind, riding several knots tidal current, we short-tacked in the swifter current of the main channel as we passed the Shingles. Far off to starboard we saw one of the fastest rated boats flanking the fleet, but inexplicably they drove straight into the Shingles and soon lay hard aground. A top 63-foot racer from America, with professional and experienced crew, fell victim to one of the most obvious (and visually conspicuous) Solent hazards. Her name? ‘Lucky’.

Exiting the Needles, we faced a fresh series of tactical decisions. If steady winds were forecast we would head closer to shore and take advantage of tidal races across the first two headlands before the tide turned, but with a very light forecast ahead we headed west further offshore. Some of the fleet angled even south for the prospect of better breeze, while we debated whether to stay slightly closer in where it would be easier to anchor, but with a stronger tide against, or to also sail further south where the tide would be less but the greater depth would make anchoring a challenge.

The wind died off in the evening, and we found ourselves not far from Xcentric Ripper and about three miles ahead of our old boat, So What (since renamed 'Pincer Movement’). As the tide turned against and we readied the anchor, but as we lay in 60 meters (50 yds) water we needed to add extra line – first a spare line, then the mooring lines. Xcentric Ripper and Pincer quickly held fast on their anchors, while we could not get it to ‘bite’ and drifted back eastward at an increasing rate. We triaged our remaining line and added a few lengths of our running rigging; the anchor bit intermittently but failed to hold fast. At this point we were moving backwards at a few knots, our nearly 3 mile buffer on Pincer was lost, and more alarmingly, we had little steerage and were headed directly toward them. It would certainly earn a bit of unwanted infamy, running into our old boat with our new boat in the middle of a Fastnet Race, but the anchor fortunately caught on something, perhaps an old Armada wreck or a Messerschmitt, and we stopped our costly and painful drift backwards.

Lying still at anchor in the middle of a race is neither enjoyable or relaxing. It is silent save the sound of the current slipping past, the flat black water reflecting mastlights and the shore. Every wisp of wind and ripple on the sea raises hope for an escape, and after several anxious hours a few knot breeze arrived and held. The boats around us slipped anchor easily but ours was immoveable, despite best efforts and grunts worthy a woman tennis player from Ken on the bow. After 30 minutes of pulling and steering up and around the anchor line she broke free, though our neighbors were long departed. 

We tried to keep a brave face but we had lost heaps of time. Dreams of the podium and the winner’s Rolex were dashed but we had 500 miles to go. We nursed the boat forward in the zephyrs and began to play catch-up.

Turning the Corner

The light breeze held through early the next day; much of the fleet sailed further toward the coast to try to catch a later sea breeze, or to kedge easier in the shallower water. We took the middle road until we saw the inshore boats stalling, and the lull soon extended over us. To compound our woes we watched a row of boats in the lower class, spinnakers lightly filled, approach us through the afternoon. Soon Nunatek lay only a mile away, and fellow Dutch doublehanders Firestorm and Joost & Vrolijk were close behind. While they closed the gap they also brought a breeze with them, and with a gentle wind Maverick began to pick up speed and slowly pull further away. 

While not quite ‘All is Lost’, based on the boats in our immediate vicinity we were looking at a very low finish. We focused on sailing and as darkness fell we approached the last major headland before Land’s End, ‘Lizard’. A number of boats chose early in the race to go even further offshore, and as they joined us by the peninsula we spotted a few other boats in our class. We presumed the top boats in our class and IRC 1 had made it past Portland Bill the first night and were well ahead, but we would continue to fight for final positions with this second group of boats.

As we approached Land’s End we faced another fundamental decision. An off-limits traffic separation area (for freighter traffic) lay ahead, and we could either sail up the east side of it along the English coast before heading northwest toward Fastnet Rock, or we could continue straight ahead and pass between the separation area and the small Scilly Islands that lie just off Land’s End. In either case we were truly between the Scylla and Charybdis, or for the less classically inclined, we were stuck between the rocks and a hard place. 

With fatigued but seemingly sound reasoning we saw an opportunity catch a swifter tidal run close in to Land’s End and then up the coast, and decided to commit to the northern route. As we sailed by Land’s End we passed close by our friends on J-109 J-Taime, as they sailed toward the main group and passage south by the Scillies. Only a handful of us veered north though we counted ourselves in good company with top boat Raging Bee a few hundred yards ahead. Even as the wind died we moved north on the tide with a few knots over ground, hoping the boats that remained south were enduring the same lull but without the extra push.

The J-120 is not a particularly impressive light wind boat, and in the morning hours the tide began to turn and we drifted westward. Though 50m deep we set the anchor more efficiently than the first night, and waited in the sunshine with a few others for even a whisper of a breeze. Slowly, inexorably over the next two hours a 30 year old Baltic 37, Cosmic Dancer III, ghosted up under spinnaker and later their huge overlapping genoa. Russell and I had our share of duels and shared successes when I raced a sister Baltic 37 years ago (Brut), and as he passed a few feet away we remarked that the old Baltic still had that special light air magic. Raging Bee managed to keep moving though as much eastward as toward the North; given their collective experience and accomplishments they had their own plan.

While jocular with Russell and his crew, inwardly we were gutted. A third of the way in and we were going nowhere, and our only hope is that a lot of the other boats down south were also stalled, or drifting in the wrong direction. Unfortunately it was just as likely that their breeze held, and we would be pushed further down the final standings. 

Shortly after Russell passed us, a warm, feeble breeze tickled the water and we decided to haul the anchor up and try to get moving (in the right direction). We set our Code 0 as the wind rose above 4 kts, and within the hour we turned the corner on the exclusion zone and headed toward Ireland. With every additional knot of breeze we gained speed over the boats around us, quickly overtaking Cosmic and the Dutch duo on Splendide – who were having a Splendide early race. Perhaps all was not lost.

We Have Company

If you ask participants what was special about this Fastnet, for a fair number their eyes light up as they unhesitatingly say “The dolphin”. Slipping quietly through the darkness past Land’s End, Ken resting below, I thought I heard a cross between a sigh and an exhale. It didn’t seem to be coming from Ken, and a few moments later I heard it again, from along side It was our first of many dolphin visits, this time a somewhat reserved English variety but as we raced further across the Celtic Sea we increasingly encountered bands of playful, raucus and wild Irish dolphin. Like an Irish pub band each group seemed to have its favorite routines; the bow crossers, the pair leaping along side, the solo leaper. “They’ll bring us luck” we pronounced, but if anything they brought wonder and smiles with every visit.

The Road Less Travelled

In the hours after turning northwest toward Ireland we pulled ahead of our neighbors, though Jolly Jellyfish, a fully crewed J-122 (a more modern and typically faster replacement model for the J-120), shadowed us a mile behind. With only a few boats on the northern route we had little idea how we were faring against the rest of the fleet, but having a well-matched boat at our heels helped keep us focused on trim and boatspeed. Through the afternoon and night we sailed steadily on toward Fastnet Rock, and as day broke we could make out sails far to the south converging with us.

The first Fastnet race was held 70 years ago, with 7 yachts participating. Fastnet Rock, a small rocky crag rising 100 feet above the sea and topped with a tall lighthouse, made for a prominent rounding mark in the era of limited navigation aids. It has since become the most iconic and revered symbol of offshore sail racing. For many sailors rounding Fastnet Rock represents the fufuillment of a dream, a big check off the bucket list, even a cathartic and emotional experience. 

During the 2011 Fastnet I was preoccupied with helming and trying to get the youthful crew to stop making Fastnert Rock selfies and pay attention to sailing, and missed the opportunity to take in and appreciate the Rock. In 2013, doublehanded with Christian Jeffery on So What, we approached in the mist and rounded at a cautious distance; alas the Rock and lighthouse were but an amorphous blob. 

The wind and seas built steadily as we approached Fastnet, and we were joined by boats from the more southerly route and tacked together toward the Rock. It was momentarily deflating to see that many of the boats were from the class behind, but at least the ones near us represented the best in that class. Mist shrouded the green hills on the Irish shore, and we lined up for the last tack to round the Rock I confided in Ken that I’d missed it before and really wanted to see it closer this time. 

It was blowing over 20 kts and we tacked early, along with the well known and successful French boat ‘Foggy Dew’, and side-by-side we drove through the seas toward Fastnet. We passed close enough to hear the surf pounding the rocks, and to take in the cliff and lighthouse looming far above. It was close enough this time.

The Race Home

After rounding the Rock we eased the sheets and pulled swiftly away from Foggy Dew. Rounding Fastnet is the climax, while the last third of the race is a near straight-line to Plymouth and seems to pass quickly. There is only one headland and none of the complex tactical dilemmas as on the outbound route and it is primarily a downwind drag race to the finish. We soon passed another exclusion zone and hoisted the Code 0, and a few hours later switched to our heavy reaching spinnaker. We eventually found ourselves among group of boats with similar speeds and ratings, mainly form our class, and though the night and next morning we took it as a challenge to try to trim and keep up with our crewed competitors. 

Though certain of a lower half finish, we took comfort is close racing with First 40.7 Anticipation - -- the season leader in our IRC 2 class, and with nearly the same rating as Maverick. Past the Lizard Point we hoisted the bigger running spinnaker for the last 40 miles to the finish. We could not sail as deep as Anticipation or other boats with symmetrical spinnakers, and sailed side by side with the fully crewed sister J-120. With shifting and periodically gusting winds we treated the boats behind to a few noisy round-ups, but Mav recovered well and it was not costly.

Crossing the finish at Plymouth is always memorable, and to make it even more exciting we executed two late gybes to make the line. Our last gybe gave us a hot angle to the finish, and we crossed with an impressive head of steam close to our Dutch friends on the ever-quick BH36 Intention. Once over the line we enjoyed a smile and moment of private celebration, and then exchanged a few waves and thumbs up with the boats finishing just before or after. 

The Results

Throughout the race we were haunted by time lost the first evening in anchoring and then trying to get the damned thing back up, but a breakaway by the top boats was fortunately only a fantasy. On arriving shoreside we learned we had done much better than anticipated -- though not as well as we would have liked. A slow early race helped push lower rated boats to the top places, but we improved considerably in the class and overall standings after rounding Fastnet Rock; Maverick moved up from 27th at the Rock to 20th place at the finish out of 54 in the doublehanded class. We bested our sister J-120 Nunatek as well as the newer J-122s in the doublehanded class, and finished in the top third against the crewed boats overall as well as in the strong IRC 2 class (23rd/72).

The nine-strong Dutch doublehanded contingent had a solid performance overall, with 6 of 9 entries finishing in the top half. Xcentric Ripper impressively earned top honors for the group (7th doublehanded, 4th IRC 2, 1st IRC 2A), followed by Joost & Vrolijk (15th), Splendide (18th), Maverick (20th), Il Corvo (23rd) , Junique (25th), Arethusa (31st), Firestorm (34th) and Panther (38th).


Fastnet competitors continued to cross the finish through the evening, and over the next two days. Sailors dockside clapped and took lines from the later finishers, competing crews met and shared stories and beer, and sailing friendships were forged or strengthened over the race. While it is an established contest with a range of impressive trophies and prizes, it is ultimately a sailor’s race, celebrated and savored over time. Just as the biggest and smallest boats share the same water at the start, there is a sense of common and communal accomplishment at the finish; the cheers and congratulations for the final finisher, an older 32 foot Dutch boat named Picolini, were no doubt as loud, genuine and heartfelt as they were for the overall winner.

Fastnet 2015 - More to Follow

Fortunately an international fireworks competition was held in Scheveningen last night, so my ‘snurking’ (the lovely Dutch onomatopoeic word for ‘snoring’) was probably not too disturbing for the neighbors -- though patiently endured by Josetje. A deep shoreside sleep, still seemingly swaying on the water, after the long and challenging Fastnet Race on Maverick doublehanded with Ken Parsons

A slow early race with windless periods pushed the smaller boats to the top places, but with a strong effort on the leg back from Fastnet Rock we managed 20th of 54 in the doublehanded class, bested our sister J-120 (and the other big J-boats) in the class, and finished in the top third against the crewed boats overall as well as in the strong IRC 2 class. We do wish we had been a bit more practiced with ‘kedging’ (anchoring in light winds to hold against the tide) and then getting the damn thing up again. Conditions ranging from mill-pond still to wind in the 20s necessitated frequent sail changes, adjustments to tactics and navigation, constant trimming and little sleep, but we also had time to appreciate the frequent company of dolphins, clear dark nights with a luminous Milky Way, the beauty of England’s south coast and a glimpse of the misty green islands off Ireland’s rugged southwest. Photo of Maverick (with the Netherland 'NED' sail number) at the start. 

Full story to follow.

Maverick Prepares for Fastnet - 14 August 2015

This year the biennial Fastnet Race, the most famous and storied of all offshore sail races, celebrates its 90 year and 46th edition. Boats and crew will be tested over a 603 mile course known for tricky tides and tactics in the early stages, and reacting to quickly changing weather and seas as they cross the often wild Irish Sea. 

The race starts in Cowes, the ancestrial home and still-beating heart of yacht racing, on the Isle of Wight on the southern England coast. With nearly 380 entries, boats will start Sunday morning by class, slowest to fastest, and many a race has been made or lost in the first hours as the fleet negotiates tricky tides and shifting winds through the Solent and along the series of headlands along the coast. After passing the furthest west tip of England, appropriately (for the English) named Land’s End, the next mark is the iconic Fastnet Rock, a promontory and lighthouse off the Irish Coast near Cork. It seems fitting, though perhaps a bit cruel, that in the middle of this testing race the participants take in the lush green Irish coast, and can virtually smell the peat and Guinness, but instead of stopping they round ‘The Rock’ (a classic photo op) and head back to England and a finish in Portsmouth.

We sailed our first Fastnet in 2011, crowded and distracted with a full crew on Rebellion, while in 2013 we managed a better result sailing doublehanded with Christian Jeffery on So What. This year we will again take Fastnet on doublehanded, on our older but steady J-120 Maverick with Ken Parsons. Reflecting the strong growth of doublehanded sailing, this year 57 of the approximately 370 entries are doublehanded, up from 45 entries in 2013, while the Dutch boats have nearly doubled from 5 in 2013 to 9 for this 2015 race. 

In every sailing competition there are races-within-the-race, especially between boats from the same country or of the same type. Five of the nine Dutch boats are currently in the top 10 of the Dutch doublehanded season standings, with Xcentric Ripper holding a mortal lock on first place, Maverick second and Team Firestorm fourth. Five of the Dutch duos raced in Fastnet 2013, with Junique Raymarine Sailing Teamearning a terrific third place in the doublehanded class and Ripper coming in eighth. A reflection of the quality and benefits of the IJspegel Trophy winter series in Scheveningen, five of the boats took part this winter, with Junique, Maverick and Panther Sailing Team taking the three podium positions. Zeiljacht IL Corvo, Joost & Vrolijk, and Arethusa Fastnet Race 2015 have all managed top doublehanded finishes and are also very much in the mix for the Dutch bragging rights, while Splendide also has the chance for a Splendide Fastnet. 

Much of our initial boat preparation and training races has been with an eye towards Fastnet. Our sail selections from John Parker and OneSails GBR (East) have proven highly competitive and durable, and we much appreciate our set of Lancelin lines and running rigging from Rake Rigging bv. More importantly, our safety offshore depends on key systems and equipment, from lifevests and liferafts to horseshoe buoys and radar reflectors, and our Scheveningen neighbor Vrolijk Watersport has provided terrific expertise and support for all of our safety needs – in addition to a friendly cup of coffee and all the other little bits and bobs needed through the season. 

In addition to qualifying races and safety inspections, there are a myriad of other essential preparations and details involved in a major offshore race. Since arriving yesterday at our welcome ‘home base’ at East Cowes Marina we have picked up repaired sails from the local loft, checked lines and rig, enjoyed a full English breakfast, had the hull cleaned by the friendly MMC Divers, and started the early navigation work and routing. While the most fanatical teams share toothbrushes and eat the lightest and driest and of freeze-dried meals, we will be enjoying a range of delicious, albeit heavy, vacuum-packed creations from Chef Ken, as well as Welsh Cakes, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, and many other savory and sweet treats from Waitrose’s. That's just how Team Maverick Doublehanded Sailing rolls.

The race can be followed online from Sunday morning, with real time positions and standings via onboard tracking systems. Maverick will be shown in the doublehanded class as well as IRC Class 2, where we are also competing against fully crewed boats. Additionally, we will compete for the venerable Martin Illingworth Trophy is for the top three boats from the same club, and Maverick, Xcentric Ripper, and Panther proudly represent Jachtclub Scheveningen as ‘Team Scheveningen’. Please root (or cheer) for all three of us, as well as our other Dutch doublehanded friends, as we take on the other top international boats in Fastnet 2015.…/2015-fleet-tracking-race-…

Never Wish Ill Upon Others – St. Malo Race, 11 July 2015

Befitting its over 100 year history, the start of the annual 150 mile race from Cowes to St. Malo combines tradition and pageantry. It is a minor classic, but a true gem of a race with a stunning and hospitable destination on the French coast, and as a qualifying race for the biennial Fastnet Race the starting area was busy with over 170 entries. Spectators lining the promenade on the Cowes waterfront enjoyed a warm and bright summer morning, each class start signalled with a shot from an antique bronze cannon on the ‘Castle’ end of the start line. The classes left in waves 10 minutes apart, sailing slowing away down the west Solent under their multi-colored spinnakers.

The start order began with the two smaller classes, and soon the bigger IRC 2 class crossed behind the line in the lead-up to the gun. Maverick is somewhat mature and at 40 feet on the smaller side of the IRC 2 class, with a correspondingly lower rating, and best to stay above or clear of bigger boats on the start. Following the Solent adage ‘wind in the south, start in the south’, and to take potential advantage of a tidal race closer to the south shore, most of the boats gathered along the first 100 yards of the line. Our strategy was to concede the initial tide advantage but avoid getting boxed in and sailing in the foul air of the bigger boats, and in the minutes before the start we tacked back into the Solent and found a wonderfully clear stretch several hundred meters further up the line. 

The gentle 10 knot wind was very slightly aft, and the earlier classes opted to either sail deeper under spinnaker, or in some cases to use a flat reaching sail called an A0 or ‘Code 0’. We hoisted our A0 just before the start, and a minute before the start we turned up toward the line and unfurled this terrific creation from John Parker and OneSails. Maverick quickly picked up speed and we trimmed for a direct line down to the end of the Solent. Several of the boats selected bigger running spinnakers and while slightly faster, were forced to sail a course slightly off line toward the north. 

Benefitting from a well timed start , the right sail for the conditions and somewhat obsessive trim, Maverick maintained pace with many of the ostensibly faster boats in the class. Ken and I reminisced about the Cherbourg Race the previous year, when we also pulled off a strong run down the western Solent, and we again worked to sail in the swiftest part of the tide in the deeper shipping channel. In the Cherbourg Race our tactics and navigation were validated when the perennial top Dutch boat ‘Tonniere de Breskens’ followed the same line and overtook us mid-way to the Needles, and in a déjà vu moment this seasons bigger and better Tonniere overtook at nearly the same location. This year only three Dutch boats entered, and spotting Mav and her Dutch sail numbers, several of her crew waved sportingly as they slipped quickly by. 

The wind built to the low teens and a few hours after the start we came to the iconic view of the Solent, a line of white chalk cliffs and pinnacles called ‘The Needles’. The pinnacles fall off to small lighthouse marking the western edge of the Isle of Wight, with an old wreck to be skirted just past the light. The southwest wind gusted and fell as it passed around and through the Needles, but Maverick kept her footing and continued to catch up to and pass boats from the earlier starting classes. Our confidence grew further as we worked past fellow doublehanded boats Malice and Eujet, as they are well-sailed and top finishers. Just past the Needles the wind shifted further, and the fleet hoisted jibs and doused their downwind sails.

Maverick’s strength is upwind, preferably in much wind and messy seas. From a comfort perspective we appreciated the smooth seas and modest breeze, but even lighter winds were forecast overnight that could be more advantageous for the smaller boats. We concentrated to maintain speed and ‘bank’ time for later, and also each took short breaks to try to save energy for later in the race. The welcome upwind segment was all too brief, and after 90 minutes the wind shifted further behind and we raised our big blue light spinnaker.

The course took us just south of the mid-channel shipping lanes and past the ‘Les Hanois’ lighthouse marking shallows off the western end of Guernsey (Channel Islands). Through the day we steadily built a several mile cushion over most of our smaller doublehanded bretheren (and sisteren), but closing to within 9 miles of Les Hanois the wind began to drop; I commented to Ken that “I hope this holds up until we are past Les Hanois, we can round it before the tide turns and the little guys behind wil be F*ed”. The moment I finished the sentence I wished I could take it back. Murphy was no doubt listening, and this time he devised a tortuous and painfull way to punish our hubris. 

Within minutes of the offhand remark the wind dropped to a virtual whisper. A swift current brought us toward Hanois, at times faster than the speed of the wind behind us. The wind shifted dramatically, at one time rotating completely around within a minute and forcing us to follow it a full 360 degrees. Sails sagged and we sat idle among a few other boats, but we could make out a line of boats far behind us with full spinnakers, still a few miles away but with more wind. We spotted a familiar deep blue spinnaker with a white stripe down the middle – it was So What (now ‘Pincer Movement’), our beloved JPK from the previous two seasons, carried on a breeze while we sat glumly in the lull.

For the next hour the armada of trailing boats drew closer, erasing much of our earlier gains. As we approached within 2 miles of Hanois the wind suddenly picked up, and we strained to hold a shallow line with the big kite to maintain a safe distance from the rocks. One of our competitors rounded up in the freshening wind and cross uncontrolled a few feet behind our transom, another bore off deeper toward the light, while yet another realized they could not make the mark and were forced to drop their spinnaker and sail out of danger under white sails.

In prior years we ghosted past Hanois in a lighter conditions, and could hear the faint strain of music and parties as the offshore investment bankers celebrated their weekly gains. This year the wind continued to rise and drown out the revelry from the island, and Mav hit double-digit speeds on the way toward the finish. 

We took short breaks and hand steered, and when the wind held steadily above 20 knots Ken called me topside and suggested we get the light kite down. It was amazingly prescient, and just as we finished getting the last part of the gennaker safely down the forward hatch the wind shifted and rose quickly. Within a minute we saw 23-24 kts, with a few boats still under spinnaker planning past, but several others around us struggled to hold their course. With a further rise to 26-28 kts all hell broke loose on a few nearby boats, with loud flapping spinnakers, much shouting, and erratic maneuvering. For a second time we avoided a competitor coming at us out of control, and under main and number 3 jib we thundered along 30 miles from the finish.

Our tactics over the last few hours were shaped by the sudden onset of high winds, collective memory of earlier spinnaker handling issues (and repairs), as well as a desire to preserve sails, rig and gear for the more important Fastnet Race in a month’s time. No doubt conceding a few places we continued under white sails until the winds remained under 20 kts, and then conservatively set the smaller heavy gennaker. At daybreak the citadel-city of St. Malo came into view, buildings and spires rising up above its massive grey walls, and the fleet converged on the final course mark and finish ship. 

The combination of smooth seas and light winds during the night generally benefitted the smaller boats, and the overall results (and doublehanded class) reflected strong performances by the IRC 3 and 4 fleet at the expense of the bigger IRC 1 and 2 boats. We crossed the line as the 8th out of 28 finishers in the doublehanded class but on corrected time dropped to 16th; we took some solace by finishing ahead of the other J-120 and the two other bigger boats in the class. Overall Mav placed in the top third, and managed a respectable 14th of 39 in the competitive IRC 2 class with crewed boats. We also finished ahead of Tonniere and fellow Ijspegel competitor Westwind on corrected time, with bragging rights as the top Dutch finisher. 

A few hours rest were welcome after a long race, but one of the special rewards of this gem of a race came a few hours later. We sat in a restaurant terrace in this lovely historic city, enjoying a warm summer day and an impressive ‘fruits de mer’ platter. In addition to the superb food and perfect weather, and the prospect of hours of uninterrupted sleep lay ahead. We picked up a few more points in the season standings, but importantly we completed our second and final Fastnet qualifying race. Later in the afternoon we joined the other crews for the prize giving, outside the St. Malo yacht club at the foot of the city walls. No silverware for Maverick this time, but much reward in spending the afternoon and evening with sailing friends in this stunning medieval citadel.

Ronde om Noord Holland - Update 24 June 2015

We were happy though perhaps a tiny bit disappointed with fourth place in the Ronde om Noord Holland (Around North Holland) Race, but in a nice surprise it turns out we won the Medemblik Trophy. Despite appearances it is not a huge gravy-boat, and we will find a place of honor for it (though perhaps use it for gravy at Thanksgiving, for grins).

This trophy is for the second leg of the race, where all 74 of the ORC rated boats race the same 20 mile course from Enkhuizen to Kornwerderzand, with a dogleg past Medemblik. We knew from the overal results that we had won this leg for the double handed class, but given the first half was upwind and the second half a reach in traffic, we did not expect to best all 50 of the fully crewed boats.  Mav is strong upwind, and gains further in stronger winds and messy seas.  This one's for the Old Gal.

A Long Day’s Journey into Night – Ronde om Noord Holland 19 June 2015

Over the last two decades the Ronde om Noord Holland has become a Dutch sailing classic,  with a rich history, broad participation and a diverse and challenging course.    This year saw 150 entries and over 750 sailors, representing a wide range of boats and experience -- from top racers in the ORC and doublehanded classes, to club racers, cruisers, and family boats.  

The Province of North Holland sticks up like a thumb, bisected by the North Sea Canal along the southern edge and bordered by the inland Markermeer and Ijselmmer to the east, and the Wadden Sea and North Sea to the west.   The race is run counter-clockwise around the province, but it is also a 20 hour journey through Dutch history.  On the eve of the race the boats gather in Muiden harbor, in the shadow of Muiderslot Castle.  A UNESCO world heritage site, it dates from the middle ages and defended the eastern approaches to Amsterdam.  The first leg of the race starts in the shadow of Pampus island, a 19th century fortress, and runs 20 miles north, following the old path of VOC merchant ships from Amsterdam to the sea.  This leg finishes outside Enkhuizen, a beautifully preserved port town still hosting old wooden ships and the gateway for the rich dairy land known as the Beemster.   

After transiting a lock a 20-mile second leg brings the fleet west to Medemblik, another of the pearls of the Ijsselmeer,  and then north to the Kornwerderzand locks.  Twentieth century Dutch and German concrete bunkers flank the locks, and 75 years ago it was the scene of some of the bravest resistance to the Nazi invasion.   It also marks the border between North Holland and Friesland, the latter still possessing its own language (closely related to old English) and character, and known for early clocks and planetariums, Frisian horses, and most notably, Doutzen Kroes.  

After passing through the locks the course winds through the narrow navigable channels in the otherworldly Wadden Sea, a broad expanse of tidal mudflats between the remote barrier islands and the mainland.  The fleet exits ‘The Wad’ into the North Sea, and sails down the sandy eastern seacoast of the province to finish in Ijmuiden Seaport.

The ORC doublehanded class boasted 24 entries, with several new participants as well as a many of the ‘usual suspects’ who have been sparring and socializing through the race series since April.  The top teams combine an ease and familiarity with fierce competition, and in the run up to the start there is one eye on the line and another on the nearest rival.    

Exiting the harbor and heeding the latest forecast we set up Mav with the medium jib, and though grey and cool we anticipated a moderate breeze and a fast run to Enkhuizen.    We managed a safe start in the middle of the line but not quite quick enough to spoil Xcentric Ripper’s declarative port tack across the field, but soon the big girl was up to speed and we rounded the upwind mark in third position behind Ripper and Bixmile, a big X-43.   As we eased the sheets Mav picked up speed, and we settled into a two-hour drag race with to Enkhuizen, part of the time finding new ways to pronounce 'Bixmile' and speculating on its meaning.

There are only two ways to pass a boat ahead, either by taking a higher line and passing on windward side, or by dropping down and building enough space and speed to power through the disturbed air from the windward boat.   On rating the X-43 is slightly faster, and the next two hours flew by as we repeatedly pulled even above, below, and behind the duo on Bixmile.  We also opened up a small gap on the trailing fleet, who in turn were led by the impressive Dehler 41 Endorphin, Roaring X, and the smaller but well sailed Sparklings.    Ripper opened up a sizable lead, but as the wind moved further ahead and strengthened Mav closed the gap to finish only a few minutes behind the higher-rated Ripper and seconds behind Bixmile.

Each leg is a race within the race, with time between legs to transit locks, relax, and adjust sails and strategy.  We changed to the heavy jib in the lock, and after transiting rafted next to Jam Session, a J-105 who had an excellent first leg.  We checked the forecast and decided to change back to the medium jib, banking that the wids would moderate during the coming leg.  One of the disadvantages of a fast first leg, and for the lead boats, was that by the time we entered the Wad after the second leg the tide would still be running strongly against.   There is a maximum two hour window between legs and the best strategy was to restart as close to two hours later as possible, but playing it safe we restarted 10 minutes before the end of our window.   

Exiting the shelter of Enkhuizen harbor the wind stiffened back to 17-22 kts, and we worked hard upwind toward Medemblik.   At the end of the first leg we had caught up with much earlier starting cruiser classes, and tacking upwind we soon overtook the first tail-enders.   We converged on the Medemblik mark with three of the cruisers, and we again eased sheets and settled into a long run to Kornwerderzand.   Unfortunately, we saw a score of earlier starters stretched in a line ahead, and we would have to pick our way past every one of them.  It became an enjoyable chess game trying to set up and pass each one.  Some drifted high, and we waited for a moment of surprise to swoop low and past.  Others held their line and we offered a semi-apologetic wave as we passed upwind.   Mav cut through the field and made fast time toward the next finish, and several hundred meters from the line the boat suddenly slowed.   Though deep enough on the chart we were in the dreaded shallows, a flashback to the 40 Mijls of Bru, and steering up to port we quickly picked up depth and speed.  A few trailing boats we less fortunate, and we later learned Roaring X were mired for an extended period before retiring.   We finished seconds behind Ripper on actual time and gained a few minutes on corrected time, with Bixmile finishing the leg in third place and wel behind on corrected time.  We were well-placed going in the Wad, and for the final run down the North Sea Coast.

At regattas and races with fully crewed boats the doublehanders tend to hang out together, and it is no different at the locks.  We tied up on the waiting dock and were soon joined by Ripper, and later by Sparklings and Jam Session.   We transited the locks with Ripper, but at the rear of the lock behind 15 or so cruisers.    Best tactics were unchanged, to wait as late as possible to start the leg to minimize time in the Wad sailing against the tide.   While Murphy was visiting Roaring X and other this race, his kind-hearted sister Patience was also elsewhere;   the lock doors opened and bridge ahead swung wide, 20 boats motored toward the start line, and like an over-eager puppy we (the less disciplined skipper, not Raymond) madly rushed to get past as many to the boats ahead.  The fatigued, twisted logic was that it would be easier to pass them now then in the narrower channel in the middle of the Wad, but waiting on gazillion gallons of water to start going the other direction would have been a bit more prudent.  

It was the day before Solstice and twilight came late, and true darkness fell after 11:00 pm.   We picked off the boats ahead, only to eventually catch up with a pack of boats that had transited the lock earlier so we could start the chase-and-pass process anew.   There was no rest for the weary but the Wad has en eerie beauty, and time passed quickly as we focused on picking off crewed cruisers.

While waiting at the Kornwerderzand locks we joked with John and Robin on Ripper.  We had a nice upwind run but could only hope there was not a windy downwind run at the end, as their J-111 would take off and leave the rest of the field in their wake.  As we came out of the Wad to the North Sea the combination of 20 kt wind and angle was at the limit for our heavier gennaker, and we made good speed under the main and sheeted-out jib.   The wind teased further back several times before shifting back, but after passing scores of boats over the previous hours, a single boat came up quickly from behind and eventually passed silently in the darkness.   Ripper worked hard for this win.

The shore crew tooted their horn as we crossed the inner harbor lights at Ijmuiden just after daybreak.   Jam Session had a terrific run through the Wad and down the coast to take second place, a tantalizing 6 seconds behind Ripper, while fellow J-105 Fay-J earned third place,  just over a minute ahead of Mav on corrected time.   More lessons learned, some battles won, and growing experience and confidence as we rounded the North Holland peninsula, travelling from inland lake to the North Sea, from a medieval castle to a modern seaport.

Domination, Damnation, Perseverance and a Little Redemption - East Coast Race - 12 June 2015

From afar the late summer afternoon on the River Crouch looked little different then an Impression painting from over a century ago - dark and light greens of rich summer bloom above the sandy river banks, the mottled grey green water of the river, white sails against the water and sky. Set the picture in motion and sharpen the focus, and the river and land retain their timeless bucolic beauty, while the boats are more angular, high tech and powerfully built. The lazy crossing of boats as they head toward an imaginary line becomes more frenetic and aggressive, in one moment the fleet converging and the tranquility interrupted by shouts across the water. Despite advances in technology and design the start of this race is no different than one a century ago, as boats reflect the characters of their skippers, old feuds are resumed, and new rivalries emerge between closely matched boats.

Zoom in further and we see a group of smaller boats tacking slowly upwind in the light breeze, having crossed the start line and in the first mile of a long race. We see a group of larger boats jockeying for position behind the short start line – Oystercatcher XXX, the latest in the line of top British racing yachts, works purposefully on the start ship end on port tack, shadowed by another light and modern racer, Andrasta. Assarain IV, a well prepared J-133, prepares to cross further down, near Snatch, a graceful 48-foot Swan. Maverick looks like she arrived at the wrong start, with her Dutch sail numbers, lower handicap, the oldest design, and most significantly, sailed doublehanded. She crosses on the far end of the line with good speed, sails a minute toward the far bank, and then tacks back on starboard. “Let’s see how many of the big boys has to duck us” notes Chris, and so began the buggering of the big boats on port tack as they worked their way down the river.

On the delivery to Burnham the previous weekend Chris and Ken Parsons found themselves at the back of a race to Burnham, and joined the fleet as they short tacked up the river. Drawing on this earlier training the duo matched the well-drilled crewed boats in executing tacks and maneuvers. The tide ran fastest against in the middle of the channel and slower in the shallows, and with one eye on the depth meter and tacking as late as possible Maverick held a surprising early edge over Andrasta, Snatch and Assarain. Over the first miles each had to duck Maverick a few times while Oystercatcher edged away to a narrow lead, but on one tack Assarain’s local knowledge came to fore as they rode a tack further into the shallows and tacked out ahead of Maverick. Separated by a few lengths the lead boats worked past the smaller starters and in the twilight came to the mouth of the river. 

While the first hours were a close-quarters river race with much tacking and maneuvers, over the next hours attention turned to tides and navigation as the competitors worked their way northeast through sandbanks and shallows along the Essex coast. Darkness fell along with the wind, and though Maverick’s weakest performance is in light conditions, a strengthening northerly tide provided some apparent wind and Maverick kept moving. As the feeble wind shifted east and then south Mav found herself ahead of all but Oystercatcher (who had mysteriously vanished earlier); working in little wind can be as trying and tiring as heavy conditions, with constant attention to trim and nursing a few tenths of a knots out of a whisper, and rest was deferred until later. Periodically voices were heard across the flat water, along with slow ratcheting of winches and the luffing of sagging sails.

As the wind filled from behind the three big boats behind hoisted their spinnakers earlier, and ghosted past as we made our hoist. Finally rounding Sunk Head Tower and heading further north we narrowly trailed Assarain, Andrasta and Snatch over the 14 miles, passing close by Snatch and Andrasta as we crossed gybes, while Assarain edged further ahead. The breeze stiffened as we converged on the North Shipwash bouy, where we gybed and began an easterly leg into the North Sea. 

The wind built to the high teens and the heavier A5 spinnaker was perfect for the shallow spinnaker reach. Halfway through the race Assarian was a few miles ahead but behind on corrected time, with an even bigger lead over higher rated Snatch and Andrasta. Chris went below for a first rest -- but it was short lived. The wind shifted and rose quickly to 25 kts, and Mav rounded up. Unable to get the boat up and the kite stable Ken called for help, and after tumbling from bunk to galley Chris loosened the sheet on the cabin top winch. Even with three wraps on the winch the loads were two high and the sheet momentarily ran free before it was winched back in, but in a moment of fury the spinnaker has wrapped itself and part of both sheets around the forestay.

We stabilized the boat downwind under auto pilot, unfortunately sailing away from the next waypoint. It was blowing in the mid twenties and gusting, and joining Ken at the bow we worked for 90 minutes to try to unwrap the sail, and then to drop it. The wrap was too tight and we’d have to go aloft to fix it, and both exhausted we elected instead to use the two free halyards to try to strap in the madly flapping sail. We were reasonable successful, with a three meter section of spinnaker ballooned in the middle.

There were several possible outcomes at this pojnt, all of them not very good. We did not discuss retiring yet, but checked our position and set a course past the next two course marks. The spinnaker could shred at ant time, forcing us to retire to the nearest port, or stress on the rig could cause a far worse failure. We hardened up the backstay and winched in the running backstay to help stabilize the mast and counter loads from the spinnaker, put in a reef, and worked trim to try to keep course and optimize speed under a reefed mainsail and a big non-aerodynamic bulb on the forestay. Dealing with the running backstays is usually an unwelcome burden, but under the conditions they were welcome and crucial.

The fact that we had blown the overall race lead, just before a long and likely advantageous reaching leg to Oostende, was quickly forgotten as the wind and seas continued to build and we worked together to get the boat home. Over the next 50 miles Mav helped show us why the J-120 is a beloved offshore boat, as we held course through crazed seas and winds in the 30s and peaking at 38 kts. We hand steered as waves and troughs could be anticipated, and took brief turns below to grab a few minutes rest. Nearing Oostende we rounded the next buoy and faced an upwind leg to the penultimate mark. We figured out a reasonable upwind trim while the spinnaker bump shook and snapped in anger, and it was not clear how it (or we) would hold up over the next 11 miles. 

Into the last hour we spotted one boat ahead, trying to hold course and veering over the swells. We were in damage limitation mode but approaching the final mark we closed to a 100 yards. We rounded the mark, eased the main and rode with the wind and waves to pass Woozle Hunter. Their crew waved sportingly before a look of surprise. Two of them popped below and emerged with their cell phones to capture for posterity two tired guys on a Dutch boat, under mainsail and a big blue spinnaker blob on the forestay, roaring past on the way to the finish.

It was strangely uplifting not to finish last, and we anticipated a few other boats didn’t finish under these boat-breaking conditions. As we entered the breakwater and passed by the clubhouse the Race Director greeted us. “Congratulations, we have the two-handed trophy up here for you, but really well done getting her here.” As we passed by Assarain and Andrasta there was no need to explain why we had lost our top position, and at the dinner a few other skippers complemented our perseverance (I believe this is English understatement for “You’re both mad as hatters”). Oystercatcher retired early, three other boats retired when it got nasty, and we ended up 8th of the 13th entries. Better yet, we were second of three in the IRC 2 class, and as the sole doublehanded boat we naturally won the class -- and Maverick joins a long line of renowned racers enshrined on the Royal North Sea Club Trophy.

Racing to the Next Race - Maverick Delivery to Burnham 6 June 2015

Coming off a tough series of races in the Dutch Doublehanded Competion, where steady results though no podiums has pushed Maverick up to third in the series standings, the prospect of a relaxed delivery trip from Holland to the UK was welcome.  Ken Parsons and I will take part in Mav's second RORC series race next week, the East Coast Race from Burnham-on-Crouch to Oostende, and with a light forecast we added extra diesel for the ‘iron topsail’ in case the wind dropped altogether.

We also generously provisioned an array of healthy food and unhealthy snacks. In contrast to the focus and intensity of a race, delivery trips afford a chance to eat well, sleep on the lee bunk, chat or read, and take in the scenery. I had used the word ‘leisurely’ in a few e-mails to Ken the days before the overnight trip, and Murphy evidently reads e-mail as well; Friday was one of the hottest days on record on Holland (32C/90F) and much like on any summer day in Virginia, a late afternoon line of thunderstorms passed through and delayed our departure. As the rumbling and flashes moved off we enjoyed cooler temperatures and a light breeze, and we exited the Roompot locks in the early evening and set sail toward Burnham.

For the first 25 minutes we enjoyed smooth seas and clearing skies. The flat Dutch coastline receded and we sailed out the coastal shallows and into the North Sea. The wind soon piped up to 14-16 knots as forecast, and then to the high teens, and within an hour we were seeing wind in the 20’s and periodic squalls. Wind was from the west ("on the nose') as we drove upwind in rising seas to the Northwest, and when the wind held above 22 kts we put in the first reef and settled in for a long slog to Burnham.

The North Sea is anything but lonely, with continuous freighter traffic and a series of man-made obstacles. Several hours into the beat, peering through sharp spattering rain, I made out a flashing string of red lights ahead. The activity wasn’t noted on the chart, but is was huge and eerie and we bore away toward the north. A short t later we could make out another string of red lights from a wind turbine farm, and rather than tack through the gap between the aliens and the turbines we cracked the sheets and drove Northwest to pass the turbines. 

Mav takes off with the sheets eased and with winds between 22-27 kts we bashed easier through the now agitated seas. So much for leisure, or sleep, and we took turns helming and on watch as we made difficult though fast passage toward Albion.

The wind held in the 20’s through the night and morning, though with clear skies and moderate temperatures. We tacked and worked past the shallows and banks that have long defended the English coastline, ran the gauntlet across a shipping lane and between two windfarms, and tacked across a broad channel as we approached the mouth of the River Crouch. 

Off in the distance and on the same course we noted a number of East Coast and RORC race boats. We were dead tired and harbored concerns about navigating up the narrow channel on this meandering river, but boats racing a few miles presented an interesting challenge. Words are few 17 hours into a tough passage -- “Let’s try to catch a few” “Sound good”. We were off to the races.

Several of the smaller boats were overcanvassed and having a harder time working upwind, and within an hour we drove past the first two of the race fleet. As the channel narrowed we closed in on the next two boats ahead and followed them up the river, tacking in their wakes, but did not want to affect the race outcome and waited to drive past each in their lee. As their crew surveyed the interloping Dutch boat with two tired guys we were greeted variously with weak waves as well as some wonder as we pushed easily past -- no doubt asking each other "Who are these guys? Energized and emboldened on a unfamiliar river we kept en eye on the depth meter and began short tacking in earnest up the channel.

We signaled our intention to give rights and space to the next boat, a Dehler 36, by tacking after them several time into their lee, but growing a bit impatient (and Mav chomping at the bit) we held even longer toward the riverbank on the next short leg and then tacked out to a clean line. We had now tacked over 25 times and would soon approach the finish, and feeling a bit like Rosey Ruiz jumping on to the course at the end of a Marathon (or more accurately, a host of race boats entering our marathon near the finish) we pulled up before crossing the line, dropped sails, and motored to the Burnham Marina. 

Our apologies to the East Anglian Offshore Racing Association (EAORA) for showing up in the middle of your Houghton Cup Race, but short tacking up the Crouch with your fleet was a much appreciated tonic after a truly nasty overnight beat from Holland.

40 Mijls of Bru 30 May 2015 - Blood, Sweat and Tears

Holland is comprised of 12 provinces, more akin to states than counties, and each posesses unique charms and specialities. As you travel south, below where the great rivers (Rhine and Waal) finish their long path from the Alps to the North Sea, the pace slows, fine food is appreciated, and drinks and stories flow late into the night. 

The largest doublehanded sailing competition in Holland, the Stichting 40 mijl van Bru, is held annually in the small town of Bruinisse in the Province of Zeeland on the southwest coast. It lies on the Grevelingenmeer, a shallow inland ringed with shellfish beds, sanctuaries, shallow islands, and green unspoiled coast. While many regatta organizations reflect the greying of competitive sailing, the Bru Crew mirrors the region, with young and old, men and women (and children), brimming with pride and noted for their hospitality.

While Bruuinisse is warm and welcoming on-shore, the 40 Mile race is a test of stamina and navigational skills, with many short legs through the safe passage channels. The margins and distances to safely tack and change course are narrow, and each year a number of competitors ‘find the shallows’. Early in the week fellow doublehander Ad Lagendijk (with Jessica on the X-41 Roaring X) joined for a leisurely delivery of Maverick from Scheveningen to Bruinisse, a long day transiting four locks and a few drawbridges through some of Holland’s loveliest sailing areas. Mav is also a well-equipped cruising boat, and on the way we enjoyed fresh ready-made bread out of the oven and other specialties -- a warm-up for the Zeeland meals ahead. Late in the evening we reached Bruinisse, and having joked earlier about the ubiquitous shallows, we managed to stick briefly in the mud just short of the harbor entrance. A timely reminder for the race ahead.

A skipper’s briefing (the ‘Palaver’) is held before major races, and the Bru version is supplemented with fresh coffee and a sweet Zeeland cinnamon roll called a Bolus. The briefing typically begins with a thank you to sponsors and participants, and as a nod to Zeeuwse priorities, the race director opened the palaver with thanks to the bolus baker. 

With 170 entries, ranging from Maverick and 17 other boats in the top rated ORC class through 6 other racing and touring classes, the race is embraced by top doublehanded racers as well as more casual racers and cruisers. Under grey skies, occasional rain and a stiff wind between 18-22 kts, Maverick readied for the first start. At the one minute mark before the start we tacked back to toward the line, the mainsheet line caught behind the wheel, and with steering hindered we turned down from the line to free the mainsheet; as it loosened the boom swung back and the line caught Raymond Roesink across the mouth.

We often joke that it is not a good race unless the foredecker spills a drop or two of blood near the bow, and Raymond has endured a few bangs and cuts over the years as he does the heavy work on the pointy end of the boat. In this case blood flowed in the cockpit, and while momentarily stunned the big fella quickly winched in the jib and mainsheet, and we crossed the line a minute or so late. In addition to giving up a little time, we saw a line of boats ahead and knew we needed to overtake them. Netherlands Doublehanded Champion Xcentric Ripper lead the procession but we had time to try to catch them. In this class no boat will concede the upwind side to allow a competitor to pass, but Maverick ‘goes like a train’ upwind, and one by one we lined up on the transom of a lead boat before picking a moment to drop down and power through their lee. We worked past Raging Bull, Captain Jack, X-Bie, and Sparklings, and five mile into the race we lay in fourth place. Tacking in clean air over the next 2 mile leg we passed Anne Mazurka and Daze to move into second position, and were gaining slowly on John and Robin Verhoef on Xcentric Ripper.

With one eye on the depth meter we managed to skirt shallows and played the shifting winds as we approached the far west end of the course. A series of favorable tacks and shifts moved us within 100 yards of Xcentric Ripper, with the rest of the field falling further behind. Their agile J-111 outpaced us under gennakers on the first downwind leg, but after dropping the big blue sail we hardened up on another upwind leg and hoped to reel them back in. 

We had terrific upwind speed with our OneSails GBR (East) main and medium jib, on the edge for the conditions but in control. We tacked out for several minutes after the rounding and then tacked back to the next mark, still a mile and a half distant. About a minute later, as if grasped by an invisible hand below, we slid to a halt. We had crossed into a shallows and with every moment we pushed further and more inextricably into the muck below. We tried to fall off toward starboard, Raymond winched the sails in tight, and the combination of the boat heeling over, and good fortune that we were on the edge of the shallows, allowed Mav to slowly free herself and sail freely. 

A quick look at the iPad chart was shattering; we lay on the southern edge of a broad shallows, the mark lay to the west, and we would need to sail away from the mark, tack north past the shallows, and then work back toward the west to round the mark. Our 40 Mijls of Bru was now the 42 Mijls of Bru, with less than half the race left to gain back places or more importantly, help sooth our battered pride. After a seeming eternity we returned to the cursed course buoy, watching boats once far behind round the mark and sail swiftly past on their way to the next mark. Over the next hour we re-took several boats that we had passed earlier in the race, picked up a little time on a long shy gennaker run, paid heed to the depth and avoided the sticks and makeshift floats that mark underwater nets in this rich fishing area.

By the last long downwind run toward Bruinisse and the harbor we had worked back to fourth position, but with a number of the smaller boats close enough behind to move ahead on corrected time. Xcentric Ripper dominated and finished first, followed by the always well sailed A Boen, while Richard and Joost sailed a superb race on Sparklings and crossed the line a few minutes ahead to take third place. We took small solace, and had much sympathy, as we sailed past one competitor heeled hard over and fast in the muck, her uncontrolled spinnaker snapping loudly in the breeze. In tricky and brisk winds there were few issues with our sail handling and close quarters tactical work, Maverick performed beautifully, but a few minutes of inattention in the middle of the race cost us a much needed and valuable podium place, and dropped us into the middle of the pack with a 9th place corrected finish. 

Raymond and I both do not take loses particularly cheerfully, and after dropping sails we quietly motored back to our berth. As we tidied up a lovely lass from the organizing committee walked up, welcomed us back, and fetched cold beers out of her wagon. She was soon followed by another Zeeuwse maiden with hot bitterballen (a friend snack). These small signs of Zeeland hospitality momentarily pushed aside our disappointment. Raymonds upper lip was cut and had swelled considerably, so I helpfully imitated him with my upper lip over the bottom and told him he looked like a South American tapir. He managed a brief, though no doubt painful smile.

As if on cue the winds began to drop and the clouds moved off, and teams gathered in the marina courtyard for refreshments before the buffet. Our competitors were curious -- Richard’s first comment was “I saw you guys on the AIS – what were you thinking?”. They shared stories of past groundings and mishaps, and offered suggestions for the future when navigating the tricky Grevelingenmeer. 

A buffet was scheduled for 5 o’clock and the Dutch from the Northern provinces moved toward the food tent at the appointed hour, while for the Zeeland crews and organizers there was time for another beer, a snack, and a good race story before dinner. The clock is less important in the south, but the food much more so, and the tent soon opened to reveal a rich seafood and bar-b-que buffet. Crews old and young, racers and cruisers, sat together in the sun on picnic benches enjoying the hospitality, time together, and another special 40 Mijls of Bruinisse.

The North Sea Race 15 May 2015 - "Smart Moves and Tough Breaks"

A sharp, loud noise on a boat is never good. As the boatspeed quickly dropped the first thought was a collision. I leapt up from the bunk, a few minutes into a short rest, and grabbed my lifevest before taking a step up the companionway.


Early Friday morning a combined fleet of over 70 sail racers, primarily Dutch and British but joined by several French and Belgian entries, motored out of Harwich Yacht Club and down the bucolic River Orwell, past the Pin Mill and old wooden boats on their moorings, and headed out the harbor mouth toward the start area for the annual 185 mile North Sea Race. 

The 18 strong doublehanded class were given the honor of the first start, and among the RORC Race Committee on the Start ship “Ocean 1” there was much interest in how such a large group of dual handed teams would handle the start. In other RORC races the doublehanders start among the crewed boats in ratings groups based on size and speed, and many take care to avoid the mayhem and riot as the crewed boats fight for position on the start ship end. 

Counting the final seconds to the start, RORC Race Director Nick Elliot was struck by the quality and skill of the class as they chose their lanes and formed a near-perfect line. In three years the number of doublehanded participants had tripled, but this was further evidence of how the level has been dramatically raised by top boats and sailors electing to compete doublehanded. This perfect moment was fleeting, as one boat turned early toward the line and several others reflexively followed suit, and with multiple boats over the line early the class was recalled for another try. 

On the second start there was a little more care to avoid crossing early and only one boat recalled, and Maverick found a broad open lane on the start ship end. In clean air we crossed with speed and held it to the first mark, just over a mile up wind, with Junique Raymarine Sailing Team pulling ahead while keeping pace with the bigger Batfish and Avanti. Xcentric Ripper edged closer, and nearing the second mark we tacked over them after rounding and eased the sheets for a tight reach to the next course buoy. John and Robin perched on their rail and exchanged a wave and a smile, perhaps not thrilled to have to overtake in our foul wind, while big Batfish slowly overtook us to windward and briefly put both of us in their foul air.

Several miles out we rounded the pillars of an old WWII offshore battery, trailing Junique and Batfish and still running parallel with Xcentric. Maverick had a fine first hour but we had a long race ahead. Ripper quickly hoisted their Code 0 and we followed suit a minute later, but a halyard twist forced us to drop the sail and rehoist after sorting it. Several lengths lost, but a minor annoyance with 175 miles ahead. 

The course took us south toward the boundary of a large wind generator park, which are sprouting up quickly on both sides of the North Sea. Between expanded shipping lanes and new wind parks there are fewer options to route sailboats and family cruisers, and the North Sea Race course has been modified several times in recent years to avoid these new exclusion areas. The tide was running fast as we came to the next buoy, leaned over in the current, and along with Push Up and the crewed JPK 1080 Leon we hoisted jibs and doused spinnakers, and continued past against the tide before tacking safely around it.

Sailing along the southern edge of the windpark the wind began to ease. Zeiljacht IL Corvo sailed a higher line and worked slightly ahead, Push-Up sailed even with Maverick on the north end of the park, while the new Sunfast 3600 Bellino and Leon checked each other out just ahead. We knew there would be lull in the early afternoon, and while now sunny and pleasant this new lull was greeted with similar sentiment and language as when we parked in dead air during the Vuurschepen race two days earlier. The wind dropped away and a few of the later starting big boats caught up, and crews kept busy bobbing on flat seas by hoisting, playing with, and dropping sagging spinnakers, looking for ripples on the water, eating, and chasing zephyrs and whispers.

Calms make for strange bedfellows, and after hoisting our A0 spinnaker we managed a few knots speed and drifted past K-Force – a lovely Swan 45 uber-racer with a full kitted-out crew. As a light breeze filled in further we changed to our baby-blue running spinnaker, and as we were hoisting K-Force glided by and exchanged greetings and encouragement. We made steady progress on the west side of the course, while Xcentric Ripper and Push Up boldly tacked further west and were rewarded with earlier and steadier breeze. 

In the simpler old days we would sail north through the night , round the Smith’s Knoll buoy off the English coast, hang a right and head back to Holland. With further offshore restricted zones now blocking the direct route, the course now veers northeast to a big light tower 30 miles away. Early in the race we rounded historic marks with evocative names like ‘Roughs Tower’, ‘Black Deep’, and ‘Long Sand’, while this modern new mark had the unworldly, and certainly unpronounceable name ‘EAOW1BAIS’. 

As darkness fell the wind built to the low teens, and Maverick pick up pace and surged ahead. Boats earlier scattered in the calm now converged on the big alien light tower with the Star Wars name, while the wind built further to the high teens and low 20s. We crossed closely with fellow Ijspegelar Team Griel before gybing, and neatly dropped the light spinnaker before gybing back and setting course toward the familiar and human sounding Smith’s Knoll light buoy.

Maneuvers and sail handling are tackled somewhat differently doublehanded than on a crewed boat, but without shifts of people to take turns on watch the doublehandeders face greater challenges managing rest and fatigue. After rounding the unpronounceable tower Raymond Roesinkwent below for a few minutes, but Griel pulled further ahead and soon fellow Scheveningen boat Flying Dolphin drove by at pace. Jameerah, a crewed J-120 sistership out of the UK were also gaining on Maverick, and weighing the loss of a few more minutes versus some precious and well-earned rest for Raymond, I popped below and rousted the big fella to help set the heavy-weather spinnaker.

Under the dark blue One Sails A5 we thundered ahead, periodically hitting 10-12 knots over ground. Over the next 30 miles we picked off the three boats that had deigned to pass earlier, but also heard over the VHF radio that one of the boats ahead in our class, well sailed Luctor with Erik van Vuuren and Wouter, had a collision with an unmarked and unlit buoy. Their track lay further east of us, but with foresight and seamanship they warned trailing boats of the danger.

Rounding Smith’s Knoll we gybed the spinnaker but it wrapped loosely around the forestay. Raymond sprang forward and we worked carefully back and forth over the next few minutes, finally freeing the sail and starting a fast shy spinnaker run toward home. With the heavy reaching kite we soon picked up time on the leaders and opened up distance on the trailing boats in our class. Raymond took an hour break below – though roaring and bouncing along at speed, an hour pause at this point in an offshore race was well needed and appreciated. Mav never lost her footing but sailing a high angle was hard work, and after Raymond came back up I went below for a quick rest.

Lifevest and jacket off, climb over lee-cloth into the high-side bunk. Noises all around, ticks, pings, all muffled by the whoosh of water against the hull. Lying still and soon the noise is receding, finally some rest, and then a single sharp, hard sound. Raymond is yelling something, get up, find the lifevest and take one step up the companionway. 

“Spi halyard broke, the sail is in the water”. Immediate relief, no collision, mast up and Raymond safely onboard -- only a race problem and no danger. Moments later with foulies and lifevest on, Raymond and I went forward in the darkness. The sea was black with streaks of white, and on the lee side of the boat we could make out the dark blue spinnaker streaming alongside. In a curious twist of luck we had dropped the spinnaker in the water several times over the last months before we finally worked out a better way to manage drops, and though never intended as spinnaker retrieval training, we settled down familiarly side by side at the bow. Raymond reached over and took the first armful of cloth and like two old fishermen we pulled in unison over the next 15 minutes, silent except for the occasional grunt or epithet, until the sail was back onboard. 

We wanted to get the A5 back up as quickly as possible on the other halyard but during the retrieval we were disheartened to find a torn section --small enough to be easily repaired shoreside, but too big and risky to temporarily tape and hoist again. We debated using the light spinnaker but it is not built for over 20 kts, and decided to press on under white sails. It was a long, draining 10 hours back to Scheveningen, watching our gains slip away and the leaders again pulling further ahead. Griel passed us at dawn, en route to a strong overall finish, well-sailed Team Firestorm closed the gap behind us, and later Blizzard of Uz passed to the south as they drove toward a fine podium finish. We were not alone in our suffering as several other boats tore sails or suffered other misfortune, and we held our ground behind Il Corvo and Batfish. 

Approaching the low Dutch coast we faced two final legs to the finish. With wind in the low 20s we rounded the penultimate mark and started a 5 mile close reach toward Scheveningen. We unfortunately had nobody nearby to play with, but Maverick loves running with the sheets slightly cracked and driving hard through messy seas. We sailed fast and sharp in our home waters and for a time forgot about lost chances and places. We raced by a parked tanker to the final mark, and soon crossed the line near the Scheveningen harbor mouth. 

We dropped sails and tidied up on the way in, and as other finishers were jigsawed into the visitors area, we motored to our berth and tied up. We learned later at the race office that we had finished 7th of 18, on one hand a satisfying result given we sailed the last third of the race under white sails, on the other hand a hard reminder of what might have been. John and Robin were close and deserving winners on Ripper, mere seconds ahead of Blizzard of Uz. We watched Joost & Vrolijk as she was towed in, having been lost steerage well offshore, and seeing the severe buoy collision damage on Luctor helped put our broken line and disappointment into perspective. 

Whether at Harwich Yacht Club, lunching at Pin Mill, or at the traditional prizegiving at the Scheveningen Visafslag (fish auction hall), the doublehanded teams socialize together, share stories and advice, and enjoy good humor and sharp banter. It has become a very competitive and skilled class, but also a very close one.

Vuurschepen Race 12 May 2015 -- “Little Boats Park for Free”

Last Tuesday was a red-letter day in Europe for doublehanded sail racing, as 18 boats, representing a third of the field, crossed the start line of the venerable Vuurschepen Race from Scheveningen to Harwich. The race also opened the Dutch National Dual-Handed Championship, which comprises the offshore races to Harwich and back, as well as four shorter inshore races next weekend.

Following a familiar script as the 50 Mile race two weeks earlier, but hoping (and training in the interim) for a very different outcome, we managed a good start on Maverick in front of a hundred hearty spectators on the starship Estrella. In a blustery 20 kt breeze and choppy seas the old girl again showed her upwind pace as early going she kept close to the higher rated big boats in the class. 

During long races there are always smaller ‘races within the race' between boats in the same area, as well as key tactical decisions forced by real or anticipated changes in winds and tide -- these mini-duals form the heart of story-telling and banter at the festivities after the race. During the early going we found ourselves hanging on the transom of Il Corvo, with both of us just below and behind Junique – our friendly Ijspegel winter series sparring partner. Over time Il Corvo worked a higher line and went off to pester Chris and Pascal on Junique, while on Mav we drifted slightly lower for less disturbed air. 

The fleet continued northwest into the darkness, a string of mastlights against a moonless starry night. All of the boats use some form of navigation software to help plan the rout and tactics based on the forecast winds, and the timing for the tack back to the southwest would be critical. As the tide began to turn south the first boats tacked out, while on Maverick we held course and tacked slightly later, trailing Xcentric Ripper. As the wind shifted we lost some ground to Junique, Il Corvo, Avanti and Batfish, but even so we have a rating advantage and were well placed going into the last third of the race.

In the wee morning hours we were treated to a rising crescent moon and smoother waters, and near dawn the wind began to drop. A period of very light winds had been forecast, a test of skill and patience to keep the boat moving. As usual Raymond Roesink did the bulk of the hard work as we changed our jibs from a heavy to medium to our light, and as we 'changed gears' Maverick slipped slowly along through the lull. 

The fleet was parked in flat seas for several hours, moving as a group with the tide, which has several effects on the result. The first effect is that where you are ‘parked’ will determine when you first get wind, and in a special sailing theory of Relativity nearly every sailor looks out at the boats around them and is convinced they are getting the wind first and moving away. The second is that the longer you park, the longer the race, and without getting into the arcane details of our rating system there is less comparative time difference between small and big boats. Both factors are generally referred to as the ‘wind lottery' (and somewhat more frequently by losers than winners), but in any case smaller boats that are well sailed and navigated (along with a pinch of luck in the wind lottery) earn their wins.

A welcome light wind rippled across our little patch of North Sea in the early afternoon, less advantageous for those of us above the layline to the last buoys, and we picked up pace and set our light spinnaker. Like last year we followed Roaring X into Harwich and over the line, our gybing practice paying off with little drama and a relaxed boat. 

All of the bigger boats finished in places 9th through 18th on corrected time, somewhat tempering our disappointment with finishing 14th. The race was analyzed and played out the following day as crews met for the the annual Noordzee Club lunch at the historic Butt at Oyster pub in Pin Mill, where soon the talk turned to the coming race back and a fresh start. Next: The North Sea Race

Getting Back Up - 2 May 2015

The fall before my sixth birthday my parents surprised me with a big (or so it seemed) red two-wheeler. During the previous months I rode around the block on a small bike with training wheels, but felt slighted that my sister had a two wheeler and I had a baby bike. I had demonstrated to my father an ability to balance part of the time on two wheels with the training wheels intermittently touching down, so he and I were brimming with confidence when he took me to the top of the block for my first independent ride. 

I was characteristically insistant that he stand away and let me try riding alone on the gently sloping sidewalk down North Lake Drive. I quickly gained speed and though weaving slightly I managed to lift one hand up for a fleeting wave as I passed my mom and sister halfway down the block. My father trailed, no doubt initially proud at his son’s ability to so quickly pick up riding without training wheels, but soon saw the weaving become increasingly pronounced. On the last gyration I was on a trajectory to fly off the curb into the street, and I instead lay down my once immaculate new red Schwinn. Both knees were as crimson as the bike, tears were shed, and my parents stood the bike against a wall out front and thought we would call it a day.

After nursing my wounds I asked to go out and admire the bike again, and my parents expected me to bring it around back. I had thought about what went right and what went horribly wrong, and had an idea that I could improve on the result, so I instead walked my bike to the top of the block and readied for another try. No doubt I had second thoughts and feared another bloody crash, but not getting back up, especially when my sister could already ride a two wheeler, was not an option. I managed to make it further down the street and bailed out without further injury, and after a series of longer and less wobbly rides along the sidewalk I managed to make it down the block in one go. No doubt my parents were keeping an eye on me from behind the curtains, wincing with each fall and perhaps discussing whether to intervene, but they also knew that I needed to manage this on my own. 

It was an early life lesson, and over the years I have fallen off a few bicycles -- and even a wagon or two. Last week we had a sail race and along the way we fell off our proverbial bicycle. No different than many decades ago (though thankfully no blood or tears), today we got back up on the bike and tried again, recognizing we needed to do things differently and to practice, before we would be confident riding alone.  Ken Parsons drove overnight from the UK and joined Raymond Roesink and me, and after reviewing what we would do differently we went out in a stiff breeze and practiced hoisting, jibing, and dropping the spinnaker. Over and over. We made it all the way down the block without falling off, or in our case without the sail wrapping on the forestay or dropping in the water, and like many years ago I again grinned like the schoolboy gaining confidence on his new red bike.

50 Mijls Doublehanded - 25 April 2015 

Shattered. I looked over at Raymond, both of us completely winded and desperately trying to hold part of the blue spinnaker against the aft rail, and knew the struggle was nearly over. After 20 minutes trying to get the sail back onboard we were tiring quickly and most of the field had sailed past. I looked over at the two committee members on the rubber speedboat idling a few meters away, and signaled it was over by shaking my head and freeing one hand enough to make a slicing gesture across my throat. A few hours earlier we held a leading position after the long opening leg, but we now welcomed help from the committee boat and as a consequence would retire from the race.

The  50 Mijl Shorthanded Race is held on the southern part of the Ijsselmeer, the large inland lake in North Holland, and opens the Dutch doublehanded season and series. It is an early opportunity to measure up against old and new boats and their crews, and a chance to assess progress and chances for the season. We concluded the winter IJspegel Trophy series with a win and clinched second overall for the series on the new boat, and though confident with Mav overall and the work we had put into her, we also spent additional time before the 50 Mijl cleaning the hull and tiding up the new NKE electronics. Finishing positions in races on the higher levels are often separated by seconds, and it pays to sweat the details.

There are many factors that contribute to sailing doublehanded competitively, from boat preparation, course strategy, start and race tactics, and sail handling. Races are won or lost by shifts or changes in the wind, and even with the best maintenance a race can be ended with breakage, but much time is needed to establish timing and procedures for setting and dropping the big downwind sails. The best teams work on and improve the things they can control, and learn how to recover from those things they cannot. Maverick had proven her speed with a good winter series record, and the assymentric spinnakers were in many ways a welcome change from the symmetrical set-ups we had previously, but we struggled with gybing and dropping the big downwind sails and ran through the steps and concerns the night before the race.

As an indication of the popularity and strength of doublehanded sailing in Holland, this year the 50 Mijls attracted 90 teams, with over half in the more competitive rating divisions. Maverick’s length and speed earned her a healthy rating at the very bottom of the top rating class (ORC 1), meaning we would place well if we kept pace with the other ORC 1 boats, but with the disadvantage of starting with a group of generally bigger and faster boats. Any of them would be happy to, or could not help, 'gassing' poor old Maverick on the start. This included perennial favorites like the J-111 Xcentric Ripper and the larger J-133 Batfish, but this year we also had to contend with the enormous IMS-50 Hagar and the stunning Icon 48 Leeloo sailing team on our starting line.

The lower rated ORC classes started 10 and 5 minutes ahead, so the ORC 1 boats would also need to pick their way through over 40 boats already on the long first upwind leg. Finding and maintaining clean air would be a priority. Prior to the start we checked the line and as with most of the other duos we lined up to cross by the favored startship end, and we slotted in just down from Ripper and Batfish. At the gun we lay just behind the line but with an edge in speed and pointing edge on Batfish. Leeloo was early over the line just ahead of us and neatly turned to port to return and re-cross the line. Expecting the bigger boats to windward to edge ahead and put us in their foul air we readied to quickly tack back, but in the stiff 17-19 kt breeze we managed nice speed and pointing, and remained in clean air.

The wind held and we endured occasional rain, and over the next two hours we worked our way through the boats ahead and kept pace with our class. Converging on the first coarse mark and 11 miles into the race we had an early opportunity to assess our position. We were well pleased to round a few lengths ahead of Xcentric Ripper and Hagar, narrowly trailing Batfish, Leeloo, and Push-up. We were effectively top of our class on corrected time, but with 40 miles and a long day ahead.

Rounding the mark (left in photo 1) we hoisted and set our big blue running spinnaker, while Ripper showed off a characteristically quicker set and early gybe, and pulled slightly ahead. We soon readied for a gybe and noticed the jib wasn’t fully dropped, but didn’t think it would affect the gybe. As the expanse of blue nylon was pulled over from one side to the other it caught on one of the sail hanks and then twisted into the jib. Ironically we had discussed the night before the potential perils when jibing with the jib still partially set, and Murphy was no doubt eavesdropping. Lesson learned. The partial wrap was a mess, but we managed to drop nearly all of it and quickly hoisted the smaller and ancient AP spinnaker. While we lost some time we were still in contention for a reasonable finish, but in this field any mistake would come with loss of a few places.

As an intimation of things to come, we made a clean spinnaker drop until the last few meters, and then the foot of the kite dipped into the sea. We had most of it onboard and muscled the last bit safely over the rail, but again some precious time was lost. Thankfully we had a long upwind leg ahead of us, and battered but unbowed we again settled into a nice groove. We had 15 miles ahead and the opportunity to claw back more time and places, and we edged ahead of boats in the lower classes and worked ourselves back among the ORC1 teams. 

After rounding this upwind mark we hoisted our last fully intact spinnaker, a smaller heavy wind reacher. The rain had abated and the wind dropped to 11-13 kts, but we still had fair pace. Almost immediately the soothing swoosh of water under the boat was interrupted by, a long, loud horn sounded from a freight barge behind us. The buoy marked one edge of the shipping lane, the barge is virtually unmaneuverable, and it was not particularly happy to come upon a swarm of sailboats crossing ahead. Their only option was to sound the horn and plow ahead. We eventually gybed behind the barge and headed toward the penultimate mark, and fate both blessed and marked us as the wind quickly built to the low 20’s and shifted considerably. This put our line and wind into the sweet spot of the heavy reaching spinnaker and Mav raced ahead. 

The swoosh became a roar and we topped 11 kts boat speed, and as we came within a mile of the next buoy we readied early and carefully for the drop; halyard free, jib up, boat slowly steered dead down wind, spinnaker shadowed by the mainsail and jib and collapsed, pulled the clew in, halyard eased, most the sail pulled in and safely in the companionway. We both gathered the sail in, and like watching an accident in slow motion a mere slip of the foot fell over the lifeline and in a flash the sail was yanked into the water. 

After watching for 20 minutes and taking a few photographs, the rubber boat crew sensed that the duo on Maverick were tiring and edged closer. One of the crew freed a hand and made a throat-slashing gesture, their race was over and the committee boat could move in to assist. They tied on and pulled he bow gently toward windward, and with a few combined last efforts the two crew pulled the last of the sail into the cockpit.

One of the great traditions of the 50 Mijl, and typical of their superb planning and race management, is the ‘Captains Dinner’ afterwards -- a rich bar-b-que buffet for the participants. As we joined our fellow skippers we learned that a few photos of our plight had already been posted on the 50 Mijl Facebook site. A number competitors noted our strong early performance and offered sympathies, but we also laughed at jokes about the ‘Scheveningen fishermen’ and questions over our catch. 

The Shorthanded community is close-knit, and though Mav could potentially finish among the top boats this season, throughout the evening our friends were generous with advice. We’ll head out during the coming week and work on a new ways to drop our spinnaker in the boat and not the in the water, and hopefully at the end of the season look back on the 50 Mijl as a painful but important lesson.

Putting it All Together - Maverick Wins the Ijspegel Finale / Atoom Cup 28 March 2015

To put an exclamation point on the hefty conditions Mother Nature has served up throughout this 43rd Ijspegel Trophy winter series, the Saturday forecast called for winds in the 20s, gusting to the 30s, and deteriorating much further on Sunday. The final Ispegel Trophy weekend involves multiple races for for the ‘Atoom Cup’ Trophy, as well as points toward the final Ijspegel Trophy season standings, and it was uncertain how many, if any, races would be possible.

While winning the coveted IJspegel Trophy is the ultimate goal, the Ijspegels are also a time to gain race experience in a range of conditions (most of them shitty), and to sort our boats and teamwork for the season ahead. Last year Raymond Roesink and I captured the Doublehanded Ijspegel Trophy during our second season on our little French minx “So What”, but much of this season we have been sorting out, equipping, and reconfiguring our venerable but increasingly endearing J-120 “Maverick”. We started the series with more enthusiasm then sense or experience on her, with no electronics and old sails, and managed a run of second and third place finishes in a strong 10-boat doublehanded class.

We now have superb sail livery from OneSails GBR (East), new NKE electronics, upgraded standing rigging from Seaport Sailing, wonderful new Lancelin lines from Rake Rigging bv, and many bits and bobs from the best (and friendliest) chandlery in Holland (and Ijspegel Trophy Sponsor), Vrolijk Watersport. Our sponsors and suppliers have helped make Maverick increasingly competitive, earning deep and everlasting thanks, but Raymond and I are now getting used to the big girl (and no doubt vice-versa), and it is high time for the crew to step up and get the most out of this special boat.

With the Atoom Cup at stake as well as final standings, and a depressingly cold drizzle, the atmosphere on the dock before the race was purposeful and focused. Wind was light in the harbor but climbing quickly offshore, and the Race Committee advised that the doublehanders would have a shorter first race with the hopes of squeezing in a second race before the weather worsened in the afternoon. We hanked on the heavy number 3 jib before heading out, and exiting the harbor mouth the wind held in the high teens and low 20s. As the start neared we saw gusts into the mid-20s, and to further convince us to reef the main one of the other crewed boats retired before their start with a split mainsail.

One of the joys of the Ijspegel Trophy, which unfortunately spoils competitors when they enter other competitions, is the professionalism (and good humor) of the Race Committee. Working on a converted trawler, the big red start ship “Albatros”, the race team organizes the course, sets a special course for the doublehanded fleet, and maintains impeccable communications for race notifications, countdowns, and for retirements and other contingencies. Given the conditions the Committee set a seeminglty straightforward 8 mile course for the doublehanded, with a long upwind leg along the coast to a fixed buoy (Zandmotor D), returning downwind several miles to the finish.

The tide ran against at the start but expected to slack early in the race, and with the start line slightly favorable to the start-ship end we maneuvered for a slot by the Albatros. Though a few seconds late over the line we were in full flight with clean air, on the favored end – a very nice beginning. As usual the doublehanded class started 5 minutes after the second fully crewed class, and as usual there was some added incentive to try to catch a backmarker or two. We held our tack as long as possible, with Windsprint tacking behind and later crossing just ahead of One Wave from the crewed class ahead. Panther was sailing hard and distancing the back half of the field while Junique Raymarine Sailing Team(henceforth 'Junique'), still the class of our class, held slight edge and drove further toward the coast.

Like Junique we had also planned to sail further in before tacking, but in a November Ijspegel we also had the Zandmotor D buoy as a course mark and found it a distance off from its designated position. We tacked off earlier and sailed a straight course toward where we expected to again find the mark. As we closed within a mile of the previous ‘known’ position we glimpsed another buoy off a half mile off the port bow, and following some discussion we decided that the buoy was probably repositioned -- and we quickly tacked back over toward it. We saw Junique approaching on a more direct line, and despite our slight navigation error and an expected tide advantage further inshore for our friends on the big white J-boat, we had gained on an earlier wind shift and strong run to the phantom mark, and coming to the buoy they held but a half-length edge.

With winds now the mid-20s and now gusting considerably higher, occasionally punctuated with a spattering rain, we bore off and then gybed under white sails and checked Junique to see if they were going to hoist their spinnaker. We had rigged our smaller, heavy wind assymetric, and seeing them set their trademark purple kite, we quickly hoisted our trademark blue-with-white-stripe spinnaker. In a manner of speaking our battle flags were raised, yet another clash in our month-old competition, and both boats took off in the stiff wind. We matched speed and held position, eventually forcing Junique to jibe away, but we also benefitted from watching how a highly experienced team on a similar boat gybes in heavy weather (answer – quickly and efficiently).

A mile from the finish we gybed to make the line, though seconds late and forcing us into a slightly shallower line to the finish than Junique. We rounded up in one gust but recovered quickly, putting us a few lengths behind Junique, and driving to the finish we had to contend with Magnum from the crewed class converging closely to port. They seemed to give us bit more space after realizing that the two bigger J-boats barreling along, one behind the other under large spinnakers in wind now in the high 20s, had but two guys on each trying to keep things under control.

We crossed the line seconds behind Junique, but given our different ratings Maverick earned first place on corrected time, with Junique second and Panther earning a podium place in third. The Race Committee soon announced that racing would be suspended for the day, and the fleet worked its way back to Scheveningen Harbor.

In the clubhouse we enjoyed a season-end fish fry and refreshments, followed by the prize giving ceremony for the race and for the overall Ijspegel Trophy. Winning the final race was a satisfying way to underscore our progress during the series, as well as securing second place behind Junique for the overall Ijspegel series. The doublehanders mingled and offered congratulations at the prize giving (this slightly bent group tends to hang out together after races), but also compared plans for the upcoming season; doublehanded racing is a keen and fast growing class, but maintains a healthy balance of competition, mutual support, and camaraderie.

Club Ijskegel Win with an Old Friend - 22 March 2015 

Two weeks ago we had an intimation of Spring for the club Ijskegel Race, but today the fairest season arrived with clear and sunny skies, a light breeze and gentle seas. Scheveningen Marina came to life as teams set sails and lines, music was in the air (Springsteen, courtesy of Maverick), and as a timeless sign of Spring a host of cruising sailors reappeared after their long winter naps and were readying their boats for the season ahead.

Many of you recall that my earliest and longest doublehanded sailing partner is big man with a bigger heart named Nico van Marle, and after some personal and professional time away from competitive sailing he asked to join for this Ijskegel Race. He had sailed on a J-105, in many ways a smaller version of the J-120 Maverick, and combined with the many hours racing together we hoped to pick up where we left off in terms of timing and communications. We looked forward to racing together again and enjoying the fine weather, while without practice time any result would be a big bonus.

We leisurely sailed out early in light 8-12 kt wind and temperatures edging near double digits (near 50F), and crossed behind the line with a mixed fleet of 18 boats. A few waves, greetings shouted across the water, and a festive atmosphere until the last minutes before the start when the boats pivoted toward the line and hardened sails. We planned to start on the favored East end of the line, which proved again a popular choice -- a few warning shouts rang out as several boats contested a narrow part of the line. We crossed a bit late, though it allowed us to slip above a few boats and to settle into a reasonably clean line on the first leg to the Kijkduin buoy.

Rounding the yellow Kijkduin mark we lay in fifth place, with each of the first 5 rounding within a boat length of the boat ahead and X-Stream leading the procession. The wind picked up on a shy reach back to the ‘Drains” buoys, 4 marks in a diamond pattern near the harbor entrance. In addition to the longer legs to and from the Kijkduin buoy, the Ijskegel course involves multiple roundings of the drains buoys, with a premium on maneuvers and handling as well as tactics and positioning in traffic. We took a higher line back and soon slipped past Marlijn and Smooth Operator, while X-Stream and perennial winner Moshulu sailed deeper but would later need to tack back.

Through the longer legs and roundings we fiddled with the trim and incrementally improved our speed. The wind varied in speed and direction, and we milked lifts and reacted quickly to headers, with Nico continuously adjusting trim. We sailed wordlessly, having somehow picked up where we left off. We edged closer to Moshulu but then gave ground back on some of the short rounding legs, both boats working hard and driving each other. We each had challenges working past slower boats on the second ‘lap’, with Moshulu briefly held up by Marlijn and Mav stuck briefly between Pietekoppe and White Pearl.

Starting the last leg down to the Kijkduin bouy Moshulu held a 5 boat length lead, with Knight of Hamble a similar length behind Maverick. We again took a higher line and also benefitted from a timely patch of better breeze, and several hundred meters from the buoy we blanketed Moshulu and edged ahead into the lead. We made a tidy rounding but would need to hold off Moshulu for a little over a mile to the finish. I fretted and muttered as the wind dropped further, while Nico continued trimming sails to help maintain headway. Mav stretched her lead, and we crossed for line honors with Moshulu over 2 minutes behind. Knight of Hamble finished a minute after Moshulu, while the Ladies on J-109 Joule 109sailed a superb race and crossed the line just behind big X-Stream.

Back at the Spuigat Clubhouse we enjoyed snacks (fried Dutch treats called 'bitterballen' -- nobody knows nor asks what they contain) and refreshments, sharing stories and appreciation of the spectacular conditions. Race Leader Flip read out the results from last to first, with Moshulu securing third place -- and with it the season Ijskegel Trophy. The Joule Ladies earned the biggest applause for their second place finish, while seasoned but still quick Maverick rewarded two old friends with a first place.

First Bullet for Maverick - Club Ijskegel 8 March 2015 

While the US east coast is grappling with a vicious late winter, in Holland our long dark winter has given way to longer days and rising temperatures. Today we reached 12C (a balmy 54F), with brilliant sunny skies and symptoms of spring fever. Eighteen boats ventured out from Scheveningen harbor for the club Iskegel Race, and while the 16-22 kt breeze kicked up a few whitecaps, the sunshine and relative warmth made for a lovely day off the coast.

The Ijskegels are non-spinnaker club races around fixed buoys, attracting both experienced race boats as well as newcomers to racing and ‘retired’ club stalwarts. Each year we participate in several of the series for training, usually solo, and both on the water and off the ‘kegels’ has its own allure and special atmosphere. This race I was joined by my regular doublehanded partner Raymond Roesink, and at the risk of sounding bromantic we have build up a strong partnership over the years. It was evident in our pre-start maneuvers and positioning (which for Ijskegels also involves some awareness and space for the less experienced boats). We had speed and clean air at the start on the favored east side of the line and soon rolled past Challenger and Moshulu to lead the field around the first coarse mark. Owing to a lot of race hours together we sailed smoothly and largely wordlessly around the course, while tactically we managed efficient lines in the tidal conditions (made much easier by the new NKE instruments). We continued to extend our lead and by the finish we had built a several minute advantage over the second finisher (X-Stream), and in addition to line honors we won overall on handicap.

While it was a nice surprise to win doublehanded in conditions where bodies on the rail would certainly help, we took greater satisfaction in sailing a clean and smart race. Good practice for the doublehanded season ahead, and much fun. Above all a wonderful day on the water for everyone, with smiles and high spirits as we all enjoyed an early Spring day off the Dutch coast.

Ken Meets Maverick - Ijspegel 14 February 2015

A spectacular day off the Scheveningen coast for the IJspegel Trophy winter series race – cold but clear and sunny, light seas and modest winds. Raymond Roesink had properly begged off due to his daughter’s birthday party, so Ken Parsons, who is co-skipper for our UK RORC races and Fastnet later this year, travelled over with his better half Kate for a mini-holiday in Den Haag. 

It was Ken’s first time out on Maverick, as well as a debut/test for the new One Sails livery. Despite a cautious start we enjoyed the conditions and soon had the boat moving well, thanks primarily to experience racing together last season on So What. After a conservative but serviceable start we trailed only Junique (a familiar position) half way through the race, and were near the end of a clean spinnaker drop when a bit of it touched the water; Neptune promptly snatched the lovely new piece of blue gossamer and soon hauled a third of it into the depths, but joining Ken at the rail we pulled back mightily like two hardened fisherman. Most of our field rounded the mark and watched (and heard) our struggles, as did gawkers from other classes, and after finally wresting the last corner back onboard we set our weary selves to trimming sails and chasing down boats ahead.

Maverick found her groove, we enjoyed a little extra tidal current by taking a line further offshore, and in the closing stages move up to third over the line and third place on corrected time. A nice introduction for Ken and the new sails were terrific, gaining us time before and after our costly tug-of-war with the sea.

Another Step Forward, with One Sails -- 14 December 2014  

As highlighted in earlier posts and on our website, we have benefitted from the support and expertise of several key partners during our refurbishment of Maverick for shorthanded offshore competition. We are proud to promoteRake Rigging bv and Lancelin lines, Seaport Sailing, and Vrolijk Watersport, and they have provided much help through the process.

While our new lines and rigging, deck gear, and equipment all contribute greatly toward a successful and safe season, a well designed and competitive set of racing sails is essential to achieve results in top-level sailing competition. Racing sails have advanced tremendously in recent years, now incorporating materials and processes that until recently were only in the realm of professional offshore racers and superyachts.

After announcing our acquisition of Maverick, we enjoyed attention and competitive propositions from several top sailmakers as well as our incumbent loft. Leading edge sail materials and processes are important, and there is a high level of computer design involved in creating and optimizing race sails, but it also remains an subtle art. An experienced sailmaker can make a tremendous competitive difference in designing and optimizing a suite of sails to match the boat, conditions, and sailing style.

Several years ago I had the pleasure to work with John Parker of Parker & Kay, one of the leading sailmakers in Britain. He recut and ‘fixed’ a sail that our local loft did not want to handle, and later followed up with a breathtakingly fine new jib on Rebellion. John is an affiliate of the growing international sailmaking group OneSails, whose investment in development and top talent has propelled them to a leading position among racing sailmakers.

OneSails have introduced and enjoy early success on other circuits with their line of composite 4T Forte sails, and coupled with our doublehanded history and a great new boat in Maverick, it is a pleasure for us to announce the selection of OneSails for our new sail wardrobe. We will together strive for top results and further promote OneSails and 4T Forte in the Dutch and RORC doublehanded competitions, which will no doubt be greatly aided by John’s design savvy (including considerable J-120 experience), as well as first-class service in the UK and through the OneSails Netherlands loft.

The new sails are finished and will arrive shortly –- as a ‘proper’ sailmaker John is delivering them personally and will join for sailing trials -- and we look forward to showing them off in the second half of the Ijspegel Trophy series and through the season. We’ll finally hoist a mainsail with a number on it, and once more fly our ‘colors’ – the traditional blue spinnakers with a broad white stripe.

Every Second Counts - Albatross Cup - 14 December 2014

Strong winter winds and a lumpy North Sea for the Albatross Cup, the final race of the IJspegel Trophy Series before the winter break. Raymond Roesink and I had captured the Albatross Cup for the double-handed class the last two years on So What, while this season on Maverick we’ve been learning how to sail the big girl and get her up to speed on the old sails. With wind hitting the low 20’s we faced a tough choice to either forego using the old gennaker, or to use it briefly during the race until it likely blew up. We rigged to use it and would decide based on our position and wind strength.

We had a clean start and showed the field a nice turn of speed, keeping above the higher rated Windveer and twice tacking in close to the coast to gain some tide advantage. It paid off as we reached the first course buoy in the top position. As it was gusting above 20 kts we elected to spare the ancient spinnaker, while Junique hoisted her assymetric and enjoyed an impressive speed advantage as she pushed past. Windveer also gained on us under her bright red spinnaker but had major issues with a gybe, while three other doublehanded boats experienced material problems (Panther, Roaring X, Arethusa) and abandoned the race. 

We gybed out early from the coast to take advantage of more favorable tide further offshore, and gybing back to the next course buoy we realized that our tactics had paid off as we trailed Junique more narrowly than expected.  We managed to claw back some additional the time on the next upwind leg, again tacking in toward the coast early but dropping some valuable seconds when the mainsheet slipped and we had to recover trim. We came to the upwind mark still closely trailing Junique, and with the rest of the class nearly a mile behind it was a match race to the finish. We would again have to keep close on white sails, while Junique’s purple gennaker went up and they pulled further ahead. 

We managed to finish a few minutes behind Junique and knew it would be close on corrected time, and at the packed prizegiving at the Clubhouse we were gutted to learn we had missed first place by a mere 1.9 seconds. Raymond was the realist and pointed out that we had a terrific race to finish virtually tied with Junique, though I was still muttering about ‘1.9 seconds’ when I collected the second place award. The Sun Fast 37 Happy was again very happy with another podium and third place -- always nice for another type of boat to elbow her way among the J-Boats -- followed by J-Boats Harpoen and Elixir. 

We finish the first half of the winter series in second place, with the new girl impressing and charming us with each race.

Maverick's Trusted Riggers, Seaport Sailing Yachts -- 27 Nov 2014


Though still waiting for the race sails, we have been managing decent early results in the Ijspegel Trophy in part due to the fine new Lancelin halyards, sheets and lines from our partners at Rake Rigging.   This high-tech string would be useless without excellent spars (we have a light, strong and sexy Nordic/Southern Spars carbon mast) and top of the line ‘standing rigging’ --the rods and lines that hold up the mast and bear the huge loads on it when under sail.   The original rod rigging had served Maverick without fail for 13 years, but it was overdue for replacement and before the winter series started we again turned to our friends at Seaport Sailing Yachts (SSY) in Ijmuiden for new rod rigging and general rig maintenance.


SSY is long known to Dutch sail racers and provides a range of rigging and retrofit services, and as well a racing optimizations.   In 1998 noted Dutch offshore sailor Gideon Messink (3 X Whitbread) started his own rigging firm, later distributing top yacht brands and adding a full line of services.  Their race heritage continues strongly to this day, with Seaport staff active in a number of racing programs.   They handle big, leading edge projects (like Brunel), but still give the same knowledgeable support to modest Corinthian programs like Maverick.


For Maverick’s rigging make-over, SSY fitted new rod, converted to a Dyneema backstay, and replaced several worn mast parts.  Their help extends further with advice on rig tuning and optimization, and we will be visiting them again soon for a ‘tune-up’ and some changes to convert to old-style hank-on headsails (tough luck for the old Tuffluff).   We’ll rest easier offshore with the new standing rigging, and could not be happier with Seaport Sailing’s fine work and support.




Club Racing with an Old Friend -- 23 November 2014

An off-week from the intensity of the IJspegel Trophy but a chance to join 20 other boats for a club non-spinnaker 'Ijskegel' race around fixed marks off Scheveningen. I usually race it solo for shits and grins but today my first and long standing doublehanded partner Nico van Marle came by for the race, and to enjoy the gentle seas, light wind and sunny weather. 

When solo I give the crewed boats a little more room at the start and take some time for maneuvers, but doublehanded Nico and I slipped comfortably into old competitive habits and staked out a clear line at the start. A few minutes into the first leg we tacked in and forced a few boats to duck us, then rode a tide shift south of the harbor to help get to the first buoy ahead of everyone. Way too early for celebrations but there were two big guys on Mav with even bigger grins.

 Though it was Nico's first time on Maverick we went about maneuvers wordlessly -- harking back to our years-long doublehanded partnership -- and though later passed by the bigger and fully crewed X-Stream and Knight of Hamble (and later by the well sailed Moshulu), we kept pace and pulled away from the rest of the field. We finished in second place on corrected time and another podium for our new old Lady, but more importantly two old friends enjoyed a lovely day messing about on a boat. [Many thanks Gast-Vrij for the photo].

A Third Podium for the New Girl - Ijspegel Trophy 16 Nov 2014

The first two races of the winter Ijspegel Trophy series off the Scheveningen coast were a sailmaker’s dream, with rolicking seas and winds between 25-35 kts. Despite unfamiliarity and old rags Maverick proved a steady performer in the heavy stuff, earning two second place finishes. 

Failing to heed our hopes for moderate wind and modest seas this weekend, Mother Nature thought otherwise and instead served up cold, steady drizzle and very little wind. In the clubhouse before the race I had joked with Sander van Doorn, one of the solo mini sailors who start with our doublehanded class, to try to keep clear of big Mav at the start. He feigned fear and in a plaintive, high pitched voice said “Oh no, a big boat!”.  A few hours later as we built up speed and position to cross the line on the start-ship end, we passed upwind a few feet from Sander (also referred to as 'gassing' a competitor). As he lost all speed in our foul wind and wake he turned and said in a high, plaintive voice “Oh no, a big boat!”. Mini sailors are a rare breed. 

Raymond Roesink and I enjoyed a tactical race in light, shifting winds and tide, finally getting a chance to try out our small cruising gennaker on the downwind legs (spared a certain quick death in the earlier windy races). We continue to learn the new boat and were satisfied with third place, with series-leading Junique again winning the day and Panther Sailing Team sailing a smart race to earn second place.

Maverick Makes Her Mark - Ijspegel Race, 19 October 2014

We faced a two week race against time to get Maverick ready for the opening of the 43rd Ijspegel Trophy winter series, starting below the water and working our way up. The first weekend we hand scraped off layers of antifouling, then sanded and patched, sanded further and repainted with pricey go-fast (but also grow-fast) antifouling. While we missed the much needed familiarization and practice on the water, it was certainly intensive (albeit somewhat toxic) team physical training.  Late in the week we completed the hull renewal with some touch up paint and a wax and polish, and then added our flash new boat name, port, and sail number decals. She certainly looked a lot newer and faster on the cradle.

Before facing North Sea storms we also needed to change out the 13-year old rod rigging, and several days before the race we brought Maverick to Seaport Sailing in Ijmuiden, where they worked their magic until Friday evening to replace the standing rigging. Following a late night sail to Scheveningen, we started on Saturday morning with hauling off old cruiser equipment and sails, greasing deck gear, and changing out the halyards with the superb Lancelin lines from our trusted partner Rake Rigging. 

All day Saturday the harbor was busy with Ijspegel crews old and new greeting each other and readying their boats for the coming race. A number of them also decided to check out our new-yet-mature girl, and while we were smiley and accommodating most of the day we apologize if we seemed a little less excited to see those of you who came by later in the afternoon. Despite all our best efforts we would have no instruments on Sunday save a remote display from the GPS, and until the race sails are ready we would have to make do with an old Dacron mainsail from Portugal, a small roller-furling jib with some dodgy battens, and an undersized cruising gennaker (assymetric spinnker) as soft and fragile as an old tea cloth.

Sunday morning as Raymond and I exited Scheveningen Harbor into building seas and wind in the 20-25 kt range (later with gusts to the low 30s), the reality further sunk in that it was our first time sailing together on Maverick, much less racing her, and we calmly discussed how best to do important things like tack and jibe. We soon sensibly tucked in a reef on the mainsail, with some fiddling as it was the first time we had reefed on the big girl. Crossing back and forth behind the line, we watching first the crewed big boat class start, followed shortly by the smaller class. We would start in the impressively strong 10-boat doublehanded class -- the phenomenal growth of the doublehanded discipline, as well as word-of-mouth, advertising, and reaching out to some of the other top DH crews has swelled the field over previous years, with more doublehanders expected to join in the Spring.

We worked down the line before the start, and crossed neatly at the gun on the pin end. Even with the reef and #3 jib we were a bit over pressed but making modest speed, and we played with the jib and main trim to reduce heel and gain speed. We were very much learning to sail her on the fly, and we rounded the top buoy behind the higher rated 40-footers Junique and Windsprint, and just ahead of Panther, Elixir, Roaring X and a pair of stragglers from the second crewed group.

On a long leg in the wind to the Zandmotor we stayed close to Windsprint while Junique edged a bit further ahead, and the pair of them rounded the mark first and gamely hoisted their spinnakers in the 20-25 kt breeze. We would have loved to join them in this fun, but our old kite would have likely exploded after the hoist and we need to preserve her until the new sails are delivered.   Running on white sails we lost ground to the pair ahead, but later in the leg we took time back as both boats had a few handling challenges. Panther held in gamely behind the three of us, while the biggest of the fleet, Roaring X, was also in the fray.

In any sport there are times you have nothing to lose and no burden of expectations, and without the pressure you can occasionally achieve something unexpected. We were relaxed and loose (as were our sails), but also improved our trim and helming with each leg. Working down close to the shore in weaker tide we pulled closer to the higher-rated Windsprint and opened a slightly bigger gap on Panther, Elixir, and Roaring X, but with 500 meters to the last upwind mark our roll-furling jib began self destructing and shredding.  The sail carnage was noisy, even over the din of the wind and waves, and worse yet our speed was dropping. We didn’t have a Plan B yet for the last downwind leg but fortuitously a race committee rubberboat had moved into place by the buoy to call an early finish. Maverick, our unflappable new madam, brought us in third over the line, several minutes behind Junique but nipping at the heels of Windsprint, and minutes ahead of the chasing pack.

Raymond and I are normally not overly demonstrative but we did let out a little whoop and high fived as we crossed the finish, before wrestling the tattered jib on the deck. We earned our first podium with a very surprising second place on corrected time in our doublehanded class behind Junique, and like So What before her, Maverick took fine care of us in the heavy stuff.  A year ago the Ijspegel series opened in similar heavy conditions and unfortunately Panther was dismasted, but the determined pair this year sailed a fine (and complete) race and earned the third podium place.  We also enjoyed an intensive total-immersion course (literally too, she’s a lot wetter than So What) on our J-120, but have much more to learn. No better way to learn though than competing with a deep and experienced doublehanded field in this year’s Ijspegel Trophy, in the ever changing and challenging North Sea off the Scheveningen coast.

What's My Line?  3 October 2014

Today we have four words for you:  “Rake Rigging and Lancelin”.    Our move to the J-120 ‘Maverick’ has sparked considerable interest among our trusted sail and equipment partners, as well as with new suppliers. &