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Skip Kaub and Mike Fahle Win the Big Trophy for Put in Bay Steeplechase

Preparation and Practice Pays Dividends at Put In Bay

By Skip Kaub and Mike Fahle

Although this article is about the Sandusky Steeple Chase, a “long distance” race of 18 miles from Sandusky Sailing Club on the south shore of Lake Erie to South Bass Island, and the preparation that led up to it, it would be fitting to give you some background.  This year’s Bay Week was one of the most attended Bay Weeks in some time.  The organizers and promoters went overboard to communicate to everyone their interest in creating a well-organized and fun event.  Their efforts paid off in spades as most all fleets of boats represented showed larger numbers than in previous years.  The Sandusky Steeplechase, one of a number of “feeder races” from various yacht clubs around Lake Erie to South Bass Island’s Bay Week regatta, was one of these that drew a larger number of competitors.  Among the fleets participating in the Sandusky Steeplechase was the multi hull fleet consisting of Hobie 18s, Hobie 20s, 18 Square Meter and an ARC22. 

C:\Users\skip\Desktop\Sandusky Steeple Chase route in full marked.png

Steeple Chase Course Start to Finish at “A” balloon         Skip’s ARC22 on Race Day (built by Aquarius Sail)

Mike Fahle, helmsman on the ARC22, and Skip Kaub (that’s Skip in the photo) as boat owner and crew sailed the ARC22. Having made a decision two months prior to practice at least 3 to 4 days the week before the Sandusky Steeple Chase,  Mike, the consummate competitor and a veteran to these types of races, was adamant that we make certain that the boat and our teamwork were sound.  At a minimum he wanted to be familiar with the boat’s handling characteristics, strengths, and limitations.  Secondarily we needed to choreograph and synchronize our roles and actions upwind, downwind with and without spinnaker, and reaching.  Lastly the shape of the spinnaker, main, and Jib needed possible tweaking to maximize performance.  In the days that followed we were able to resolve or improve so many important issues vital to our success. 

On the first full day of practice a week before the event we had a great light wind day, perfect for our trial of all points of sail especially for flying the chute.  Simple things like setting the hiking gear and trap adjusters to match the boat’s dimensions and crew preferences, readjusting the way the blocks were arranged on the tramp for the operation of the jib sheet and traveler, and brainstorming a new and more efficient way to sheet in the spinnaker could be determined.  Working on our choreography, setting and dousing the spinnaker several times, we were able to work together to take the spinnaker up and down in 1/2 the time of the first attempt.  We also practiced making fine adjustments to spinnaker halyard tension as well as the tack line and sheeting angles. 

The second day we fine-tuned everything we accomplished on the first day with a twist.  Dennis Butts, an amazing sailor with mad skills, met us on his Sea-Doo and looked around the boat from the water for tuning possibilities specific to the spinnaker.  With his expertise we were able to further dial in our sail plan.

The third day was just a good shakedown to insure we had a good feeling of confidence in the boat and our teamwork. We also needed to get our electronics to properly reflect the course.  Electronics can be a big help on a boat in long distance situations when you cannot see the mark from your position or you need to navigate to a mark around objects, through water ways, shallow water, and around land.  Electronics that were used in this race were a Garmin Foretrex 101 GPS, a Skymate wind speed indicator, and a Standard Horizon waterproof handheld VHF Marine radio.  Mike was able to put in the waypoints like landmarks as well as the start and finish line and navigate to and from these based on the readings we received from the display.  In this case we were given the start and finish coordinates provided to us in the SIs (sailing instructions) prior to the race.  We also put in a couple of other coordinates to insure we were clear of obstacles and heading in the right direction. 

We were not the only team interested in making our boat and teamwork ready for the challenge.  Steve Abbey, owner and crew of Cat-A-Tonic, a newly acquired Hobie 18, along with helmsman Patrick Green, were also out on the water going through a similar routine.  From an equipment point of view they found that some cordage had dry rotted and needed to be replaced.  They found that their trailer had a screw that had penetrated through the bunks and severely scratched the hull while launching their boat.  Had this condition persisted they may have taken on water during the regatta due to a punctured hull.  They joined us that afternoon prior the regatta to practice their skills in tacking, reaching and going down wind together since they normally race Hobie Waves against each other.

Other entrants to the event were setting up the night prior to the event which proved to be prudent as a couple of them found they had left rigging behind or realized that their rigging was deficient and the race starts early in the morning.

At the start of the race we found that most of the competitors crowded nearer the pin end as the start would be on port tack.  We chose a more RC boat favored start which was closer to the direction we were headed which also favored our overall strategy.  The wind blowing from a westerly direction allowed us to continue on a port reach away from the shallow water that jutted out from Bay Point and the wind blocking Marblehead peninsula.  From our previous trial runs we found this sandy shoal to be deceivingly shallow and we wanted no part in getting near it.  With Cedar Point to our right we moved up along the channel towards our first waypoint, Marble Head Lighthouse.

Patrick Green, helming the Cat-A-Tonic described this part of the race; “Steve and I knew we were going to be a bit slower than the bigger boats so we took a hard look, shortly after the start, to see how and where they were sailing to get an idea of what their plan of attack would be.”  He went on to say, “When we saw a couple of boats struggling as they were passing within the lee of Marblehead it appeared as if they were going maybe 5 knots.  We made a decision to stay out further, broadening our reach sailing away from the lee of Marblehead moving around 10 knots and picked off a few competitors there.”

Mike, helming the ARC22, found that we were being headed shortly after passing Marblehead which allowed us to harden up and head out into the open waters of Lake Erie from Sandusky Bay.  With no more wind breaks the wind and the boat reached maximum speeds.  The wind was around 9 – 10 knots and the boat speed was around 16 -18 knots.  We were making the most of the least as we found ourselves fully extended, trapped out and perched at the furthest point aft of the windward hull.  Conserving what little space we had in order to keep the bows up and to help him lock into a secure stance, the edge of Mike’s left foot was place on my right foot.  A peculiar thought came over me, looking at this boat with it’s spacious 12 foot wide 15 feet long trampoline and 22 feet of hull length, it was as if the boat was sailing along skipping over the wave tops by itself.  At one point the leeward hull submerged to the front cross bar.  Going suddenly from 16 – 19 knots to next to nothing, Skip was flung forward still attached to the trap wire.  At the last second he was able to grab the shroud, narrowly escaping going around the front of the boat.  Skip seemed a little dazed by this so Mike said “Ok Skip, you can come back now”.   Lake Erie’s bumpy waters are a far cry from the little waves that are the limit of even a big blow on the inland lake waters of Indianapolis where Skip lives.  It takes a downhill skier’s skills and leg strength to ride the wire comfortably in big sloppy waves.   Skip did a great job of getting right back on the proverbial horse and taming the beast!   Our other wave related incident occurred when a big wave broke under the tramp and slapped the rear beam hard which jerked the boat – something like the sudden deceleration and reacceleration after hitting the car brakes hard at highway speed and then the gas pedal quickly.  

We hit a top speed of over 22 mph on this reach.  The wind was about 90 degrees to course and we were sheeted in as if on a beat – not far off iceboating dynamics!  Skip played the traveler and Mike played the mainsheet, only once did they both ease at the same time due to a big puff funneling down the windward side of South Bass Island just before crossing the reef.   As we approached Buckeye Reef, running between South Bass Island and Ballast Island we slowed in the lee of Put-In-Bay to pull up our boards from half way to most of the way.  We knew from doing our homework and Mike’s experience that it would be shallow and treacherous due to a rocky bottom.  We sailed cautiously forward watching for rocks and preparing for our 1.1 mile beat to finish the race.

Meanwhile Patrick noted that; “Some boats took a lower course, closer to Ballast Island, most likely to steer clear of the more shallow area Skip and Mike took.  We felt confident that we could make the cut more westerly, shaving more time off of our course.   After passing the cut and nearing Middle Bass Island we were able to spot the finish line and prepare our final approach, setting up for a starboard tack.”  We had prepared for a similar tack over twenty minutes prior as we were preparing to be the first boat to finish.  We were expecting to make a second tack just prior to the finish line but we started to get a lift that carried us over the line, just 63 minutes after starting.

We slowly sailed toward the city docks to turn in our finish card and to watch for the next boats to finish to take their times and determine if we had saved the big time allowances we owed everyone else.  There, second to finish, was Jack Wohrle, helmsman and Barbie Beckford on a Hobie 20 with a spinnaker rig – the pole being an easy identifier.   They were 19 minutes behind us and then third across the line was Mark Scarpelli on his 18 Square Meter,  just a minute behind Jack.  This was Mark’s first race in his 18 Square meter and he was pleased with his results.  Both his 18’ boat and Steve and Patrick on the Hobie 18 Cat-A-Tonic finished ahead of the other Hobie 20 skippered by Bob Hickock who unfortunately found like Patrick and Steve had found a day prior that a screw from his trailer had punctured the hull below the waterline causing it to take on water.  He was lucky to have made it to the ramp in Put-In-Bay.  There several people helped him get his boat out of the water..  Steve and Patrick corrected to second place ahead of the faster rated boats finishing ahead of them.  There was no coincidence that the first two boats on the score sheet  were the boats that practiced and prepared the most.   Preparation and practice paid dividends at Put In Bay.  It was declared later that evening by Rick White that we had come within 3 minutes of breaking his record set many years ago.


Right to Left, Patrick Green and Steve Abbey First in H18 Class 


             Mike and Skip Receiving the coveted Rick White Perpetual Trophy, a hand-carved replica of Perry's Monument that stands majestically on the isthmus of Put in Bay.



Skip and Mike Receiving the Bill Wells Sailing Spirit Trophy


           Deb Schaefer from Lake Erie Multihulls Presenting First to Finish Flag to Skip


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