Black Ledge Distance Race
August 18, 2007
Miami, Florida
Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay
By: John McKnight

It was a case of the beauty and the beast. What started with a beauty of a day suddenly turned beastly when we got hit by a fierce, fast moving storm. We had sunny blue skies, wispy white clouds, winds out of the east at 10 to 15, and a temperature of 90 degrees. What more could you ask for? In the last leg of the race, all that changed, the fleet got clobbered big time.

We had the whole kit and caboodle of colorful cats show up. There were 12 beach cats and 3 big cruising cats participating in the race. The beach cats included 4 Hobie 20s, 2 Inter 20s, 2 Hobie 16s, a Prindle 19, an A-Cat, a Marstrom 20, and a Stiletto 23. In the big boat catamaran class we had a 36 foot Seawind 1000XL, “Catnip,” a 38 foot Tektron, “Kermit,” and a 45 foot Shuttleworth, “The Beast.” The big cats were from the Multihull Association of South Florida (MASF). They heard about our beach cat race and wanted to come out and join in the fun. We gave them a separate start and their own course.

This was the 37th annual running of CABB’s Black Ledge Distance Race. The race gets its name from the turning point in the race, which is at the Black Ledge shoal in the middle of Biscayne Bay. This marker is approximately 10 miles south of the Rickenbacker Causeway, which was our starting point. For this year’s race, we also added Marker 21, near Biscayne Flats at a turning point both coming and going to Black Ledge. John and Inbal Esquivel were out with their motor boat and the big yellow CABB buoy to do race committee duties. John set a perfect start line which encouraged the fleet to spread out along the line, giving everyone a chance for the perfect start. In the MASF class, Tom Mestress nailed the start on his 38 Tektron. It the beach cat class, Bret Moss pulled off a beautiful port pin start on his A-Cat and took an early lead. The first of the four legs of the race was a beat to Marker 21. The competition was keen with numerous lead changes as we charged down the bay. Kenny Pierce was soloing his Stiletto 23 and was sailing with a reef in the main sail. But he was getting rolled, and he pulled out the reef while underway. That’s a good trick by yourself.

The second leg was from Marker 21 to Black Ledge. This was a downwind leg. As it should be, the three spinnaker boats took off like scalded dogs. They were lead by Tybee 500 veteran, Jay Sonnenklar, and Ron Majeski on their Inter 20. They were followed closely by Mike and Gabby Phillips on their rocket ship Marstrom 20. Also in the mix were Terry and Evan Greene on their Inter 20. Oriol Cruzeta and I were right behind them on the lead sloop rigged boat, my Hobie 20. The A-Cat, Stiletto 23, and the Prindle 19, sailed by Fermin de la Camara and Jofre Rosero, were in hot pursuit. Amazingly, Mark Jones, soloing his Hobie 16, was hanging just back form the pack of much faster rated boats. After rounding the Black Ledge marker, it was a beat back up to #21. Oriol and I were able to roll the Greene Inter 20, but we got rolled by Bret on his brand new A-Cat. Off in the distance, on the ocean side of Key Biscayne, I could see a storm brewing. The other sailors saw it also. The Stiletto and Greene Inter 20 abandoned the race and make a hasty retreat directly back toward the Rickenbacker Causeway to try and out run the storm. In retrospect, this turned out to be a savvy choice, even though they couldn’t quite out run the approaching storm. There was no place to run and no place to hide.

The rest of us soldiered on to Marker 21, toward the ever darkening ominous clouds on the horizon. After Marker 21 we were on a close reach in a freshening breeze. Oriol and I were double trapped and regaining ground on the overpowered Moss A-Cat. When we got abeam West Point off Key Biscayne all hell broke loose. As the wind piped up, I had Oriol drop my main traveler down 6 inches. A few seconds later I called for a two foot drop of the main traveler. I told Oriol, “This is big wind, some boats are going over, and I hope it is not us.” A few seconds later we dropped the traveler completely and dumped the main sheet. We were still way overpowered! Our 750 pounds of cat and crew were being shaken around like a rag doll in the jaws of a rabid pit bull. The boat shuttered and hopped up and down like a drunk on a pogo stick. The rig was thrashing and shaking so violently I thought it would come down. We were still double trapped when a humongous blast of air sent us careening onto our side. Smack! The mast and sails slapped the water, and I watched Oriol go from the wire crashing down into the base of the mast. I thought he was sure to break something. I leaped onto the main sail to avoid landing on the boom or mast, as I fell. In the water we took a damage report. My trusty crew had spent a few harrowing seconds held under water, but other than that he was all in one piece. We quickly gathered our wits and proceeded to try and right the boat. We did one of those righting flip-overs, but succeeded on the second attempt to get the Hobie 20 to stay back up on its feet. It was somewhat reassuring to see a motorboat and two water bikes circling us like sharks offering us their help while we were on our side. Fortunately, we did not need the outside help, but it was nice they offered.

The storm had hit with a vengeance. All the boats in the race got smacked with the same nasty ferocity. In all, three of the Hobie 20s went over and one of the Hobie 16s sailed by son and father team, Julian and Jaan Roots, did a classic pitchpole sending them flying. Hobie 20 owner, Lenny Valdivia, described his boat being shaken violently before being lifted straight up out of the water and hurled over on its side. Rafael Quesada and Oscar Garcia Coni, on their Hobie 20, suffered the same violent treatment. They were flipped in a flash also. Kudos go to Mandi Prats and Asa Garcia for being the only H-20 to keep it pointy end up. Victor Mendelsohn, onboard “Catnip,” the Seawind 1000, reported seeing 35 knots of apparent wind on his wind meter when the storm hit. I would estimate the true wind was at least 30 mph in our vicinity. There was driving rain and low visibility when the storm hit the fleet. Kenny Pierce said he dropped the sails on the Stiletto 23 and motored in. He said the boat was still being bounced around like a cork even with a bare pole. Fortunately, there were no injuries other that a few bruises. There was some minor boat damage. My jib was flogging so violently for so long that the leach batten pockets were literarily shredded, and the small battens were ripped out never to be seen again. We tried to furl the jib on the way in, but it got wrapped so tight that it wouldn’t furl completely. Back on the beach everyone had their own interesting stories to recount about the race and their experience in the big blow.

It was a very fast race. The Sonnenklar, I 20 took line honors in 1:38:40. But on corrected time, Mark Jones won this year’s Black Ledge Race. Congratulations Mark! Jay Sonnenklar and Ron Majeski, on their I-20, corrected out in second. Third went to Bret Moss on the A-Cat. Oriol and I narrowly took fourth and Mike Phillips and his daughter Gabby were fifth on the M-20. Fermin de la Camara and Jofre, on the Prindle 19, sailed very well and would have easily taken fourth except that they rounded the wrong marker on the return leg and were forced to take a DNF.

It the MASF class, Victor Mendelsohn’s “Catnip” took first in a very close finish, edging out Tom Mestrits’, Tektron 38, “Kermit” by one boat length. Julian Rubio’s, Shuttleworth 45, “The Beast”, took third.