The Fowey Light Distance Race, 39th Annual
October 13, 2007
Miami, Florida
By: John McKnight
Boat: Hobie 20

The spray coming off the side of the boat was blinding. It was sort of like trying to see with someone shooting a fire hose at you. You would blink your eyes to clear the salt water, and then you would get blasted again. Repeat this for an hour. Your eyes are telling you, "Enough is enough! What are you doing to us?" Couple that challenge with trying to stay balanced on the side of a wildly gyrating catamaran. The winds were up and down so much that you would go from double trapezed and flying a hull to double tea bagged with your butts dragging in the water in a second. No sooner had you recovered from the tea bagging and it was time for the double trapeze hull flying act again. This got real tiring after a short time.

Goggles, virtually everyone after the race said they wished they had on a pair. Sunglasses were not cutting it. The water was splashing with such force that the spray would go around and behind even the most contoured eye wear. Visibility was one of the big problems all day.

That was the scenario for the 39th Annual Fowey Light Distance Race in Miami. Eleven beach cats were competing in this classic race. There were 3 Hobie 20s, and two each Tornados, Hobie 16s, Inter 20s, and Prindle 19s. At the crew meeting, we debated curtailing the race, but most of the sailors were willing to give it a try and go out to Fowey as scheduled. The forecast I had seen in the paper was for 15 mph out of the east. That seemed doable. It turned out we ended up with a lot more wind than that. The winds on the beach did not seem that strong because we were partially sheltered in the lea of Virginia Key. In addition to the race committee boat and we had a chase boat that would be going along with the boats out to Fowey. I was somewhat concerned about the wind conditions. I briefed at the crew meeting, that if you don't feel comfortable with the sailing conditions, abandon the race and come back in, because that was what I intending to do if I didn't like it.

The race started with a flag sequence from the committee boat just off the Rickenbacker Causeway. Thank you, Inbal Esquivel for doing the honors. Before the start, I notice one of the Hobie 16s over on its side. I thought, "Oh boy, this is going to be a tough day if we are having flips before the race even starts." Well, as it turns out, teenagers, Julian Roots and Nick Harrington were just practicing this drill to prove to themselves that they could right the boat. When the CABB class flag came down, after the five minute sequence, we were off on a wild and woolly ride. It wasn't long before Ivan Loya and Fermin de la Camera, on their P-19, were over. They had a man overboard, and the chase boat came to their rescue. The rest of the fleet was blasting down the bay on a left quartering broad reach. The Tornado, crewed with Worrell 1000 and Tybee 500 veterans, Kenny Pierce and Jamie Livingston, had the chute up and was just flying. They took an early commanding lead. The other Tornado, crewed by John Esquivel and Eric Rodriquez was hanging in there. Also in the mix, were the two Inter 20s, each skippered by Worrell and Tybee veterans Steve Lohmayer with Dennis Green and Jay Sonnenklar with Don Anselmo. The rest of the sloop boats were in a fairly tight pack as we scooted down Biscayne Bay toward Cape Florida. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the exhilarating ride. Rounding Cape Florida would be the moment of truth when we were exposed to the full brunt of the northeast wind. In the bay we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, and we were in the relatively flat water in the lea of Key Biscayne. We would be turning the corner and going from a run to a reach.

When we rounded Cape Florida, we got smacked. The wind felt like it had increased 5 knots, and we were exposed to the much bigger waves. We went from a downwind run to a rock and roll reach. Rod Lequerica was crewing for me on my Hobie 20. We started doing those hull flying, tea bagging fandangos like I described in the first paragraph. I could barely keep the boat in control. This was a lot of work, more work that I wanted to do. Somewhere along there I stopped having fun. I told Rod, "We are done. We are turning back." Now, I seldom pull out of a race, but I know my limits. We were approaching them. We could have continued, but it didn't make any sense to me. Why beat ourselves up? So we bailed. Other sailors were arriving at the same decision. One by one, boats started to turn around and head back into the bay. The two Tornados, two Inter 20s, and surprisingly, the two Hobie 16s, continued out toward Fowey Lighthouse which sits about 5 miles southeast of Cape Florida. This would be a 20 mile race all together.

The boats that continued all had their issues with the demanding conditions. The winds were in the 22 to 24 mph range as recorded on the NOAA Fowey Lighthouse readings. John Esquivel's Tornado turned over when he got swept off the back of the boat from the trapeze position. He almost saved the capsize by steering the boat into the wind while he was in the water at the back of the boat. When the boat did go over, his crew fell into the mainsail and put a huge hole in it. (See John's accompanying story) They retired from the race and limped back to the US Sailing Center. Jamie and Kenny flipped their Tornado out near Fowey. They had some equipment issues with their righting pole but they were able to get the Tornado back on its feet. Kenny sprained a finger when the boat went over. Julian Roots got separated from his Hobie 16. The chase boat manned by Jaan Roots, Julian's father, pulled him out of the washing machine water and returned him to the Hobie 16 which had not turned over even with just Nick Harrington onboard. Nick did a good job of de-powering the sails and keeping the boat upright in the windy conditions. They continued the race but had to take a DSQ for taking the outside assistance. (See Jaan's accompanying chase boat story)

Inter 20 sailor, Jay Sonnenklar, said that his crew, Don, had little catamaran experience in high winds. Jay had to train Don to work the mainsheet. What a day for training! Jay told Don, "Keep us from tea bagging, and don't let us flip over. Anything in between those extremes is okay. Just keep us moving." Jay said they reached Fowey but he did not want to risk a capsize by doing a jibe in the big wind. It took them three attempts to even tack the boat in these conditions. Then they were unable to foot the boat enough to complete the rounding. The veteran, Steve Lohmayer and his crew Dennis Green, were doing an amazing job. They didn't flip, and they were in second place rounding Fowey behind the Pierce/Livingston Tornado. Mark Harrington was sailing the other Hobie 16 with Garrett Duell as crew. They also flipped over once on the way out to Fowey. They quickly righted the boat and were under way again. All it took was one moment of lost concentration, and you could go over. The hot setups for those conditions were to de-power the sail plan and have proper weight distribution on the boat. It worked best if the skipper stayed on the boat for stability with only the crew on the trapeze. De-powering the sails meant running the main traveler outboard and opening the jib slot to dump excess wind. Lots of downhaul was a big help also. The sail back from Fowey was another reach, but much less intense than the trip out I was told.

Probably the sanest sailors of the day were Lenny Valdivia and his crew Saramy Fuentes sailing a Hobie 20. They had turned around shortly after the start. Lenny is an experienced sailor, and I have the greatest respect for his assessment of the conditions. Other sailors who bailed out shortly after I did were Mandi Prats and Eddie Mesis on their Hobie 20. Also retiring back to the relative protection of the bay were Rafael Coral on his Prindle 19 and Fermin and Ivan on their P-19. Of the 11 boats entered in the race, only 3 successfully completed the race. Congratulations to Kenny Pierce and Jamie Livingston on capturing the win on their Tornado. It was a hard won battle, as much against the elements as the competition. Second place went to Steve Lohmayer and Dennis Green on their Inter 20. Jay came in seconds before Steve, but they took a DNF for not rounding Fowey. Third place goes to the Hobie 16 crewed by Mark Harrington and Garrett Duell. They demonstrated excellent seamanship. Everyone I talked to said they enjoyed the race and had a good time meeting the challenging conditions. I think we all learned some valuable lessons in this race. The most important lesson was goggles. Next time we are all going to have some goggles with us.

Fowey Story
By: John Esquivel,
Boat: Tornado

Sailing over from the US Sailing Center, I had a taste of what was to come. It was gusty and shifty. My wife, Inbal, gave us the flag sequence start. That was her second time managing the RC duties solo and fourth time ever... I'm happy with CABB's new RC. Just as soon as I can recruit more RC volunteers, I hope to provide a more complete RC. I set the port pin so that the line was between the wind and course... best compromise for a distance race after a discussion with John McKnight.

We had a good start. With those winds, I was thrilled to put the Tornado's 10' beam to good use. I started high then popped out the chute after a short reach. That paid off against the rest of the fleet but wasn't enough to pull in front of Jaime and Kenny, on the other Tornado. They had me by 100 m when we crossed. We skimmed across the sand bars thanks to the high tide. When we hit the ocean, we struggled to pull away a bit from the two I-20s. They were clearly not backing down one bit. It seemed Jamie and Kenny were quite at home in those big waves, for they now had a 400m+ lead. It was wild out there! It was the edge of control... mostly due to the constant salt water face wash I couldn't seem to avoid. How I longed for my nice goggles sitting quietly in my sail box back at the marina.

Passing Bug Light, we held our position. Several times my crew, Eric Rodriquez, yells to me, "Hey, we caught air on that one!" I could hardly notice because of those continuous warm waves in my face. It was all I could do to keep my vision on the course and boat. I was holding the traveler sheet as backup and to steady myself as the waves hit me... but I had to give up the last bit of line in the system so that Eric could feed it to the mainsheet to de-power the main in the puffs. Halfway between Bug Light and Fowey one of those seven foot waves hit me dead on...Bull's eye! It knocked me back and over my aft foot that was in my one strap. Amazingly enough, I hit the starboard rudder with my leg, didn't break it (the rudder), and was able to hold on to that rudder and pull the tiller and steer the boat into the wind. ...It was working for a moment, the boat began to level... but just as the windward center board touched the water again, another puff!! ...and over she went. Eric was propelled over and came right through the mainsail.

Before we could climb onto the hull, the wind had pushed on the tramp which pushed the mast straight down. We nearly turtled but my mast is 31.5ft and we seemed to be in about 29ft of water the boat was lifting us and the lower hull up out of the water as it tried to stand up on the mast. We kicked and kicked to get the boat to pivot around. It did and then we were able to right it quickly. By that time, looking through the five foot hole in my mainsail, I saw that the two I-20s had passed and my race was over. We cruised back in and straight to the marina. ...It was a fun day cat racing !!

John Esquivel

Fowey Light Distance Race - October 13, 2007
By: Jaan Roots

It's been 2 days since the race. My right arm is sore, my buttocks still hurts; let's not even talk about my shoulders. And I didn't sail, I drove the chase boat! 2 or 3 years ago I had actually sailed the Fowey Light race with Mark Harrington in our 1982 Nacra 5.8. It was a wild ride then, but today the wind felt stronger. Forecasts were conflicting, 10-15 mph some, 15-20 others.
My concern was that I was letting my 14 year old son Julian Roots skipper a Hobie 16 with his 13 year old crew Nicholas Harrington (Mark's son) on this "ocean going" race. 220-230 lb. was their crew weight. Mark was going to sail MYC's other Hobie 16 with Garrett Duell (13), who had never raced on a Hobie 16 or any other catamaran - he was though, an experienced Opti sailor.
As I pulled up to the J-dock of the MYC in my powerboat, they were rigging the boats. Jamie Livingston was also preparing his Tornado as were the sailors of two Inter 20's. For a moment I thought, maybe Garrett should sail with Julian to increase the weight on the boat. Julian rejected the idea since Nicholas and he were an "experienced" pair on the 16. In my mind I was remembering how boats went over in my only Fowey Light experience, as they cleared the light house of Key Biscayne and entered the ocean side with a strong north-easterly wind.
I walked over to Jamie and said, "This is where the men are men and the kids have irresponsible parents." No, was his answer. If you were staying here, yes. And maybe John may decide to stay in the bay. In any case he gave the kids some pointers: keep the jib blocks 4 inches wide, use the traveler to de-power and tighten your downhaul!
I was glad to see that Garrett's dad Gary was there and agreed to come along with me on the chase boat.
Usually early mornings the breeze is light and I get to tow some of the cats over to Hobie Beach. This time they arrived there before we even had passed Bayside. The wind is definitely in the 15-20 range, was my thought.
Upon arriving at Hobie Beach we anchored outside the swimming buoys waiting for the skipper's meeting to conclude and find out the verdict for the day: Fowey Light it was! And minutes later John McKnight came by and asked us to keep the radio on Channel 69.
Mark told Julian and Nicholas to practice capsizing to make sure that they could right the boat without help. This they did, twice. The strong breeze coming off the beach helped them right it the first time, but it immediately went over again. They tried again and succeeded and they felt confident now.
The actual start was at around 11:05 am and 11 boats were off. A minute into the race a Prindle 19 went over. We could see a crew member on the water trying to swim back to the capsized cat. No use - the capsized boat was moving faster than the swimmer could. We rushed over, towed the crew member back to the boat, but needed to move on to make sure we could keep an eye on our kids.
By the time we caught up with the fleet, they were already past the sandbar and cutting over to the point. The 2 Hobie 16's had sailed close to Key Biscayne and were right in up there will all other boats. In this leg the larger cats began to pull away from the Hobie 16's. Clearing the point was about to happen. I was anxious to see how many were going to capsize. I guess everyone was very cautious as I did not see anyone going over. Moments passed and then some of the catamarans turned around and started returning to the bay. Was this the end of the day? The Hobie 20's and Prindle 19 were abandoning the race or had the race been called off? Still the Tornados and the Inter 20's continued towards Fowey Light. The seas transformed from a light chop due to the protection of the shore line to a heavy chop and then quickly to 4-5 foot seas - constant, with some 6 foot roller-coasters. At any stage now the kids are going to turn around, I thought. Or Mark, who was following them high, would. Nope - they were heading toward Bug Light, which at this stage was the same size of Fowey Light in the distance.
Then one of the Tornado's crossed us going back. But the H16's continued. Was this smart? It would be hell in this weather to get close and help in case of need. Both Gary and I were amazed at the determination - Julian and Nick were managing the 5 foot seas gracefully, which by now gifted the eventual 6 footer and maybe even 7 footer.
Boy, I wish I had my video camera, said Gary. I think it's better not to have evidence of this, I responded, thinking of our wives.
And so it went for the next 20+ minutes; either Hobie could at any moment go over, or pitchpole or break, or . . . But no, they continued dancing into, out of, sidestepping waves, sometimes catching air so that the horizon could be seen under the boat. Fowey Light slowly grows, very slowly. I guess the optical illusion that Bug Light creates when you clear Key Biscayne makes you think you are almost there.
Earlier in the race, when we were still in protected waters, I had felt 2 "thump-thump" sounds. I had received a double bird's blessing. Good luck they say, so I guess this was OK.
The Hobies must have been about three quarters of the way there (from the Key Biscayne Light House), when Jamie Livingston and Kenny Pierce in the only remaining Tornado crossed on their way back. Shortly thereafter the 2 Inter 20's were also making their way back after rounding.
Mark and Garrett were high to our port side, Julian and Nicholas at around 1:30 off our bow. Gary and I had been totally soaked since Bug Light. Suddenly Mark and Garrett pitch poled and the boat went over quickly.
I made a sharp left turn and rushed over there to see if they were OK. As we got closer, both of them were already standing on the floating hull, so we turned around and tried to speed over to the other Hobie. By the time we caught up (we couldn't go above 20 mph because of the waves), that boat was almost at Fowey Light. Then we realized that there was only one body on it. Did Nicholas fall off the boat? The Hobie continued going straight. An anchored 28+ft fishing boat break-dancing on the waves was about 150 feet in north of the Fowey Light Tower and about 30 feet in front we finally see a head going up and down in the 4-5 foot waves. The hair is brown - it's Julian. Now Nicholas was at the helm, just keeping it de-powered, going straight and trying not to flip. The fishermen started to reel in to help until they saw us. I can only imagine what was going on in their minds. We got close to Julian, who at one moment seemed to be hovering over us and the next down in an abyss until the moment was right and Gary lifted him off the water and into our boat.
"Quick, dad get there, but don't get too close, I am not going boat to boat, I'll jump and swim over" said Julian. "What happened?" I asked. "Tell you later." As we approached the one man Hobie, without a second thought, Julian dove and swam over, climbed on the boat. "Did you see Nicholas' sign of relief in his face?" Gary asked me.
In the meantime Mark and Garrett had reached Fowey Light, but were not turning, they continued going out. Later on Mark told me he was seriously debating how to turn, a jibe or a tack. He had no desire to go over again. I am not sure on the maneuver he did, but suddenly he was speeding back.
Julian and Nicholas gathered their thoughts and their strength and also begun the tack back after rounding the mark. The seas were the same, constant 4-5 foot chop with the eventual 6 and 7 surprises.
Mark was heading a little low I thought, but he was making good progress - Julian and Nicholas, seemed to me, decided, this was no longer time to race, but just simply to make it back to the bay in one piece.
Who can blame anyone for not wanting to race in these conditions (taken from NOAA log at Fowey Light that day)?
Year Mo Dy Hr Min Brng M/S
2007 10 13 13 00 060 10.8 60 12.4 1236
2007 10 13 12 50 060 10.3 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 12 40 062 10.8 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 12 30 062 10.8 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 12 20 060 10.3 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 12 10 063 10.3 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 12 00 061 10.3 60 11.8 1146
2007 10 13 11 50 060 10.8 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 11 40 062 10.3 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 11 30 066 10.3 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 11 20 067 9.8 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 11 10 065 10.3 999 99.0 9999
2007 10 13 11 00 069 10.3 70 11.8 1046

The 10.8 meters per second at 1PM above translate to 24 miles per hour wind. So these guys had been sailing in constant 22-24 mph winds with eventual gusts to 29-30.

Once back inside the protected bay waters, they were able to make use of the trapeze and another adrenaline rush seemed to lift their spirits and determination. But I guess exhaustion took over their concentration and suddenly they flipped.
We got close to them. They asked for water, sitting on the floating hull. Come on guys, you're almost there, we said. We're tired, let us drink some water. Several minutes later they began, what at this stage seemed like a painful process, to right up the boat. They succeeded.
They started moving away and we decided to go check on Mark and Garrett, who were close to reaching Hobie Beach. Now for the first time we started to hear radio traffic on channel 69. We communicated with John McKnight, letting him know that the kids had to disqualify themselves because we had to rescue Julian and they would most likely not cross the finish line.
Then we went back to check on the youngsters and at this stage it was clear: they had no intention to continue sailing. This had been it for their day.
So they came on the powerboat and I decided to sail the Hobie 16 back to the MYC. That was another adventure without hiking vest, for another time.

John McKnight
Commodore, Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay (CABB)
(305) 251-7600
CABB Forum: