CABB Fowey Light Distance Race
Miami, FL
October 18, 2008
By John McKnight, Hobie 20

Brownies, we had fresh moist brownies for the race. Hobie 16 owner, Ellin Alexander, who is a caterer by profession, baked us up a treat to have during the crew meeting for the 40th annual Fowey Light Distance race. Actually, she calls them chocolate chip almond brownie bites. They were so good, and they gave us a good shot of energy which we needed for the long race ahead of us. Thank you, Ellin.

The weather for this yearís race was just about the antithesis of last yearís wild and windy affair. Last year more than half the boats did not finish the race because of the high winds. This year half the boats did not finish because of the light and variable winds. The forecast was for 5 to 10 out of the east, which would have been okay, but that wind did not fill in until 2 hours into the race. Eight boats started out in the light and variable winds. It was a beautiful sunny day, but there just wasnít very much wind. It was fluky out there. We sailed anyway. We did a timed start between two buoys just off the Rickenbacker, and we were off. Oriol Cruzeta and I got the hole shot on port tack at the port pin. We caught a good wind line, and were off like a herd of turtles. No one else seemed to catch the same wind we were getting. We were a half mile from the start line, and some of the other boats still could not get across the start line. Talk about frustrating. I have been there done that myself. Bret Moss and Mark Jones, on Bretís Marstrom 20, were catching a different wind line and had to foot more than us. Chris Stater and Claudia Schmid, on Chrisí F-16 Blade, were slowly getting under way but way back.

We had a long way to go. This race has only one mark, and that is the Fowey Lighthouse. Fowey is a 110 foot tall structure that sits at the edge of the Gulf Stream. It is about 10 miles southeast of the Rickenbacker Causeway, where we started. During the crew meeting, I had briefed that if the first boat was not past Bug Light, which is about 6 miles out, after two hours, we would just round Bug Light instead of going all the way to Fowey. I love to sail, but I donít like to spend all day on the water either. Oriol and I continued our streak of luck catching wind along the west shore of Key Biscayne. We were ghosting along in the shallows. It was high tide so we could cut across the shoals near the key. The rest of the fleet was trying to play catch up. We were feeling pretty smug. But that feeling came to an abrupt end. As we approached Cape Florida, both Bretís M-20 and Chrisí Blade caught up to us. I kept tacking us into headers, it would seem. Chris had hugged the shore line and made out like a bandit. None of the other boats were anywhere near. Three of the boats had decided to retire because of lack of progress or frustration I suppose. The F-18, sailed by Al de la Torre and Dave Farber, was still in the race, but they were still struggling with the fickle conditions. Arnaldo Claudio was sailing his Hobie 20 with his friend Francisco. They were also back a ways looking for some consistent air.

By the time we passed Cape Florida, the wind had finally filled in to a steady 7 to 8 knots out of the east. It had taken us over two hours just to get to the cape, so as prearranged, the race was shortened to round Bug Light instead of Fowey. I called everyone on the race frequency to confirm the change to the course. Most of the sailors now carry small handheld waterproof marine radios for just such occasions. It still took us another hour to get out to Bug Light. Bret and Mark were first around Bug. Chris and Claudia were second around. Oriol and I were third. From this midpoint in the race, it was now a downwind run back toward the bay. Oriol and I split tacks with the Blade, and we were able to pass them before we reached Cape Florida again. We crossed paths with the Torre/Farber F-18 and the Claudio/Francisco Hobie 20 near the cape. They were still heading out to sea toward Bug Light. Back in the bay, Oriol and I got into a tacking duel which Chris and Claudia, which they eventually won. They started to creep ahead of us. The 16 foot Blade carries a spinnaker and Chris and Claudia had it working well downwind.

At this point in the race, we were now getting a much better ride than we were earlier in the day. It took us 3 hours to get out to Bug Light but only one hour and 20 minutes to get back. The M-20 crossed the line first, followed by the Blade and then our Hobie 20. The F-18 was the last boat to finish the race. Arnaldo sailed the course but did not cross the finish line, opting instead to sail straight back to the Miami Yacht Club where he keeps his boat. When the Portsmouth corrections were applied, it turned out that the M-20 did win. They beat Oriol and me by about 1 minute after a four hour race. The Blade was third about four minutes behind us. The F-18 took fourth.

It was a relatively slow race. No one had their hair on fire by any means. But the winds built all day, and persistence paid. Bret and Mark made up a huge deficit by never giving up. You never know what is going to happen in a sailboat race. That is what makes sailboat racing interesting and challenging. The other participants in the race were Fermin de la Camara and Oscar Garcia Coni on a Prindle 19, Ellin Alexander and Coop Cooper on a Hobie 16, and Marcos and Javier Tabares on a Prindle 16.

The race was a bit slow, but hey, four hours on the water beats four hours in the office any day. And we had brownies. Yum!