CABB Black Ledge Distance Race
August 27, 2011
Miami, Florida
By John McKnight,

The thing I like about these CABB races is they, give me a chance to go sailing with my buddies and give me lots of good fodder for articles. The 41st annual Black Ledge Distance Race turned out to be no exception in the fodder department. We had a windy, wild, wacky day of sailing on Biscayne Bay. We had winds that ranged from a docile 1 knot to an attention getting 25 plus knots during the day. The wind direction was also all over the map. The wind managed to come from each and every point on the compass rose. We experienced exciting heart pounding squalls and other periods of becalmed aggravation. We had one boat flip in the gusts, and we had another boat demast after the high winds tore the shroud anchor off the boat along with a huge chunk of the decking. In the three plus hour race, our emotions ran from exhilaration to apprehension to exasperation to sheer joy. It turned out to be just one more of those crazy entertaining CABB races.

Hurricane Irene had passed off the east coast of South Florida a few days before the scheduled race date. I was concerned we might get skunked by the big category three hurricane churning up from the Caribbean. South Florida escaped the wrath of this one, and we were able to hold our race. I know many parts of the Bahamas and the East Coast were not as lucky. As I am writing this the New England area is getting pounded. I think the few showers we experienced during our race were stray remnants of Irene. These rain showers were still packing some punch. The day started out with winds out of the southwest, which is very unusual for us here in Miami. Our prevailing winds in the summertime are almost always southeast and in the 10 to 15 knot range. It is usually very reliable. The winds were forecast to swing to the west, but that never happened. As they say, you can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails. And we had to do a lot of that sail adjusting.

We had six boats show up for the race. Many regulars were out of town or had higher priorities going for the day. Naomi Sarasola wanted to race, but she said she figured she ought to at least be there for her daughter's 16th birthday. Okay Naomi, that's a good one, you are excused. We had one Nacra F-18 skippered by Taylor Palmer and crewed by his mother, Cynthia. She has wanted to sail with her son for some time. She picked one heck of a day. I talked to her the day after the race and she said she had lots of bruises, but she had a great time sailing. Another related crew was the Evers father and son team. Hans had his son Laurens with him, and they were out for their first race on their Hobie 20. Oscar Kramer was out with his Weta 14 trimaran. Oscar is new to CABB, and he has been enjoying the racing the last few month with the other CABB sailors. L.S. Cooper (Coop) was sailing his G-Cat 6.1 with his crew, Claudia Schmid. They were the ones who lost their mast. Rafael Quesada was sailing his Hobie 20 with his friend, Luis Bulgini, as crew. Rafael was trying out his brand new Whirlwind sail. I was sailing with a fellow Hobie 20 owner, Norm Hansen. I was glad to have Norm's experience onboard. It took our combined skills to keep the pointy end up several times during the race.

We started the race with a timed start south of the Rickenbacker Causeway. The winds were coming out of the southwest at a nice 10 to 12 knots. It was a nice double trapeze beat to our first mark at Black Ledge. This was a 10 mile leg down the bay. The Evers H-20, the Palmer F-18, and my H-20 got good starts, and we were racing for the lead as we started our sojourn heading south down Biscayne Bay. Norm and I were able to slowly pull away from the other two boats, and we started to build a small lead. Oscar was sailing his Weta 14 very well, but he fell back because of his slower relative boat speed. The other H-20 and the G-Cat had some difficulties getting off the beach, and they missed the start by a few minutes. They were playing catch up the whole day.

After we sailed for about 7 miles south, we saw a big rain shower up ahead in the direction we were going. Norm and I discussed the storm and reasoned that since we could see through the rain, it would be okay to proceed. The ominous sky started to get darker and darker as we closed in on the shower. The winds were starting to pick up and double trapezing was not enough to control our overpowered boat. Then we saw the dark disturbed water up ahead and we knew there would be a further increase in wind velocity. We steadied ourselves and then wham; we got hit by a gust approaching 25 knots. We could not stay powered up, and we went into survival mode. I had Norm furl the jib, and I dropped the main traveler halfway down to the hull. The boat was bouncing around like a car driven down a bumpy dirt road at high speed. The jib did not get a good wrap, and the leach was flogging like crazy. The noise was deafening, and the vibration was very disturbing. Visibility had dropped to less than 25 yards. The rain was pelting us, and the drops were stinging our faces. At this point we were just trying to keep the boat upright and keep a little forward progress going to give the boat some semblance of stability. We knew this would not last too long. After a good 10 minute pounding, the rain shower passed overhead, and we were back in the sunlight. We unfurled the jib and started racing again. We looked around and saw that the Evers H-20 and the Palmer F-18 were still upright and still coming after us. The Weta was in the distance, and the G-Cat and the Quesada H-20 were nowhere in sight. Game on!

We did a port rounding at the Black Ledge marker, and we started a downwind run toward Stiltsville. The rain shower had taken some of the punch out of the wind, but we still had a nice 10 knot breeze going. We jibbed and jibbed trying to keep ourselves between our competition and the next mark. As we approached Marker 21, the winds started to die. Then the winds started to clock around us. At one point the winds dropped to about 1 knot, and we could hardly make any headway against an outgoing tide in the flats at Stiltsville. Every time we tacked it seem like it was into a header, and we were getting nowhere closer to Marker 21.

Finally the wind filled in from the northwest, and we could now make some headway even though the wind was on our nose. We rounded the mark and headed north toward Key Biscayne. It looked like the other two boats behind us had given up on making Marker 21. Shortly thereafter, we saw another rain shower heading our way, coming out of the west again. We had a carbon copy repeat of the previous encounter with the rain shower. We furled the jib again and de-powered the main to stabilize the boat. We experienced the same deal, we were getting sloshed around like clothes in a washing machine and pelted by wind driven rain drops that felt more like hail hitting our faces. Not fun. This shower soon passed, and we were now beating north back to the finish line at the CABB Beach. We made good time in the freshening breeze, and we finish the race in 3 hours and 31 minutes. Hans Evers and his son Laurens finish in 3 hours and 45 minutes. Hans and his son had flipped in the last rain shower and that had cost them time. They said they had little difficulty righting the boat with the strong wind pushing on the trampoline to help them. This was their first time flipping and righting the H-20.

When we got back to the beach, all the boats were accounted for except one. The Cooper G-Cat 6.1 was missing. We waited and waited and scanned the horizon looking for their sail. I got on the VHF radio and tried to raise them on channel 68, the designated race frequency. Finally I got a response from them. They said they had demasted and were south of Stiltsville. They called a tow company on the radio, and when they got there they wanted $540 to tow them in. Coop had tow insurance but that only covered the first $125. Coop told them to forget it. Coop waved down a pleasure boat and got them to tow their G-Cat back to the beach. Coop offered to reimburse them for the tow, but they declined the offer and said they were glad to help. Evidently the G-Cat hull had been weakened in the first rain shower, because the shroud anchor and a three foot by one foot section of their starboard deck had pulled completely off the boat. I have posted pictures of the damage on the CABB Facebook page. You can check out those and other photos from the day there.

Several of the other boats did not finish the race. Rafael and Luis were the smart one, they bailed out before the first rain storm. The Palmer F-18 did not complete the course, skipping the second mark. The Oscar Kramer, on his Weta 14, did complete the course and finished in third place behind the Evers Hobie 20. Norm and I won the race. It was a challenging day for all the sailors. It was a memorable day I won't soon forget. If you want to see the pictures from the day you can see them here.
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