CABB Chicken Key Distance Race
May 12, 2012
By John McKnight
It was a windy, windy, windy race. Okay, it was not as windy as April's Miami Key Largo Race, but it was plenty windy enough to get everyone's attention. The readings from Fowey Lighthouse and Virginia Key weather stations showed the winds were an average of 17 to 20 knots with gusts as high as 24 knots during the race. It is no wonder boats were flipping left and right. The sleeves on my Gil spray top were flapping so loudly in the strong winds that it made it hard to hear. I don't recall that ever happening before. Josh Rosenbaum and I were sailing my Hobie 20. I have never come so close to flipping so many times in a single race. The gusts coming through Bear Cut were a handful. The puffs were hitting us so hard and fast that the windward hull would pop out of the water, and the boat would heal over 70 degrees before we could let out enough mainsheet. Several times I was looking straight down at the aqua green water from my perch standing high atop the windward hull thinking okay this is it, we are going over. But we were able to save it each time and we never flipped. All this was happening and we had the boat depowered just about as much as we could. We had the jib slot all the way open, and the mast rotated straight back. We had on maximum downhaul, and the main traveler halfway out to the hull. We probably should have furled the jib; I will try that next time I am out in these conditions.
We had fourteen intrepid sailors on seven boats show up to test their mettle against these conditions. There were two Hobie 20s, a Nacra 6.0, a Prindle 16, a Dart 16, a Blade F-16, and a Nacra 5.8 entered in the race. For two of the crews this was their first CABB race. The Nacra 5.8 was sailed by Richard and Linda Macdonald from Palm Beach. The Dart 16 was crewed by Richard Goldman and Saul Rabinovich sailing out of the US Sailing Center. Welcome to those new crews. Norm Hansen was the guest skipper onboard Claudia Schmid's Nacra 6.0. Norm is a very experienced cat sailor, but he had never been on a N- 6.0 before the this race. It was trial by fire; you either learned fast or you went swimming. Chris Stater of the Miami Yacht Club was sailing with his regular crew, the always smiling 16 year old Katie Flood. Hans Evers was sailing with a fellow H-20 owner, Oscar Garcia Coni. Mandi Prats was sailing his black sails Prindle 16 with Guillermo Vadell.
We had a great day going for the race. The water temperature was 79 degrees and the air temperature was 80 degrees. Other than being a tad windy, it was very nice day for the race. The race was begun with a timed start between two buoys. It was a broad reach start, and we were off in a flash. The area of the start line was sheltered by the palm trees on the beach, so as soon as we got a hundred yards south of the start line, we got nailed with the full force of the wind. Boats started flipping almost immediately. First the Evers' H-20 dug a bow and pitched. Next the Prindle 16 crew went for a swim. A few miles down the course, Chris said he lost concentration for a second, and the F-16 caught a bow in the back of a wave and went over. The Dart 16 also befell the same fate. Three boats emerged unscathed from the start area. They were the Nacra 6.0, the Nacra 5.8, and my Hobie 20. We were running virtually neck and neck heading south down the bay to the first turning point near Chicken Key. The three boats were very closely matched in speed. We jockeyed back and fourth for position. We ran abreast of one another, separated by only a few boat lengths for many miles. That was exciting racing. The waves were building in height the further we got from protected water. The boats' starboard bows were constantly trying to dig into the backs of the waves as we overran them. We would launch off one wave and dive into the trough ahead. You had to keep your crew weight way aft to keep the sterns down and the bows up. If you didn't keep the bows up the boat would pitchpole in a heartbeat. I was sitting on the boat hugging the rear crossbeam. Unfortunately one of the fasteners holding the trampoline lacing had broken off just before the start. All the lacing was coming undone and the rear of the tramp was dragging in the water. This was causing us big problems. I was losing my place to rest my feet, and the mainsheets were constantly being washed overboard through the ever widening gap under the rear crossbeam. Meanwhile brave Josh was trapezing as far aft as humanly possible. He was steadying himself with the chicken line which was tied off to the transom. I was not using my tiller extension, but it keep hitting Josh's legs, so I finally let it stream off the back of the boat and I just steered with the tiller crossbar. That got the tiller extension out of Josh's way, and that worked much better for him. Ever so slowly the Nacra 6.0 started to pull away from the other two boats. But Josh and I were still neck and neck with the Macdonald's N-5.8.
Norm and Claudia, on the Nacra 6.0, rounded the Chicken Key mark first followed by my boat and then the N-5.8. The next leg was a beat back north to Marker 21 near Stiltsville. Norm and Claudia tried to furl their jib to depower the big Nacra 6.0. But they did not have enough wraps on the jib, and it only furled half way. While they were struggling with the jib both my H-20 and the N-5.8 snuck passed them. This leg was a lot of work; the winds were whipping and the waves were fighting us all the way. We were on an extended starboard tack, and my right arm was getting fatigued from working the mainsheet. I handed the mainsheet over to Josh. He was getting a real work out pumping the mainsheet to squeeze maximize power from the sail. We were skipping over the waves with the windward hull barely kissing the crests. The Macdonalds were hanging with us. They were not familiar with Biscayne Bay, and they were dogging us so they could follow us to the next marker. I blew a tack twice and went into irons, and I had to fall off on the old tack. The Macdonalds capitalized on my mistakes and overtook us. But we were able to catch them on the next tack.
After we rounded Marker 21 it was a close reach back to the finish line and the beach. This was by far the most challenging leg. The wind was whipping across Key Biscayne and slamming us with everything it had. The hulls were going up and down, and the sails were going in and out constantly. It was impossible to settle into the grove. The wind seemed like it was determined to upend us. We gave it our best fight and came out on top. We whizzed by the shallows off Southwest Point and zipped by the shoal off West Point. The big air funneling through Bear Cut was the final test for the weary sailors before the finish. The Bear Cut is where we almost bit the bullet several times.
The race distance was 24 miles, and it took us two hours and five minutes to complete the triangle circuit. Josh and I were the first boat to finish, and we also corrected out in first place. Second place went to the Macdonalds on their N-5.8. Third went to Hans and Oscar on the other Hobie 20. Norm and Claudia came in fourth on the Nacra 6.0. The other boats in the race did not complete the course. But everyone had a good time. It was a rip roaring hell bent for leather kind of day. Lots of war stories were exchanged when we all got back to the beach. Everyone was grinning from ear to ear and wanting to know when the next CABB race would take place. Stay tuned; next up is the 38th annual Around the Keys Lighthouse Distance Race in June.
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I hope you enjoy the story and pictures from the race.