October CABB Race
October 28, 2012
By John McKnight
The amazing thing about these CABB races is they never fail to give me something to write about. This stuff really happens; I couldn't begin to make these stories up. In this race two-thirds of the boats had to be towed back to the beach after serious equipment failures. Granted, there were only three boats in the race, but two of them broke badly enough that the crews had to be rescued. We had an F-16 that lost its rig and a Prindle 19 which broke a hull in two.
The CABB October race was originally scheduled as the annual Fowey Light Distance Race. It was supposed to have been held on Saturday, October 27. That didn't happen. We had been pounded all week by the strong outer wind bands from now famous Hurricane Sandy as it passed over the Bahamas, east of Miami. We did not have any damage like the Northeast US got, but we had dangerous sailing winds in the 20 to 35 knot range for five days straight. So we had to let Sandy pass before we could sail. The race was postponed until the following day when the forecast was only 10 to 20 knots. October has always been my favorite month to sail in Miami. The humidity drops, the water is still warm, and the winds are usually good. We were treated to all three of these conditions for our race. This day turned out to be the one of the best weather condition race days we have had all year. We were ripping around Biscayne Bay like squirrels chasing each other in a tree. It was a blast until the boats started to break.
When I had to move the race from Saturday to Sunday we lost about 5 of the boats that had planned to sail. There is a lot to do in South Florida, and folks had other plans for Sunday. Those who did race ended up with an unforgettable day. Jofre Rosero sailed his bright red Prindle 19 with Saul Rabinovich. This was the first time Jofre and Saul had sailed together. Chris Stater sailed his zippy Blade F-16 with Katie Flood. I was sailing my venerable Hobie 20 with Richard Goldman.
We decided not to go out to Fowey Lighthouse because it can get wicked out there in the ocean with the high winds and waves after hurricanes pass. The winds are usually 5 to 8 knots higher at Fowey than in the bay. Instead, we designated a large 13 mile triangular shaped course within Biscayne Bay in order to stay in protected water. That turned out to be a good call. The first mark was bay marker number 4 near the Key Biscayne sandbar. The second mark was off Matheson Hammock Park on the west, mainland side, of the bay. We began the race with a timed start just off the Rickenbacker Causeway. The winds were honking out of the northwest, giving us a spirited downwind run to marker four. We were whooping and hollering with glee as we ripped down the bay. It was perfect cat sailing; we could not have asked for better conditions. Chris's F-16 was running neck and neck with my Hobie 20 for most of the first leg. We were staying close and swapping leads. Jofre and Saul had jib problems at the start, and they were playing catch up. Then the trapeze hook broke off from Saul's harness. Saul went in the water but he did not get separated from the boat. Already they were not having a good day. It was going to get worse, much worse!
All of the boats made the turn to the right at marker four and headed west toward the Matheson mark. Our new heading put us on a double trapeze beat. We were powered up and popping the windward hull out of the water at will. It was sweet ride for a while. Then it happened. After rounding marker 4 and doing a couple of tacks Jofre's Prindle 19 had a catastrophic failure of the port hull. Without a sound, the port bow section inexplicably snapped off the hull. It collapsed inward evidently from the water pressure and stress on the side of the hull. Jofre recounted afterwards that there had been a previous crack in that area of the hull where it failed. The previous damage had been repaired, but evidently it was still a weak spot. The separation took place about 3 inches forward of the front crossbar. The front five foot section of the hull was snapped completely off and was left dangling from the bridle wire. With no support from the port bridle wire the mast and sails came crashing down into the water. Without the bow section the port hull quickly filled with water. What remained of the port hull and trampoline frame swung straight down into the water and sunk underneath the starboard hull which was still floating on the surface of the water. The boat was on its side, mostly submerged. Jofre was afraid the whole boat would sink. Fortunately the starboard hull was intact and water tight, and this kept the crippled craft afloat. Neither Jofre nor Saul was injured in the freak accident. They were in the chilly choppy water clinging to the barely floating wreckage of their boat. They were trying to figure out their next move. They were in the middle of the bay, miles from the nearest shoreline. It was a blustery day and there weren't that many pleasure boats on the bay. They were drifting eastward toward Biscayne Flats. They stayed calm and collected their wits. They figured if no one came to help they could at least stop themselves on the shallow flats south of Stiltsville. Otherwise the next stop would have been the Bahamas. A couple of large sailboats passed within sight, but evidently neither boat saw them. Their floating profile was minimal, and it was probably very hard to see them in the choppy bay waters. Fortunately Jofre and Saul are both experienced seaman, and they were well prepared. They had on their foul weather gear and PFDs. They had whistles, a handheld marine radio, and emergency flares. Jofre had his waterproof marine radio tied to this PFD which was good. When it became apparent that there would be no quick rescue Jofre started calling for help on his radio. He first tried to call the other two boats in the race on the race frequency, but we did not hear him right away. He switched to channel 16 and called for Boats US, a commercial rescue and towing company. Jofre was able to make contact with Boats US, and he requested immediate help with his sinking boat. The US Coast Guard picked up the distress transmissions, and they were monitoring the situation closely. Queue the music, the cavalry was on the way.
Meanwhile, Chris Stater and I knew nothing about what was going on with Jofre and Saul. The last I had seen of them, it looked like they were heading north toward the beach. I thought they had dropped out of the race. Little did we realize the serious pickle they were in. We were enjoying the ideal sailing conditions on the 4 mile leg across the bay to Matheson. Our boats were very closely matched in speed; we were passing within a few boat lengths on our crossing tacks. As we approached the Matheson turning marker we caught the F-16. We were neck and neck as we rounded the mark and headed north, back to the finish line. This leg was a broad reach. Chris and Katie popped their chute and sailed deeper for more speed. We stayed higher because we were heading directly to the finish. After about five minutes of sailing on this heading Richard saw the mast on Chris' boat fall down. We jibed back around to go investigate. It took us a few minutes to get to Chris' position. By the time we got to the demasted F-16 there was already a motor boat there offering their aid. The Good Samaritan boat was named Otter, and it was under the command of skipper Bill. Bill said he was a sailor himself, and he had his 505 towed in a couple of times. He felt it was pay back time. He said he would tow Chris and Katie all the way back to the CABB beach on the Rickenbacker Causeway, a distance of about 5 miles. At this time Chris told me that Jofre had called on the radio saying his boat was sinking, and he was getting towed back to the Rickenbacker by Boats US. That was the first we knew of Jofre's predicament. Richard and I hung around for 45 minutes while Chris and Katie got their spaghetti sorted out and were ready to be towed. We tailed the tow job for a while but finally zipped ahead to get back to the beach to check on Jofre. When we got back to the beach we expected to see Jofre and Saul there, but they were no where in sight. We called them on the radio, but got no answer. It seems that Jofre had lost his radio overboard when he was being pulled onboard the tow boat. The lanyard on his radio had broken or come loose. But we were not too concerned because we knew that he had hooked up with the Boats US tow boat, and they were at least safe.
It took another half hour before the towed F-16 arrived back at the beach. Then it was another hour before the crippled P-19 was dropped at the CABB beach. That tow was probably 7 miles. It turned out to be a very expensive day for Jofre. His port hull was now trash, Boats US charged him $500 for the tow, and he lost a $140 radio. Jofre's boat had been dragged all the way back with the mast and sails still in the water. It was a huge job to untangle the jumble of wires and rigging when they got back to the beach. It took five of us another hour to sort out the wires, sails, mast, and boat. The broken port hull was full of water and sand. The boat weighed a ton. Jofre tried to pull the boat out of the water with his SUV, but it got stuck in the soft sand. I had to pull Jofre's SUV out of the sand with my van. This whole day had turned into a real three ring circus. It was very difficult to get the boat out of the water and onto its trailer. Jofre had to break some holes in what was left of his port hull with a large rock to allow the water to drain out as we pulled the boat up on the beach. We finally were able to get some Cat Trax under the boat and get it up the beach to its trailer. This was not Jofre's day.
Chris keeps his boat at the Miami Yacht Club, so I gave him a ride over there so he could pick up his car and trailer and bring it back to the CABB beach to collect his boat. His boat was a jumbled mess as well. It took him an hour to sort out his tangled rigging and get his boat on the trailer. It is unfortunate that we had so many problems because it actually was a great day for sailing. We will lick our wounds and try and get the boats ready for the next race. If anyone knows where Jofre might find a port hull for a Prindle 19, give him a call at (786) 368-1129. Jofre was very complimentary of his crew, Saul. Jofre said Saul had many excellent suggestions while they were dealing with their calamity. Both Jofre and Chris were very thankful for all the help they received from the other sailors, the Good Samaritan, and Boats US.
I have posting 31 pictures from this race on the Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay - Florida Facebook page. Most of the pictures are of the damaged P-19 and our efforts to pull it out of the bay.