Our Journey to Bermuda

Exactly one month ago today, Sam Cox and I did this thing.  We sailed a 21-foot--a Mini Transat 6.50--from Newport, RI to Bermuda.  After 5 1/2 days in the North Atlantic Ocean, we completed the passage, arriving in St. George's on June 24 at 0230.  By far, the toughest part about this passage was making the decision to untie our lines from the dock at Newport Yacht Club, point the boat towards Bermuda, and leave behind the protections of land.     

Swirling about Newport in the days leading up to the official start of the 2016 Newport-Bermuda Race (June 17, 2016) were talks of 40+ knots of breeze in the Gulf Stream, wind against current, with higher gusts (potentially 60 knots) in squalls.  Top meteorologists and tacticians were telling well-prepared crews that June 17 was a bad day to sail to Bermuda.  The entire Gibbs Hill fleet withdrew.  Skilled sailors were dropping off boats otherwise intending to race.  We overheard one professional weather briefing where the pros basically told those on the conference call, "We don't know what the f**k is going to happen out there."

We had a tough decision to make.  Sail to Bermuda.  Or go home.  Like all sailors did in the days leading up to June 17, we analyzed all available information, and talked with sailors much more skilled than we in order to make the most prudent decision.  Through our interactions with folks like Chad Corning and Rich du Moulin, we learned some interesting differences between the most readily used weather models--GFS (Global Forecast System),  ECMWF (European Center for Medium range Weather Forecasting), and OPC (Ocean Prediction Center).  For example, we learned from Rich about how GFS does not accurately predict wind speeds above 30 knots, and that one should expect 120% of the forecasted wind speeds according to GFS.  We learned from Chad about how, compared to the other models, the OPC model includes the most human input.  None of these models were consistent with the information we were receiving from the proprietary models put out by PredictWind, who has been supporting us from the beginning.  PredictWind showed the low pressure cell off the coast of South Carolina, but forecasted no more than 30-35 knots in the Gulf Stream when we were expecting to cross it.  

I also considered the tear-inducing words of friends, who suggested--based on nothing more than concern for our well-being--that we abandon our venture.  Lawrence Cutler shared with me his experience sailing in 60 knots during the 2010 delivery back from Bermuda.  Others asked me to think of my kids.  Coupled with the uncertainty in the forecast, these words led to a debilitating physical stress that nearly brought me to the mat in submission.    

Luckily, we had Rob Windsor across from the dock from us at Newport Yacht Club, and I had a chance to talk with Clay Burkhalter following the NBR Skippers' Meeting.  For anybody reading this post, these two names should be very familiar.  Rob is an experienced racer, and active sailor on the Class 40 circuit.  Clay Burkhalter, also an experienced racer, participated in the Classe Mini circuit and finished 12th out of 84 sailors in the 2007 Mini Transat.  Both Rob and Clay gave us the most objectively reasonable advice we could hope to receive.  They said, just head down to the Stream and, if it's gnarly, bail out, and head home.  Although obvious in hindsight, this alternative was nowhere on my radar.  Rob and Clay's advice was the sledgehammer I needed to break through the concrete wall of physical stress that separated me from the ocean, and from this journey. 

We passed Castle Hill on June 18 at 1400 with our bow pointed towards Bermuda, having delayed 24 hours following the official start of the Newport-Bermuda Race.

Once on the ocean, my physical stress gave way to psychological bliss as I was able to free myself from the pains of the past and burdens of the future as I focused on the present--that is, until the hallucinations set in.

We went for it.  We f***in' went for it.  And we accomplished something; we accomplished our goal.  But rather than tell you more about our journey, let me show it to you.

And P.S., PredictWind was spot on.  We topped out at 28 knots of breeze.

Happy Birthday, Wife.

Some time ago, on this very day, you, Sara Heather, were born.  I remember it like it was yesterday--the summer had just begun, and I had a poopy diaper.  21 years (and few more poopy diapers) later, the magic that you brought into the world did what the Heavens designed it to do--it allowed me to find you.  You are, have always been, and forever will be, my beacon; my lighthouse in the dark.  

I love you, and thank you for supporting me with everything I do, especially this adventure.  Speaking of which, we've been kicking ass, so I decided to divert course for a bit and create for you a special ocean message!  Check out that boat speed!

See you soon.

Standing by...

It's June 17, 2016, at around 0800.  Today is supposed to be the start of the biennial Newport-Bermuda Race.  However, no later than 1100, the OA is scheduled to make a decision whether to delay the official start on account of some gnarly weather that is expected to hit the fleet while in the Gulf Stream.  Gnarly being sustained winds of 35 knots with puffs into the 40s, and potentially into the 50s and 60s in squalls.  A low is expected to park right over rhumb.  

More impactful than the breeze is the sea-state.  The expected TWD (true wind direction) for this breeze is E-NE, which means wind against current in the Stream.  The result is monstrous, steep, square, breaking waves--problematic yet doable for a heavy displacement boat; problematic and downright insane for a 2,500 lb. Mini Transat (to the say the least).  Yes, these boats are designed and built to cross oceans.  But even official Classe Mini events are delayed in big breeze--most notably the 2013 Mini Transat, when the OA delayed the race because of 50 knots and 4 meter waves off Cape Finisterre.  

We have no intention of putting our lives at risk by sailing into the Gulf Stream with the potential for 40-60 knots wind against current.  My 6-year-old daughter says to me yesterday, "Daddy...I hear some bad weather is coming.  Maybe you should just drive home."  I'm not ruling that out.  But right now, we are standing by.  Gear is offloaded from the Jeep and into the boat, food and water is organized and stowed, precious cargo has been loaded, and we have enjoyed Gosling's rum at Newport Shipyard in 100% approved, top choice swag designed by dear ol' dad.

The decision to stand-by is obvious.  Over the past few days, I have talked weather with sailors who, collectively, have hundreds of years of experience sailing offshore, and interpreting weather models--folks like Rob Windsor, Rich du Moulin, Clay Burkhalter, Chad Corning, and Lawrence Cutler.  Here are some choice quotes:

Lawrence:  "Josh.  With all due respect.  If you leave on Friday, you're a f***in' idiot."
Clay:  "Josh.  50 knots in the Gulf Stream will be...challenging.  Maybe head down there.  Dip your toe in, and bail out if need be."
Rob:  "I'd go...but I'm an idiot."  [Note:  Rob is not an idiot, but any stretch of the imagination.]
Rich:  [stares me down with an expression that I took to mean what Lawrence told me to my face].

The camaraderie up here in Newport, like the sunsets, is inspiring.  

#dontbestupid

Bainbridge & Karver Join the Team

As we begin our double-handed adventure from Newport, RI, to Bermuda one week from today in our 21-foot Mini Transat, Abilyn, we welcome Bainbridge International and Karver Systems to the team.  There's a lot of ocean to cover between here and Bermuda, and back to NYC.  When conditions get light and we need to make way upwind, we'll be deploying our 2016 UK Sailmakers Code Zero on a Karver KF1 ECO furler designed for boats like our Mini Transat.  The unit is small and light--I feel like I could lose it between the cushions of my couch.  But it does the job, furling the Code Zero with ease.

A photo posted by Josh (@abilynracing) on

A video posted by Josh (@abilynracing) on

This is no surprise given the innovations that Bainbridge and Karver have developed for the offshore sailing community.  Bainbridge was founded almost 100 years ago as a sailcloth manufacturer, and has had many successes, including in the Vendee Globe and the Whitbread / Volvo Ocean Race.  Over the years, Bainbridge expanded its presence in the offshore world by serving as distributor for many brands that typically equip offshore yachts, including Plastimo and Yale Cordage, and also by sponsoring The Atlantic Cup, which is the longest offshore race on the east coast of the U.S. 

Karver got its start in 2004 and has since been supplying technologically advanced sailing hardware to the IMOCA 60, Volvo, TP52, Mod 70, and Class 40 racing classes, among other designs.  In 2015, Karver selected Bainbridge as its exclusive distributor in the U.S.

We're excited to have the Karver ECO furler in our arsenal as we challenge what ultimately will be more than 1,300 miles of open ocean.  

Dear Newport Bermuda Race Organizing Authority...

As at least some of you know, we intend to sail our 21-foot Mini 6.50, Abilyn, from Newport to Bermuda and back to NYC on June 17--the same time that the Newport Bermuda Race fleet leaves Narragansett Bay en route to Hamilton Harbour.  And, as we've reported previouslyAbilyn is ineligible to enter the race.  Do I believe Minis should be permitted to race?  Absolutely.  These boats are purpose built to handle the rigors of the open ocean, and have been sailed singlehandedly across oceans for decades.  But rules are rules...and stability indexes are stability indexes.  Nevertheless, our taste for adventure persists.  And so, in a good faith effort to advise of our intentions and to promote good will, I reached out to the Newport Bermuda Race Organizing Authority purely in the spirit of Corinthian sailing.  

Below is the e-mail I sent.


Dear Newport Bermuda Race Organizing Authority,

I am the founder and skipper of Abilyn Racing, a sailing program based in Larchmont, NY, focused on shorthanded sailing.  Our weapon of choice is a Mini Transat 6.50 named Abilyn.  I am writing to advise the OA that, despite being ineligible to race in the Newport Bermuda Race on two grounds (length and ORR-calculated stability), we nevertheless intend to "race" double-handed from Newport to Bermuda on June 17.  Our goal is by no means to disrespect the race, its heritage, or the OA.  Rather, the upcoming Newport-Bermuda Race provides us with an opportunity essentially for live practice:  practice for next year’s Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race; practice for future, bluewater racing and passage making; in short, practice for whatever sailing adventures come next.

Our approach to this adventure is well-grounded in the origins of the Newport Bermuda Race.  In A Berth to Bermuda, John Rousmaniere writes that Thomas Fleming Day had a radical idea at the turn of the 20th century—offshore sailing in small boats.  Day believed that “small vessels are safer than large, provided they are properly designed, strongly built, thoroughly equipped, and skillfully manned.”  Confident in his own abilities as a seaman, unphased by those who preached the dangers of offshore sailing, and desiring to “get a smell of the sea," Day set sail in 1906 from Brooklyn, NY, with three other boats in what became the inaugural Newport Bermuda Race.  

Day understood that sailing offshore in a small boat is a beautiful challenge for the prepared seaman.  Even today, to many sailors across the pond and around the world, sailing a small boat across an ocean means only that it must be Wednesday.  It is my belief that, if Day were alive today, he would have smiled and tipped his hat at the thought of sailors venturing short-handed into the ocean aboard 21-foot oceangoing machines.  He would have done so not in amazement, but rather as a gesture of respect and camaraderie that can only be shared among like-minded sailors who understand the importance of safety and seamanship as the bases for offshore sailing.

It is with the principles espoused by Thomas Day in mind that we intend to get a smell of the sea ourselves on June 17.  Our boat—a Pogo 2 Mini Transat designed by Groupe Finot and built to offshore standards—is properly designed and strongly built.  Indeed, Mini Transat boats have been racing across the Atlantic since the 1970s with crews of one.  At least one Mini has circumnavigated the globe.  And another Mini was recently sailed from the Caribbean to NYC, where it is staging for a record attempt between NYC and Lanzarote.  Our boat also will be thoroughly equipped as we are adhering to the Newport Bermuda Race Safety Requirements, as supplemented by guidelines promulgated by the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race organizing authority and the Storm Trysail Foundation.  Finally, our boat will be skillfully manned as my co-skipper and I have substantial ocean racing experience, including five Newport-Bermuda races between us both.  I also previously qualified for the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race aboard Abilyn.  

In view of our intention to “race” along with the fleet to Bermuda, we respectfully request that the OA permit us passage out of Narragansett Bay on June 17 by way of the official Newport Bermuda Race starting line.  As a gesture of good faith—and regardless of whether the OA grants our request—we will donate $500 in the name of the Newport Bermuda Race Organizing Authority to the Storm Trysail Foundation, the preeminent organization providing education to young sailors about the importance of safety at sea.  

Please let us know at your convenience whether the OA will grant our request.  We are amenable to speaking further about logistics, including, for example, an appropriate timing for our start so that we do not interfere with the starts of any official entrants.  

Respectfully submitted,

abilynemail
 

Ok.  I admit.  I probably shouldn't have led with the statement that, despite being ineligible, we nevertheless intend to "race," which implies that we intend to intrude.  This is not our intention, which I made that clear in a follow-up e-mail to AJ Evans, the chairman of the regatta, whom I understand is also the youngest chairman in the history of the regatta.  

Not being one to just let things mull about, I picked up the phone and gave AJ a call, primarily to introduce myself, but also to clear the air.  Why did I feel the need to clear the air?  Let's just say I received a response from a member of the OA that was not meant for my eyes.  This e-mail contained a few exclamation marks and made reference to RRS 69.   

Despite the vitriolic nature of the response, AJ and I had a very gentlemanly call, and even batted around a couple of ideas, since our request to sail through the official starting line was not well-received.  AJ initially proposed that I set sail from Brooklyn.  Although starting from Brooklyn has some appeal given that the regatta had its first start there in 1906, ultimately, we are set on leaving from Newport.  We can't help it.  We love Newport.  (If Thomas Day were alive today, we would have kicked back a few over at IYAC culminating with unspeakable activity at the Candy Store).  AJ, however, expressed a concern about potential interference with other boats while offshore if we were to leave from Newport.  I reiterated that we have no intention of intruding upon the race--especially with the official entrants who have undertaken significant preparations (both time and expense) to get to the starting line of this classic regatta.  I also mentioned that we would not seek to enforce any rights of way that we might have against any official entrant while offshore; if we have a port-starboard situation, and we're on starboard, we're going to give way, well before the port boat has to change course.  We're out there to sail as a fast as we can to Bermuda and participate in the adventure, not to be dicks. 

AJ also suggested that we sail out of Narragansett Bay either before or after the exclusion zone is enforced.  This too has appeal, but we're waiting to see the Notice to Mariners once it's posted on the Newport Bermuda Race notice board.  What we don't want is to leave too late in the day on June 17.

One option that we did not discuss would be departing after the last start, but potentially before the exclusion zone is lifted.  In 2014, the last class (14 in total) would have crossed the starting line at 1520 EDT.  Departing after the last start would address both of AJ's concerns:  potential interference during the start and while offshore.  Unless it's blowing 20-30 knots from a downwind point of sail at the start, most if not all of the fleet will remain ahead of us well into the ocean.  If it is blowing 20-30 knots from a downwind point of sail at the start, fuggedaboutit.  

No resolution was reached other than that we made clear that we'd keep clear.

All in all, I'm happy I was able to speak with AJ.  From what I could gather, he's doing exceptional work as the regatta's chairman and clearly has the interests of the regatta and its competitors as his primary focus (as he should as chairman).  

But I also got the sense that AJ understands and perhaps even appreciates what we're trying to accomplish.  In the end, we're all sailors and are unified by our connection to the sea, regardless of whether we're pros or weekend warriors, or whether we participate for trophies and records or for pure adventure and the feeling that overtakes us when we grab the helm on a downwind run under a full moon and universe of stars.  Just like Thomas Day and his contemporaries who chose to venture offshore in small boats in what became the first Newport Bermuda Race, we all just want to "get a smell of the sea."

See you out on the water.

REVISION:  Based on a comment posted to Sailing Anarchy, we want to make clear that we did not refuse AJ's suggestion that we start either before the exclusion zone is in place or after it is lifted.  In fact, we fully support that approach.  When we stated above that we would keep clear, we did not mean to suggest that we intended to start in a sequence but keep clear of official entrants.  We intend to keep clear by starting well before the first start, or after the last start clears.  In other words, we will be avoiding the exclusion zone altogether unless the OA gives us permission to sail through after the last start clears (but before the exclusion zone is lifted).  Our intention is not to violate any rules that are applicable to us as a non-racing, non-participating boat.

 

      

New Sponsor Alert: Mom!

It only makes sense.  They've been saying it to us since we were born.  Eat your breakfast!  Eat your dinner!  Eat!!!!!  Although my sailing tends to scare my mom, I'm glad she supports what makes me happy, and continues to tell me to stay safe and eat!!!  And I'll be thinking about that when I'm guzzling down all the Mountain House that she's supplying for the boat for our "race" down to Bermuda and back.  

Thanks, mom!  Love ya!  For that, you get some real estate on our Partners page, and a big hug when you come to visit this weekend.  I'll also be sure to text you from the Gulf Stream.

Photo credit:  Dad

Abilyn Partners With Interlux: A Fast Boat Needs A Fast Bottom

If you find me in a boatyard, especially Newport Shipyard, it's tough to get me out.  I've been known to roam about, marveling at the lines of beautiful racing yachts and the almost mirror-like finish of their bottoms, oblivious to time.  "We gotta go," someone will say.  No.  We don't.

Abilyn hasn't had her bottom worked [insert joke here] since she was built in 2012.  So when Groupe Abilyn contemplated a fresh bottom with new anti-fouling paint for the upcoming racing season and our much-anticipated adventure to Bermuda and back beginning June 17, 2016, our primary requirement was--it gotta be fast!  So there was really only one choice for us:  Interlux® VC® Offshore.

The folks over at Interlux have graciously agreed to supply us with a couple of cans of VC® Offshore Baltoplate anti-fouling paint and InterProtect HS (high solids) epoxy primer to help us get to Bermuda as fast as we can, and succeed in beating some official entrants racing in the 50th Newport-Bermuda Race.  We chose Baltoplate because of reported superior performance in light air, which is important when your mast is only 36 feet tall and you have a wide ass.

And, we're happy to have Interlux partnering with us because, as it turns out, many of the racing yachts that have mesmerized me over the years have been painted with VC Offshore.

In the northeast, planning a pre-launch bottom job is still a possibility.  So pick up some yachtpaint, and have fun in the yard!  Or, if you're in the market for a pro job, I'd personally recommend Brewer Pilots Point (North Yard) (Bob Connell) or McMichael's (Helmut Bittlingmayer).  I've had great experiences at both.

See you out on the water.  We'll be the ones gliding by on a slick-ass bottom. 

Newport to Bermuda to NYC: Prepping for Safety

As some of you know, my co-skipper, Sam Cox, and I are planning on sailing (well, racing) from Newport, RI, to Bermuda on June 17, 2016.  Coincidentally, some other folks will be racing to Bermuda at the same time--something called the Newport-Bermuda Race ("Bermuda Race").  You might have heard of it.

Unfortunately, the 21-foot Abilyn, a Mini Transat 6.50, whose design has been tried and tested across oceans, is ineligible under the Bermuda Race Notice of Race ("NOR") and Safety Requirements ("NBRSR").  Like any regatta, the Bermuda Race has eligibility requirements.  For example, the minimum length for participating boats is "at least 27.5 feet."   NOR at Para. 4.1(a)(ii).  Given that Abilyn has a length of only 21 feet (6.5 meters), the NOR, on its face, declares Abilyn ineligible.  Although the Bermuda Race Organizing Authority ("OA") may waive the eligibility requirements at its discretion, see id. at Para. 4.1(b), we've been told that the OA will not do so for Mini Transat 6.50s.  However, even if the OA did waive the eligibility requirements for Abilyn under the NOR, Abilyn would still be rendered ineligible by the NBRSR, which requires a minimum stability index of 115 under the Offshore Rating Rule ("ORR").  NBRSR at Section 2.2.1.   Abilyn's sister-ship, USA 831, has been rated under the ORR as having a stability index of 85.2.  So we're screwed all around. 

The ORR stability requirements are what they are, and reflect only one of a number of methods used to assess whether a boat is "seaworthy."  But, notably, the rules for Minis competing in the Classe Mini circuit in Europe, and the biennial Mini Transat Race, which takes solo skippers across the Atlantic Ocean, require only that the boat have "positive stability with a 45 kg weight . . . at the maximum air draft point [top of mast]" when the "maximum air draft point [is] at sea level."  2015 Classe Mini Rules at Section J-15-b.  This test measures the angle of vanishing stability, and is often referred to as the 90-degree test as the boat is tipped around 90 degrees with the top of the mast attached to a weight and measuring device.

Source:  http://dominiklenk.com/mini-transat-leg-1 (the 90° test the week before the start of the 2015 Mini Transat).

Class 40s, which are eligible to race in the Bermuda Race, rely on the 90-degree test to gain entry to many regattas around the world, including the RORC Caribbean 600.  The ORR, from my understanding, takes into account other values beyond angle of vanishing stability, including a "capsize increment," which can be negative for beamy boats.  But I am no expert on the ORR.  Thankfully, the ORR does not contemplate a 180 degree rollover test as required by the IMOCA 60 class rules.  See below.

At the end of the day, although Minis have been racing across the Atlantic since the 1970s with crews of one, and at least one Mini has circumnavigated the globe, which is reflective not only of the seaworthiness of the boat but also the dedication to seamanship exhibited by those who sail them, we're certainly not upset with the OA's decision.  Indeed, there are other long distance regattas in the U.S. that allow Minis to participate, most notably the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race, the Annapolis-Bermuda Race, and the Singlehanded Transpac.  But the Bermuda Race holds a special place in our hearts.  It's where we cut our teeth offshore on other boats, and learned to love and respect the challenges that sailors face offshore that they do not face sailing around the buoys.  So it's time to return to the course aboard Abilyn and take her farther than we've ever taken her.  

Although we'll be flying a Jolly Roger when we sail out of Narragansett Bay at the start of the official race (potentially the flag flown by The Rhode Island Pirate, Thomas Tew, or a hybrid of our own creation (see left)), our goal is by no means to disrespect the race, its heritage, or the OA.  Indeed, the upcoming Bermuda Race provides us with an opportunity for live practice:  Practice for next year's B1-2; practice for future, bluewater racing and passagemaking; in short, practice for whatever sailing adventures come next.  Our secondary, but equally important, goal will be to provide the Bermuda Race OA with an additional point of reference on which to rely when considering whether to allow Mini Transat 6.50s in the 2018 race.  If we can beat some official entrants, that would be icing on the cake.

With those goals in mind, we will use June 17 as our departure date, Castle Hill as our starting line, and St. David's Lighthouse as our finish line.  More importantly, as any sailor entering the Bermuda Race must do, we will undertake rigorous and comprehensive safety preparations to address the foreseeable risks along the race track from Newport to Bermuda and then from Bermuda to New York Harbor, where we hope the new Brooklyn Bridge Marina will give us complimentary dockage for a night or two before we head up the East River and back to Larchmont.  

Newport to Bermuda and back to New York Harbor.

So what does this prep look like for us?  Well, for starters, we'll be following the NBRSR's Safety Equipment requirements as closely as possible.  Section 3.0 lists all required portable and affixed safety gear, including:

  • Lifejackets
  • Safety harness
  • Jack lines
  • Companionway clipping points
  • Navigation lights
  • Spare navigation lights
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Horn
  • Flares
  • Lifesling (or equivalent MOB rescue device)
  • MOB pole
  • Heaving line
  • Installed VHR radio and antenna
  • Handheld VHF radio
  • Emergency VHF antenna
  • AIS
  • Satellite phone
  • GPS
  • EPIRB
  • Distance measuring device other than GPS
  • Depth sounder
  • Steering compass
  • Second compass
  • Charts
  • Sail numbers
  • Tapered soft plugs
  • Ground tackle (anchor plus rode)
  • Searchlight
  • Flashlights (watertight, 1 per crew member)
  • First aid gear
  • Radar reflector (11.5" diameter or greater octahedral reflector)
  • Buckets (2, stout)
  • Safety gear and through hull diagram
  • Emergency tiller
  • Tools and spare parts (effective means of quickly disconnecting or severing the standing rigging)
  • Marking of safety gear (retro-reflective material required)
  • Knife (readily accessible from deck and/or cockpit)
  • Reefing ability
  • Storm trysail
  • Heavy weather jib
  • Storm jib
  • Boom preventer
  • Boom support (means to prevent boom from dropping if halyard fails)
  • Emergency drinking water (1 gallon per crew member of emergency water in sealed containers)
  • Inflatable life raft (ISO-certified raft apparently not required)
  • Grab bag

KEY NBRSR SAFETY ITEMS THAT WE ALREADY CARRY:

Reviewing this list, the 21-foot Abilyn is already well-appointed.  Most notably, we carry a Winslow 4-man ultralight liferaft (weighing in at only 32 lbs.) and an offshore flare kit, both of which we obtained from Landfall Navigation in Stamford, CT.  

Abilyn is also equipped with a MOM8 MOB module (also obtained from Landfall); a VHF with integrated AIS, two EPIRBs (an ACR GlobalFix iPRO 406 MHz GPS EPIRB for the boat, and an ACR ResQLink 406 MHz GPS personal locator beacon for my PFD); and four separate GPS modules including the Mini class standard Garmin GPS 152, a handheld Garmin 78sc, and two BadElf GPS Pro modules.  

NBSR ITEMS WE NEED TO ADDRESS:

First Aid - Our West Marine Medical Kit 3.5 is still functional, but likely will need to be supplemented with more robust first aid measures designed for offshore sailing where potential evacuation may take more than 24 hours.

Tools and Spare Parts - We will also conduct a review of our tools and spare parts inventory when boatwork begins in full next month, with a plan to supplement our inventory of nuts, bolts, cotter rings, wrap pins, and Harken low friction rings.  In terms of tools, we have the standard suite of vice grips and screw drivers, and also a hacksaw with spare blades in case we need to cut away the standing rigging.  But we may consider a cable cutter.  

Storm Trysail - Instead of a storm trysail, we're opting to rely on our Dacron mainsail, which has a third reef point allowing us to sail with little canvas up.  We understand the limitations of this option, but, for the Minis, a triple-reefed main and reefed storm jib (or just the storm jib) has been reported to work well in storm conditions.

Detecteur de Radar

Detecteur de Radar

Radar Reflector - We have a Davis Instruments passive radar reflector that passes muster under the safety requirements.  However, with this device mounted in the standing rigging, we've found that the edges of the reflector, which are quite sharp, chafe against the main when the sail is eased against the spreaders downwind.  So we will opt to use two Plastimo tubular radar reflectors mounted on the shrouds, although the tubular reflectors have been reported to be far less effective than the octahedral devices.  That said, our primary means of avoiding close calls with other ships is our Detecteur de Radar, which emits a loud, biting, unbearable sound whenever we get pinged with radar and also lets us know from which direction the ping originates.

Boom Support - We're considering installing Dyneema lazy jacks.

Charts - We have Maptech paper charts for Narragansett Bay, and surrounding bodies of water. We will add to our charts inventory a Bermuda plotting sheet, and British Admiralty charts for the Bermuda islands.   

Satellite Phone - Our plan is to obtain an Iridium GO! module for use offshore.  This satellite device allows for the same race tracking and two-way text messaging as our Delorme InReach device. However, the Iridium GO! module also will allow for phone communication, and will also allow us to download weather and routing data through PredictWind's offshore app.  The device is attractive because of it's low monthly price for unlimited voice and data usage.  Yes, we understand this goes against purist Mini sailing principles.  In considering that point of view, we are looking at using an SSB receiver to obtain weather information.  Our Mini-sailing friend, Nikki Curwen, who raced in the 2015 Mini Transat, recommends the Sangean ATS-909X.  

Emergency hull repair - The NBRSR requires soft, tapered plugs for all through-hulls, which we have aboard Abilyn for her one through-hull.  Surprisingly, the NBRSR does not mandate sailors to carry items to address punctures or other damage to the hull.  Onboard Abilyn, we already carry emergency epoxy capable of hardening under water, but might pick up a couple of Rupture Seals.

Remaining Items -  Procuring spare navigational lights (bow and stern), a heaving line, a replacement searchlight, and an emergency VHF antenna shouldn't be an issue.

In addition to the required list of safety items in Section 3.0, the NBRSR contemplates that crew members have certain training, including man overboard training, CPR and first aid training, and general onboard training.  Sam and I certainly intend to tune up prior to the June 17 start.  Part of that tune up will include man overboard training, and optimizing through sailing in the Larchmont YC Edlu regatta and the Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race.  And at least I intend to take a Red Cross CPR and First Aid training course prior to the start.

But I consider myself a prudent sailor and somewhat of a perennial student when it comes to safety.  So relying solely on the NBRSR to dictate our safety preparations isn't enough.  Our safety prep will also include an onshore network of experienced sailors and at least one doctor who will be "on call" to field emergency communications.  Joe Harris, who is racing around the world on his Class 40 Gryphon Solo 2, recently described on his blog an incident where he had to activate his onshore network when his EPIRB inadvertently began transmitting a distress signal.  Through this network, which was established to handle "emergency communications," Joe's team was able to advise U.S. and Australian sea-air rescue teams to stand down.  Rich Wilson, who finished the 2008-2009 Vendee Globe in ninth place, set up a similar kind of network, which included doctors and professional yachtsmen, as he describes in his book, Race France to France:  Leave Antarctica to Starboard.  Although our voyage amounts to a fraction of the mileage of a global circumnavigation, having an "on call" onshore network seems prudent, if only to ease the stress on my wife and ensure that rescue services aren't implemented unnecessarily.  

June 17 is not far off, and we hope to lock down all safety essentials well before then.  Stay tuned for more coverage of our prep, including posts on our Helly Hansen gear, food, Gulf Stream and weather analysis, and other musings.  

See you out on the water.

 

 

The Way of the Weekend Warrior

Back in July, with "real life" obligations heavily competing for my attention, I felt a strong urge to crush miles aboard my 21-foot Mini Transat, Abilyn, because that's just what you do when you own a Mini Transat.  But I was also motivated by something that pro sailor and co-founder of 13Fifty Racing, Jesse Fielding, said to me in Newport during the VOR stopover.  He called me a name, and, in an anti-Marty McFly kind of way, I sought out to prove him right.  In total, I sailed nearly 600 miles over these three weekends between my "real life" obligations to see if I had what it takes to be called a weekend warrior.


On May 6, I traveled up to Newport with my wife to see the Volvo Ocean Race.  It had been just four days since I launched Abilyn for her third season on Long Island Sound.  Fellow Mini sailor, Tony Leigh, and I sailed Abilyn from Brewer Pilots Point in eastern CT to Larchmont, NY--a delivery that included temperatures in the mid-30s (F), very little breeze, an outboard that died 20 miles out of the marina, and my first experience with SeaTow (which was great, by the way).  But I digress...

Up in Newport, after catching a ride in Jerry Kirby's RIB (thanks to Mr. Clean and his connections) to see Abu Dhabi and Dongfeng gybe duel to the finish off Fort Adams, I had a chance to have coffee with Jesse Fielding and Will Gammell.  Jesse and Will head up 13Fifty Racing, which, if you don't know, is the best shot we Americans have right now of seeing an all-American team in the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.  But 13Fifty Racing is about much more than the next VOR--like OakCliff Sailing and the old All American Offshore program, 13Fifty is about expanding the distribution channel for American sailing talent.  

During our java session up in Newport, Jesse says to me, "Josh, you're like the ultimate weekend warrior."  Jesse is a pro.  I am not.  Although, I occasionally dream about what it would be like to sail full-time.  At least according to America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Jerry Kirby, this would mean giving up life as I know it.  I called up Jerry many years ago during a particularly bad day of desk jockeying, similar to how Bobby Bouche called up Captain Insano after a bad day of waterboying.  The exchange went something like this:

Josh:  "Jerry, what does it take to be a Volvo Ocean Race sailor?"
Jerry:  "Josh, what do you do for a living?"
Josh:  "I'm a lawyer."
Jerry:  "Well, Josh.  If you want to be a Volvo Ocean Race sailor, you have to stop being a lawyer, and go sailing."

Jerry's logic is undeniable.  And I'm still a lawyer.  

As I left Newport, I grinned from ear to ear because my VOR experience was nothing short of spectacular--out on the water to see the lead boats finish, great food all over town, a fun race village (by no means immersive, but fun), watching Team Brunel check out Comanche with one crew member announcing, "Too big for me!", and a top 10 spot (worldwide) in the Musto Grinding Challenge, which I'm guessing was not a competition in which many Aussie footballers participated. 

I imagine that my feelings toward the stopover were shared by many of the 124,999 other sailing enthusiasts who visited the race village.  But as I drove back over the Newport Bridge, smiling, I also thought about Jesse's comment, and what it means to be a true weekend warrior.

Although Urbandictionary provides more than a few colorful definitions (relating mostly to binge drinking and drug abuse), the most general definition of "weekend warrior" appears to be as follows:

However, in my view, there's more to a weekend warrior.  A true "weekend warrior" is not somebody who simply participates in an activity in their spare time, but rather is one who espouses a higher level of dedication.  A true weekend warrior is one who:

  1. strives to maximize the amount of spare time available to participate in an activity while at the same time remaining dedicated to his/her "real life obligations (which are usually focused on career and family);
  2. desires to excel at that activity, not just participate; and
  3. needs to engage in the activity as a core component of their existence.

These principles can be distilled into a single concept--passion.  Indeed, for one who possesses this passion and who also places a high value on "real life" obligations, living the way of the weekend warrior--notwithstanding the term's pejorative origin--is an unequivocal expression that neither pursuit is trivial, and that each is undeniably essential to their happiness. 

Now, one caveat.  Under this definition, for example, Hap Fauth, owner of Bella Mente, could be considered a weekend warrior.  But it would seem almost dirty to refer to Mr. Fauth as such.  The term "weekend warrior" naturally carries a socioeconomic connotation, the limits of which are beyond the purview of this "blog" post.  But I will venture to say that nobody who owns a boat in the Maxi 72 Class can or should be considered a "weekend warrior."

Folks like Peter Beardsley, Doug Lynn, Guy Rittinger, and Tristan Mouligne--these are true weekend warriors; ordinary folks with non-sailing day jobs who are passionate about the sport and who push themselves to be better sailors by doing what they can to maximize their time on the water (and who obviously do not own a boat in the Maxi 72 Class).  Being a weekend warrior is the ultimate badge of honor for the everyday, non-professional sailor.  

So when Jesse Fielding pinned this badge upon me, I naturally thought about whether I was worthy.  I thought about whether I was succeeding in balancing my "real life" obligations with my passion for sailing and my ambitions for the Mini.  The fundamental ability for me to balance sailing with "real life" has been made possible only because of the system my wife and I have employed in our family.  Simply put, we support each other.  However, during the 2015 season, with a career transition, that balance tipped in favor of "real life" when I chose to focus on work and forego my bid to race Abilyn to Bermuda and back as part of the 2015 Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race, a race for which I qualified in 2014, and which was my primary goal for the 2015 season.  

But a series of weekends in late July gave me a chance to rebalance the scales;  three weekends, two back-to-back offshore regattas with starting lines 150 miles apart, 255 miles worth of sailing just to get to those starting lines, and work and family responsibilities mixed in between.  

After coordinating logistics with my wife, who, to the surprise of some, fully supports my sailing ambitions and Mini adventures, I set off on July 18, a day after I gave a presentation on Mini sailing at the Storm Trysail Foundation's Junior Safety at Sea Seminar, where I stood on my soap box and told the juniors to go explore, for the ocean never closes.  

Saturday, July 18
Outward Bound

The plan was straightforward:  Ride a 15-20 knot westerly from Larchmont, NY to Newport, RI to get ready for first of the two regattas, the New England Solo/Twin Championship, where I would be competing in the solo/spinnaker class.  At best, the transit would be a 120-mile sleigh ride downwind.  At worst, a 120-mile motor on a 2.5 hp Yamaha short-shaft outboard with a 0.25 gallon inboard gas tank that requires manual refills every 50 minutes.  The actual passage was somewhere in between, consisting of a nice downwind ride where we reached speeds of 13-14 knots, jib reaching while my co-skipper completed some "real life" work in the area of structured finance litigation, and motoring on glass while lounging on the Fatboy beanbag chair and chomping on jerky.

The highlight of the transit was the aural and visual display we were treated to while blasting against adverse current with the large Code 2 kite up through the bottleneck known as The Race.  The scene was nothing I had experienced.  From all points of land in my field of vision, both on the Connecticut and Long Island shores, fireworks filled the moonless sky, acting like a radar to show us the silhouette of Fishers Island, Orient Point, and surrounding shorelines.  And, while the CT fireworks were illuminating the kite enough for me to check the telltales without a spotlight, the proximity of the charges being launched on Long Island's north shore let us feel the shockwave of the explosions, which in turn amplified the sound of the hull pounding through the tidal rips.  "Like sailing through Beirut," noted a friend.  The same.  

Sunday, July 19
Newport Arrival

Twenty-two hours after leaving Larchmont, we ghosted into Narragansett Bay under a blanket of heavy fog, and tied up at the Newport Yacht Club where Abilyn would rest for five nights before the Solo/Twin the following weekend.  After lunch at Newport Shipyard and giving my friend a quick tour of Bannister's Wharf, we were on our way back to NYC--via the Mega Bus to New Haven, Metro North to Grand Central, and NYC subway back to our respective homes--mine being across the East River in this neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Monday-Wednesday, July 20-22 -
Life

Non-sailing responsibilities.  Wife, two kids, two dogs.  Work.  3 AM nights to compensate for the days I'm out of the office.  

Thursday, July 23
Back on the Road

On the road back to Newport via rental car.  What should have been a 3-3.5 hour drive turned into a 7-hour test of patience, most of which consisted of just getting out of the City.  Once parked at Newport Yacht Club, I immediately began readying the boat for the regatta.  Rigged her up real nice, hit up West Marine and the grocery store, studied the tides and currents, dined with friends on Goat Island, and of course, attended to more "real life" work--an activity that was made sublime by the sound of "yazz flute" being played somewhere in Newport.

Friday, July 24
The New England Solo/Twin Championship  

70 miles around marks in the Rhode Island Sound, overnight, single-handed.  After some last minute rigging, I headed out to the start around 1100, just on the other side of Goat Island.  At 1200 (30 minutes before my class start), the light northerly was still holding despite the forecast for a late-morning southeasterly.  So I readied the kite for the start.  My class consisted of me, a Pearson 33, and a 50-foot Hinckley Sou'wester--despite being 12 feet shorter than the Pearson 33, Abilyn rates the same.  With the pole fully articulated in the pre-start, I hit the line on time and immediately filled the large Code 2 kite, well before either of my competitors knew what was going on.

Gybing down Narragansett Bay in light air and heavy powerboat traffic proved...frustrating.  But I powered through each solo gybe, kept the boat moving, exited the bay in first, and even managed to catch up to Frogger, the other Mini sailing in the event (albeit in the double-handed class that started ahead of me).  As I passed Castle Hill, I took a brief moment to appreciate that I was sailing my boat for the first time in this storied bay, and then quickly switched from downwind mode into upwind mode as the northerly shut off and the southeasterly filled in.  Kite down.  Genoa up.  I sailed the six-hour leg from Castle Hill to "1BI" just off Block Island in pristine upwind conditions, 10-14 knots and flat seas.  Calling it a beat seems improper.

Shortly after rounding "1BI", I again popped the Code 2 and headed downwind to Buzzards Bay Tower at 10 knots of boat speed.  However, the swift transit across Rhode Island Sound I had hoped for needed to be put on hold because what I saw rolling over the race course--a cloud formation that looked like the hand of the Devil reaching out of the clouds to taunt unsuspecting yachtsmen and flick off masts.  Boats ahead of me were dropping sails.  I immediately did the same.  One competitor radioed the fleet, letting everyone know of the reports of hail, lightning, and 50-knot winds to the north.  Spinlock PFD, on.  Helly Hansen Aegir ocean gear, on.  Tether, clipped in.  

As the cell moved south over Rhode Island Sound en route to Block Island, the skies opened up, bringing rain, thunder, lightning, and a very brief period of 25-knot winds.  Not before too long, the cell cleared me astern.  I felt comfortable re-hoisting the kite, and resuming the leg to Buzzards Bay Tower, which, given an unfavorable wind shift, was now directly downwind.

Buzzards Bay Tower

Buzzards Bay Tower

Abilyn hates to sail directly downwind.  So, as night set in, I found myself gybing back and forth across the shipping channel, picking off other race boats and avoiding commercial traffic.  Abilyn and I were dancing--a single unit silently moving in unison through each maneuver.  Every gybe felt more satisfying than the last, and the light of Buzzard Bay Tower kept getting brighter with each passing minute.  

At around 2200, I rounded Buzzard Bay Tower next to three much larger boats, and began the upwind leg back across Rhode Island Sound.  For the rest of the night, I played wind shift after wind shift to minimize my distance to the finish.  Given the shifty conditions, I dared not sleep.  But maintaining wakefulness and alertness proved difficult, although not unexpected.  Before the race, I stocked up on something called Military Energy Gum, which packs 100 mg of caffeine per piece.  The instructions were straightforward:  Chew the gum until it tastes bitter.  If you don't feel alert in 15 minutes, pop another one.  Rather than going down below to brew some coffee with the JetBoil, I popped some MEGs.  Two pieces set me up nicely for four hours.   I was good for the rest of the night. 

Saturday, July 25
Turn and Burn

After battling an ebb tide in light air, I crossed the imaginary finish line off Castle Hill at 0714 Saturday morning--first in my class to finish the 70 nm course, second on corrected time (that Pearson 33 got me).  Rather than ignite flares as perhaps my European Mini-sailing compatriots might have done, and no doubt will do after completing the upcoming Mini Transat Iles De Guadeloupe,  I opted instead for a GoPro selfie to mark the occasion.

Finishing the 2015 New England Solo/Twin Championship, 2nd in class.

The next part of the plan was simple:  sail back to the Newport YC dock, pick up a crew member who traveled all the way from Tacoma Park, MD (via an overnight train to Providence and bus to Newport) for the next leg of the journey--one whom I had never met--and then turn and burn.  Within three hours of finishing the Solo/Twin, and with zero sleep the previous night, I once again sailed out of Narragansett Bay.  The next stop for Abilyn was Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY--135 miles away--and the start of the Around Long Island Regatta (ALIR) in only five days time. 

With a quick tutorial, my double-handed partner learned Abilyn's systems and tendencies quickly, so I felt comfortable putting up the big Code 2 kite.  Although weary of an unknown sailor taking the reigns, I had no choice.  I needed to sleep.  So I crawled into Abilyn's belly and settled into the Fatboy beanbag chair for a decent nap.  Without faltering, Abilyn gracefully carried us down the Rhode Island coast under spinnaker towards Point Judith, and then on to Montauk Point and the Atlantic Ocean. 

Newport to Sheepshead Bay.  Rounding Montauk Point.

By late afternoon, we had passed through the fishing traffic off Montauk point and entered the ocean.  Over the course of the night, we stayed relatively close to the southern Long Island shoreline, in part to keep away from commercial traffic entering and exiting New York Harbor.  My partner and I settled into our three-hour watch cycles, and were each able to keep the boat moving towards Rockaway Point, utilizing every combination of sail that we could set on Abilyn.  

Sunday, July 26
Brooklyn Arrival

As the sun cleared the horizon on Sunday morning, we found ourselves motor sailing to keep boat speeds above six knots.  Plus, I wanted to catch Frogger, the other Mini Transat 6.50 that left Narragansett Bay three hours before us, and whom we'd be battling in the upcoming ALIR.  By 1300 Sunday afternoon, after sailing and motoring through unfamiliar, shoal-lined channels in the very shallow Sheepshead Bay, we were tied up and offloaded, trying our best to tolerate the land sickness ashore.  My regular co-skipper, Sam Cox, who was unable to sail the leg from Newport to Brooklyn because of his own "real life" obligations, picked us up in his vintage Toyota FJ cruiser.  Speeding down the Belt Parkway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway without a wind shield marked a nice finish to a successful delivery.

Monday-Wednesday, July 27-29
More Life

Non-sailing responsibilities.  Family.  Work.  More 3 AM nights.  

Thursday, July 30
The Around Long Island Regatta  

A race around the largest and longest island in the contiguous United States, the course takes competitors 190 miles around the island, with an ocean start and finish in Long Island Sound.  It was an early morning as I was on breakfast duty--my identical 5 1/2 year-old girls demanded chocolate chip pancakes.  After they were squared away with adult supervision, I cabbed it to my co-skipper Sam's apartment in Park Slope, and together we Ubered to the Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club, where Abilyn had been moored since arriving via Newport.  Sam and I didn't talk much.  He was checking business e-mails.  I was on an hour-long conference call.  When we arrived in south Brooklyn, we immediately got the boat race ready, including rigging up all three reef lines as we were expecting 25-30 knots at the start.  But first we had to get to the start.  

Leaving the mooring field, the serenity of the light zephyrs in front of the yacht club gave way to a brick wall of breeze--25 knots right on the nose.  Coincidentally, we were able to make only 2.5 knots speed over ground with the 2.5 hp short-shaft Yamaha outboard hanging off Abilyn's transom.  We needed to maintain 2 knots SOG to get to the starting line on time, four miles away.  No rush.

But as we headed toward open ocean, to an area of the bay not shielded by Rockaway Point and its southwestern breakwater, we were met with steep 3-5 foot waves.  Our SOG dropped to under a knot, and the water intake on the outboard regularly surfaced out of the water causing the engine to scream bloody murder.  Our start was in two hours, but the starting line was now more than four hours away.  I was visibly frustrated, not because of our current predicament, but because it could have been avoided if we simply arrived at the boat earlier in the day; after all, we knew the breeze around the time of the start would be on the nose coming out of Sheepshead Bay.  

With the boat not making much headway, we seemed to have only two options:  Hoist the main and try to short-tack the narrow channel lined by a beach on one side and a reef on the other, or reverse course and take a much longer route out of Sheepshead Bay, but one that we likely could sail.  We chose option three--attempting to flag down a bigger boat for a tow.  

A few boats that passed by us did just that, passed by us, without even an acknowledgment that we needed assistance.  One boat that we flagged down was comprised of sailors that know something about assisting others in need--the sailors aboard Tenacious, representing the U.S. Naval Academy.  After they accepted our request, we maneuvered close enough to receive a tow line, and then secured the tow line to Abilyn's mast.  

Abilyn catching a lift on the Navy 44, Tenacious.

Tenacious engaged and began pulling us through the nasty sea state.  We were getting slammed with green water while trying to steer just off Tenacious' aft starboard quarter.  But within an hour, and about 45 minutes before the gun, we had arrived in the starting area, had our sails up, and were checked in at the RC boat.  I was overwhelmed by the Navy sailors' exhibition of Corinthian spirit, not to mention skill and patience in such difficult conditions.  And what luck to have Navy sailors nearby when we needed assistance!

2015 ALIR Start.  Photo Credit:  SeaCliff YC

As the gun sounded for the start of our division, we crossed the line to windward of our competition, the Mini 6.50 Frogger, sailed by friends Josh Owen and Miles Abrams, and began the reach towards Montauk Point on starboard tack.  With the breeze holding around 23-25 knots, both Minis started with a double-reefed main and 110% jib.  Feeling underpowered, we shook out a reef and quickly pulled away from Frogger as we jib reached at 100-110 TWA at 9-11 knots SOG down the southern Long Island coast--my second transit of this coast in five days.  

For the next 30 miles, with Frogger behind us but still in our sights, Sam and I had an ongoing discussion whether or not to launch a kite.  Our TWA was much too close to the breeze to put up a kite in this wind strength.  But, as Sam occasionally saw 125-130 TWA when he glanced at the instruments, he pushed for the kite--nearly berating me into seeing his view of the world, which is to say, opportunistic.  In business, Sam is an entrepreneur and has a healthy appetite for risk.  I, on the other hand, am naturally risk averse, hence my decision to become a lawyer in "real life."  With none of the boats ahead of us going for kites, I wasn't quite ready to give into Sam's faux-bullying.  So we held off until reaching Fire Island where we were able to bear off a bit and open up the TWA, putting us well into kite territory.  

Upon confirmation from Sam that he was ready on the tiller and mainsheet, I hoisted the masthead halyard locked into the Code 5.  As I hauled on the halyard from pit, I reminded Sam NOT to trim the spin sheet.  MADE!  Kite trimmed.  Jib down.  Baby stay set hard!.  Side note:  In retrospect, we should have set the kite sooner.

Hoisting the kite in this breeze is like adding Liquid Schwartz to the gas tank of a flying Winnebago.  13 knots of boat speed.  14 knots.  15 knots.  Space tracks.  On Abilyn, you can determine downwind boat speed based simply on the symphony of harmonics she generates off the breeze.  When Abilyn is on the verge of planing, her keel generates a low-pitched, dull buzzing sound, indicating about 9-10 knots of boat speed.  At this tone, you can sense Abilyn's frustration as she desperately wants to escape the prison of displacement.  When that buzz transitions to a buttery smooth high-pitched tone at the border of human hearing, her bow has lifted and she's now surfing at 14+ knots, free.  

I am Abilyn's Pavlovian dog--the sound produced by her keel when it reaches an almost inaudible frequency induces a change in my mental and physical state.  I feel physically lifted, mentally invigorated, awakened--feelings that no doubt are the result of the bartender in my brain serving up a potent cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine, and other endorphins.  This is Abilyn's siren song that keeps luring me back after enduring miles and miles of slogging upwind with horrendous tacking angles.

Sam navigated the sea state brilliantly, keeping the boat powered up and surfing under Code 5 and single-reefed main while at same time keeping her from getting pinned in a trough with low boat speed, which would have the effect of inducing a nasty broach.  I suffered this fate--the one broach we had on the outbound leg.  

Then, the gust.  The 23-25 knot breeze quickly shot up to 30 knots.  At the same time, we picked up a wave and shot forward, hitting our record high of 17.4 knots.  Two words: holy shit.  I'm kicking myself right now for not grabbing the GoPro, but I was busy ensuring that the boat didn't blow up.  With Sam in helmsman heaven, I cleaned up the cockpit, which is important not just on a Mini, but on any boat--but more important on a Mini.  I flaked every line, which was now ready to run at a moment's notice.  I also tweaked the adjustable bob stay on the pole, raising its outboard end to prevent the pole (and kite) from nose-diving into the back of a wave. 

Managing a Mini in breeze is exhausting.  As Sam is the better downwind sailor between the two of us, we decided that he would continue to drive as long as the breeze hovered around 30 knots.  As Sam said, "I can do this shit all night!"  Interpreting this to mean he had the boat under control, I went down below and tried to sleep.  But even with an eye mask and ear plugs, sleeping while Abilyn surfed at an average speed of 15 knots was impossible.  Not only was the sound down below deafening, but I couldn't shut off my brain.  Anticipating the worst, as I always do when conditions become boisterous, I interpreted each of Abilyn's sounds as shrieks and groans of pain, signaling that, any any moment, she would disintegrate.  But Abilyn wasn't in pain.  With all her lines and gear in working order, and with Sam skillfully guiding her, it became more apparent as dusk gave way to night that what I heard as shrieks and groans was actually the roar of Abilyn's battle cry, simply masked by my own concern for her well-being.  Indeed, Abilyn was purpose built for these conditions.   

Sam called me on deck around 2100.  "Breeze is down to 23 knots.  Your turn to drive."  Once on deck, we shook out the reef in the main and switched to the bigger kite as our downwind angle had widened.  You can't peel on Abilyn.  So I hoisted the jib to keep the boat powered up before dousing the Code 5 and putting up the Code 2.  We sailed as deep as we could, but with the breeze clocking slightly, we were being drawn deeper into the ocean and away from Montauk Point.  

The next tactical decision was when to gybe back towards land.  I checked the iPad, where I'm able to analyze GPS, AIS, and all of Abilyn's instrument data thanks to my DMK Box.  I noticed that we were in the company of some larger and well-sailed boats, including the Columbia 32, Weegie.  So we decided to continue on starboard, sailing our most optimal angle.    

Friday, July 31
A New Day.  A New Breeze.

July 31, 2015, 0108 EDT.  Gybe to port.

At 0108 Friday morning, when were able to lay Montauk Point, we gybed onto port and powered on towards our turning mark in a diminishing breeze. At around 0715, in heavy fog, we called the RC to let them know that Montauk Point bore 270 degrees magnetic.  I learned later that Warrior Won, the XP44 that walked away with the regatta's top prizes, and is consistently raced well by a great group of sailors, rounded only about two hours before we did.  Comparing apples to apples, Frogger, the other Mini 6.50 sailing in the regatta, didn't round Montauk until about 1430 on Friday, seven hours after us.  That night on the ocean was one of the most thrilling runs we've had on Abilyn.  But the forecast called for conditions to change entirely, and the race was far from over.

In the early hours of the morning, the breeze continued to clock until it was out of the WNW, and had dropped to about 8-10 knots, well below the 30 knots we saw on the ocean.  This required that we drop the kite and switch from the 110% jib to the larger 140% genoa.

Our next tactical decision was whether to re-enter the Sound via Plum Gut or Race Rock.  We were laying Race Rock, and were currently being pushed at about 1.5 knots by the current produced by the strengthening flood tide.  Given that the forecast called for the breeze to lighten to about 2-5 knots, we obviously needed to avoid adverse current.  And because the adverse ebb tide kicks in at Race Rock later than at Plum Gut, we decided to continue on towards the Race.  Ultimately though, this was not the correct decision; going through the Gut and staying close to Long Island was the play all the way to the finish.  

But sailing through the Race had its benefit--another encounter with a vessel manned by members of the U.S. Navy, this time a partially submerged submarine coming out of the Naval Submarine Base in New London, CT.  

Port to port with a partially submerged submarine.

For the rest of the day, with each watch cycle, we battled light air and struggled to push through the extensive tidal gate that extends well west of Race Rock.  After yet another breathtaking sunset on the water, our Friday culminated when the breeze died completely off Stratford, CT, and we were forced to drop anchor to prevent our VMG from going negative.  The regatta had transformed from a downwind screecher to a drifter, which was by no means unsurprising.  But hey, that sunset!

Sunset.  Long Island Sound.

Saturday, August 1
The Final Push

As July turned into August, we did what we could to slow the bleeding, and keep us from losing ground.  Once the breeze filled in--six hours later--we began the final push to the finish, tacking down the CT coast, but favoring the middle of the Sound where we could.  Weight to leeward in light air.

The final push.

The breeze held consistently at 9-12 knots from day break through the late morning.  But it wouldn't be a race on Abilyn unless the breeze died as we neared the finish.  With less than five miles to the finish, the the breeze again shut off, leaving us without any option other to pray to Neptune.  I summoned the god of the sea, and humbly requested a small hurricane to get us over the line.  In return for not forsaking us, I offered Neptune what was left of my stash of ProBar energy bars.  

Neptune responded, and didn't make it easy.  Before we knew it, it was blowing stink just outside of Hempstead Harbor--13-15 knots with gusts ranging from 18-20 knots.  To get across the line, Neptune made us work--we reefed the main and then spent our last hour on the race course constantly easing both main and jib, and then retrimming, to respond to the gusts coming from the direction of Hell Gate.  I will be more careful the next time I attempt to conjure a god.  

We finished at 14:29:34 with Neptune's assistance (which to my knowledge is not a violation of the RRS).  Unfortunately, we were knocked out of third position by Condor, a Beneteau 38 First that rates the same as Abilyn.  Condor, with its taller mast and longer waterline, is better suited to the light, upwind conditions that dominated the second half of the race.  That said, better tactical decisions, including not favoring the CT coast Friday night, would have put us ahead.  But that's racing.  More importantly, we beat Frogger, and secured bragging rights among the local Mini 6.50 fleet (of which there are four actively sailed boats).  Frogger, for his part, made up considerable time on us after rounding Montauk Point.  Where at one point Josh and Miles were seven hours behind, they finished within three hours.

Soon enough, we had Abilyn back home in Larchmont Harbor, and immediately headed to the bar for a round of Montes--a fitting end to my three-weekend adventure covering a total of 588.45 nautical miles, all logged via my Delorme InReach SE satellite communicator.

Epilogue

One of the many pleasures of sailing is making landfall.  And one of the many pleasures of making landfall, at least for me, is this:

Home.

Upon returning to shore, and with the combination of dark rum and spiced rum expectantly amplifying my land sickness, I tried to reflect on my nearly 600 miles on the water over three weekends.  But I found myself either chasing after my girls on the LYC lawn, or staring blankly into the harbor as the setting sun lit the waters to the east, pleased simply to have spent some "spare time" participating in the activity of sailing.  

As I reflected beyond the immediate gratification of having sailed hard, and further considered Jesse's comment that, at least in his view, I was the "ultimate weekend warrior," I've reached the following conclusion:  Three weekends of outright dedication to sailing does not a weekend warrior make.  Being a weekend warrior is a way of life, with passion being its most distinctive trait.  What these three weekends confirmed for me is that my passion for sailing is real, even though I've been known on occasion to become overtaken by the "burning desire to be at home, on the couch with my [5 1/2] year old girls, watching the Disney movie du jour" rather than sailing.  (See Into the Washing Machine, Sept. 2015).  

I'm convinced that if I continue to pursue this passion I have for sailing by striving to maximize the amount of "spare time" I can dedicate to being on the water, and striving continuously to reach new goals, I will be able to stand with those who truly live the way of the weekend warrior.  Only then will I be worthy of this badge of honor.  And only then will I be able to prove Jesse right.

See you out on the water--well, next season.  As of the date of this post, I'm only three days post-op from surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus.   

And please support 13Fifty Racing.    

Follow Abilyn Around Long Island

Both the longest and largest island in the contiguous United States, Long Island extends 118 miles eastward from New York Harbor to Montauk Point.  With a land area of 1,401 square miles, Long Island is the 11th largest island in the United States and the 148th-largest island in the world.

Today, two Mini Transat 6.50s--Abilyn (USA 829) and Frogger (USA 706)--will sail around this land mass as part of the Around Long Island Regatta, which I believe is the first time two of theses boats have lined up against each other in this regatta.  Although the 21-foot Abilyn is going for the win in Division 8, her #1 priority is to capture bragging rights by squishing Frogger, metaphorically speaking of course.  To do this, Abilyn will need to cross the finish line at the Glen Cove breakwater no less than 9.5 minutes in front of Frogger, whom we owe 3 seconds a mile.  That sounds stupid, you might say, since these are both Mini 6.50s, and are designed to the same box rule.  You're right, but I have a genoa that is 30% larger than Frogger's jib.  That said, Frogger's jib reefs to a jib top, which is ideal in the reaching conditions we're likely to see on the way out to Montauk.  [sigh]  Such is handicap racing.  Please file your Mini 6.50 related grievances with the Yacht Racing Association of Long Island Sound.

The regatta will take these two Minis, and the entire fleet, around Montauk Point, and back into the Sound (keeping Orient Point to port), with a finish in Hempstead Harbor just off the Glen Cove breakwater.

You can follow Abilyn's progress at any of the links below:

http://www.abilynracing.com/abilyntracker/
https://share.delorme.com/AbilynRacing

Or, track us on Facebook!

Abilyn Sailing in New England Solo/Twin Championship, Starting Today

At around noon EDT today, I'll be sailing Abilyn, my Mini Transat 6.50, single-handed in the New England Solo/Twin Championship.  The event, hosted by the Newport Yacht Club sends single-handed and double-handed teams overnight into the Rhode Island Sound on a course that is best characterized as New England's attempt at a mini version of the famed Caribbean 600.  

Abilyn Racing partner, PredictWind, is forecasting light to moderate breeze from the southwest, potentially with some more boisterous gusts.  

Source:  http://www.predictwind.com

The race track will be 77.2 nm as the crow flies, and will take me (and Auto) from Narragansett Bay to the southwestern corner of Block Island, followed by what will hopefully be a fast run over to Buzzards Bay Tower, followed by a cut across the Rhode Island Sound to the "NB" buoy, and then a final push home for a photo finish off Castle Hill.  The first mark presents a dilemma--go to the west of Block Island and possibly face adverse current, or go to the east of Block Island where there is less current but where I'll potentially fall prey to Block Island's wind shadow.  Those more knowledgable than I have advised that the default play will be to take the western side of the island, but sail in less than 50 feet of water to avoid the current.  This might prove difficult if I cannot sail the length of the island without short tacking.  

New England Solo/Twin 77.2 nm course

If you're bored at work on your Friday afternoon, I encourage you to tune into the "Where is Abilyn?" race tracker.  Link below.  

http://www.abilynracing.com/abilyntracker/

You can also access the tracker via the Abilyn Racing page on Facebook, or directly at https://share.delorme.com/AbilynRacing.  

Following the race, I'll tie up for a few minutes back at the Newport Yacht Club, pick up a sailor who has graciously come all the way from Takoma Park, MD to sail with me, and make a bee-line for Sheepshead Bay in my hometown of Brooklyn to stage for next week's Around Long Island Regatta.  212.2 nm later, it will be Monday (hopefully Sunday afternoon)! 

So what are you doing this weekend?

T-3 days Until Four Minis Take Off In the Bermuda 1-2

The gun for the 2015 Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race fires at 1100 EDT (1500 UTC) this Friday.  Track the fleet here.  

On the line will be four Mini 6.50 ocean racers:

  • USA 837Wichard Ocean Sailing (G Yacht Design, modified RG650)
  • USA 806 - ex-Open Sailing (Finot designed Pogo 2 built in CA by Open Sailing)
  • USA 702 - Frogger (Manuard designed Tip Top)
  • CAN 175 - Pogo Loco (Rolland designed Pogo 1)

I'm familiar with 702, 837, and 806, and friendly with their skippers.  702 has previously done the 1-2, and her skipper, Josh Owen, has a significant amount of big-boat ocean racing under his belt.  837 and her skipper, Vernon Hultzer, cut their teeth in last year's Annapolis to Bermuda Race.  Although Minis can be trailered, Vernon chose to sail 837 from Annapolis to Newport by way of the C&D Canal and Delaware Bay, followed by an ocean transit south of Montauk, NY and east of Block Island.  806 has sailed the Singlehanded Transpac under her former owner, Jerome Sammarcelli.  Her current owner has some ocean experience under his belt (including the Fastnet).  All the Mini 6.50 skippers have qualified for the race by completing a solo, offshore passage of no less than 200 miles over no fewer than 48 hours.  All Mini 6.50 skippers have also passed their safety inspections.

I'm very excited to watch these guys on the tracker, although I wish I could be sailing down to Bermuda with my brethren.  Life's about choices.  I made the right one by sitting this one out, although my time will come.  

So what are these guys gonna to see en route to Bermuda across the weather machine that is the Gulf Stream?  Let's start with the Stream itself.  What looked like a mosh of eddies in February, March, and April (see report here) has solidified into what appears to be a well-defined formation with visible, major structures.  Today's near realtime satellite altimetry derived surface current image shows a large cold eddy on the rhumb line north of the stream, with a large warm eddy to the west.  The optimal route (notwithstanding wind and movement of these features) appears to favor the west between the warm and cold eddies.

Source:  http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/dataphod/work/trinanes/INTERFACE/index.html

Now let's talk about wind.  Abilyn Racing partner Predictwind.com shows a passage duration of around 5 days with predominantly reaching conditions.

Source:  http://www.predictwind.com

It's good for the Minis that the forecast shows more off-the-breeze conditions, because that's what the Mini was built for.  That said, there's one aspect of this summary that concerns me--the CMC forecast.  CMC stands for Canadian Meteorological Centre, and reflects the forecast provided by the Met Centre, which is an arm of the Canadian government.  This forecast shows that 10% of the race will be sailed in conditions above 40 knots, with a max wind speed of nearly 50 knots.  Digging into this more, the CMC forecast shows an easterly breeze building on the morning of Sunday, June 7 to become nearly 50 knots from the southeast by morning on Monday, June 8.  

PredictWind Mini 6.50 routing model.  Source:  http://www.predictwind.com

Headings:  (Day, Time) (TWS) (TWD) (TWA) (SOG) (COG)

If the CMC forecast holds true, the Mini sailors, and, indeed, the entire fleet, may experience some pretty route conditions around the same time that the rest of us head to the office for some desk sailing.  Although it's no guarantee, the B1-2 sailors should take some amount of solace in Predictwind's observation that over "10 years of extensive and comparative testing during Americas Cup yacht racing, and the most recent Volvo Ocean [Race]," Predictwind's proprietary model "has proven . . . to be the most reliable and accurate for wind prediction."  These proprietary models (labeled PWG and PWC) show max wind speeds across the route in the low 20s.  You can read more about these various wind forecasting models here.  

I wish my fellow Mini sailors, and the rest of the fleet, safe passage to Bermuda as each takes to the open ocean--alone--this coming Friday for the first leg of the Bermuda 1-2.  Sail fast.  Be safe.  Mind Kitchen Shoal.  

A Brief Glimpse Into The Gulf Stream

Anybody going to Bermuda?

One of the aspects of distance sailing that truly interests me is navigation.  And although Abilyn will not be sailing to Bermuda in 2015, I'm still very much drawn to how the ever-changing Gulf Stream current is shaping up for this year's Bermuda 1-2 competitors, and how it will impact the course to Bermuda.  For the uninitiated, Frank Bohlen of the University of Connecticut provides a great primer on the Gulf Stream here.  It's definitely worth a read.  

Frank, and anybody else with experience navigating to Bermuda, will advise that the prudent navigator studies the Stream's evolution months in advance to develop the most optimal strategy for crossing the thermal boundary.  To that end, I created the video below, which compiles NOAA images of near-realtime satellite altimetry derived surface currents based on the OCCAM XBT model for the period of February 2, 2015, through April 11, 2015--spaced out in 4-day increments.  In my view, the altimetry data provided by NOAA is one of friendlier ways to observe the changes in the Gulf Stream.

You can clearly see in the video the development and movement of various eddies in and around the main stream feature.  Some of the more interesting features, at least to me, include the large meander shown in the February 18 image located west of the rhumb line, which appears to bring the Stream nearly back on itself for about 200 miles (to the SW); and the eddy-ridden region west of the rhumb line in the March 26 image, which appears to show no semblance of a major stream feature.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the Stream develops in the 53 days between now and the start of the Bermuda 1-2.  For comparison, here's how the Stream looked around June 19, 2014, for the start of the Newport-Bermuda Race versus how the stream looked around April 11, 2015.

Bermuda 1-2 Update: Abilyn a No-Go (This Year)

After much internal debate, and discussion with my wife, co-skipper, and friends, I've decided not to pursue the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race this year, despite qualifying this past September with a 205-mile, 29-hour solo offshore voyage to the edge of the Continental Shelf and back.  Although I am certainly apprehensive about taking a 21-foot pocket rocket across the Gulf Stream, I am not deterred as I'm confident enough in my sailing, safety and survival skills such that the reward of undertaking the adventure greatly outweighs the risks based my assessment.  Some will certainly say (and have said) that my calculator must be broken--e.g., my mother.  Nope.  It rivals the TI-86 and is working just fine.  But fear is not why I'll be watching the triangles of the Yellowbrick tracker this go-around rather than being one of those triangles.  Neither is my autopilot, although I've previously written about my efforts to exorcise the demons from my tiller ram and course computer.  I'll be sitting this one out for the same reason why many of us aren't able to get out on the water as much as we'd like...work. 

In two weeks time, I'll be transitioning companies, and my instinct is telling me to set the adventure aside for a brief period of time to focus on solidifying myself in my new role and building the same level of trust and goodwill that I have built over past 5+ years at my current company--elements that will be essential when I inevitably say--"Hey, so I'm going to take off the month of June to sail my 21-foot sled to Bermuda and back."  Indeed, taking into account planning, sailing both legs, and the fundamental dedication of your cognitive faculties to engage in the pursuit both safely and effectively, the time requirement for the race is about four straight weeks.  Unfortunately, this is far more than I can dedicate right now (even if I fly back to NYC between the first and second legs).  It's just not the right time.

That said, Abilyn will still sail this season and will get some more miles under her hull.  We are hoping to pursue a schedule that includes some weekends of offshore training, local day races, and the following local longer distance races:

  • Storm Trysail Club Around Block Island Race
  • Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race Week
  • New England Solo/Twin
  • Seacliff YC Around Long Island Regatta
  • Ida Lewis Distance Race
  • Stamford YC Vineyard Race

Plus, I'll be participating in Larchmont Junior Race Week in July to give a presentation on the Mini Transat 6.50 boat and some of my experience, and hopefully give some of the juniors a pretty cool ride.

I'm of course saddened that Abilyn will not be participating in this year's Bermuda 1-2, especially given that four other Mini 6.50s are committed to the race:  CAN 175 (Pogo Logo), USA 806 (ex-Open Sailing), USA 702 (Frogger), and USA 837 (Wichard Ocean Racing).  Although it's a long shot, we're going to try to gain entry to the 2016 Newport-Bermuda Race.  If that doesn't work, we'll fly the Jolly Roger and sail the course anyways. And then, banking on the prospect that the 2017 America's Cup doesn't actually happen on account of other competitors taking Luna Rossa Challenge's lead, we'll plan on the 2017 B1-2.

See you out on the water soon enough.  It feels like Spring.

In 2015, Resolve To Thank Your Significant Others For Putting Up With Your Crap

As sailors, especially sailors with their own boats, we have a lot of crap--sweaty base layers, salty boots, cans of acetone and other toxic solvent, and a lot of frickin' rope.  If you're smart and didn't throw all your sailing budget into offshore safety gear, you might have saved enough to commission the boatyard to strip your boat of its goodies and store them for you for the winter.  Or, if you're like me, you stripped everything from your own boat, and then brought all your gear into the home you share with your spouse.

At the end of the 2014 season, my plan was to strip Abilyn of all her gear, and bring it to my Brooklyn apartment so that I could clean and organize every last item before transporting the load to offsite storage.  Unfortunately, I lack that thing that some of you have in the suburbs...what's it called...the thing with the flippy door?  Oh yeah, a garage.

So what made this possible?  Simply put, an extremely, absurdly, obscenely understanding wife.  I mean, I used her shower and candle-lined bath to clean about 150 pounds of line, foulies, gear bags, and life vests before overtaking the outdoor common space in our building to dry everything out.

What we sometimes take for granted as sailors is that it's the people at home who support us in our adventures that make our sailing possible--not just our crew, riggers, guys at the boatyard, and local beer distributor.  In 2015, I resolve to thank my wife more for supporting all that I do, on and off the water, and welcoming me (and my sailing gear) back into our home after time on the sea.  Without my wife, none of what I do (or try to do) would be possible, or worthwhile.  

I encourage all you sailors out there to resolve in 2015 to be more appreciative of your wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, and anybody else who puts up with your sailing crap.

Happy New Year!