It’s official. I have been accepted as a Bermuda 1-2 skipper for the 2017 race. How did I get here?
The Bermuda 1-2 is in its 40th year in 2017 and is a race in which solo sailors race from Newport to Bermuda, then after a break of a few days, pick up a crew member and race double-handed back. It has been my goal to participate in this race since about 2010.
I am a relative newcomer to sailing, only started sailing 10 years ago, and only really seriously for the past two years. My first attempt to sail was as a graduate student I was at the Cold Spring Harbor laboratories, and a fellow student asked if I wanted to sail. Not being one to shy from adventure I said “of course”. We got in this very small dingy and within about 10 yards we capsized. When we bobbed up he asked me how to get the boat right side up! Neither of us realized that neither of us had sailed before. It was an afternoon of trial and error. We got the boat upright, realized that piece of wood (centerboard) should probably stick through the hull, then we started trucking downwind, away from shore. Superb fun. It gradually dawned on us that sailing upwind might be different. Not knowing the words tack and jibe, nor what the procedures were, we made a turn, jibed, capsized, and got wet again. This was the repeating story of the afternoon. But we watched other boats, let them be our teacher and by the end of the afternoon had largely figured out how to sail upwind and downwind.
Fast forward about 28 years and my eldest kid was leaving for college and I realized that with my kids leaving I would have a bit a spare time on my hands. I love watersports, maybe I could start some water activity in my spare time. Kayaking was the obvious first choice.
In middle school I was a competitive white water kayaker. In woodwork and metalwork classes we were taught how to fiberglass and to make kayaks. My kayaking buddy, Tony Price and I, decided we could use this to our advantage over the summer. Not having enough cash to buy a kayak, we took pre-orders on about 10 from friends, persuaded someone to drive us to London to rent a kayak mold, returned to Swindon and proceeded to knockout a kayak a day. By the end we had enough cash and supplies to make ourselves our own kayaks for free. Of course we made ours last after we had the process finely tuned. I guess this was my first entrepreneurial adventure.
We spent many weekends camping and racing in our kayaks that we were so proud of. Tony was a great kayaker, I was average, but we had a lot of fun. We would kayak around the upper reaches of the River Thames on weekend school trips and do insane acts of shooting down dams. One day, I had a serious accident: shot the dam, did a 180 spin at the bottom and was trapped upside down with water pinning me between the kayak and a rock. The force of the water left me unable to flip the kayak back upright. We kayaked using a buddy system – my buddy for the day Mark, came to my rescue got the nose of his boat to me allowing me to pull my head out of the water to get a little air. Slowly, I pulled myself out of the kayak. Kayaking has never been the same since. I want the rush and excitement of the white water, but I lost my edge.
So as I was thinking about what to do in my spare time I decided to try sailing, rather than kayaking, and see whether I could learn to do it properly. Living in Philadelphia at the time I took ASA 101 and 103 courses on the Delaware river with my son Dan. This is when we learned the difference between a tack and a jibe. We had a lot of fun then went to St Augustine and took ASA 104. This qualified us to Bareboat charter. I decided to charter a boat in the BVI for my 50th birthday. Rather than recounting all my sailing mishaps and adventures, there is one to share. My family came with me and we returned to Tortola a day early because Julia was sick. They insist on docking in reverse. Anyone new to sailing knows that this isn’t really what you practice. I made a total shitshow of it. But we eventually reversed in. Prop walk – ahh, I didn’t understand yet how to use it to my advantage. The next day Dan and I went for a day sail. We practiced and practiced reversing, using mooring balls to line up on. Dan did the best job so when we came back to Tortola, we decided he could reverse us in to the slip. As we approached we hailed the dockmaster. We gave the name of the boat and he said – come in bow first. Well that would have been fine, but what we forgot was that Dan had never docked bow first – I always did that. Wrong person at the helm! But we survived, lived to tell the story and to have many more exciting adventures sailing.
Cruising in Boston
When we moved to Boston we initially cruised for a season on a Sailtime timeshare. This summer told me that I was ready for a boat. It seemed the weekends we weren’t on the rotation then the weather was great. When it was our turn, the weather was awful, or we set sail, only to have to turn around to return to port in time for the end of our 3h allocation. I couldn’t stand another year of not sailing when I wanted too, especially since from our condo we look at the harbor and all the others sailing.
We purchased a boat that is a very comfortable cruiser. Yolande is less into sailing than myself so we brought a comfortable boat that I could have fun with and that she could enjoy relaxing on. For several years we have spent summers and evenings cruising around Boston, as well as up to Bar Harbor Maine and down to Manhattan. Generally these are daysails and we stop somewhere overnight. There were times, such as when we go to Maine, where we would leave Boston in the morning sail through the night and get up into Penobscot day the next morning or afternoon. Generally, Yolande would sleep through the night, except for a 15 minute break so that I could take a nap, and I would essentially solo the trip. Nights at sea are magical. Through this cruising I got to enjoy higher and higher winds, more adverse conditions and learning how to push myself.
Every time we would be near a boat, a race seemed to develop. Well in my mind at least. In the summer I would start work very early so that by 4pm I could head home to the marina and sail in the evening. Many times we got mixed up in the middle of evening races. The Constitution Yacht Club holds their evening series on Wednesday’s and it was very enjoyable to watch them sailing around in what looked like pandemonium, but what was clearly a well-orchestrated affair on their part. But I only knew one rule – starboard tack is the stand on vessel. Generally we tried to stay away from the races so as not to interfere with their fun, and perhaps to ensure that we didn’t get caught up with their boats. But it sure was intriguing.
In the winter of 2014/15 I decided to keep our boat Prairie Gold, in the water at Constitution marina. Then I saw that there was a New Year’s day race. What the heck, I decided to enter it since it seemed that it wasn’t just serious racers. This race was a pursuit race – each boat has a handicap and there is a staggered start so that if all sail equally well, all boats will cross the finish line at the same time. Well that’s the theory. With a crew of friends we started the race and had such a blast. It was a lot of fun to be trying to sail at maximum efficiency and to be looking out for other boats – at this stage just to avoid them, later to play with them and to try to legally impede their progress. We had a great sail and didn’t come last. We took that as a victory.
After this entry into racing, or should I say participating in a race, made me want for more. So we joined the CYC and entered the Wednesday evening inner harbor races. I must admit the first few starts were a little intimidating since everyone except for me seemed to know what they were doing. But after a few weeks we got more aggressive and the starts began to grow on me. I was pleasantly surprised that the racers were really helpful and happy that we were on the course with them. I quipped that they were happy because they knew that they wouldn’t come last! In all seriousness we had crew come up, welcome us and offer to help if we needed or wanted help. Heck, we can do with all the help there is.
Before racing I was concerned that being an absolute amateur would cause problems for others. But everyone has welcomed us to the club and is happy we are participating.
Our crew is a bunch of local friends with varying levels of skill. Some are from our condo association and my goal is to get people to participate and enjoy time on the water.
Now two years later we have raced several times and even placed occasionally. But I yearn for those long offshore sails. During the past year I have been doing more short-handed sailing with the goal of entering the Bermuda 1-2. In 2016 I competed in the offshore 160 out of Newport Yacht Club. This is a qualifier for the B1-2. After drifting with no wind for 10 hours I decided to abandon the race. But I had sailed sufficiently long (time and distance) to be accepted as an entrant to the B1-2 in 2017. My goals for 2017 are simple – to sail and finish, and drink at least one dark n stormy in Bermuda.
One of the elements of the elements of solo sailing that I love is the necessity to personally push oneself and manage your physiology for days on end. In my job some of my research concerns the regulation of sleep. Thus I am going to use the B1-2 as an experiment in sleep regulation and am trying to persuade a friend to write an app to measure my reaction time when I am sleep-deprived. Not only will I collect data but wish to use this as a way of providing feedback to inform me when I should nap. However, to get this all to work I need to convince my mate to get an iphone rather than an android.
I am now in the stage of making many modifications to the boat (a future blog entry) to achieve the safety requirements of the race and then it will be time to try to log some polar coordinates during April and May so that I can effectively use weather routing software during the voyage. More on that later.