A Window Seat Away from Oakcliff is St. Barth's
If anyone has been checking in on this site regularly they will have noticed that I haven't updated it very much. This is because for the past 3 plus years I have been fully immersed in starting up Oakcliff Sailing in Oyster Bay New York. This is a full time project and we are doing amazing things. Everyone should sign up for the newsletter and read more at www.oakcliffsailing.org or you can click on the logo to the right. Every once in a while I escape the day to day craziness of the fast growing non-profit that Oakcliff is and get to go sailing on my own. This latest time was the St. Barth's Bucket. I sailed on a Perini Navi again and the owners of this boat were first timers and they were wonderful. The rest of the story although was a story of team building.
Shortly after arriving, I met the Captain and we realized that we were short racing sailors, a minimim of 5 sailors short. So for three days between arrival and practice we scrambled and trolled the docks. Our local helmsperson Fritz Bus was able to find two friends, Garth from St. Maarten and Vincent from St. Barths. One of our Spanish crew found Diego off of a charter catamaran. And Bif the first mate called in Aussie rock star Nicky Souter. I was lucky enough to connect with German Wolf Dietz who I knew from Morning Glory Days as well as Valencia where he was leading the German America's Cup team when I was in charge of the French.
Across the 10 hours of practice time we managed to pull together a pretty good, if short handed team to hoist the absolutely HUGE sails on this 50 meter yacht. We got them up and down, worked on hand signals and leadership and systems and procedures. Oh and we learned each other's names.
Race Day One: We led for over 2 hours and 23 minutes and then eventually in this pursuit style racing the rest of the boats started to catch up. For a while it looked like we were being invaded as the 35 boats, all 100 feet and over were sailing sails spread, downwind coming for us. We managed to hold on to 5th place. Smiles all around.
Race Day Two: It poured with rain. The winds picked up well into the 30s and we split the leech of our main and were forced to retire. This is when the team really pulled together. We worked from a little after noon until dark, in the pouring rain to remove the 1200lb mainsail from the boom, get the 50 foot battens out, pack up the sail, winch it into the tender, which didn't quite sink but came close. Then it was all hands onto the make-shift North Sail Loft to push and pull and roll and muscle the sail under the huge sewing machine, then flake and pack and load and winch it back up onto the deck. This was all done in the pouring rain. It was COLD and we worked until we couldn't see anymore. And we were truly becoming a team - the race crew, the permenant crew and the owners - together.
Race Day Three: Up and at it by 6am and we managed to get battens in, tensioned, onto the boom, rolled onto the mandrel and then hoisted and lowered and only pulled out of the pre-feeder once and we were ready for the start! The chef made sausage and bacon and some kind of a stick food and eggs and coffee so everyone was able to get nourishment before we headed around the Island.
The start was magic. We got a good line sight, after three days of sailing this huge but slow accelerating and fast decelerating yacht we had a better idea of what 4 minutes on the water looked like. It was a downwind start with about 25 knots of wind and we were pushing it very close. At 40 seconds we hoisted the spinnaker and kept the sock down. At 30 seconds we were early and turned the ship towards the pin which was further downwind. At 20 seconds Fritz on the helm wanted to come up and I held him down. At 10 seconds we yelled 'Bucket Up' and the spinnaker began to be unveiled. We collectively held our breath and as the gun went off we were less than 3 feet from the line with the spinnaker up and a huge exhale and cheer went up. The rest of the race had excitement. A blown spinnaker sheet had all leap into action but the team handled it like they had been working together for months not days. Even the guest and owners were in the mix running the 30 meters forward and pulling the sail in. We finished mid-fleet but considered it a success.
As I mentioned to the owners, to me you win sailboat races and you loose sailboat races but what really matters is that you always work hard, through the finish line and improve as a team. That is the magic of sailboat racing to me no matter if it is on a Match 40 or a gorgeous Perini Navi.