12 Jun Wet N Wild Ride in Annapolis To Newport Race
Oakcliff’s three Farr 40s and the Open 30 Overproof embarked on the Annapolis to Newport Race at 11am on Saturday, June 8. For the first 15 hours of the race, the teams juggled their jibs and Code Zeros reaching out of the Chesapeake Bay. Farr 40s Blue and Red exited the Bay neck-and-neck on opposite sides of an inbound cruise ship. Red went South of the ship and headed offshore while Blue went North and tacked around the Chesapeake Bay Light Tower as tight as possible to go farther inshore.
The Navigator on Red, Roby Douglas, opted for the offshore route because he predicted that the deeper water would produce a more manageable sea state with rolling waves instead of choppy ones. He also anticipated a better angle on the final approach to Block Island when the breeze was forecast to go aft.
Heading upwind along the coast after rounding the Chesapeake Bay Light Tower was a jarring transition for the teams; close reaching into 10-12 foot swells took a heavy toll. Two crew members on Blue and one on Red were totally incapacitated for most of the race. The rest suffered from sea sickness to varying degrees but were able to stay functional.
Black exited the Chesapeake just a short margin behind Blue and Red but they were experiencing serious oil issues with the engine. Despite Boat Captain Chris Holman’s best attempts to get it running, he couldn’t stop the oil from leaking out and filling the bilge. After getting the engine evaluated on land, they found out that a piston had seized up and bent the connecting rod which punched a hole in the side of the engine. The cause of the failure was traced back to the last time the engine was taken apart when one of the fuel feed lines from the high-pressure pump was inadvertently loosened. This resulted in excess fuel entering the cylinder which washed away the coating of oil that lubricated the piston until it seized.
Meanwhile, Training Program Director Ethan Johnson faced a similar challenge on Overproof. The engine spewed a thick coating of oil over the entire interior of the small boat. The mess and the fumes were so bad that the crew were only able to spend brief moments down below and had to sleep huddled together in the cockpit. Without auxiliary power or the ability to charge essential electronics like navigation lights, GPS, or AIS, Black and Overproof made the difficult (but smart) decision to retire from the race. They ducked into New York Harbor and took refuge at Liberty Landing Marina.
And then there were two: Blue and Red. By Monday morning, about 48 hours into the race, they were still neck and neck. All of the crew who had been debilitatingly sea sick had come back to the land of the living only to face a new challenge; it was colder than it had been all race. Even with all their layers plus a few borrowed ones, some of the crew were unable to thermoregulate and could only stay on the rail for so long. Both boats had abandoned the watch system for the final push and every ounce of weight on the rail was critical for maximizing speed.
Blue was right on rhumbline and Red was 15 miles farther offshore. With the wind forecast to back, Red was in the favored position. Blue pushed hard and thought they had a chance at reeling in Red but they got clobbered by a squall line a few miles before rounding Block Island. They were under sail with a reefed main and had just swapped out the J3 for the J1 in response to a dying breeze when a sustained 35 knots blew in and knocked them way down below course. Oakcliff Fleet Manager Greg Adams and did a good job responding at the helm to avoid a wipeout but they paid the price in height; they were 40 degrees below lay line for Block Island. They got a second reef in and got back on course but Red had made major gains. They found out afterwards that they never got hit by the squall line.
When Blue arrived at the dock, the crew of Red was waiting for them with the perfect way welcome back a group of salty sailors: a cooler full of beer and hot pie of pizza. A cacophony of laughter broke out as the two crews swapped stories. All of hours spent staving off sea sickness in the wet, cold rain melted into fond memories. The largest hardships produced the loudest laughs.
Oakcliff Shore Manager Tim Kent, who sailed on Red, guffawed as Boat Captain Cullen Zelenka recounted how Mother Nature seemed to have a vendetta against him. Nearly every time Tim stepped on deck, a big wave would crash over the bow and hit him just right to cascade down his foulies. Even when he was kneeling at the stern to pee, an extra big wave managed to reach him and splash up his foulie pant to fill his boot.
On Blue, the box of fruit snacks got soaked and dissolved to fill the bilge with a soup of cardboard mush and fruit snacks packets. When they told the crew on Red about it, they responded, “You had a sea of fruit snacks too?” They couldn’t help but get a kick out of the fact that, of all the snacks on board, it was the same exact snack that went rogue and fill the bilge.