Living on El Gato in the Caribbean gives us the best of both worlds. Cruising and competitive racing. We do not race the house anymore in case you were wondering! Too much “stuff” and although we know our Catana 472 is fast, we don’t need to push it around a race course when it is filled with all the comfort creatures of home. With an icemaker, washing machine, full fridge and freezer, bikes, windsurfers, fishing gear, and loads of other goodies, the list is long. We listened to an owner of an Outremer complain that their rating was not right because they were loaded down with “stuff” and while we were sympathetic, it confirmed our choice. Watching other boat owners leave all their “stuff” on a dock while they race looks like way too much work!
As passionate racers we’ve stepped aside for almost a year to continue our journey of exploring new islands and living the dream. That said, we decided to pick up the pace this year by joining 2 different crews and compete in high profile regattas that attract US snow birds, Europeans, and plenty of locals. At Antigua Sailing Week there were teams from over 35 countries and the types of yachts ranged from charter boats to super yachts.
When Latitude 38’s founder Richard Spindler posted on FB that the Santa Cruz 70 named Hotel California Too was looking for crew we immediately signed up. We had planned to be in St Barthes for racing on the new Gun Boat Thirst, but Thirst wouldn’t be ready until Antigua Sailing Week. HCT’s owner Steve Schmidt has sailed thousands of miles single handedly and knows his boat well. What he didn’t know well was the cast of thousands that joined him in St Barths. He tapped me to do navigation/tactics, and Eric to trim main. With old sails, no spinnaker, and a new crew, we somehow managed to sail consistently and fast enough to finish 2nd in our class. It helped that some of our competitors were DSQ’d for various reasons. Was it painful to sail downwind without a kite? You BET! But we had a good crew who never gave up and Steve even handed me the helm on the last day when it was so light we worried about making the finish time limit. We did, with 30 mins to spare at 5:30PM. Steve added extra incentive by promising me a bottle of Veuve champagne if I didn’t let Sapphire III, a gorgeous new 85’machine pass us. It worked! LOL
The parties in St Barthes are legendary. This was the 6th year running for the Voiles and as it grows so does the organization to keep the racing as good as the onshore entertainment. There were under water treasure hunts for champagne bottles (no goggles allowed), paddle board team races, pole dancers, cabaret shows, live bands, dancing and of course the most delicious French cuisine. Our crew bonded day by day and with Richard and his first mate Dona’s help, Eric and I met several locals on board as well as at the local hang outs.
The bay of Columbier is a Sunday tradition for locals and our crew wound up rendezvousing and boat hopping all day after the regatta finished. It was hard for all of us to say goodbye. You know that feeling when everything clicks and the magic is the people? That was us thanks to Richard and his wizardry at being creative, witty, and basically an all around super nice guy who knows everyone on St Barthes. After 30 years of visiting he knew that island like the back of his hand and he took us under his wing from the get go.
A few days later we sailed with daughter Lucretia and her friend Megan down to Antigua and gave the girls some various excursions as well as decent fishing. Four fish in two hours had Eric cleaning fish and boat non stop. We finally pulled the lines to give him a break. Their last night we hiked up to Shirley Heights and the views were breathtaking on the way back down over the cliffs at sunset.
Gun Boat 55 “Thirst” arrived and we anchored close by in Falmouth Harbor near the Cat Club. With friends stopping by and dinners on board we introduced Seamus to our buddies from other yachts we’ve bonded and crossed oceans with. We also had the opportunity to sail with Seamus for a few hours to check out the systems.
A couple days later Eric’s Dartmouth fraternity friend Tobi Reiley, his wife Sally, son Andrew, and Mike Taber from Sea Hawk, a bottom paint company and event sponsor completed our crew. With one day of practice under our collective belts, we raced in the first race in blustery conditions and steep waves placing 4th. Once again no spinnaker was to be seen on our boat. Seamus had yet to put it up and these were not the right conditions to train the crew and learn the boat all at once. We needed more time to practice and learn the complex systems. Inside there are only 2 winches and lots of hydraulics to do everything. Without going into details, Eric and Mike were the foresail and traveler trimmers. With the exception of a hydraulic mainsheet, all trimming and pit functions were handled on two 3 speed winches in 8 square feet of space. I trimmed mainsheet with one finger, managed the boards up and down with another finger and did tactics/navigation (most races were between 13-18 miles up and down the coast in a choice of 54 courses). Tobi did the bow. The others assisted with various jobs like preventer and line clean ups. Day 2 was a disaster. Someone pushed a “dumb button” as my mom would call it and the anchor bridle got sucked far up into the bow sprit. It took 2 hours to pry it out and while we were struggling and after we’d called the RC that we would not be competing, our friends from Sugar Shack, Christine and Matt Mitchell anchored near us and came to see if we had really pulled a dead body from the water like another boat told them. Tobi had been hanging off the bow sprit to pull that sucker out but to no avail. Christine and Matt raced with us on HCT and we loved their energy, willingness to learn and do things efficiently. They were coming to watch us race and now we knew we needed them. After that debacle we practiced with the spinnaker and were ever so thankful when Seamus invited them to join our crew. Tobi needed at least 2 more hands up there on the tramp and his son was injured from snow skiing (dangerous sport!). The next morning I took Christine with me to find the guy in charge of our races so we could request they do 2 races per day instead of one for the multihulls. She was my wing man. I figured bringing along a pretty girl could only help our cause. With a minimum of 6 races we could have a throwout and toss the “dumb button” DNS. It worked so well I almost cried and literally had goose bumps on my arms. As he walked away he touched his chest and declared I pulled his heart strings. That day and the next race day they announced we would have 2 races so we had races to spare. Thank you RC!!! We placed 2nd in every race until the last day when there was only one very long race and we won it! It was exciting and adrenaline filled with us learning the systems, racing against other fleets, rounding marks to port and starboard and jumping off of waves. We held our breath as we watched our bowmen fly in the air and thankfully land back on board, except once when Tobi went over the front, hung on, and flew back up and on again with the next wave. That last day was also Matt’s 50th birthday, and at the prize giving of the 50th anniversary of the event they made the announcement so everyone sang to him. The evening was rounded off perfectly with a crew dinner hosted by Amy and Seamus at the Nelson Dockyard Restaurant, and the next table was occupied by Frederick Moe, the 60′ Gun Boat Moementum’s owner and his crew from Jamaica. We were in good company! That team was fun!
Racing this past month definitely got our competitive juices flowing and we’ve been invited back to race Thirst next season. We highly recommend anyone who’s ever thought about chartering or racing down there to just friggin do it! No regrets!
We now sit in our Cali house enjoying unlimited internet and phone service, long hot showers, cats who need scratching, and tonight will head to San Francisco for son Rico’s graduation ceremonies at UC Berkeley. Nice to see most of the kids this week and share stories and hugs with dear friends.