Marblehead to Halifax: A New Record!

Editor's Note: Our deepest apologies for not posting these accounts during the race.  Regrettably, we had satellite communication issues that prevented us from publishing anything while offshore.

Day 1:

What a beautiful day to go sailing.  The start was a bit lighter than we expected, as the sea breeze fought off the morning’s gradients.  This created some agitation in the back of the boatas our start brought around 4 knots of wind and a major left hand shift.  At the gun, we pushed a long starboard tack off to the port layline, tacked and aimed the pointy end right at the mouth of Marblehead harbor.  Waiting for us there was one of the best spectator fleets we’ve seen.  Smiles ear to ear on deck as horns, whistles and hollers from the gallery powered our left turn around the top mark, and stayed with us until the second mark, where we set our big A1.5 and aimed the boat for Canada.

About 30 minutes later, we were greeted by some local wildlife.  A gentleman on a jet-ski, well out of what we though was standard jet-ski range buzzed by holding a gropro and an iphone.  We think he said he was with Cape Ann TV and that we were all going to be famous.  More on that later I guess.

The beautiful afternoon continued, interrupted only by a whale strike, prompting momentary confusion on deck as the boat came to an abrupt stop.  We reported its location to the Coast Guard, and hoped that our competitors - not to mention other whales - would be spared a similar fate.  We didn’t hit hard, and the whale remained in place until our momentum rolled it off the keel, leading us to think it was dead before we hit it.  At least that’s what we hope.  Naturally, we named the whale Bob.

Back on track, we set back down the rhumb line at 12-13 knots under a double headed rig: A1.5 and spinnaker staysail.  We sailed comfortably in this configuration for about an hour until a left shift and pressure meant we were sailing too hot to hold the A1.5.  We peeled to an A3 plus genoa staysail setup and rumbled on.

The wind has stayed light, and the sea state relatively flat.  In the back of our minds, we all knew that a few more knots of wind could really push us in to warp speed and get us to the bar in time for last call Monday. 

Night 1:

The sun set around 9:00pm, but long before that, the fashion show began.  One by one, crew members snuck below to add layers in preparation for the night ahead.  A few of us had done this race before and knew full well how cold it can get.  Needless to say, we were treated to a multicolor variety of fleece, wool and foulies in various shades of “I’d never wear this on shore.” 

Preparation was key though, as the wind built into the 20’s and held the same direction.  It did get cold.  By now we were hauling the mail through the water around 16-17 knots, but our A3 kept us well above the rhumb line.  Initially we were happy just to be logging good miles in flat seas, but around 2:30am the call was made to peel the A3/genoa staysail combo in favor of the A2+ and spinnaker staysail.  We were a few knots slower in this configuration but could carry the A2+ at true wind angles.  Also, a well timed left shift pushed us closer to the rhumb line, offsetting speed through the water somewhat.

3:00 now, and Larry the Navigator (L1 as he’s known on board) appears through the companionway.  “Brazil rock by 7am boys! Send it!”  Luckily I (read: the bowman) was driving.  The challenge was to keep the boat in around 15 knots by hunting within a true wind angle of 128 - 135.  Down at 135 degrees, the boat got sticky and slow and we’d lose momentum, whereas we’d quickly get too wicked up around 128.  After some calming influence from my trimmers, Rob Gale and Dave Scott, I actually managed to settle in and start hitting my numbers, and even turned a few 15s into some 16s,  but then we went dead ship.  All electronics were out leaving us only the binnacle and the stars to sail by.   Rob, Dave and I worked to keep the boat moving as best as we could, and 5 minutes later when the lights came back on, we were still at 133 degrees true wind angle.  Sometimes, sailing is best done by braille.

Day 2:

We did indeed pass Brazil Rock at 7:00am, but were too far offshore to see it.  Strong southerlies were pushing us up along the Nova Scotia cost as we VMG gybed our way towards Halifax.  We all knew were were close to the end of the race, and the watch system became a bit of a free for all as the possibility of setting a record became more and more attainable.  Everyone wanted to be on deck, and everyone wanted to contribute whatever boat speed they could. 

Unfortunately, we got caught in a light patch inshore, and had to make a slow gybe out to reach the sea breeze.  Strangely, this brought us our first glimpse of the shoreline of the land of flannel bikinis.  Surely we were almost there now.

Once again, I was given an opportunity to drive, which you don’t pass up on a Mills 68.  A2+ and spinnaker staysail were the weapons I was dealt.  Within half an hour, average boatspeed was in the high 16s, low 17s and a few bounces up to 18.3 on the fun-o-meter.  After I stepped off the wheel, the boat would not hit those speeds again until a third sail was added to the foredeck.

Which was actually a terrifying sight to behold.  Flying along at 19-22knots on flat seas under the A2+, spinnaker staysail and genoa staysail, Prospector seemed unstoppable.  She was jumping and charging like an animal that wants you off its back, and only got faster and more stable as she figured we weren’t going anywhere.  

We thundered into Halifax Harbor at 16 knots under just our jib and main.  Even before we crossed the line, local spectators were all out in their boats offering welcomes, and congratulating us on breaking the record (which we didn’t officially know yet).  The victory parade continued as we dropped sails and steamed in to the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron as more boats came to see, and people gathered on the side of the channel to shout congratulations.  All in all, it was a pretty surreal experience for a crew of mostly amateur sailors who had managed 5 hours of sleep int the prior 36.

Fortunately, we cleared customs, and our top notch shore crew, Tery Lively, greeted us with plates of sandwiches, cold beers and even victory cigars at the dock.  At that point, it had happened.  We had won the race, and officially broken our first record.  Here is hoping it stays for a while.

Marblehead to Halifax: Pre-Race

By 1:30 pm tomorrow, Sunday July 9th, the mighty Prospector and the band of misfits calling themselves her crew will set out from Marblehead harbor, aim the boat towards Halifax, and hope for the best.  With a promising forecast, the team is hoping to cross the finish line somewhere between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, but in any event, early enough to enjoy the Halifax hospitality promised by race organizers.  

You can join the adventure by following updates from on board here at prospectorsailing.com, and track the team’s progress at the yellowbrick tracker here:

https://www.marbleheadtohalifax.com/Default.aspx?p=dynamicmodule&pageid=38&ssid=100045&vnf=1

Next Challenge: Les Voiles de St. Barth

Having won Les Voiles de St. Barth last year, Team Prospector is hoping to repeat in 2017 and defend its title.  So far, we have had 2 great practice days in the beautiful Caribbean waters, using the time to get back up to speed after nearly 6 weeks off the water.  Today, we went around the island to practice one of the likely courses, propelled by 15-20 knots of breeze.  Despite a few hairy moments, and an unplanned stop to remove a crab pot from the keel bulb, the crew executed impeccably - the perfect lead in to race day 1!

Four days of coastal racing will present a similar challenge as our time in Sardinia after focusing mostly on offshore and sprint races during the interim.  This time of course, we know the waters, and we know the boat a bit better, so the whole crew is chomping at the bit to outpace last year’s performance.

Standing between Prospector and victory will be a highly skilled fleet made up of two Maxi 72’s (Bella Mente and Proteus), both featuring world-class talent, and four Volvo 70’s, guaranteeing highly competitive racing and an extremely high level of skill on the water. 

Keep up with the action by following the results at https://www.lesvoilesdesaintbarth.com/us/.  We’ll also share a bit of our adventures on Instagram (@prospectorsailing), and check back here for full wrap ups of each day’s action!

What you missed while we were away
Click the photo to see more pictures from the Pineapple Cup!

Click the photo to see more pictures from the Pineapple Cup!

On Monday February 6, Prospector crossed the finish line in Montego Bay, Jamaica to capture the team’s first victory in the new boat.  The 800 mile course started off Miami, arcing east then south outside of the Bahamas before diving through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti to Montego Bay.  The win was also the the team’s first true offshore test in the new vessel.  Prospector crossed the line approximately 1.5 hours after Wizard a Reichel/Pugh 74, but ultimately corrected ahead.  Joining the team for the race was Ken Read, whose countless offshore miles helped the team rise to the occasion.

The race started in very light air for the beat to Great Isaac’s and much of the first leg was spent moving bodies from rail to rail in order to maintain optimum heel.  By sunset, the breeze had established itself, and the team spent the evening dodging squalls and playing the shifts until rounding Great Isaac around 2130 hours.  Shortly after rounding, the team enjoyed some excitement when the tack shackle on J1.5 broke, releasing halyard tension up the forestay ripping the bolt rope out from the luff.  The J2 was quickly hoisted as replacement, and the J1.5 sent down below for repair by Henry Little.  Prospector pressed on with the J2 until Harbor Island some 7 hours later.

At Harbor Island, the foredeck crew went back to work, swapping the J2 for a double-headed rig with the FRO and the Genoa Staysail; a configuration carried to to the Northern tip of Eleuthera, which the team approached at approximately 1000 on of February 4.  At this point, rumors of clementines and apples in the ice box started circulating on deck.

By 1500 that afternoon, only a handful of miles separated Prospector and Wizard as the two teams pressed south along Cat Island.  Wizard, having more confidence in their charts, took an inshore route, shaving critical miles off the course, while Prospector opted for a more conservative route and kept offshore.

As evening approached, so did more squalls.  With the breeze topping up into the low 30’s, the crew experimented with a single reefed main behind the double headed rig, but ultimately opted to furl the FRO, replacing it with the jib top.  This configuration would carry the team into a strong East shift, bringing the breeze back on the nose and forcing a sail change back to the J2 and an upwind configuration.  Here, with the crew still on the rail in full hike mode and a persistently lumpy sea state, we began to wonder if we would ever see the downwind and reaching conditions this race was known for.

Fortunately, we wouldn’t have to wait much longer.  By 1500 hours Sunday February 5, Prospector had cleared the windward passage, hoisted the A2 and had begun surfing the final miles to Jamaica.  This was the first time near Cuba for most of the crew, and we were awed by the rugged, mountainous terrain lit up by the sinking sun.  Of course, we didn’t have much time for sightseeing; it was Super Bowl Sunday, and the boat was packed with Patriots fans.

A short wave radio was produced from down below, and Dr. Dave Siwicki set about trying to find the Armed Forces Radio Network in time for the game.  Without a doubt, one of the more surreal moments of the team’s adventures yet was surfing south of Guantanamo Bay at sunset while the National Anthem crackled across the short wave.  Of course, we all stood and removed our hats.

At this point, Prospector was surfing through 15-22 knots of boatspeed, gybing on the shifts to maximize VMG.  While it was all hands on deck for the gybes, the crew was careful to keep one person manning the radio to keep the team updated with the play by play.   Despite champagne conditions, spirits flagged as the game wore on. Fortunately, a fourth quarter rally by the Pats corresponded to a beautiful moonlight night as we ticked off the final miles.

Monday February 6 brought a bright beautiful morning and our first views of Jamaica. By 0900 it was all hands on deck as we continued to gybe on the shifts along the Jamaican shore. Despite sore muscles and tired eyes, each member of the crew put everything he had into the final maneuvers. Just outside Montego Bay, we were greeted by the photo boat who paced us across the line and offered our first official welcome to Jamaica.  At 1030, we crossed the finish line second, but well within the 3 hour window we needed to catch Wizard. Our first offshore race and first victory in the new boat; you could not find a happier crew. With a few minor exceptions, Prospector had sailed a complete, mistake free race.

What cannot be overlooked about the Pineapple Cup was the hospitality of the Montego Bay Yacht Club, who not only ran a great race, but greeted us at the dock with sandwiches, Jamaican patties and even ice cold Red Stripe. Moreover, upon learning that we would not be able to attend that Friday’s awards ceremony, they arranged an impromptu (albeit hushed) awards ceremony to present us with the Pineapple Cup, a trophy previously held by such sailing luminaries as Jim Kilroy, Ted Turner and even our own Skip Helme!  Naturally, we filled it with rum, toasted our victory and reflected on a wonderful 3 days.

We’re Back!

Sorry we haven’t updated for a while, but during our silence we made some exciting upgrades to our site!  We’ve made it easier for you to find out what we are up to, track our races and share as much color from each event as possible.  Check back here over the season from reports onboard plus photos and videos from our races.

We’ll also keep you up to date with program news, schedule and race trackers.