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.
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.
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.
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.