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.