Racing to the Pink Pony Bar

Published on July 31st, 2013

While the Chicago to Mackinac Race proved to be a nightmarish event with light winds, oppressive heat, and carnivorous flies, the Bayview to Mackinac Race (starting on July 20) was much more receptive to its participants. On the longer of the two courses (there is a 204nm and a 254nm) was Tim Lewin, who enjoyed the kind of race that found his team as the overall winner. Here is his story

Put eight out-of-town Renaissance sailors on a 40-foot well-designed J boat and push everything to the max.  That’s the recipe that Team Sledgehammer worked up for this year’s Bell’s Bayview to Mackinac long course race.  We all had sailed similar A-symmetrical boats, but never together.  Half of the boat is family and the other half might as well be at this point.

The forecast looked light for the first half of the race.  We knew of a possible right shift with weakening conditions.  Clear air, fast angle and possible jib to code zero change ran through our minds.  Off the line at 12:20pm with speed on and little immediate concerns.  Up the track at 3pm we found ourselves in third, with the code zero keeping us moving in light conditions.  Pete kept us going as fast as possible in the light breeze.

We felt wave trains hitting us from dead ahead, noting that more breeze would be coming.  Eventually, the first place boat headed up to our angle, changing from code zero to AP-1.  They were close enough to hoot and holler if they so chose.  On a higher and most definitely slower angle, Hot Ticket went from one o’clock to five-thirty in less than twenty minutes.  Feeling refreshed, our crew laughed and had twice baked potatoes and quarters of chicken.  The breeze had freshened, rain had come and gone and our next move weighed heavily on all of us.  We came close to a land- forced tack.  Having the right side in our minds, we took the tack a little after 8pm.

First watch started at the 9pm sunset.  Excitement ran through our minds as we now had inter-boat competition.  Whoever chomped down the most miles or claimed highest boat speed would have infamous glory!  Sloppy waves left us rocking and rolling during off watch.  Twelve-thirty came and B team could not take it anymore.  A team took control on Port tack.  Feeling sluggish and useless, I sat on the rail and dreamed that I could see each wave coming.

The full moon helped us a lot throughout our trek to find optimal trim in the ever-changing medium breeze.  My dad took the wheel after Crusty kept us going as fast as possible.  Feeling exhausted, he handed it over thirty minutes later.  Not driving a big boat for quite some time, I was nervous.  I did alright for the first couple minutes.  Then I stood the boat straight up. 

Having turned the wheel aggressively, I got it back down to a normal upwind angle.  Then, half a minute later, the same thing happened.  Crusty exclaimed, “You can’t do that, get the boat back down!”  Turning the wheel aggressively once more, I tried to settle her back down.  “Let’s tack” Crusty said.  At 2:45AM we got the 100 degree shift!  It was time to get up and go!

The breeze came back on and we were ready for takeoff.  Crusty went down to get a short sheet and snatch block and I may have inadvertently gotten him a tad bit wet.  Blasting through a close reach at 60-75 degrees true wind, boat speed rang up to 8.5 knots with a varying 5-12 degrees off of our one and only mark’s course.  Back braced on the rigid backstay and hands white knuckled on the wheel, I felt like a Volvo Ocean Racer with sheets on water exploding off our bow and landing behind the wheel, soaking everyone from my dad to me.  Lying furthest forward, dad easily got my ten years worth of foredeck water exposure in those two hours!

Wake up time for B team, and I watched each of their faces go to confusion.  Liz was sick, Tommy got sick and Louis was soon to be.  I could not even go down below for most of my off watch because we were slamming off some elevator drop waves.  Watching Louis get sick sparked my stomachs interest in doing the same.  Bedtime shortly after.

Next wake up was by a hand and not a wave, so I was feeling pretty good.  Sun was at 9AM and the breeze was off our starboard side, creating more fun close reaching.  Waves shrunk due to less fetch and we were all getting excited about turning the corner and putting up our big red A-sym whomper.  Doug nailed the GPS coordinates and we rounded the mark with ease at 9:30am.  Ahead and behind us were J/120’s which kept us well motivated.

Fowlies torn off and warm coffee livened us.  Rotations in and out of trimming, driving and naps kept us all fresh.  Hot Ticket headed toward Canada.  Flying Irish headed to the American shore, keeping us pickle in the middle.  We kept it fast and straight.  It was almost time for bed again and Louis came up the stairs with some rather exciting news.  Hot Ticket was not the J/120 ahead.  We would later learn that it was Kashmir– a J/111! Night came again and it was time for A team to go off watch again.

Three hours later, it was time for A teams last on deck shift.  B team had chomped down miles in strengthening wind and waves.  Flying Irish was way off toward the American shore and we thought they had been gaining.  B team lost track of them at dusk, but we knew they were roughly a mile away.  Crusty drove downwind like a bat out of hell while Dougie ground the spinnaker sheet and kept our A1 full.  I began pumping the main like it was going out of style and dad stood watch as our eyes as we were starting to really light up the boat speed screen.

Just before taking the shift, my brother Tommy exclaimed “11 knots- Beat that suckers!”  A team got all riled up and began our shift with 13 knots!  Take that Tommy!  Wave trains were being ridden on consecutives and most of the time the main would stay in for a period after pumping.  AC/DC lyrics began playing in my head and I was feeling super human at this point.  I knew we were up there on the list and I wasn’t going to let any wave pass us on our sleigh ride to the finish.

The finish required two turning points before crossing the line.  First would require a 20-degree to port turn, which would keep us inside of the A1 zone. The second would bring us into either A1 or code zero conditions, breeze pending.  We decided to wake up B team from their one hour of rest, just to be safe.  As soon as the sleepy four made their way on deck, the breeze dropped from 20 to 12.  Everyone stayed on the rail and kept it down.  Two gybes were required to clear land as our angle rose due to the dropping breeze.  The Mackinac Bridge started to twinkle in the distance, and we were all pretty sure that we could see the lights of the Pink Pony glistening on island.

As we got closer, a sea of red buoys made navigation a challenge.  Doug popped down below for the remainder to guide us through the channel.  We were looking for the four second flashing green for a long time, but never could find it.  We used our relative position to keep sure depth and direction were OK.  We spotted the lighthouse and got the anticipated excitement of radioing in our position.  The spotlight lit up our big red chute like a Chinese lantern.

We knew the finish was near but made sure we passed through it by what seemed like a half of a mile at the time.  Chute down in the pitch black- I’m glad we didn’t have to do many douses!  Official finish time:  3:16AM.  Happy 60th birthday Dad!  Nothing like being the first Bayview Yacht Club boat to land the top of two podiums!

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