Reflections on the Vineyard — Beth Santa

When asked to reflect on the last 10 Vineyard Races I have participated in, I was surprised to learn that most of my memories seem to mesh into one.  I was having difficulty remembering the nuances of each Labor Day event – almost all of them seemed to blend into one terrific movie.  The scenes in my mind include late night sail changes, frontal passages along the CT shore, the eerie groan of the buzzard’s bay tower, sleepless off watches, salty, but delicious, bowls of lasagna on Sat. evening, nail biting hours of little to no wind, and the awe inspiring moments of screaming past Bridgeport under spinnaker, thrilled that the Cowes rounding was minutes, not hours away.

In truth, these are the scenes from 9 of my 10 races – one, however is remarkably lucid– one stands out to me as particularly special.

The year was 1991 and a friend of mine asked if I wanted to do the Vineyard Race aboard James McAllister’s J/35 Alacrity II.  I accepted.  This was my first overnight race – my first Vineyard Race.

I hardly knew what I was doing on the boat – I was rail meat – a novice in the true sense of the word.  I remember being in awe of the amount of chocolate chip cookies and candy that the owner had managed to hide in each nook and cranny of his 35 ft boat.  Once I got over my snack fascination, I soon was enchanted by the siren song (or buzzard honk) that is the Vineyard Race.  Conditions were perfect – unbeknownst to a rookie like me.  It was a reach out to the Tower and back.  I remember being curious about the stressful conversations taking place near the nav station – Race or Gut – what did this mean? – of course I hadn’t any idea the gravity of this decision on overall performance.  Ignorance was bliss.

As the race progressed, I became mesmerized by each maneuver.  The mechanics of the boat seemed so complicated and awesome to me.  I wanted to know what was going on- why certain lines were being pulled and why we kept adjusting the sails.

Soaking wet after a Genoa change, I remember my friend sitting next to me and asking– “So do you like this?”  As I sat on the rail, I felt alive, content, and whole.  I was falling in love.

At the time I didn’t realize that I was hiking out next to the man who would be my future husband – but I knew something seemed right.  Devin, however, wasn’t my only suitor during that race.  I was also being courted by the wind and the waves of Long Island and Block Island Sounds.  As it turns out, I gladly accepted both proposals – destined to be Mrs. Devin Santa – a Vineyard Race Buzzard.


One Response

  1. It’s a great to have a society like the Buzzard’s to relive all these races. (I should clarify the previous post that Reverend Buster is not me, but actually our pet dog Buster, the Bermuda Onion Sniffing Wonderdog).

    2006 was of course the Ernesto adventure. Our sat tracker died about an hour after the start but in fact we were the last boat to withdraw after gettingthrough teh Race and reaching Block Island Sound. This made our shore crew a little nervous because nobody knew where we were, our track just stopped in mid LIS and there were only about 5-6 boats still racing. The first night everyone was either sick, or wet and tired, leaving only myself and Charlie Hoffmann on deck to slam our way upwind through the big nasty chop. It was very nasty and that was a very long night. When one of the sickies (a newly enshrined Buzzard and famous navigator) came up in the cockpit at about 0300 to ‘deballast’ while lying on the rail, Charlie would hold him by the back of his harness as waves washed over him cleaning up the mess. ‘That’s a good boy, get it all out’. We thought perhaps he wanted to kill himself and end the agony. Charlie basically was ‘dunking’ him and lifting him up and back into the cockpit to clean the mess. Hence, the ‘Rando SeaDouche’ manouver was invented.

    The next morning the crew was a little more refreshed and feeling a little better and I definitely wanted to carry on as we saw Lora Ann off to the South. I hate not finishing a race. But with some failing electronics, a blown out No 4, and a building gale forecasted I was reluctantly convinced by the crew that the pain of a 12-14 hour stormsail beat out to the tower wasnt worth the thrill of the downwind ride coming home, the ‘glory’ of finishing, and a guaranteed pickle dish. There will be plenty of more races. Plus something more was surely going to break and I considered we still had a tired + beat up crew. So with discretion being the better part of valor we came about and had a nice breakfast and fast comfortable sleighride home in front of 50 knots and 10 foot rollers.

    Ever since then, the guy who convinced me to withdraw always says ‘Jeez, you know we really should have finished that race’. I think to myself thanks, you’re the guy that convinced me we did the smart thing! I want to give him a swift hard kick in the ass three times, but he’s way too big.

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