Why I race the Vineyard — Michael Mahan

Arabesque_VRMichael Mahan of Norwalk has raced in 12 Vineyards. We recently asked him why he races the Vineyard and he submitted this article, originally submitted to the Bayview YC newsletter.

In 2012 a group of Bayview YC (Michigan) sailors from two successful yachts, Hot Ticket and Sea Wise, gathered to sail my C&C 121, Arabesque, in the Vineyard Race. Hot Ticket is the Kirkman brothers’ very successful J 120 and Sea Wise is a 1967 Bristol 27 that includes in its impressive history a first overall in the IRC shore course in the 2006 Bayview Mackinac race. The crew checked all the necessary boxes with two world class and strong foredeck hands, Dan Lorenz and Andrew Lockhart, and no shortage of brain power with Jim Weiss, Jay Kaiser and Mike Kirkman. Ted Neesly who organized the effort, and can do anything on a boat, rounded out the Michigan contingent. Connecticut sailor Dan Meeson and myself, a long term non-resident member of BYC, brought the local knowledge.

On Friday of Labor Day Arabesque made its way to the starting line proudly flying a Bayview burgee. Others participating in the event included Rambler, the Reichel Pugh 90 that recently set an elapsed time record in the Newport Bermuda Race covering the nearly 700 miles in under 40 hours. As we approached the starting line, the west southwest breeze stiffened and we were off at 10 knots with a conventional chute and a pole positioned decidedly aft. But as is often the case, stuff happens and sure enough the foreguy jam cleat gave way and the pole went vertical. Dan and Andrew quickly jury rigged a new system utilizing the jib furling cleat which was not in use in the racing set up and we settled in for a pleasant ride in t-shirts and shorts.

On a chart, the Vineyard course appears straight forward. The boats start just outside the Stamford harbor break wall and sail due east, exiting Long Island Sound to Buzzards Bay tower off of Martha’s Vineyard. Leaving the tower to starboard, the fleet sails out into the ocean leaving Block Island to starboard and back into Long Island Sound and on to the finish in Stamford where it all started.
In reality however, success or failure usually depends on how a yacht exits and re-enters the Sound. Every six hours the tide turns. As the “flood” begins, the Atlantic Ocean fills Long Island Sound through a comparatively narrow opening. Six hours later, the Sound returns the favor as the tide “ebbs” and the water is sent rushing back out. Due to the formation of a series of small islands at the eastern end of the Sound (accounting for the fishtail shape of Long Island) there are two ways to get in or out. Time it right and you can add 3-4 knots of speed. Time it wrong, and the door slams shut. On the way out, if the tide is running against you the conventional wisdom is to make a sharp right turn through Plum Gut (named for a very narrow passage between Plum Island and Orient Point) and pass south of the island chain. If the tide is with you, the experts say you should continue on through what is called “The Race” passing on the north side of the islands and enjoy the ride.

On Arabesque, we had expected to sail through The Race with a favorable current. However, at 10-12 knots boatspeed we arrived at our decision point far earlier than expected and so we adjusted our plan and headed for Plum Gut. It was a good call and as we exited the sound between Block Island and Newport we had opened a solid lead over our competitors who opted to sail through The Race.
However, gear failure struck again. This time the pin in the end of pole popped right out of the housing. With the afterguy flying free, we avoided a wrap and managed to reset the pole upside down so the open jaw faced downward. With the downhaul tightened, the afterguy stayed in place and we continued on.

After passing Block Island, we again faced the Race/Gut decision. It was going to be a close call. As we approached Long Island Sound, the tide was beginning to turn against us but we were making good speed with the asymmetrical. We opted for The Race figuring we could make it through the worst of the current, though in candor, the skipper was a bit nervous. For three hours our speed over the ground lagged behind our boat speed but our competitors followed us back into the Sound. The only thing left to do was to cover, which is not a difficult task on a beam reach in 18 knots of breeze. At 10:30 on Saturday night, less than 35 hours after we started the race, we finished with a solid first in our class and a 9th in PHRF overall.

The boys from Bayview once again lived up to the club’s storied reputation.

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One Response

  1. Nicely done Michael.

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