July 14-16, 2007
Cyclone and crew did the Hook Race from Racine to Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin via the Porte Des Morts Passage also known as Death’s Door. Here is the Team Cyclone recap:
We have to get the boat from Montrose to Racine Wisconsin. Dan, Wally and I meet at my house at 8:00 AM. We get my beater loaded up and leave my house 8:30 am to head to the boat and traffic sucks. We get to the harbor, load the last bit of equipment and personal gear and we sail out of the harbor at 10:00 AM.
Winds are 15-20 kts out of the west now starting to strengthen and clock to the north. This is starting to look like the last time we tried to do this and did not make it past Wilmette. As the day goes on winds continue to strengthen with gusts to 30.7 kts and 6-8 ft waves, we even met one 15-20 ft rogue wave that we drove through soaking everything on deck. After we cross the "gulf of Waukegan" things start to settle down a bit, wind backs down to 12-15 kts and 2-4 ft waves, we make Racine on one tack and less than eight hours, a new record for Cyclone.
We spend working on the boat, doing last minute stuff like remounting the lee cloths and mounting the MOB pole. Dan bumps his head on Cyclone 12 times.
We go to the Skippers meeting. A retired WTMJ ch 4 Milwaukee weatherman gave the forecast, looks like a beat up Lake Michigan and then after Deaths Door a drift down Green Bay. Then the party: lots of rum drinks a live band and a yummy buffet including roast beef and then Racine’s famous Kringles for dessert. There we meet up with Joe and Nora who are the balance of the crew. Where O’ where will five people and their gear fit on Cyclone, a J/92? Well five people do fit but they have to be good friends. During the night Dan gets a new nickname, "Chainsaw", I did not know that humans could snore that loud!
Weatherman was sort of right, 18-22 kts gusting to 25 but out of the west-southwest. We stop for a good hardy breakfast before leaving the dock. Dan, Wally and I have the bacon with breakfast, Joe and Nora have the home made sausage. An important detail for later in the story.
Our section two start seemed to be cautious as no one is on time. It’s a long race no need to break something or have a collision before it starts. We are the fourth section to start that means that we have 25 slower boats in front of us to pass and 8 more in our section to keep at bay. The team is styling in their new Team Cyclone hats.
The wind starts to shift to the NW, not bad, still a reach, still 18-22 kts but the waves are building. We decide to stay in sight of the shore; when the breeze shuts down we may have some shore breeze to play with. Cyclone loves to surf down waves and we figure that is the only way we are going to keep up with the heavy long waterline boats. Unfortunately we still occasionally crash into a wave stopping progress. We think we can’t be doing well in this slop. To make maters worse Nora and Joe (two normally very seaworthy stomachs) are down for the count. Must have been something in the sausage. Fortunately, they are troopers and never complained or asked to go ashore. Unfortunately, they did not leave the bunks for 14 hours! We notice a tear in the main where it touches the end of the upper spreader and we pray it holds together. Dan head bump count up to 15.
The wind has died considerably to under 15 kts, we still have gusts to 20 kts but the wind has gone more north, turning it into a beat. The waves are starting to flatten out to less than 2 ft. We use the gusts to "climb the ladder" and start working our way through the fleet. We come on the transom of a few big section one boats including ZippyR a new Beneteau 10R. One of the crew makes the comment "someone is having a worse race than us". Little did we know that he was probably the leading section one boat. ZippyR sees us, the little boat chasing them and gets it in gear, quickly doing a horizon job on us. We celebrate the mellowing out of the waves with a hot dinner, the crew discovers that MRE’s beat "lean cuisine" any day.
Saturday night Sunday early morning
Things are continuing to mellow out. With no moon the stars are unbelievable there are literally "Billions and Billions" of them. One of the sea sick crew, Joe is back on deck and the Nora no longer looks dead. Dan, Wally and I can start getting some rest. Instant hot oatmeal in very appreciated by the crew and most ask for seconds.
Wind continues to lighten to less than 12 kts out of the northwest, and the water is nearly flat. Wally and Dan are on deck, Dan is sleeping (and snoring) as they pass through a squall line drenching everything on deck. After it is over Dan wakes up and asks, "Why am I wet?" Nora has recovered from the seasickness and takes her turn driving. We finally get a spinnaker up and she starts again passing slower boats. The crew notices that the spinnaker halyard is wrapped around the forestay and calls me up from below for a consultation. The verdict is that we have to fix it to prevent chafe. Jibe the boat to unwrap the halyard, douse the spinnaker, fix the halyard, raise the spinnaker, jibe the boat to get going in the right direction again. Total time a little over two min, not bad, I go back to sleep.
Sunday late afternoon/early evening
We pass through Death’s Door under spinnaker during daylight. The smell of the north woods pine hits us and they smell great. Last time I went through here it was night and I could not see much. I did not realize how little sea room there is here. If that was Death’s Door then shortly after we got the Devil’s Weggy with lots of light air all the way to Chambers Island. All we have up is a jib and the wind is dying fast. We make the call to change the jib for the genoa, only one problem, the jib is on the roller furler. The crew improvises, dropping the jib halyard about one inch, enough to attach the genoa tack then attaches the lazy sheet from the jib to the genoa clew and rigs it. When we are ready they drop the jib, attach the genoa to the halyard and raise it, all in about 90 seconds. Clean up took a little longer but we were moving again.
While looking for the Chambers Island markers it seems that map in my GPS has the old coordinates for the buoys that mark it. Combine with the shallow approach angle and we over stood the mark by at least 1/4 mile. It was now dark and the wind has shifted around enough that at this point we have the spinnaker up as we come around Chambers Island. Most other boats have to go through a foredeck clown show in the dark to get theirs up. The finish line is 18 miles straight ahead but it is dead downwind and winds are less that 8 kts, a point of sail that Cyclone does not do. So we start jibing through the entrance to Sturgeon Bay going as close to the edges as we would dare based on the depth sounder and the GPS based chart, for a total of 11 clean jibes. The best news is that we have a lot more boat speed than everyone else and we are passing everything in sight. We had a few close calls with boats that had dead batteries and thus no nav lights. Conversations would go something like this:
Dark sailboat shaped mystery object: "You know you're passing us?"
Cyclone: "Sorry all we see is a dark blob."
Monday early morning
6 miles from finish, ZippyR a section one boat calls in that she was 2 miles from the finish, we are 6 miles from the finish. So after 190 miles we are only 4 miles from a major fast section one boat? The crew’s spirits soars as they do the PHRF math and know what that call in means, but no one dares say it out loud.
Monday morning 2:00 AM
ZippyR finishes, we are still 4 miles out, but then the wind shuts off, the bay looks like we are floating on a pool of mercury and no boats are moving. You can hear the grumbling on other boats. A few boats ahead are finishing but it looks like sails are hanging on the boats behind us. Quick thinking leads to the decision to make a toast to the Greek god of the western wind, Zephyr. Out came the glasses and the bottle of Mount Gay stored for just such emergencies (thanks NancyS). A quick toast gets us only 4 kts of wind, enough to get Cyclone moving again but only for about thirty minutes.
When the wind dies again, one of the crew comments that Jagermeister works better. An hour and a half later Cyclone drifts across the finish line more due to current in the bay than any wind. It is now 4:27:35 AM and the sun is starting to come up. We start the engine and get a request for a tow from a Laser 28 that does not have enough batteries left to start the engine. After opening a round of beers we take them in tow to the SBYC. Dan’s head bump count is now at 19.
How did we do? We thought we lost it and would be lucky to not be DFL (Dead Freaking Last). After getting cleaned up and a nap we made our way to the club to find that Cyclone took third in Section 2 and fifteenth overall. We missed second in section by 39 seconds. We celebrated at the SBYC pig roast where there was a Mount Gay pour and a live band.
Thanks to Hook veterans Joe and Wally and no longer "virgin Hookers", Dan and Nora.