Please select your home edition
Edition
Wildwind 2016 728x90

Sailing on the Moon

by Peter Muilenburg on 22 Sep 2008
Breath - Moon’’s sister ship .. .
Peter Muilenburg and his wife Dorothy arrived on the Virgin Islands 40 years ago, and remained to raise a family while sailing through the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the African coastline and writing about his experiences. Here is the first of Peter's engaging tales, as recounted to Sail-World, as he was embarking on a project to build a boat suitable for cruising.

On the verge of committing to a boatbuilding project that would take all my money, at least three years of nonstop toil, and strain my marriage perhaps fatally, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even sailed once on a sister ship of the boat I proposed to build.

That was understandable, because in all the world there were only two of them finished and sailing. Venus, the prototype, was currently somewhere in the North Atlantic headed for England and Moon was anchored in Bermuda.

I had been on board Venus at anchor in Antigua. Designed by Caribbean sailing legend Paul Johnson, she was a 42 ft gaff-rigged ketch whose lines paid homage to Colin Archer. I had loved the look and feel of the vessel -- her heavy displacement, her cavernous interior, massive construction, and salty lines. These boats you couldn’t buy off the shelf. You had to build your own.

But when I expressed my enthusiasm to another sailor he snorted and said, “She’ll be a real dog in light airs, I’ll bet.” The guy was chronically negative but still his remark made me wonder. What if I put all that time and money and effort in – and she was a dog? It behooved me to at least sail on one before I put my money down.

John Frith, Moon’s owner, was a friend and when he brought her down to the Caribbean that winter he invited me to race on Moon with him at the upcoming St. Barts regatta. So the day before the race I flew from St. Thomas to St Barts, passing close enough to St John’s East End for me to recognize one of my shirts on the clothesline and my first boat at her mooring in the beautiful mystic blue of the cove.

The day of the race dawned clear and calm. “It’s beautiful…but not our preferred weather,” said Frith as we motored out in the dinghy. “These boats are wonderful sea boats but they do require some breeze!” My acquaintance’s remark about being “a dog in light airs” came to mind but I pushed it away. Give the boat a chance, I thought.

The breeze picked up in time for the start, which we aced. The first leg was downwind to Pain de Sucre, a large, conical rock topped by some hardy scrub about a mile or two out from the picturesque fishing village of Corrosol. Half way to Pain du Sucre, we were flying everything from jib tops’l to a striped mizzen staysail and we were still one of the first three boats, the other two being a Swan and a 50 ft French racing machine.

“She’s no dog, at least not downwind,” I thought. But when we rounded the end of the island, the next mark, a prominent stone pillar universally known as Cock Rock, was dead against the wind.

Just about then the wind died away to scarcely 5 knots. We scanned the sea for signs of better air but the only possibility was up on the heights of St. Barts where dark clouds seemed to be gathering but they weren’t moving

One boat after another put up their light air jennies and passed us easily. We might as well have been dead in the water, we were moving so slow. Within twenty minutes we went from vanguard to dead last

“Well, the beer should be cold by now... we might as well accept that today just isn’t our day. Sorry you flew all the way over for such a lackluster performance, Peter. This isn’t fair to good old Moon... she can do better.”

I made the appropriate reply but the word “DOG!” kept coming to mind. It was a little depressing... did I really want to put out three years labor in order to have the slowest boat in the fleet? We all opened cervezas. Jill, John’s wife, served some food. We gazed at the long line of boats stretching single file ahead of us, not really paying any attention, when a low whistle came from Frith.

“Hang on! If this should reach us!” he said with suppressed excitement.

I looked at where he was pointing.

The dark cloud atop the island had started to move, rolling steadily down the slopes, picking up speed. We watched, fascinated as it spilled over everything in its way. The black belly of the nimbus morphed and writhed like vipers in a pit, an eerie sight as it approached, blocking out the sun, rasping up white caps off the sea surface. It knocked the lead boat down flat and thundered in its sails as the crew struggled to douse them.

Warned, the next boat luffed up into the wind and tried to drop its sails, but the roller furling jammed and the sail flogged with such violence it threatened to take the mast down, til it ripped in half, making a sound like a gigantic fingernail scraped down an enormous chalk board. On came the windstorm, down the procession of boats, like a bowling ball knocking off pins. Ahead of us booms were flogging, sails splitting, crews scrambling.

From aloft came a cold draft of air. “Let the mainsheet run!” said John as veils of spume lifted off the sea and raced at us. The wind struck like a drop hammer, the mainsheet smoked through its blocks, the head sails and mizzen caught the strain and groaned at their clews but held. With little way on, Moon heeled over until water flooded in the scuppers and up, up up the deck to the rim of the portholes. Then she began to move, to glide forward out from under the weight.

“Now sheet the main back in!” called John, and we jumped to do it. By the time it was sheeted in and drawing, Moon was hitting her stride, charging along at about 8 knots, pulling a toppling stern wave and leaving a wake that seethed in the scuppers and came boiling up past the rudder.

The boat was in her element, striding the sea under full working sail, passing catamarans and Beneteaus, even the Swan; boat after boat was heaved to, or staggering to windward with a big bubble in the main or just lying ahull waiting for the wind to moderate. It blew 40 knots for five minutes during which time Moon passed every boat in the fleet.

It was exhilarating while it lasted. Gradually the wind dropped off until it was even calmer than before. We slowed, the ocean racer passed us again, closely followed by the Swan – by the time we switched on the motor we were dead last once again, but I didn’t care.

Moon had showed me the bottom line. I hoped to cruise the high seas with my family on any boat I built. Did I want a boat that was fast in light airs but overpowered in heavy weather? Or did I want a vessel that came into her own when the wind and seas rose?

As my friend John Costanzo says, is that a trick question?

So was she a dog in light airs? Maybe... I’d let the diesel deal with it if ever it became an issue.

Well satisfied, I said goodbye to the Friths and caught the Virgin Air flight back to St. Thomas.

To learn more about Peter Muilenburg and his boat Breath, go to his website by clicking HERE

Wildwind 2016 660x82Bakewell-White Yacht DesignAncasta Ker 40+ 660x82

Related Articles

America's Cup - TechTuesday - Data drives athlete performance
Gathering real-time data isn’t just important for our Americas Cup racing catamarans, but our athletes as well. Gathering real-time data isn’t just important for our Americas Cup racing catamarans, but our athletes as well. Find out from Oracle Team USA physical performance manager Craig McFarlane how the team are using Zephyr Performance Systems to monitor athletes on the water and in the gym.
Posted on 28 Sep
Legendary Mitch Booth to compete in St-Barth Cata Cup 2016
Sixty teams have already confirmed they will be competing in the event. As a triple world champion, Booth is no stranger to the F18. For this edition, he will be joined by Andy Dinsdale, a regular on the waters around St Barth.
Posted on 28 Sep
America's Cup - Emirates Team NZ gaining speed on the water + Video
There has been one predominant focus at Emirates Team NZ this past couple of months - gaining speed on the water There has been one predominant focus at Emirates Team New Zealand this past couple of months - gaining speed on the water. The team has been lying low, quietly chipping away and making gains on the water on their first in house designed and built AC45 test boat.
Posted on 28 Sep
RS Aerocup - Another magic day at Lake Garda - Day 2
Per Christian continued his domination with a string of firsts showing magical downwind speed through the waves. Per Christian of Norway continued his domination with a string of firsts showing magical downwind speed through the waves.
Posted on 25 Sep
2016 Star Sailors League Finals – Count down to Nassau
The reigning Star World Champion, Miami's Augie Diaz (USA) will be competing in Nassau but is yet to announce his crew. As always the top 12 skippers in the SSL Ranking for the year are invited to challenge and join 13 VIPs sailors selected for the successes achieved in their sailing career.
Posted on 22 Sep
Southern Spars en route to Monaco – Stand QSE2
It’s been another big year for the NZ based company, there's lots of exciting things to talk about the Monaco Yacht Show It’s been another big year for the New Zealand based company, giving us lots of exciting things to talk about at the 2016 Monaco Yacht Show like our two big projects Adix and Aquijo. Adix, the three-masted 65-metre Dykstra schooner, has been transformed by a rig refit by Southern Spars and Future Fibres.
Posted on 22 Sep
America's Cup - Ken Read reflects on the recent World Series - Toulon
Commentator Ken Read on the recently completed round of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series in Toulon, France. North Sails President, Ken Read, doubles as a live commentator for the official TV feed from the America's Cup World Series. Here's his thoughts, from his blog on the North Sails website on the recently completed round of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series in Toulon, France. Read also looks ahead to the final round of the America's Cup World Series is Fukuoka, Japan and the strategies
Posted on 22 Sep
North Sails pays tribute to former owner Terry Kohler
Terry Kohler’s vision, leadership, and generosity will be felt within North Sails, and the sport for many years to come The North Sails Group is deeply saddened by the passing of Terry Kohler, owner of North Sails from 1984-2014. North Sails and all of its employees around the world would like to pass their condolences to the family Terry leaves behind, especially his wife Mary. Terry Kohler’s vision, leadership, and generosity will be felt within North Sails, and the sport for many years to come.
Posted on 22 Sep
America's Cup - CNN Mainsail goes inside the teams in Bermuda and UK
CNN goes inside four of the America's Cup teams in Bermuda and Portsmouth, UK for an insight into the design processes Double Olympic Gold medallist and presenter of the outstanding CNN Mainsail series, Shirley Robertson, goes inside four of the America's Cup teams in Bermuda and Portsmouth, UK for an insight into the design processes and angles being pursued by the teams. Then she goes on the water and sees the design teams and sailing teams working together.
Posted on 20 Sep
WIM Series moves on to the US
Next week will see the WIM Series midway event, the Buddy Melges Challenge in Sheboygan, USA. Next week will see the Women’s International Match Racing Series (WIM Series) midway event, the Buddy Melges Challenge in Sheboygan, USA.
Posted on 19 Sep