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One Girl’s Ocean Challenge does the Bermuda Ocean Race

by Diane Reid on 22 Jun 2010
At the St. George’s Dinghy Sailing Club in Bermuda Diane Reid
One Girl’s Ocean Challenge does the Bermuda Ocean Race, and back...

People keep asking me why I want to do the Mini Transat from France to Brazil. It’s probably one of the toughest questions I’ve ever had to answer. And yet, it seems the more qualifying events I complete, the more I want to do the Transat. You would think I would have an answer by now! The 2010 Bermuda Ocean Race is just one more piece of the puzzle. Really, it’s the first piece.

To qualify to enter into the Mini Transat, a skipper has to have completed 2000 nautical miles in the boat they intend to race in the Transat, a thousand of those miles must be in a non-stop solo run. The other one thousand nautical miles must be in class sanctioned races. The Bermuda Ocean Race was a fantastic opportunity to get 800+ training miles in double handed and then complete a 1000nm return run solo.

Monday June 7, 2010… the crack of “why do I have to be up this early” o’clock. The little 6.5m Mini Transat rolled out of Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club, heading to Annapolis on her brand new Marine Cradle Shop trailer. UK Halsey has gone over the sails to make sure they are seaworthy, Lori Mason from Mason’s Chandlery has finished equipping the boat with it’s final equipment list, The Rigging Shoppe has put some finishing touches on the lifelines and Nick Sellars from Competition Yachts at Port Credit Harbour Marina (Archembault 35) is onboard to fill out the team complement. This is just the beginning, but it marks a huge milestone in ‘One Girl’s Ocean Challenge’ campaign after formally kicking things off in November of 2009. Now we have a boat, some local sponsors and we’re off to our first big event! Once we arrive in Annapolis at the Eastport Yacht Club, there’s tons of work to do. The start is on Friday and there’s no time to spare.

Finally the big day is here. The boat is ready and we’re itching to get to the start line. Off we go! The VHF radio crackles: “Race Committee, Race Committee….this is Beau Geste, Beau Geste”. “Looks like your start line is a little shallow for our 18 feet of draft”. Beau Geste is a Maxi competing in the race and trying to set the speed record and then turn around and get to Newport in time to do the Newport Bermuda race. The Race Committee has set the line in an optimal spectator viewing spot, but unfortunately the biggest competitor can’t even get to the start line! In the meantime, we took an opportunity to come alongside and size up our competition! Then a few hours later and one significantly moved start line, we were all off! By the end of the first day we had legged out way in front. The Code 0 sail and our giant asymmetrical spinnaker really do the trick! But now night is coming and so are…the freighters, the steel cabled fish lines, the naval air target zones, the underwater unexploded mines, and oh yeah….the tide! We managed to get through the night without any major shelling or nuclear disasters, but there were a couple of close calls with other ships. The second night proved to be more interesting. Some very significant thunder heads and cloud formations started to form. Specifically there were two lines moving at an alarming rate. Nick suggested “why don’t you put the weather on and see what they are saying”. Great idea…. Click…”Strong Gale warnings in effect. Vessels in the immediate area of……are to seek immediate shelter”. Where was that? I have no idea and I can’t remember what she said! Well, lets put a reef in and shorten up to the jib. That should do. In fact, the shoreline suffered the worse for the damage. We hit some good wind, but nothing we couldn’t handle. What was really impressive was the lightning show. Those, like me, who were racing on Lake Ontario Susan Hood Trophy race a few weeks ago got an impressive lightning show; that was the baby cousin to this! The lightning bursts in the atmosphere were so bright it took your eyes minutes to adjust afterward. When the lightning hit the ground on the Chesapeake Bay, you could practically see the water boil around it! Then like all other storms, it moved on and we moved on to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Only one close call here with a freighter who blew his horns at us. Getting through the bridge was more difficult than we thought. Turns out most of our competitors who got out a few hours after us (3:30am Monday morning), were stuck in the current and no wind. Several had to put their anchors out to stay in deep water. Glad we got out when we did!

Now that we’re out of the bay we can put our master plan into action! We expected to struggle in the Bay being unfamiliar with local knowledge, and then make up for it by legging out with our asymmetrical sails and the predicted south west winds all the way to Bermuda. Isn’t that a pretty picture? We thought so too. We had also planned to catch a ride on the larger cold water Gulf Stream eddy and have it help shoot us along! It’s amazing what happens to the best of plans isn’t it! The breeze was out from the south-east most of the trip. We didn’t get our kite up until the second last day, and although we did feel the push of a 2 knot current in the cold water eddy, we were never able to figure out where to get out of the eddy as our satellite connection never worked. No computer at all for the entire race. So we eventually said “Gotta turn somewhere, and better not overshoot...”. Then we turned eastward more and started sailing directly into the wind towards Bermuda.

A Mini will sail 35 degrees apparent to the wind, but unless you can get that hull out of the water, you’re dragging a huge amount of boat around… very slowly. The ocean life was very supportive of our trip. We did see thousands of Man of War and Sargasso Weed. We also saw an impressive amount of garbage. Don’t people realize that city workers don’t come out here to pick up after people? We also had the pleasure of two dolphin encounters. Each time, there were a half dozen or more of them.

Finally, on the last night about 60 miles off Bermuda, after getting our kite up and really starting to click the miles off quickly, we got a stow away. This little bird, we named him Charlie, came along side us, did a few laps around the boat looking for a landing pad, and then came shooting in through the companionway. He looked much like a barn swallow. Poor bugger must have been crazy tired. He came and went a few times and eventually settled in on the SSB for the night. He stayed there all night with his head tucked in. In the morning, I guess he figured he was close enough to land and we were too slow for him, so he set back off on his own.

Nick did accomplish of his wishes; we did reach into Bermuda, but there wasn’t quite the following sea we needed to hit 20 knots. We saw mostly 10s and 12s. The sun was out to welcome us in along with some impressive schooners, Bermuda Customs and our host club, St. George’s Dinghy Sailing Club. What a great ride! Now with a few days to rest, enjoy Bermuda and re-organize the boat, I’ll be ready to head back for my 1000 nautical mile qualifier – solo.

Oh yeah, right….the results? Well, we were first in our division out of the bridge and we were first to finish in our division. There were two other boats in our division. The first didn’t finish, and the second “Quicksilver” were really giving us a run for our money when their rudder delaminated and decided to do laps around it’s shaft. Although they fashioned a jury rig and still finished, they went the wrong way around the island (south route) and therefore didn’t complete the course correctly. They chose to Retire After Finish. My hat goes off to them for their skill in being able to effect a jury rig repair, and by filing RAF in realizing they did the course incorrectly. True sportsmanship was displayed by the guys on Quicksilver. Maybe we will meet again someday!!

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