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J/112E Silver Surfer wins St Petersburg to Havana Race

by J/Boats 12 Apr 05:04 PDT

"The forecast looked good for this year's 89-year old race from St Pete YC to Havana (Marina Hemingway). In fact, it was so good that the 25-30 knot NNE breeze would be too much for the leeward shore Gulfstream finish line in Havana, so the start was delayed a day." So said, Harvey Ford and Tom Mistele, the co-owners of the new J/112E Silver Surfer.

Both went on to describe their somewhat demanding experience in moderate to very high winds (40 kts plus) over the course of their race in their newly launched boat. Here is their story:

"At 9:00 AM the next day, on March 19, twenty-seven boats started on a reach off downtown St. Pete in a still sporty 25 knot NNE breeze.

So back up a minute...the race was the first of its kind in 1930, running for 29 years until suspended due to events in Cuba. Then, 58 years later, it resumed in 2017. This year was the third edition of the new race. Unchanged since 1930, the race is a 20-mile dog leg out of Tampa Bay under the Skyway Bridge, with a sharp left-turn just outside the Bay at Southwest Pass sea buoy #1, then at ~182 degs and 200 miles to Rebecca Shoals (east of Dry Tortugas island at the end of the Florida Keys), then about the same heading another 80 miles to Cuba.

This year, our J/112E Silver Surfer took first overall, much to our pleasant surprise! Who knew! The crew was Chris Bergstrom, Marty Kullman, Lin Robson, John Monahan and Christian Koules.

Finishing second was Wasabi (a fast, well-sailed Farr 395 also from St. Pete), and third went to Fresh Pineapple (a hard-charging Esse 990 from New Orleans). All three boats set a new course record, with line honors to Pineapple (32h:43 m) and Wasabi (34h:5m), but neither saved their time on Silver Surfer that finished in 35h:27m.

At the downwind start, conditions were about 25 knots and gusting higher. Silver Surfer, appropriately painted silver/gray and named after Tom Mistele's Marvel comic hero, set its A2 spin and jumped on the wake of the larger Wasabi, together chasing Pineapple out of the Bay. However, Pineapple was soon raked by some really big gusts and got the dust washed off its spreaders in a prolonged knockdown (e.g. a massive massive broach!). Wasabi similarly rolled out, so Surfer lost its wake ride, but we surfed on. Surfer took several knockdowns itself, losing its MOB buoy in the process (as did Wasabi), leading to calls to the RC to advise that all was OK. For sure, we were successfully testing the maximum limits of the 650 fabric of our brand new North spinnaker!

We were the first boat to the dog leg inside the Skyway Bridge and then set our A3 chute in the building breeze. Recording 29-33 knot gusts, we managed to carefully jibe about 5 times in the dash out SW Pass maintaining 10+ knots for the first 2 hours and maxing at 14.5 knots.

After the final jibe at SW #1, Surfer and the others set into a 200-mile port tack reach in the 25-knot breeze...with the true wind angle at about 140 degs off the bow and apparent wind at about 100 degrees. With a deep keel, one reef in the main and the A3 spinnaker, we were able to maintain a higher COG inside the rhumbline, while still surfing off every other wave...eventually posting a top speed of 15.7 knots.

Pineapple scooted out ahead, but stayed in sight all day on a lower heading. Wasabi eased further offshore outside the rhumbline and eventually caught us at Rebecca Shoals, out of view to leeward.

Anticipating even higher winds (35-40 knots) and a slight tilt to the east for the breeze on the first night, according to pre-race weather reports, we elected to drop the chute before full-on darkness. But, that was done only after hot lasagna and Hawaiian Rolls served "comfortably" to the whole crew. The next 9 hrs were still fast under full main and jib and a totally obscured full moon. But, the really bad winds never happened, so we settled for good control, a high course, and 10-12 knots of boat speed all night.

Wasabi was going to catch us eventually, but owed us 99 minutes on corrected handicap time. In the conditions we were sailing, that meant they had to beat us by about 15 miles, so we felt relatively safe.

On Wednesday morning, the winds dropped down to a civilized 21.0 knots. Feeling quite comfortable, we served coffee and breakfast bars and then we re-set the A2! Tracking the location and strength of the Gulf Stream, we jibed back and forth across the rhumbline to attempt a clean arrival at Havana over the final 80 miles.

As we approached the Havana Hemingway Harbor finish line, the 10-foot onshore rollers triggered by the NE breeze and the opposing east flowing Gulf Stream of 4-5 kts would make the after-dark finish somewhat challenging, to say the least!

The finish mark, being a 10 sec flashing white light with the city behind it, is an annual riddle. The buoy bobs in 300 feet of water (up from about 2,000 feet deep less than a 1/2 mile offshore) and the conditions were too rough for the RC to stay on post. So, we all took our own times at the finish buoy per the Sailing Instructions. The reef along the shore is just 1/4 mile downwind from the finish, so we definitely had one foot on the brake as we approached! Conservative as we were, we even doused the chute well before the finish! This hair-raising finish made the smooth Cuban customs process seem like a walk in the park!

Our hats off to the designers and builders of the sturdy J/112E! Despite the "dancing on a piano-wire/ walking the tight-rope" sailing conditions, our only real challenge was the A-sail tack line chafe that we doubled up under way before it parted. We regularly blessed the over-sized rudder and carbon wheel and, needing front-end buoyancy, we were happy that we had stored the extra water, life raft, anchor, and other stuff in the aft lockers.

As you would expect, a glorious hour of celebration occurred at the dock after clearing customs! All seven of us went below, turned on the AC, had some drinks, ate the full dinner that we had been envisioning all race long, and asked each other what just happened! What an amazing time and great way to celebrate our first win on Silver Surfer!"

More information at jboats.com/j112e

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