Happy New Year!

Trip Start Nov 06, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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At anchor

Flag of Bahamas  , Out Islands,
Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wicked fun time last night.  We had some delicious dinner paired with some delicious gin and tonics.  The bottle of gin was purchased directly from the Staniel Cay Yacht Club Bar - we love the Bahamas - and while the boys were making the purchase, it was apparent that that was the spot for the night’s festivities. It was a bit funny because every time we looked at the clock during dinner, someone would say, “Oh man...we have to stay awake for X more hours...”  We’re so used to going to bed once it’s dark and we’re fed that staying out until midnight was going to be a challenge.  We handled it like champs though.

We scooted into the dinghy beach (with a little Roman candle display en route) and found our way to the party. It was still in the beginning stages of getting going, but we fetched ourselves some tasty adult beverages and were feeling good. I wandered off to the head, and, as per usual, there was a line for the ladies.  One woman, who seemed like she was about the happiest person alive, started chatting with me - she soon informed me of how far they had sailed to make it to Staniel Cay as it is the place to be for New Year’s Eve.  Looks like we made the right decision for the occasion.

The night carried on in the generally debaucherous manner of New Year’s Eve festivities. We danced. We laughed. We drank free champagne. Pete finally blew out his Locals flip flops. We met some really fun people.  Caleb and Pete shot off a bunch of fireworks.  It was all good.  At one point, I spotted a gentleman wearing a Woods Hole Oceanographic shirt, and immediately chatted him up - he’d worked there but never really resided in Woods Hole. Pete and I were pretty stoked...we probably overwhelmed the man with our excitement.  What can we say - we love that place! 

Early on in the evening, the boys befriended a local Bahamian named Donnie.  Donnie sported a sweet fedora and was pretty stoked that he was able to kiss me on the cheek (...several times...) in the spirit of the festivities.  He was also insistent that we participate in the Staniel Cay Annual New Year’s Day Regatta.  As I was looking forward to a “day off,” I wasn’t overly into the idea, but the boys were all game.  The night carried on and we made it until the champagne at the strike of midnight...but it wasn’t too long after that we stowed away to the dinghy to head out to bed.

Caleb somehow managed to wake up after such a late night and get breakfast going for us.  It was slightly brutal...but good to have a hot and hearty meal to help the ol' hangovers.  We were up probably around 0800, and we put out a call on the VHF for information on the regatta.  The first response we got was, “Yes, there is a regatta today.”  Why thank you - that was so helpful!  But after breakfast and some strong coffee, Pete finally got on the VHF again saying, “This is Curious George wondering about the regatta today.”  And finally someone came back with some “real” information. It sounded like it would be run in true island style, starting “sometime between 1000 and 1100” and there was a (very) general idea of the starting location.  As much as I wasn’t interested in racing last night, I definitely got the feeling this morning that it was going to be a fun day, and I didn’t want to miss out.

We started getting a move on, tackling all the dishes from last night and this morning, getting everything stowed for sailing, and rigging up the ridiculously huge ensign in a display of a little patriotism.  It was coming up on 1000, and we had just about everything set - except we still had the dinghy trailing off the stern.  Keeping the dinghy with us during the race was going to be an issue, so we needed to figure out a way to ditch it for a few hours.  Pete, in his resourcefulness, saw a man in the cockpit of a neighboring boat.  He hopped in the dinghy and cruised over there to ask if they would mind it trailing off their stern for the afternoon.  The nice man, Clay, followed Pete back over to Hejira and towed our dinghy back to his boat. Sweet. Problem solved.

I pulled the anchor up as the boys maneuvered us out to where the rest of the sailboats were cruising around.  We set the main and spent the next hour tacking and gybing around the harbor.  There were a bunch of boats out, and it was really fun to watch everyone and cruise around each other.  The Bahamian boat, Tida Wave, was definitely one of the most fun to watch, with the crew way up off the high rail to try to offset the heel that the boat was cruising along at.  It was wicked sweet.

All the while, the VHF was simply blowing up with people trying to find out what was going on. Finally, as it neared 1100, someone from the race committee came on, told everyone to monitor channel 68, and they explained that they would give a ten-minute warning, raise a blue flag as a five-minute warning, and then give the final one-minute warning. ...and the ten-minute warning would be in about ten minutes.  There were people asking all sorts of questions about the course, and one of the boats even requested one of the marks be moved as it was too shallow for their deep keel.  It was pretty comical to listen to.  Regardless of all the radio activity, this was our first time racing so we knew we were going to generally follow the lead of everyone else.

After the five-minute warning, we really started to get into position, guessing how long we needed to wait before tacking toward the starting line so as to not cross early.  We timed it pretty well, starting out in the middle of the pack.  The race was a big counter-clockwise triangle, and there would be two laps.  The first leg, we were running downwind, our worst point of sail.  With the wind astern, the mains’l essentially blankets the jib, making it ineffective, randomly filling and emptying itself as we went along.  It was time for a bit of experimenting.  

Many boats are rigged with a jib pole, which holds the jib out in position, and it also makes it a bit easier to attempt sailing wing and wing - instead of having the main and the jib set out on the same side, you put one out to port and the other out to starboard.  Pete sent Caleb to the storage area above the quarter berth, i.e. “the place for ridiculously long things,” to grab out the longest pole we have, which has a little hook on the end that can attach to the jib sheets.  Caleb came up with the pole and took up position next to the mast.  He managed to hook on the clew of the sail and hold the sail out - it was a lot harder than imagined, and the pole even started to bend at certain points.  But we were moving right along!  After a while, though, Caleb was relieved from that duty, and we just sailed along on a port tack. 

We rounded the first mark, gybing over to a starboard tack.  At this point, it was pretty cool as the boats were all still relatively closely spaced, and we were able to keep an eye on what others were doing - nice for us newbies.  The first lap really was just a lot of checking out how it all worked.  We didn’t have a clue where the next marks were, so that was the first order of business on each turn.  Also, the first and second legs were pretty straightforward as the wind allowed for a single tack run, but on the third leg, it required a few tacks and a little bit more strategy.   Luckily, on that leg, what we lacked in strategy we could make up for in speed - we could point higher than some of our competitors and were able to scoot along at a good 6.5 or 7 knots.

We finally rounded the buoy that was also the start/finish line, checked the clock, and were really thankful for our filling breakfast - we’d already been racing for almost an hour, not counting the hour we’d tacked around the harbor beforehand.  By this point, boats had spaced out a bit more, and although we were nowhere near the head of the pack, we weren’t losing.  Now that we could see who we were matched up with, it was pretty fun to track our progress against the other couple of boats.

We began the first leg run again.  This time, Caleb rigged up the pole so the jib was on the same side as the main - but with the pole, the sail was less inclined to deflate as it does when unassisted. It worked pretty well.  About midway down the leg, Pete said, “Ellie. Come stand in the back of the cockpit and hold the ensign up for extra sail area.” So I did. We were sporting, what I called, the big “Ameris’l.”  Unfortunately, we have no photographic documentation...because it was pretty funny.

We carried on with the second lap, and we could see that the winning boats had already finished up.  But we had two other boats right near us, so it was still a fun race for us.  As we finished up the second leg, we made our way past the mark as far as we could to the upcoming island, watching the depth meter as we approached the shallow water.  By going past the mark, we would hopefully be able to run the third leg with only one, maybe two tacks necessary to make it to the finish.  

As we started sailing down the last leg, the novice racers that we are, we discussed exactly how the finish worked - as we were too far away to see how the early finishers went about it, it was all just guess work.  We were nearing the finish line with one boat right there with us.  Now, for anyone who has done any sail racing, I’m sure this will come off as a bit hilarious (or just plain stupid...?), but we weren't sure if you just had to cross between the committee boat and the start/finish buoy or if you had to round the buoy like we did on the preceding laps... Finally, as we were scooting toward the buoy, and I just said, "I think we just have to cross through!" And we did, right as the other boat crossed. They immediately got on the radio to ask the committee there time and who made it across first - they beat us by three seconds.  We finished in 8th place (out of 9), and when Pete saw a committee member later in the afternoon, he said that the committee agreed that our finish was the most exciting part of the race - "all you had to do was cross the line!" We totally could have beat the other boat had we only known.  Next time.
The Regatta also included the annual cookout, so we made our way to the Public Beach for the festivities.  We met a lot of other cruisers, and we received lots of tips on how we could have raced better.  It was good.  The Regatta committee presented the results, and each boat received a woven tote with a couple of beers, a shot glass, and a delicious homemade loaf of coconut bread.  It was a fun and low-key party with a delicious meal of rice and peas, BBQ chicken and pork, coleslaw, veggies, and the tastiest macaroni and cheese any of us had ever tasted.

We had such a great day, but man are we tired.  After a fun and late night, it was a lot of activity for a hungover day - but we certainly made the most of it. It was a good first race.  Happy New Year!
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