The Joys of Overnight Racing
by Molly Winans
“The darkness and uncertainty of your surroundings add to the sailing experience.”
There are three types of big boat racing sailors on the Bay: those who have not yet tried overnight racing; those who have done it once and checked it off their bucket lists; and those who have tried it and gotten addicted. The been-there, got-the-T-shirt types remember a cold, stormy, windless night or a sleepless, slow, thankless night or a combination of such.
Sailors who compete regularly in such races overlook the discomfort and relish in the challenge. Solomons sailor John Edwards, who used to sail his Farr 30 Rhumb Punch in a couple of overnight Bay races per year says, “The darkness and uncertainty of your surroundings add to the sailing experience… and keep me awake all night. A part of it is fear, but the lure is mostly the challenge. By 3 or 4 a.m., I would pay to know where the other guys in my class are on the course. But, I don’t know, and every stern light has to be passed. If you have some percentage of that passion and are not willing to accept that you are going fast enough, then the benefit of racing at night is greater than the discomfort of dampness and the fear of thunderstorms.
Bruce Gardner, who has sailed his Beneteau 10M L’Outrage in the Solomons Island Invitational and the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race, says, “It’s a different challenge than daytime windward-leeward races. You prepare for wind conditions and currents and work the boat hard all night, staying focused on COG [course over ground] and SOG [speed over ground] in hopes others are not and are tiring.”
Concepts that may seem too daunting for some sailors, such as dodging freighters, cruise ships, and barges or avoiding fish traps add to the challenge for enthusiastic overnight racers and keep them coming back for more. Edwards says, “Everyone who has sailed at night has seen luminescent jellyfish and shooting stars. Sometimes, the moon lies a path across the water for you to follow, but the best you can do is get on 180 degrees as soon as you can when you are looking for St Mary’s City [as one does during Governor’s Cup].”
Both sailors agree that the lightning storms are as memorable as the crew stories. “The lighting is so much more vivid at night,” says Edwards. “What I see is something in crew. Some unexpected tough guys emerge and some tough guys sleep through the night.”
Gardner remembers his scariest overnight racing moment as broaching with no moonlight. Some of the seemingly scary moments end up being the funny ones in the end. The L’Outrage crew heard a bang after the finish at Solomons and then realized it was another boat hitting the shoal marker in the dark. “The boat’s name was Bump in the Night.”
Edwards says, “The scariest story I might have is not scary at all now. We were becalmed one night near the Poplar Islands, so we drank a beer and decided to take a swim…got a bit spread out and away from the boat. The main and jib were still up, but the boat was motionless. Then, a blast of wind from nowhere snapped the sails, and the boat started to move.”
“All but one of us boarded before the boat got far but Jason Bell was out there in the dark yelling mostly obscenities. When we finally got him onboard, he had lost his skivvies. Completely naked, he walked from the cockpit to the bow, set the spinnaker pole, and hoisted the chute. Only after one of us threatened to put his own eyes out with his thumbs so he would not have endure such a horrible sight did Jason put clothes on again. He had planned to air dry but the rest of us would not have that!”
Publishers Note: This is an excerpt from Winan’s August 2012 “From the Bay” column. Molly is the Editor of the ever popular sailing magazine SpinSheet and power boat magazine PropTalk located in Eastport, Maryland.