(De Maverick moest voortijdig afhaken vanwege het aannemen van externe hulp bij het aan boord halen van de gennaker)
Shattered. I looked over at Raymond Roesink, both of us completely winded and desperately trying to hold part of the blue spinnaker against the aft rail, and knew the struggle was nearly over. After 20 minutes trying to get the sail back onboard we were tiring quickly and most of the field had sailed past. I looked over at the two committee members on the rubber speedboat idling a few meters away, and signaled it was over by shaking my head and freeing one hand enough to make a slicing gesture across my throat. A few hours earlier we held a leading position after the long opening leg, but we now welcomed help from the committee boat and as a consequence would retire from the race.
The 50 Mijl Shorthanded Race is held on the southern part of the Ijsselmeer, the large inland lake in North Holland, and opens the Dutch doublehanded season and series. It is an early opportunity to measure up against old and new boats and their crews, and a chance to assess progress and chances for the season. We concluded the winter IJspegel Trophy series with a win and clinched second overall for the series on the new boat, and though confident with Mav overall and the work we had put into her, we also spent additional time before the 50 Mijl cleaning the hull and tiding up the new NKE electronics. Finishing positions in races on the higher levels are often separated by seconds, and it pays to sweat the details.
There are many factors that contribute to sailing doublehanded competitively, from boat preparation, course strategy, start and race tactics, and sail handling. Races are won or lost by shifts or changes in the wind, and even with the best maintenance a race can be ended with breakage, but much time is needed to establish timing and procedures for setting and dropping the big downwind sails. The best teams work on and improve the things they can control, and learn how to recover from those things they cannot. Maverick had proven her speed with a good winter series record, and the assymentric spinnakers were in many ways a welcome change from the symmetrical set-ups we had previously, but we struggled with gybing and dropping the big downwind sails and ran through the steps and concerns the night before the race.
As an indication of the popularity and strength of doublehanded sailing in Holland, this year the 50 Mijls attracted 90 teams, with over half in the more competitive rating divisions. Maverick’s length and speed earned her a healthy rating at the very bottom of the top rating class (ORC 1), meaning we would place well if we kept pace with the other ORC 1 boats, but with the disadvantage of starting with a group of generally bigger and faster boats. Any of them would be happy to, or could not help, ‘gassing’ poor old Maverick on the start. This included perennial favorites like the J-111 Xcentric Ripper and the larger J-133 Batfish, but this year we also had to contend with the enormous IMS-50 Hagar and the stunning Icon 48 Leeloo sailing team on our starting line.
The lower rated ORC classes started 10 and 5 minutes ahead, so the ORC 1 boats would also need to pick their way through over 40 boats already on the long first upwind leg. Finding and maintaining clean air would be a priority. Prior to the start we checked the line and as with most of the other duos we lined up to cross by the favored startship end, and we slotted in just down from Ripper and Batfish. At the gun we lay just behind the line but with an edge in speed and pointing edge on Batfish. Leeloo was early over the line just ahead of us and neatly turned to port to return and re-cross the line. Expecting the bigger boats to windward to edge ahead and put us in their foul air we readied to quickly tack back, but in the stiff 17-19 kt breeze we managed nice speed and pointing, and remained in clean air.
The wind held and we endured occasional rain, and over the next two hours we worked our way through the boats ahead and kept pace with our class. Converging on the first coarse mark and 11 miles into the race we had an early opportunity to assess our position. We were well pleased to round a few lengths ahead of Xcentric Ripper and Hagar, narrowly trailing Batfish, Leeloo, and Push-up. We were effectively top of our class on corrected time, but with 40 miles and a long day ahead.
Rounding the mark (left in photo 1) we hoisted and set our big blue running spinnaker, while Ripper showed off a characteristically quicker set and early gybe, and pulled slightly ahead. We soon readied for a gybe and noticed the jib wasn’t fully dropped, but didn’t think it would affect the gybe. As the expanse of blue nylon was pulled over from one side to the other it caught on one of the sail hanks and then twisted into the jib. Ironically we had discussed the night before the potential perils when jibing with the jib still partially set, and Murphy was no doubt eavesdropping. Lesson learned. The partial wrap was a mess, but we managed to drop nearly all of it and quickly hoisted the smaller and ancient AP spinnaker. While we lost some time we were still in contention for a reasonable finish, but in this field any mistake would come with loss of a few places.
As an intimation of things to come, we made a clean spinnaker drop until the last few meters, and then the foot of the kite dipped into the sea. We had most of it onboard and muscled the last bit safely over the rail, but again some precious time was lost. Thankfully we had a long upwind leg ahead of us, and battered but unbowed we again settled into a nice groove. We had 15 miles ahead and the opportunity to claw back more time and places, and we edged ahead of boats in the lower classes and worked ourselves back among the ORC1 teams.
After rounding this upwind mark we hoisted our last fully intact spinnaker, a smaller heavy wind reacher. The rain had abated and the wind dropped to 11-13 kts, but we still had fair pace. Almost immediately the soothing swoosh of water under the boat was interrupted by, a long, loud horn sounded from a freight barge behind us. The buoy marked one edge of the shipping lane, the barge is virtually unmaneuverable, and it was not particularly happy to come upon a swarm of sailboats crossing ahead. Their only option was to sound the horn and plow ahead. We eventually gybed behind the barge and headed toward the penultimate mark, and fate both blessed and marked us as the wind quickly built to the low 20’s and shifted considerably. This put our line and wind into the sweet spot of the heavy reaching spinnaker and Mav raced ahead. The swoosh became a roar and we topped 11 kts boat speed, and as we came within a mile of the next buoy we readied early and carefully for the drop; halyard free, jib up, boat slowly steered dead down wind, spinnaker shadowed by the mainsail and jib and collapsed, pulled the clew in, halyard eased, most the sail pulled in and safely in the companionway. We both gathered the sail in, and like watching an accident in slow motion a mere slip of the foot fell over the lifeline and in a flash the sail was yanked into the water.
After watching for 20 minutes and taking a few photographs, the rubber boat crew sensed that the duo on Maverick were tiring and edged closer. One of the crew freed a hand and made a throat-slashing gesture, their race was over and the committee boat could move in to assist. They tied on and pulled her bow gently toward windward, and with a few combined last efforts the two crew hauled the last of the sail into the cockpit.
One of the great traditions of the 50 Mijl, and typical of their superb planning and race management, is the ‘Captains Dinner’ afterwards — a rich bar-b-que buffet for the participants. As we joined our fellow skippers we learned that a few photos of our plight had already been posted on the 50 Mijl Facebook site. A number competitors noted our strong early performance and offered sympathies, but we also laughed at jokes about the ‘Scheveningen fishermen’ and questions over our catch.
The Shorthanded community is close-knit, and though Mav could potentially finish among the top boats this season, throughout the evening our friends were generous with advice. We’ll head out during the coming week and work on a new ways to drop our spinnaker in the boat and not the in the water, and hopefully at the end of the season look back on the 50 Mijl as a painful but important lesson.