With plans brewing for Lisa and Rich to purchase a cruising boat, we decided it would be a good idea for three of us (Brian, Rich, and Lisa) to get in a bit of endurance sailing by joining the J/35 Maggie for the 2014 Governer’s Cup race. The race is run overnight, covering the 70 miles between Annapolis and St. Mary’s. It’s hardly an ocean crossing but on tight work schedules it’s a start. The race begins on a Friday afternoon and carries the boats about half way down the Chesapeake Bay, with an expectation of crossing the finish line just before sunrise the next morning. It’s enough to stretch out your endurance sailing muscles while still making it to work on Monday.
Maggie is a family-crewed J/35 that Lisa and Rich have sailed on periodically for years. The J/35 is essentially a longer, heavier version of the J/29 Lisa and Rich owned together from 1996 to 2002, so we know both the design and this particular example of the breed very well. We knew we wouldn’t exactly be pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones when it came to the equipment we’d be on, but the other side of that coin was the intensely re assuring feeling of being able to grope in the darkness for the necessary sheet tail and finding your hand has made its way automatically to the right one.
Our only weather worry while motoring out to the starting line Friday night was that we’d sacrifice a night’s sleep only to drift all night in the doldrums, so we were delighted to find ourselves gliding across the starting line on a 5-7 knot close reach soon after.
We sailed into a fading light marveling at how perfect the conditions were and enjoyed a dinner of fried chicken over cilantro salad while hiking on the rail. Very civilized!But alas, it’s sailing after all, so greater tests were sure to come and true to form for overnight Chesapeake Bay sailing, they did. A steady, cold rain began to fall some time after sundown that would test our resolve in various intensities for the rest of the night.
In the wee hours of overnight races, a form of mild delirium inevitably seems to creep over the psyche of even the most hardened crew. It’s probably caused by some combination of sleep deprivation and hours of peering fruitlessly into the blackness trying to make sense of the many odd apparitions that form and dissolve in the faint light patterns. A fish trap? A spit of land where it shouldn’t be? An unlit boat? Early Saturday morning as these symptoms presented under a driving, cold rain, any sane man or woman couldn’t help but hear a little voice somewhere deep down utter a very rational, if grating, taunt:
….and you do this for fun, right?
The great thing about the three of us (and the rest of the Maggie crew) is that without exception our answer to that little voice was abso-f*en-lutely. There certainly are easier ways to make one’s way from Annapolis to St. Mary’s, but merely arriving somewhere is hardly the point. The point of distance sailing is to earn it. Friday night the point was to win St. Mary’s by grit, and so, perversely, the uglier the weather got the more we liked it. There was one point during the night when the wetness really did start to penetrate but mother nature answered with a very welcome surprise: a sudden freshening of the breeze up to 20 knots. The crew scrambled to their posts to begin depowering the sail plan and in time we found ourselves working through two genoa peels and a spinnaker set as Maggie punched resolutely through a scrappy, short chop. Aaaaaaannnnnd we’re warm again!
We ghosted up toward the finish at 4:45am, comfortable that we’d sailed very well through the night. Our affirmation came in the form of the coveted shotgun blast from the committee boat: a class win! Later we’d learn that we were scored 11th of 80 boats on PHRF handicap too, having beaten several larger boats that we had no right to.
We packed up to head home feeling limbered up and stretched out. We’ve got our eye on one particular cruising boat up in Connecticut that we might want to buy. We feel nice and warmed up for the delivery if it pans out.
Below: St. Mary’s earned.