Racing Annapolis to Newport On The Hylas 56

By Rich

The first time we raced Odette (from Miami to Havana) we struggled to get her going – especially in light air – and we didn’t have the choreography of sail changes down as well as we would have liked. Since then we’ve spent many more hours aboard getting to know the boat, and we committed two Saturday practices leading up the race to fine tuning our crew maneuvers. All of the hard work paid off in a much better finishing result.

The biennial Annapolis to Newport race throws a bit of everything at competitors. The southern Chesapeake in particular forms a slalom course of fish traps, shipping traffic and strong currents. Half way down the bay we took one big gamble by jibing away from the fleet and crossing from the western to the eastern shore in search of better winds and protection from a flood current. The jibing angle was awful and for some number of hours we worried that we’d thrown away the race. Fortunately, our investment paid back with interest and when we reconvened with the fleet in the wee hours of the morning we’d netted an appreciable gain from our gamble.

Our final two hours in the southern bay provided the most exciting boat-on-boat competition of the race when we traded tacks with our closest competitor  and managed to slip out of the bay in first place, securing one of our primary race objectives.

Over the course of the following days, the ocean presented just about every condition imaginable – beautiful reaching under sunny skies, squalls, dancing dolphins, flat calms, fog, and finally a spirited beat to the finish line in a very fresh Nor’easter. The big tactical debate was how far east of the rhumb line we should go to find better winds. The computers urged a major gamble of sailing well out to sea, but we opted to hedge our bets by simply staying to the east of most of our fleet until we started to converge on Block Island.

We’ve gotten much better at making Odette go in the light stuff, but upwind in a big breeze is really where this Frers design shines. Her moderate chord length keel allows the helmsman to drive down the back of steep waves with ease, her wide beam provides a ton of form stability, and the considerable rocker of her underbody keeps the crew fresh by providing a smooth and mellow motion through the chop. Upwind in 20-25 knots the Hylas brings home the bacon and fries it up in a pan – and we enjoyed her favorite sailing conditions from south of Block Island all the way to the finish. Keeping her going in the light stuff meant we were close enough to the front of the fleet to jump ahead when the big breeze filled in, and we were rewarded with a podium finish.

Woohoo! A successful and very enjoyable 88 hours at sea – and we’ve come away with a laundry list of new learning for future races.


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