The forecast for the 66th running of the Down the Bay Race from Annapolis, MD to Hampton, VA. was for Northwest winds of 15 – 20 knots. The only thing that could possibly have made this forecast any better was for even more wind. As a long-distance ocean racer, the Sun Fast 3600 is deigned to remain safe, stable and fast even when the winds blow hard and the seas build. Because of this, the 3600 is a bit heavy to really get up and move in winds less than 10 knots but when the winds blow, the Sun Fast 3600 is one hard boat to beat.
By the time the starting gun went off at 10:30am Friday morning, the wind, true to the forecast, was blowing pretty much right out of the northeast at a steady 18 knots gusting to upwards of 20. If this held up, it would make for a quick and exciting 120 mile sail down the Chesapeake Bay to Hampton.
I have to admit it right up front and say that my racing experience is limited. It’s one thing to cruise long distance but it’s a totally different ball game when it comes to racing long distance. When you’re racing, it’s game on all the way to the finish. And when I say game on, I’m referring not just to the sailing end of things but the navigation, tactics, and weather forecasting as well. A friend of mine, Lou Sandivol, who had won the Race to Mackinac a number of times once told me, “The Mac Race is won at night.” By this he was referring to the idea that if you let yourself relax during the night, you will make mistakes and lose the race. He was right of course and the same goes for any long distance race where it’s easy to get worn down and over-tired.
With the wind for the most part blowing just off the beam, we were able to fly our reaching spinnaker which generated a consistent speed over the ground (SOG) of between 10-12 knots. Where we got into trouble was when we were forced to head up in order to sail on our rhum line. When we did this, we could no longer carry the asymmetric and had to switch to our working jib. Doing this caused our boat speed to drop by 2 – 3 knots. “What we really need right now” one of the crew members said, “is a code 0.” He was right of course, if we had a code 0 enabling us to sail say 55 or 60 degrees to the wind, we would be on the rhum line and hammering the competition as well. Instead we were sailing as best we could with the working jib and raising our reaching spinnaker when the angle of the wind allowed.
What we lacked in sail inventory we made up for in the makeup of our crew. We were fortunate to have 3 very good sailors aboard whose knowledge of racing and the will to win drove us towards the finish line as fast as we could possibly go. Somewhere around 1:30am, 13 hours and 44 minutes after the start of the race, Invictus crossed the finish line winning first in our class and at least for a while, first overall. In the morning, after the rest of the fleet had finished, we learned that we had lost first place overall to an older Cal 30 by just a little over 3 minutes on corrected time.
A few days after the race, I received a phone call from a fellow by the name of Bill Wagner of the Annapolis Capital Gazette who was interested to know how it felt to have lost first place by just a little over 3 minutes after racing for almost 14 hours. I thought for only a second and said “Abu Dhabi lost to Dongfeng in leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race also by just a little over 3 minutes. The difference is that their race lasted 17 days and 9 hours. I’m sure that losing that race for the crew of Abu Dhabi hurt a lot more than it hurt our crew aboard Invictus.” In short I said, “it felt alright.”
Today, Invictus is in Newport, RI after sailing from Hampton, VA, some 370 nautical miles in just 48 hours. Other races lie ahead but for now, the crew of Invictus is happy to be in the center of the winner’s circle where we have no doubt we will be again.
On we go…
Learn more about the Sun Fast 3600 at: www.jeanneau.com/boats/Sun-Fast-3600.html