A peak experience with Team Zorro (part 1)
This weekend was the Rio Grande Sailing Club’s Anniversary Cup, a distance race. Pat was serving as race committee, and I had agreed to sail with Team Zorro.
Normally, the team would be sailing on Constellation, and there wouldn’t be room for me. Or Zorro and his team would be sailing on a J/24 in order to practice for the national Mallory Cup finals in San Francisco this fall. But one member of Zorro’s team, Twinkle Toes, has just finished two years of working on his large boat (or waiting for others to work on it or correcting improperly done work that others had done on it), and Zorro felt that he owed it to Twinkle Toes, as a long-term and very faithful crew member, to give him the support of sailing on his boat.
The weather forecast was for some pretty stiff conditions, and it looked good for the Hunter 34 Windependent, especially as we were able to put together a large crew. We ended up with Zorro, Twinkle Toes, and Space Invader from the Mallory Cup team, former Team Zorro member Seymour (who now primarily sails an M Scow, a boat for which the weather conditions were not appropriate), two other M Scow guys (we’ll call them Santa Claus and Deli Man), and me.
Windependent has in the past been something of a disaster. It has been slow in the first place, having been designed for cruising and not for racing. In addition, Twinkle Toes has had to deal with many equipment failures, which have often happened during races. So we weren’t expecting to do particularly well; we just hoped that the major refit of the boat would improve its performance to the point we wouldn’t be dead last.
Things did not start well. As we set out from the marina under motor, Twinkle Toes began having trouble with the throttle. A 20-knot wind was blowing us toward the shore, and the boat was unable to make headway against it. Quickly, we got the mainsail up, while Seymour and Santa Claus went below to work on the engine. Eventually, Santa Claus was able to make a temporary throttle linkage using some twine, and we got out of the harbor. It looked like this would be another typical Windependent race, besieged with problems.
Conditions continued rough, with winds gusting into the 30s and possibly even higher. Pat was having trouble setting a starting line, as, even with extra weight on the anchor, the committee boat kept dragging it. Finally, he had to use the motor to keep in place.
On Windependent, we put two reefs in the mainsail and unfurled the headsail, leaving it partly furled to keep the boat from being overpowered by the conditions. As we sailed around the starting area, the crew began coming together, with the newcomers finding their places among those of us who already had sailed together. Zorro reported that the helm was feeling much better than it had on his previous times on the boat, and with the reefed sails, we were still getting knocked around, but not as much as some of the other boats preparing to start the race – the J/24s Kachina and Oso, the J/22 Sirocco’s Song, the S2 3.4 Cultural Infidel, and the Hunter 28 Erebus. We got some especially good looks at the bottoms of Sirocco’s Song and Erebus; the J/24s coped with the conditions by sailing under jib alone.
Just before the start of the race, I went below to bring up life jackets. While I was down there, I discovered that Windependent’s interior was not designed for aggressive sailing, including severe heeling and a whole lot of bouncing around. Cushions and other junk were strewn around the cabin, and some of the galley drawers had flown out of the cabinets. I found myself dodging flying knives and an airborne potato peeler. The thought occurred to me … it would certainly be one of the more bizarre sailing accidents to get impaled by a potato peeler.
At the start of the race, some crew mis-coordination and an inopportune wind gust caused Windependent to start dead last, 500 yards behind the rest of the fleet. It definitely looked like this was going to be another typical race for this boat. We were looking at eight miles of continuing disaster. Well, maybe at least we could stay close enough to the rest of the fleet that we could beat a couple of them on corrected time; the Hunter 34, being a cruising boat, has a pretty large handicap.
Then something miraculous happened …
To be continued …