Annapolis to Bermuda Race (A2B Race)

I haven't had time to sit back and write about the A2B race. Today I finished applying a coat of varnish and it is now 95 degrees outside and I'm not going to continue to work out there. So today I'm inside the cool boat, not wanting to get my hands cruddy servicing the engine. What to do? Well, it's time to write about the A2B race and return.
The race was a forcing function for me - a way to get the boat ready for open ocean sailing a few months ahead of the fall cruising season. It worked and most things on the boat worked. I have a few changes to make and a few repairs underway. After that, she is ready to go. But will I be ready? I think so.
The A2B race started last fall when I registered and began to hunt down crew. Not everyone that was initially contacted could make it. All the same, and with thanks to "PE" I ended up with and excellent race crew and return crew. My initial crew for checkout sails included "PE", "CF", "JP", & "TK", the return crew was "MR", "DS" & "SK". Most of these folks have sailing experience as racers in the bay on 7/8th rigged sloops. Music is a mast head rigged cutter weighting 38K lbs. My biggest concern other than all the stuff that had to be done to prepare the boat, was about the crew's ability to handle a mast head cutter.
The first checkout sail started with a safety briefing and a review of key components of the boat. The first sail was under light winds and I mostly sat back to watch the crew. Every now and then i had to speak up to prevent someone from doing something dangerous. But my goal was to learn what they can do. The second sail was very similar, sit back and watch under a fresh breeze. Overall, the crew knows sailing, "CF" is the best helmsman I've ever been with, and "PE" has the right amount of conservative/caution that I would only expect to see in a cruiser and never expect in a small boat Bay racer. That evening, after watching the mess that was made by the crew all day, I sent out a polite but "scathing" email to all of them. Email below:
   The Safety briefing will be at 9:15AM, we sail out after that.   On Saturday I have to be back in the slip by 2:00pm for a 3:00 meeting and reception for skippers at EYC.
I have no restrictions on Sunday.   
   The goal this weekend is to get everyone comfortable dealing with a cutter rig.  Honestly, we had a few good tacks, but we had a bunch of not so good tacks and those mistakes could have been dangerous if the winds were near 30 Kts.   This past weekend we had 4 or 5 people in the cockpit at a time.   This weekend only two people will be active in the cockpit for each maneuver.  The rest will be sitting/standing on the back rail or companion way and watching.   I want to see that everyone comfortable with the tack timing.  This past weekend I stayed back mostly interested in how each of you behaved rather than giving you detailed instruction.   This weekend, I’ll be more active in giving instructions and teaching you the timing for a cutter rig.  I want everyone to be comfortable knowing that they could manage the boat at winds up to 20 Kts by themselves if needed.  This boat is sweet for single handing - everything you need is led back to the cockpit.  A little prep in advance of a maneuver will goes a long way to success.  So we will be doing a lot of tacks this weekend to practice.   I also want to use a bigger head sail and will practice downwind sailing using the pole.  Hopefully I’ll have the preventers rigged for this weekend as well.
   All the same, I think everyone learned something this past weekend.   She is a sweet boat once you get her in the groove! (and very forgiving of mistakes).
The next sail was much better. Everyone was learning the timing for blowing the head sail through the slot. Then we used the code-0 the following day and practiced bringing the code-0 up and back down (not so easy with a new code-0 and a top-down furler). We also practiced MOB and alternate ways to steer the boat.
The weekend after that, the winds were 18 Kts at the start and then up to 34 Kts during the sail. This gave the crew more confidence in how the boat performs in high winds and we did some practice balancing the helm. A couple of weeks later we had a couple of additions to the crew - "DL" joined us for the race and "CB" joined us for the return. "DL" was on the night sail and we were all happy to have him as he can read a boat's lights like no-one else! I also layed down the rule that the instrument must always be configured for "North up." :)
After that, it was prep for the race (provisioning and emptying lots of stuff off the boat that would not be needed for the race).
The start of the race was awesome. I figured I would have butterflies but no such thing. I was completely comfortable heading out to sea with this crew. I had two conditions for the crew. First, "TK" could only be at the helm if "DL", "CB" or I were with him until he gets some experience steering a big boat. "TK" turned out to be an excellent helmsman! Second, "DS" could only be at the helm with either "MR", "CB", or me for the same reason. Turns out that "DS" is great at trimming the sails for speed and with just a little practice became great at handling the lines and helm.
Getting out of the bay was great at first, but on Saturday the wind died and we came close to tossing out the anchor to keep from drifting backwards… Once the wind kicked back in we made it over the tunnel at 2:00AM Sunday. The Atlantic was a mess of quartering-confused seas! Only 6ft waves, but when they are coming from 3 different directions at the same time while you are on a down wind sail, it can be uncomfortable. "TK" got sea sick and was out of commission for about 36 hours. Sunday evening we crossed the Gulf Stream and were still downwind sailing when the thunderstorms started. We were expecting to be hit from a storm on our starboard side, but it was passing us when suddenly we were hit from the port side. The winds quickly built to 30 Kts. There was a bit of fear in a couple of crew members in the cock pit. "DL" and I decided to pull down the head sail, gybe the main over and reduce the sail area. Then we heaved to and all was calm. The winds reached above 40 Kts for a brief period and then hung between 30 and 40 for about 30 minutes. We were heaved to making 3 Kts on the line. Once the winds calmed we pulled up the sails and continued on our way.
After 6 days and 1 hour we made the finish line - close hauled with 16 Kts of wind! It was great. No trophy's but all the same, quite a wonderful experience (and a cold beer).
The return trip was probably faster than the race. For the return we plotted a course that went to NC to avoid a gale that was predicted to form at the mouth of the Chesapeake. As a result, we missed the gale, but spent 4 days on a port tack with winds from 18 to 28 Kts the entire way. Ugh!!! I was so sick of being on the same tack! On the third day of this I had to go up the cockpit and demand that they de-power the sails because it was impossible to function down below deck! We also had 7 Kts of current in the Gulf stream down there. WOW everything I heard was the 5 Kts was about the max… But we had 7 Kts steady for several hours. The track we took back to Annapolis added 100 mile or so to the trip, but we finished in 6 days and 4 hours. Cheers to "CB" and "DS", they really know how to get the most out of the sail and wind! We damaged the head sail furler about 5 miles from the Bay and ended up motoring from that point back to Annapolis (the titanium swivel ring split at the top of the mast). We had dark and stormy cocktails once we hit the Bay and motored our way home.
P.S.. Surfing down a wave is always fun, but doing it in a 38,000 lbs boat is really strange and awesome at the same time. Also, I never realized that a 38,000 lbs boat could pop off the top of a wave and slam her belly into the trough. That is cool when you are on the deck, but upsetting when you are below deck trying to sleep :)

Big THANKS to my race crew and return crew!!!
Remember, "there be no dragons out there" - just wind, waves and current.