A philo­soph­i­cal take on the 2017 Mar­ble­head to Hal­i­fax Race: is rac­ing strictly about the rac­ing, or is it more about the ca­ma­raderie?

SAIL - - Contents - BY ADAM CORT

IIt’s been said golf is a good walk spoiled—and if ever the same could be said for a sail­boat race’s effect on an oth­er­wise en­joy­able off­shore pas­sage, it would have been aboard the J/130 Saga at the end of the 2017 Mar­ble­head to Hal­i­fax Race.

The eight of us com­pris­ing the crew, in­clud­ing our in­trepid skip­per, Mar­ble­head sailor Kris Kris­tiansen, gave it our best, the boat was well pre­pared, we’d shown good boat­speed early on and had been happy with our plan of at­tack. But when it came time for the fleet to con­verge again off Nova Sco­tia’s south­ern shore, what should we see but our clos­est com­pe­ti­tion in PHR-2 a mile or so ahead of us in the haze—close enough that we might still hope, but in vain.

A funny thing happened, though, on our way to mar­itime mis­ery—a good pas­sage well-sailed, com­pounded by what can only be de­scribed as a kind of me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal magic car­pet ride across the Gulf of Maine, so that the next thing ev­ery­one knew, we re­ally couldn’t have given a damn.

Cross­ing the fin­ish line off McNabs Is­land, we cheered the race com­mit­tee, the beer came out and ev­ery­one high-fived and shook hands like we’d been first to fin­ish. De­spite end­ing up to­ward the bot­tom half of our sec­tion, I can hon­estly say it was one of the most en­joy­able races I’ve ever taken part in.


It all be­gan a week or so ear­lier on my in­tro­duc­tion to the crew dur­ing a cou­ple of prac­tice sails out of Mar­ble­head. Dif­fer­ent ships, dif­fer­ent splices—and dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties as well. Although this would be Kris’s fourth trip to Hal­i­fax and much of the crew, in­clud­ing Davy Crow­ell, John McMa­hon and Brian Schwartz­trauber, were race vet­er­ans as well, he still wanted to put the crew as a whole through its paces to make sure we all knew our jobs. Of course, as is in­evitably the case, while we did a lot of things right, we also did more than a few things wrong. When­ever that happened, though, I was im­me­di­ately struck by how ev­ery­body seemed far more con­cerned with learn­ing from what­ever mis­takes we may have made as op­posed to point­ing fin­gers. As I’m sure any num­ber of read­ers out there can at­test, this is most def­i­nitely not the way peo­ple roll aboard all too many sail­boats!

I was also a lit­tle shocked by Kris’s be­hav­ior at the helm: specif­i­cally, mak­ing sure that ev­ery­body—and I mean ev­ery­body, even yours truly, who Kris barely knew from, well, Adam—had a turn. Again, if any­one made any mis­takes—like when I steered Saga too quickly through a gybe not once, but twice, so that both times the chute ended up wrap­ping around the forestay—Kris just of­fered a quiet ob­ser­va­tion or two on how things might be im­proved, adding he was sure next time it would be bet­ter. That was it.

Crewmem­bers Davy Crow­ell and John McMa­hon also re­vealed a pen­chant for burst­ing into song from time to time, apro­pos of ab­so­lutely noth­ing. Coun­try, clas­sics from the ’80s, it seemed any­thing and every­thing was on the playlist. Heav­ens, I couldn’t help think­ing to my­self, what kind

of a Zen-like crowd have I got­ten my­self mixed up with? And then there was the weather. Mar­ble­head is by any mea­sure one of the most beau­ti­ful sail­ing venues on the planet. And sunny skies com­bined with a fair wind in the low teens out of the west-south­west only made it all the more gor­geous as we mo­tored our way out to the start off Mar­ble­head Neck. Milling about with 72 other boats tak­ing part in the 37th run­ning of this bi­en­nial clas­sic we saw every­thing from the Class 40s Dragon and Tooth­face2 lin­ing up in PHR-1 to the five J/120s and two other J/130s in our own sec­tion, the red-hot Mills 68 Prospec­tor in IRC-1, the 72ft L. Fran­cis Her­reshoff-de­sign ketch Ti­con­deroga, and the Free­dom 40 Snow Cat and Stan­ley Paris’s Kiwi Spirit II sail­ing in the PHRF-Cruis­ing Di­vi­sion.

If there’s one thing I love about sail­ing, it’s the va­ri­ety of sail­boats out there, and in my mind the mark of a great re­gatta is see­ing plenty of ex­am­ples of the dif­fer­ent types. New Eng­land, of course, is home to count­less dif­fer­ent de­signs rep­re­sent­ing a full spec­trum of the state of naval ar­chi­tec­ture over the years, and it shows in the Mar­ble­head-Hal­i­fax.

Af­ter that it was buckle up and start racing as we hard­ened up for the short dog­leg in to­ward the neck to do a flyby of the spec­ta­tor fleet. Not sur­pris­ingly, things were a bit fluky with the wind swirling off the land around the first mark. But bear­ing away to­ward the off­set took care of all that, and soon we had our A2 up (af­fec­tion­ately known as “Bubba”) and the bow pointed to­ward Brazil Rock, off the tip of Nova Sco­tia, on a bear­ing of 93 de­grees mag­netic, roughly 240 nau­ti­cal miles away.

Again, it would be hard to overem­pha­size just how per­fect the weather was. ( Prospec­tor would go on to set a new course record of 28 hours, 28 min­utes: see A Flurry of Bro­ken Records in SAIL’s Septem­ber 2017 is­sue.) And all that af­ter­noon, that evening and the fol­low­ing day, we pretty much just let Saga do her thing as the breeze bounced be­tween 7 and 14 knots, and she kept chug­ging along at 9, 10, 11 knots.

As she did so, the crew also rapidly got into its groove, with Davy, Kris, Jason Maloney and Brian on one watch, and Amanda Hig­gins, John McMa­hon, Jon McClain and me in the other. De­spite it be­ing their first-ever off­shore race, Jason and Amanda took to the life like they’d been born to it. As for my watch mates “Home­less” Jon McClain (the ex­pla­na­tion of this nick­name will have to wait for an­other time) and John McMa­hon, they are both guys you can’t help but en­joy sail­ing with, no mat­ter what the weather. Ev­ery­one worked to­gether, and ev­ery­one was ea­ger to lend a hand, no mat- ter what the time of day or night. You would have thought this bunch had been sail­ing off­shore to­gether since for­ever.

One slight hic­cup: just be­fore sun­set on the first day I was at the wheel when we ran into some­thing so large I thought at first we had run aground. At the same time, there was some­thing oddly yield­ing about this “rock,” and as the rig was fin­ish­ing up its rat­tling, I could have sworn I felt some­thing large and fin-like brush up against the bot­tom of the hull.

Our first thought was that we had just hit a whale. Look­ing aft, though, all we could see was a light-col­ored smudge and a strange bit of tur­bu­lence. Noth­ing ac­tu­ally broke the sur­face, and we de­cided it must have been an es­pe­cially large ocean sun­fish, which made me feel a lit­tle bet­ter, though not much. Im­me­di­ately after­ward, the off-watch, which had just been set­tling down for a few hour’s rest, made a quick check for any leaks. For­tu­nately, Saga was fine, and we got our­selves back into race mode again.

Suf­fice it to say, it was one of the stranger and more dis­con­cert­ing things I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced afloat. I still feel kind of lousy about run­ning into what­ever it was that we ran into, and sin­cerely hope he or she is OK.


And so it went, straight through that night and all the fol­low­ing day—a fair breeze, sunny skies and a full moon so bright I swear you could have read by it. It never even got that cold.

If there was any kind of a fly in the oint­ment, it was the fact that the wind was far enough aft that we found our­selves sail­ing a touch higher off the rhumb than we might have oth­er­wise liked. How­ever, it was never any­thing we didn’t think we could han­dle—at least un­til late the sec­ond evening when we fi­nally ran out of breeze.

They say off­shore sail­boat races are won or lost at night, and we def­i­nitely lost ours then. I’d like to say we were just un­lucky, and maybe we were. But then again, maybe we weren’t. Maybe we just didn’t do a good job of keep­ing the boat mov­ing. It’s hard to say for sure. I, for one, was a bit sleepy at the time and not nec­es­sar­ily at my best.

One thing’s cer­tain—we sure as hell never gave up. Nor was there any of the snip­ing or re­crim­i­na­tions I’ve wit­nessed aboard some of the other boats I’ve sailed on. Ku­dos, es­pe­cially, to Kris. It’s not easy watch­ing your care­fully laid plans all go side­ways af­ter Nep­tune de­cides to throw you a curve. But hey, that’s sail­boat racing. Some day it’ll be our turn.

Af­ter that—well, you know how things went from there. With the dawn, the wind also re­turned—al­beit with a good deal less in­ten­sity than be­fore—and we con­tin­ued reach­ing along through a thin haze. Ev­ery now and then we’d see a pod of whales in the dis­tance, that or have to al­ter course to dodge an­other sun­fish. More and more boats be­gan pop­ping up on the hori­zon as the fleet ze­roed in on Hal­i­fax, and it quickly be­came ap­par­ent that these were not the boats we still wanted to be sail­ing with at this point—es­pe­cially not Jeffrey Eberle’s J/130 Cilista, which we es­pied a mile or so ahead.

Just to keep things fun, we threw in a se­ries of gybes in the hopes of cre­at­ing a bit of sep­a­ra­tion and maybe catch­ing a fa­vor­able shift. But

it was not to be, as the Cilista crew clearly knew what it was do­ing and cov­ered us gybe for gybe ev­ery step of the way.

Afte that, com­ing in to Hal­i­fax’s outer har­bor, things got in­ter­est­ing again, as the wind went for­ward, and we watched the XP 38 Amadeus V first round up into the wind and then drop its chute, prompt­ing us to do the same. Props to Brian for im­me­di­ately rig­ging up the A2 so that it would be ready to hoist again if nec­es­sary: be­cause that’s ex­actly what we did when the wind went aft a few min­utes af­ter that.

At this point, I was at the helm again, and though hav­ing the time of my life, thought it might be best to re­lin­quish the wheel, as­sum­ing Kris would want to take us across the fin­ish. This was Saga, though, and I was sail­ing with Kris Kris­tiansen and that ain’t Kris’s way. “Are you sure,” he said in his usual friendly, grav­elly voice from where he was stand­ing along­side the bow pul­pit. “Yeah, I don’t want to hog all the fun,” I said. “OK,” Kris said, and the next thing I know it wasn’t Kris stand­ing by the helm, but Amanda: on her very first off­shore race...tak­ing the wheel... straight to­ward the fin­ish. Suf­fice it to say, it was one of the coolest and most gen­er­ous things I’ve ever seen on a race­boat—all the more so be­cause you could tell that as far as Kris was con­cerned it was no big deal. It’s just what you do when you’re out sail­ing with friends.

It’s of­ten been said it isn’t whether you win or lose it’s how you play the game. And while I don’t know if I en­tirely agree (there is, af­ter all, some­thing to be said for win­ning!) I do whole­heart­edly sub­scribe to the no­tion that how you play the game is vi­tal, es­pe­cially when things don’t end up turn­ing out as planned.

In re­cent years, the sport of sail­boat racing has be­gan to be taken aw­fully se­ri­ously by an aw­ful lot of peo­ple—to the point where I se­ri­ously ques­tion whether it isn’t jeop­ar­diz­ing their abil­ity to just have fun. Thank good­ness there are still plenty of pro­grams out there like Saga’s: pro­grams where, win or lose, the crew not only plays the game the way it should be played, but where sail­ing re­mains the won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence it is; pro­grams where be­ing a part of the crew not only makes you feel proud of what you’re do­ing, but lucky to have had the good for­tune to be­come a sailor in the first place. s


Jon and Amanda keep Saga mov­ing at speed on Day 2

The crew of Saga (stand­ing from left) Amanda, “Home­less” Jon, Brian, Davy, the au­thor and Jason (sit­ting from left) John McMa­hon and the skip­per, all en­joy a round of beer af­ter the fin­ish

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