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

Saga, with her sis­ter ship Cilista di­rectly to lee­ward, rock­ets away to­ward Nova Sco­tia shortly after the start in Mar­ble­head

The course to Hal­i­fax is a fairly straight­for­ward one, though fraught with chal­lenges in the form of cur­rents, fog and light air


Saga reaches to­ward the start­ing line off Mar­ble­head Neck

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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