Spe­cial De­liv­ery

Sailing World - - Starting Line Offshore Racing - PHOTO : RIDGE TURNER

I stroll the Key West wa­ter­front, gaz­ing with cov­etous eyes at the big maxis with three pedestals and tow­er­ing five-spreader rigs. These are car­bon ma­chines with ma­te­ri­als and sys­tems so ex­otic, they haven’t yet trick­led down to the boats on which I race. As I ad­mire, I long for a big­ger, faster ride. I see their crews pea­cock­ing down the dock in their team gear, and feel­ing like a skid-row kid stand­ing out­side the coun­try club, I tell my­self, “One day, I will be­long.”

It’s here at Quan­tum Key West Race week where I be­friend Rod­ney Keenan, owner of Evo­lu­tion Sails, and as it turns out, a watch cap­tain on the su­per­maxi CQS, a 100-foot, all­car­bon, push-but­ton, cant­ing-keel, winged and foiled boat of my dreams. I now have a guy on the in­side.

Weeks later, af­ter serendip­i­tously shred­ding the jib on my boat back home, I reach out to Keenan for a quote, as well as an at­tempt to weasel a ride on CQS some day. As part of a man­u­fac­tured co­in­ci­dence, I will be on my honey­moon for the start and fin­ish of the 2016 Rolex Syd­ney Ho­bart Race. I agree to buy the sail, but on one con­di­tion: a ride on CQS. He of­fers me a spot on the re­turn de­liv­ery crew from Ho­bart to Syd­ney.

Af­ter a few weeks of trav­el­ing around Aus­tralia with my wife, I get a call from CQS boat cap­tain Chris Skin­ner to come and meet the crew. I walk to­ward the tallest mast I’ve ever seen, ner­vous, hop­ing to make a good im­pres­sion.

When I leave my wife on Box­ing Day to fly to Ho­bart, I believe the de­liv­ery will be to Syd­ney and I will be back by New Year’s Eve, but due to gear fail­ures dur­ing the race, CQS will in­stead sail to Auck­land for re­pairs.

De­part­ing Ho­bart in be­nign con­di­tions, the breeze builds to 35 knots, de­stroy­ing our plans for a New Year’s cel­e­bra­tion. While the rest of the world un­corks cham­pagne to ring in 2017, the de­liv­ery crew aboard CQS is in cri­sis mode. The rud­der bear­ing is shear­ing apart, and with the po­ten­tial to lose it in a storm 500 miles off Tas­ma­nia, we are wor­ried about a dif­fer­ent sort of bub­bles. We spend the first mo­ments of the year re­duc­ing sail and jury-rig­ging the rud­der to pre­vent it from drop­ping out of the boat. Skin­ner in­spects the rud­der bear­ings and re­al­izes they’re com­ing apart. We can­ni­bal­ize hard­ware from the spray hood to through-bolt the rud­der cap and pre­vent the bear­ing from push­ing up through the deck. Our main con­cern, how­ever, is min­i­miz­ing the loads on the rud­der and avoid­ing a wipe­out. From a top speed of 25 knots dur­ing the day, our new speed limit is 14 knots.

Skin­ner doles out re­sponse as­sign­ments, should we lose the rud­der, driv­ing home the sever­ity of our predica­ment. We are more than 500 miles from land with­out a work­ing AIS, and if we lose the rud­der, the boat will sink quickly. I sleep with my life jacket close by and my foul weather gear on, with my wal­let and pass­port in my pocket in the event we have to aban­don ship, or worse, so my body can be iden­ti­fied.

Over the next few days, con­di­tions ease, and we no longer wince every time the rud­der creaks. A few light-air days ex­tended our trip, and we find our­selves near­ing the end of our food and fuel. No mat­ter how slow and painful, we have to sail to con­serve fuel be­cause the en­gine is re­quired for the hy­draulic sys­tem to power the winches, cant the keel, and ad­just rig tune.

We ap­proach Auck­land on fumes, both phys­i­cally and me­chan­i­cally, hav­ing fin­ished the last of our food: white rice and ketchup. For seven days, I’m part of some­thing spe­cial: sail­ing 1,500 miles with a top crew on one of the most ad­vanced mono­hulls on Earth, and I’m sorry to see it end. I’ve fi­nally tasted the good life. Q

A rookie’s sim­ple in­quiry and a lit­tle net­work­ing pays off in the ride of a life­time on su­per­maxi CQS.

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