Lake Ontario Offshore RacingSusan Hood Trophy RaceCerulean’s Tale – 2016 Susan Hood Trophy Race

Cerulean’s Tale – 2016 Susan Hood Trophy Race

This article was submitted to LOOR by Elaine & Greg Neely

“As we charged ahead, the hours passed and tension built and built”

(Cerulean – PHRF-FS-FC 3)

Yacht racing. It is the most exciting boredom you will ever experience.

“The watch! The goddam watch didn’t start”. Greg, Cerulean’s tactician swore again. “Our timing is messed up! Somebody, give me the time! Grab the binoculars! Gotta see what flag is up. Damn it!” “We need to get back to the line, would you prefer I tack or gybe?” came from Elaine, our helmsman’s voice. The crew stood, like silent statues, waiting for the command. “The time”, he screamed, “the time!” “Tack or gybe” she yelled, “TACK or GYBE”. The grinders hunched over their winches, muscles tensed, ready for anything. Our amazing foredeck posed like a figurehead on the prow.

“Tack!” the helmsman finally said. “GYBE” the tactician screamed, Gybe!. “Gybing, she commanded!” The boat turned. The boat turned slowly in the painfully calm air. “Spinnaker up! Jib down! Get that sail in, not too far, tighten the tack, loosen the outhaul!” There was so little wind that we were late over the line. But we were across, and racing.

We had listened in the weather briefing. We had asked questions, and we had done our own research. “Out” our tactician said. “Way out” Stephen, our navigator said. “Out further” our helmsman said. As we sailed away from the fleet, we had a queer feeling that we may be making a bad decision, leaving boats and skippers with hundreds of years of combined racing experience, who were sailing along the shore. We set our course, and tweaked our sails and prepared a delicious dinner. We were sailing in a beautiful wind line at six knots. We were elated when we caught up to Black Prince and Afterburn. But we knew the wind would eventually die, and that it would be a long, long, dark night.

The wind died in a big dead hole, right before we rounded the Burlington mark. We had hoped it would have lasted just a little longer, to get us around it, but it is what it is. We watched other boats pass us, who had chosen just a slightly different route, some, frustratingly, after seeing where we were becalmed. I will not repeat the names that we called our competitors, as they sailed by us.

We will have to acknowledge Phil, one of our new crew members this year. He spent many long hours on helm, using all of his dinghy skills, through the silent windless night, keeping the boat inching forward towards the Niagara mark. This was so integral to our race.

In the early morning, to the smell of banana oat pancakes with peanut butter, maple syrup and Nutella, the wind started to build. Our revitalized crew, leapt to action, pulling in the sails and making adjustments, and climbing from the low side of the boat to the high side to balance our heel. We got so much wind, that we even got to try our new jib top!

Around the Niagara mark and up with up with the code zero, then up with the reaching chute, then up with the big running spinnaker. “Put up the stay sail, take down the staysail. Look downstairs” we yelled at the crew. “Is there any sails that we haven’t put up during this race yet? Get them out here, we need to use them too”.

There we were sailing straight. Really straight. Straight toward the finish and the infamous and dreaded Port Credit Hole. We knew from experience we should NEVER do this. The Port Credit Hole is the stuff of legend and nightmares. It’s where an 85 nautical mile race can be reduced to half a mile sprint as boats pile up together and drift for hours waiting for all of their competitors to join them. It’s where a race that seems only an hour to finishing can stretch out to another full day. Our bowman is kept up at night with visions of the horrors of the hole. And as we barrelled ahead at 8kts to our impending fate, his anxiety began to reach a fever pitch. But then as we looked out across the horizon, we realized there were only the few boats ahead of us – a good sign. We could only count a dozen of them, and they all looked like the IRC boats – awesome. They too seemed to be all sailing straight into the Port Credit Hole.

We watched and watched to see in the distance if we could witness their fate. We desperately were trying to figure out if it was going to be better to go low or high of the finish, to avoid that hole. Our bowman was begging us not to go straight in. “No, no, no, don’t do it – please…” However, everything we could see kept telling us that maybe, just maybe, this one time, to sail straight in. Yet there was that voice of experience telling us that this was the best way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. As we charged ahead, hours passed and tension built and built. We could see the white puffy clouds over the shore offering faint hope as we looked up and begged Poseidon, that there would be a thermal, that the hole would not appear and swallow us. We made sacrifices to Neptune. We asked which crew member would be willing to be a sacrifice to the sea gods. They stared at us, a little nervous that we just might be that serious about winning.

We steeled ourselves, ignored our inner voices, accepted our observations and kept sailing directly toward the finish and to our fate. There was no hole. In the end, there was just that little tiny stick in the water that is so desperately hard to see and always the source of so much elation. We rounded it, made the final short stretch to cross the finish line and our crew came alive with high fives and shots of dark amber Kool-aide all around.