A Race, a Lucky Landing, and a Feast

I love our marina. We made a great choice to move Minuet there two years ago. The facilities are great, and it’s a sailor’s marina. Among the other boat owners there are the couple who are going to sell their home and become full-time cruisers, the couple that does live on their boat, wintering in the Caribbean most years, the man who is very generous with sharing his mechanical and boat repair skills, the woman who has a full-time painting business, the couple who sailed with their family down the entire St. Lawrence River, the man who races semi-professionally, and more. I’m very humble about my boating skills in their company, even though I have survived a couple of hard blows and a handful of the mishaps that inevitably come with time spent on the water.

Our marina has a wonderful annual August tradition of a race followed by a potluck dinner. The marina owner provides pennants as prizes for the top four finishers in two fleets of boats. Fleet One is made up of what our daughter calls the short, fat boats - we’re in that fleet. Fleet Two has the longer, sleeker, faster boats. Every boat has a rating or handicap based on its length and class, adjusted by prior performance in past races. We entered the race last year, but were not able to finish when the wind died. We also suffered the embarrassment of getting hung up on a rock ledge at the very beginning of the race, in front of every other boat in the marina who was racing that day. R. had to take a bit of ribbing this year at the skippers’ meeting prior to the race - that section of water is now informally called “Minuet Shoal”.

Our daughter A. enjoyed being crew last year, and recruited this year’s crew. We set sail on the morning of Saturday, August 18 with a crew of 5: R. as skipper, A. as first mate, me as navigator, A.’s boyfriend M. and her colleague O. as sail handlers. We avoided Minuet Shoal, crossed the starting line at the right time, and headed towards the first marker on the course.

A picture of the crew, taken by the first mate, using the panorama tool on her new Google Phone. From left to right: M., R., O., and me.

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Prior to the race, the organizers set out a buoy in Chaumont Bay that is a key marker. You have to sail around the buoy, passing on your port side, then around Cherry Island, avoiding the rocks that extend out quite a ways from the island and are not marked by buoys, then back around the buoy, passing on your starboard side, then back to the starting line. The buoy is a swimming noodle, so it’s not visible until you get pretty close to it. The organizers give out the GPS coordinates of the buoy. IF you have GPS and IF you write down the coordinates correctly and IF you know how to use the GPS, you will have a leg up on finishing with a good time. In our case, we did have a handheld GPS, we didn’t have completely accurate coordinates (pro tip: if either the minutes or seconds in your coordinates are greater than 59, they are wrong), and it took me a while to figure out how to use the GPS. Practice makes perfect, or at least competent, and I need to spend more time with that particular tool. Because we were slow starters with the GPS, we didn’t head for the correct coordinates at first, and lost some time. We also came in too close to Cherry Island, and our keel bumped on the infamous submerged rocks that make rounding the island an interesting challenge. We kept on going, however, losing nothing but some pride. Note: the navigator did state that she didn’t like our heading as we neared the island.

Minuet under sail. I believe that we have the wind behind us here and need to find a better point of sail to fill that headsail.

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As the race went on, we sharpened our skills. A. took up her station forward of the cockpit, helping to move the headsail from side to side. M. and O. were smooth as they cranked in the headsail’s lines. We even figured out how to point Minuet more tightly into the wind as we rounded the marker buoy for the second time. We headed for home knowing that we had accomplished our main objective: finishing the race. We were surprised to realize that we weren’t the last boat across the line. We struck the sails, started the diesel engine, and got ready to come back into port.

Then, as we came close to the marina, our engine quit. Oops! We were drifting towards some other boats with no power or control. A. dropped the anchor and we called on the radio for help. Help arrived in the form of G., the man who sails to the Caribbean, riding in his inflatable dinghy. A. pulled up the anchor, easier said than done as it came up with about 50 pounds of weeds and muck, and G. gave us a good, hard push with his dinghy. R. steered the boat into our slip, where there was a crowd of people waiting to catch us. It was one of our better landings, and I nearly cried with relief.

After the race comes the feast. The table after the first wave had passed:

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The crew, enjoying a traditional sailors’ pastime while waiting for the awards ceremony to begin. We found out at the ceremony that we did not come in last - we were 8th of 9 boats entered in our fleet. Best of all, the crew is ready to do it again next year.

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A view from the party pavilion across the marina, with Minuet at dock:

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D., the fellow who helps everyone with everything, diagnosed the engine problem: a leaking fuel line. We’re still working on getting the replacement part and we’re hoping that the engine starts after the new fuel line is installed. We’ll probably get that part installed just in time for Minuet to come out of the water, because water levels are dropping fast at the end of the season.

We’ve had some odd glitches with the engine this year - a bit of hesitation at times, a bit stronger diesel smell when underway. We’ve been the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil monkeys, floating on de Nile, when it came to investigating the glitches. Lesson learned. We were lucky to be so close to friendly help when the engine died. I believe that we’ll be a lot more proactive about checking things out the next time the engine doesn’t seem to be acting quite right.

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