Well, here I am still in Oriental several weeks after arriving.
I always run into such an interesting mix of people here that I have a difficult time tearing myself away. It is easy to find one excuse after another to stay–bad weather; some little thing that needs fixing; provisioning; an upcoming event; weather again… I would have been foolish to have headed out into the southwesterly gales that we experienced soon after I arrived here, but since then I could have certainly made some progress south in between fronts. Instead, Oriental drew me in.
One of the most interesting things to happen in the past couple of weeks was the arrival of the original Tally Ho!, which is the boat that William Atkin designed as an evolution of the thinking that went into Ben Bow, which is the design to which Sirocco is built. The trio of designs that began with Fore An’ Aft is featured in the book “Of Yachts and Men”, by William Atkin. These are some of my favorite cruising yacht designs! It was wonderful to have two boats from this series in the same harbor at the same time. All three of the designs share many of the same characteristics–short overhangs; long keels; and relatively heavy displacement. Ben Bow is the lightest of the three and has the finest waterline and is described as a “light displacement” boat by Atkin, but at 17,000 lbs for a 28′ boat is pretty heavy by modern standards. I could go on about the subtle differences between the three boats, but one who is interested could study them on the Atkin design website at: http://www.atkinboatplans.com/Sail/ForeAnAft.html http://www.atkinboatplans.com/Sail/BenBow.html http://www.atkinboatplans.com/Sail/TallyHo.html
Sirocco raced in Oriental’s “Better Than Football” New Year’s Day regatta this year. The event attracted over 60 boats out onto the Neuse River on a beautiful winter’s day that didn’t feel at all wintry. I had onboard as crew Christian, who was familiar with Sirocco from his time onboard during the delivery to Oriental from Marathon, FL, in July.
The race started out in almost flat-calm conditions. It was warm enough for me to be comfortable in just a long-sleeved t-shirt as we sailed slowly up and down the starting line, positioning Sirocco for a boat-end start on starboard. Actually, we started at the green #1 end, which is where the committee boat would have been. The pin end of the line was marked by a large inflatable football. I had string of assorted flags flying from the spinnaker halyard to help keep the mood light and festive.
Soon after the 1200 starting signal the wind began to pick up. The flags were soon lowered as I began to feel more competitive. I wanted Sirocco to make a good showing against all of the modern boats that were beginning to spread out across the river. The first mark was upwind, so I trimmed the sails for a closehauled course and coached Christian on how to keep a good course for maximum upwind speed. Sirocco heeled over and trucked upwind at 5 knots. As we approached halfway to the first mark I tacked away to clear our air because some larger boats were to windward of us. Christian thought that we were bringing up the rear of the fleet, but after another tack back towards the turning mark it was apparent that we were solidly in the middle of the pack and holding off some much larger modern boats.
The wind continued to increase and whitecaps were now dotting the surface of the recently mirror-faced river. I thought about reefing the main to ease the weather helm and heeling, but we only had another mile to go to reach the mark where we could turn downwind and would want all of the sail up again. We held on to all of our sail and the leeward rail dipped below the surface of the river as Sirocco sailed upwind at about 5.5 knots, which is as fast as she ever goes upwind.
After rounding the windward mark I was grateful to ease the sails out and let Sirocco come back upright. I set the whisker pole to windward and we sailed towards the next mark wing-and-wing, with the mainsail out to one side of the boat, and the jib out to the other. We passed a couple of boats on the run and didn’t lose any even to some 40-footers who had rounded the windward mark after us. Not everyone bothered to set whisker poles, and only the boats at the very front of the fleet were using spinnakers.
The final leg of the race was a close reach and even though the wind was gusting over 20 knots I kept all sail set. Sirocco creamed along at over 6.5 knots, overhauling another couple of boats in the last couple of miles and giving us a solid mid-fleet finish. Had the wind come up sooner we probably could have finished in the top 1/3… Not to worry, as all have equal chance to place at the top of the board in this race–the winners are drawn by lottery! I think this is a great idea for a fun race.
We sailed back into the harbor and anchored. After tidying up the boat we joined the party at M&M’s for the post-race gm and awards ceremony.
There have been a lot of boats passing through late in the season, encouraged by the relatively warm winter weather that we have been experiencing. Amongst these have been a couple of boats with people close to my own age. It has been fun having some younger folks around to chat with and go out with.
My plans are anything but firm for leaving here, but I am starting to get restless and ready to head a bit farther south. The next good weather should be here in a couple of days…