26 Jan Well that was intense. (More…)
Well that was intense.
12 hard fought for seconds for the win.
In idyllic conditions, Tony Lawsons MOD 70 Ms. Barbados blasted across the finish line in Carlisle Bay in front of the Barbados cruising club to smash the Round Barbados race record by over two hours and claim the prized scalp of Team Phaedo along the way.
In the 6 weeks we had made Barbados home, it had been made absolutely clear to us in a variety of ways that there was only one satisfactory result. We had to win this one. With full respect for our fierce rivals, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy but as we were flying the Bajan flag, the pressure was on us to deliver before the home crowd. As race day drew closer the local passion for the win became more apparent. Ned brought the race crew in earlier than planned so we could ramp up the training and work to cover as many bases as we could. We lapped the island a number of times and went back and forth around the key corners looking for trends, sailing modes and places to possibly gain leverage over the competition in different scenarios. We went out in RIB’s to physically mark/”ping” the reefs so we knew how close we could shave them if needed. Despite all this, the fact remained that a lot of what we would do on race day would be determined by what the “other boat” would do. If they got in front, they could make it damned hard for us to get past.
Racing sailing boats around islands always makes for a fascinating challenge and the stunning 60 mile coast of Barbados provided exactly that.
There was going to be a brief downwind gennaker start out of Carlisle bay followed by a full-on tight/beam reach up the gusty but flat West coast before we hardened up onto the wind around the reefs of the jagged North point. From there we would head out into the warm trade winds and lumpy Atlantic swell lining up for a long one tack beat down the East coast. At the lower Eastern corner the new 3Di gennaker would get rolled out for a fully powered up reach to the Southern corner. From there we would leave the swell and go into full VMG downwind mode to the South West tip and harden up for a few hundred meters to the finish
We identified the two key parts as being the start and the North point of the island. We figured that if we could get under Phaedo at the start then we would have the chance to really mess them up in Carlisle Bay. We decided early on that having a dedicated tactician on the boat was going to be key. Long time Team Concise team member and experienced match racer Tom Dawson took it on. Days were spent just practicing our pre-start maneuvering and run in to the line. Hitting the start line on time wasn’t as critical as having the skills to position your boat in the best possible place to mess up the opposition. High, low, fast, stop, hold, start slow, accelerate etc.
On the days leading into the race, with full race crew onboard, we fitted all our best race sails and began pushing 100%. We often had too much sail up to see if it was quicker on average along the gusty Western lee of the island. It was. This would mean that we would often be sailing with everything eased well out in an effort to try and tame the beast in the gusts. Big hull flies are not fast and some of them were well up there. This all required constant trimming of the highly loaded sails. It was hard work on the grinders. The big J1 jib copped it hard some times. We knew Phaedo weren’t going to hold back. If it was faster to sail like this then we had to make it work. First we blew out our best J1. It was decided it was unfixable in the time we had… so we went with the older spare J1. That blew out on its first attempt in a manner that showed it simply wasn’t up to the job. Now we had a mission to get the first J1 fixed the night before the race. With the help of the local sail loft we just made it happen. What seemed like a bad thing turned into a blessing as we found the weakness early enough to not only fix it but improve it so it was truly ready for battle. It was going to be an early start on race day.
We left the crew houses in two cars at 0615 for the 15-minute drive down to the boat. The classic rock anthem “Don’t stop believin” by ‘Journey’ came on the radio and both cars laughingly admitted to cranking it up and cheesily singing along. Now there’s a song that gets in your head. It became our theme tune for the day whether we liked it or not. It was something to break the tension.
We dropped the mooring, hoisted and furled the new J1 and went for a peak around the North point to check out the conditions. All was good and as expected. The trade winds were back and setting the stage to ignite these big trimarans around the course. The repair on the jib looked solid. For the sail back we threw in a reef and hoisted the smaller J2 jib just to confirm our sail choices. Any sail change, especially a slow one or wrong one would be extremely costly. One reef felt fine but we had to remain reactive. The slower boats in the race had already started. We got to the course early and tried a couple of starts. Phaedo was still on the dock. When they did come out they also put one reef in. I didn’t trust them to keep it. The comment was made that we are committed to our sail choice at 15 minutes to the start. I knew we would stay fully reactive to any bluff. As we lined up for our practiced maneuvers with five minutes to go, sure enough, they went full rig and sure enough, we rapidly followed. We engaged them heading on port tack away from the line. They threw in a quick gybe without canting their rig first. I assumed they did this to give us no warning but later they admitted it was a mistake. We gybed pretty quickly and did manage to cant our rig over. This left all our grinders free to wind in the sails instead of pulling the mast across to the right side. We were well placed with pace underneath Phaedo so that we had full rights to luff them up. Their grinders were slowly winding their mast over. We began taking them up away from the start line and almost lost steerage ourselves. Once Tom was happy with our position we bore away and went full speed towards the start. The starting gun had already gone but that didn’t matter as Phaedo were now firmly behind us as we bore away over the line and deployed the big new gennaker. We were now in a good controlling position to make life difficult for them. Despite this, the gusty conditions left everything subject to change and we had to remain very reactive. It became obvious we weren’t going to make it around the harbour wall in one gybe. Phaedo threw in a dummy gybe and we went for it. Annoyingly we had a snag on the new gennaker sheet and couldn’t pull the big new sail in. This left Ned no choice but to run very deep with only a very loosely sheeted Gennaker. We should have been knocking spots off Phaedo but this gave them the chance to re-engage. As soon as we could clear the harbor wall we gybed back onto starboard to get back on the clear sheet and up to speed. Phaedo came in hot and had to dial up to clear our transom. She did so with no foil lowered, bow down and main hull flying. It was spectacular to see her blasting past at such close quarters.
The wind was light under the harbour wall and Phaedo did well by gybing further out. Much to our annoyance we had lost the advantage. Now it was going to be a game of riding the gusts under the gennaker to get down onto their line and then do a quick furl to harden up for the long blast up the Western lee of Barbados. We came out of this fairly well matched and around 100 meters to windward. The next stage of the race was on. The flat, gusty conditions meant it was a hard leg for the guys on the grinders as we constantly eased and sheeted in the highly loaded sails. We got a bit out of sync at one stage and the big J1 ease required to bring the launched MOD 70 under control took a long time to get back in. This allowed Phaedo to pull ahead.
Our paths began to converge as we approached the Northern tip of the island. It was here that we aimed to shave the reef as close as possible and get the inside lane as we hardened up onto the breeze. Phaedo had done a practice lap in similar conditions the previous day and seemed to be fighting for the same spot. They sailed into the lighter winds close to shore first allowing us to close right up on them. We had physically marked the reef and yet Phaedo was sailing inside this point. We were now only one boat length directly behind them and virtually sailing over our marker whilst preparing to harden fully up onto the wind once over it. Sure enough we heard the sound of the dagger board hitting the bottom. It was more of a scraping sound than a hard crunch but we still rushed to get it up. The closeness of the other boat had forced us in closer than we had hoped. We were counting on our VMG high mode to get past them so we really didn’t want to get stuck below them at this point. As it turned out, Phaedo were also bouncing over the reef. We were lucky they didn’t stop as we would have run right into them. It was as if they were even luffing us up onto the reef before they finally bore away and went into their faster lower mode upwind.
We were now free to pursue the high mode as we entered the solid winds and waves of the Atlantic proper. In upwind mode and with steady breeze we could now leave the cockpit and focus on trimming the boat for the fully powered up conditions. Ned needed to concentrate to keep her in the groove.
The swells were wrapping around the North point and for a while it feels like you are sailing straight into them before everything settles further out. Fortunately the full rig and solid trades allowed us to power into it and our higher, slower mode eventually began to pay off.
Perched on the windward hull, we began to lose sight of Phaedo below the luff of the J1. As we approached what we thought was the lay line for the long tack down the East coast we kept an eye on them waiting for them to lay their rig to leeward indicating an imminent tack. These boats don’t tack easily in these lumpy conditions, as you need to let the canting rig go all the way to leeward before the tack so it’s on the right side when you come through. All your sails go limp when this happens and you rapidly lose momentum before turning into the waves. Timing is critical. Backing a headsail kills you dead and is more often than not slower than other options. We had practiced this many times but it’s still not a pretty maneuver that can go wrong. This one went alright and we were treated with the pretty sight of once again looking back at Phaedo.
Laying the distant point was tight so stuck to our high mode. Phaedo came closer but began dropping down onto our line. The satisfying moment came when we crept out from under their jib so we knew their helmsman could see us undeniably in the lead again. With the lead comes the responsibility. The boys in green would be hating that view with a passion. It was ours to lose.
As we sailed through the other boats that had started earlier, we did seem to be constantly extending on this upwind leg.
It became obvious we weren’t going to lay the next point. A couple of quick tacks would be required. We tacked first and chose our second tack carefully. We knew Phaedo would have to try and tack inside us to try and save distance and sure enough they did. Our second tack wasn’t great. Not bad… but not great. Valuable meters were given. On the other hand, we came into the next turning point with a little more pace.
We weren’t sure if we could carry the gennaker on this leg but had it all in the air and ready to see what Phaedo would do when she came around. She was only about 3-400 meters back and went straight for a gennaker de-ploy which we quickly followed. This was a brilliant leg. Sailing these beasts high and hard under gennaker in these gorgeous warm conditions, in close quarters, shorts and T-shirts with a hard working team of solid mates is the stuff of boyhood dreams. Even though we were under the intense pressure of having Phaedo breathing down the necks of our own desperate desires to win… we had to take pause to smile at the sheer thrill of the battle. Tom and Wouter made sure we stayed on the right line to put us between them and the next turning point and Ned focused hard on keeping Ms. Barbados fully on the boil. Main hull out… but not too much, 30 knots +, 135 True wind angle… nice. We sailed with more mainsheet tension than normal in order to match Phaedo and it seemed to be working nicely. Despite looking spectacularly fast from our perspective, they actually gained very little if any.
The next turning point required only a small bear away to VMG downwind sailing followed by the last gybe towards the finish. We were out of the swell so the lovely azure waters were pretty flat. Phaedo gybed inside us constantly trying to shorten their distance to the finish. After our gybe we were aiming for the last turning point before the 400-meter dash to the finish line.
We were back in the low-lying lee of the island so the wind was still strong but a little patchier. The proximity of the finish and all the possibilities it represented lead to an increase in tension. It was definitely now ours to lose. The wind softened and shifted slightly as the last point approached. Would a gybe be required? What would the wind be doing around the point? Would we make the finish with these sails? EXACTLY how close can we shave the reef? In moments like this, solid calls need to be made and yet the crew needs to remain re-active to a rapidly changing set of demands. Sure enough, as we ran deep to try and make the point in one gybe, Phaedo came in on a gust and began to try and turn for the point inside us.
We thought we might need to go to the big J1 jib so unfurled it in preparation. I couldn’t believe they had gained so much so quickly. They were right bloody well there on our transom and trying to get inside of us.
If they did then it would be all on. Perhaps they saw our J1 out and figured if they went in there then we could be well placed to luff them up. I don’t know. We were sailing painfully slowly but thankfully they were now in our wind and had also slowed. The people meters away on the shore would be getting a spectacular view. Some solid wind hit our sails and the call was made to flap the J1 and push on under gennaker. Speed built gloriously quickly. I was unaware exactly where the line was as I was focusing on trimming the now powered up Ms. Barbados. Phaedo had dropped a boat length or two back but was now on our line.
Calls were being made as to where the finish was and I snuck a glance to realize we were rapidly passing the committee boat and crossing the line. Holy cow… we had done it. The tension exploded into an adrenaline-fueled firework of joy throughout the team. Ms. Barbados had delivered. What a fantastic race to be a part of. We furled the gennaker and hugged, cheered and smiled ‘til it hurt. Phaedo had crossed the line only 12 seconds behind. They sailed over to us to congratulate us. I think our team all felt thankful for the talent they had brought to the table and the pressure they had put us under. Although we knocked around 2 hours off the previous record, it was always going to be about the battle with Phaedo. They have had a huge year and so many people, even in Barbados, expected them to win. I can honestly say that we didn’t share that sentiment. That said, we knew we would have to earn it… and earn it we did.
Over the previous six weeks, Barbados had taken us under its wing. The whole idea of bringing a MOD 70 here to race was a dream of Team Concise director Tony Lawson. He has a long history with Barbados and he wanted to give something back. It was a vision he shared with other Bajan friends, BTMI, Barbados government and businesses and they supported us being there whether it be by giving the crew accommodation, the boat a mooring or marina berth or even simply supplying transportation. Many people chipped in to make it possible. So many of these people then got to share the thrill of sailing on this fantastic boat in their own backyard and use it to show just how great a location Barbados is for sailing. As much as we are ultimately in competition with other boats, Barbados is equally in competition with other destinations and therefore must set themselves high standards to earn the place they desire. Winning isn’t automatic, it has to be earned. Competition, if it is between you and your dreams, demands to be risen to. I know that so many Bajans shared the joy of our win and seeing their namesake blast across the line in first place. It was a real thrill to be a part of it all.
Don’t stop Believin’;)