Two if by Sea
By Chris Museler
Most think they're crazy. Their husbands and wives think they just do it to get away from them. And most of the time they don't even see their co-skipper but for a few minutes in between watches. The reality of the growing doublehanded Bermuda Race fleet, however, couldn't be further from these common beliefs. At least that's what they tell this journalist.
"Doing it doublehanded was easier this time than with six crew in 2010," said Chris Palabrica, who sailed with Carlos Contreras aboard the Quest 33 Sailor Bandito in Class 14. "Why? Because we know what each other is thinking, we don't have to talk much. A distance race with other people you're spending more time worrying about other people falling overboard."
Doublehanded Class 14 team Chris Palabrica and Carlos Contreras
Palabrica said that the two decided, like many, to stay as close to the rhumbline as possible and it was a winning strategy. One of the pit falls of having just two crew, however, means everything has to work perfectly, or else. That "or else" came when the autopilot failed shortly after the start. The inevitable came when the two were trying to take the spinnaker down Saturday night and the tiller slipped from Palabrica's hand. The boat spun head-to-wind. "The kite wrapped and then ripped," he said. They lost time and distance to the others whose pilots happily kept their boats on course while sail changes were made.
In Class 15, Chris Green aboard the J/46 Seabiscuit had to negotiate the last half of the race without his companion. Owner Nathan Owen was taken onto a cruise ship early Sunday morning after becoming severely dehydrated. Green took a half hour to get all the sails back up and once he was off and running under spinnaker, got into a singlehanded routine and eventually clinched third in class.
"I guessed to fade left and wound up with a beautiful angle the rest of the way," said Green who was eventually cleared to compete officially without Owen and took 15-minute cat naps as a watch cycle. He added that the "luxury" of the J-boat's interior must have helped him, at least psychologically, to beat some of the more purpose-built racers in his class. "It's a very comfortable boat," he said. "It's heavy so we don't get bumped around as much and it's very easy to move around."
This journalist can see the benefit in a boat like Seabiscuit. I sailed down on Dragon, a stripped out Class 40 with water ballast and nothing more than a bean bag for a bed, a bucket for a toilet and an insulated mug for cooking and eating. My co-skipper Michael Hennessy and I had our own battle with the Class 40 Gryphon Solo 2 from the start. We were both reaching fast for the first night until we became our own worst enemy. Much like Sailor Bandito, we became tangled up for a half hour during a night time sail change. Breaking our bow sprit while surfing at 20 knots Saturday night and eventually broaching to weather under spinnaker Sunday night sealed our fourth place behind Sea Biscuit.
Underway Dragon at night.
There is a wonderful camaraderie between this group of shorthanded sailors. And we were cheering Whisper and Penguin as they ghosted into the finish as two of the last racers to complete the race this week. They have to love it, especially since they have spent more time on the water than anyone else. Who knows, maybe the pundits are right, maybe they are trying to get away from everyone. Either way, I know they will be happy to see that tray of Dark n' Stormies come their way.