Drive On!

Stuart Streuli, racing in Defiance, reports the joys of steering a good boat in a good breeze–and the doubts and training that brought him there. “Whatever comes, we’ll keep driving on,” he writes. “Getting too focused on the finish will only make it take longer to reach.”  

My first Bermuda Race, in 2004, was a magical experience. I was privileged to sail with a good group of friends on a very nice boat, a first generation TP52. The race was mostly downwind and we cruised into Great Sound after three days. Then the wind shut off and we partied in Bermuda while most of the fleet slogged through light air for two days.

One aspect of the experience that I missed during that trip was helming the boat. I was relatively new to big boat racing and didn’t feel all that comfortable behind the wheel, so I made myself as useful as possible in other ways: trimming, grinding, cooking, etc. Steering a big boat offshore is a unique skill and it’s not easy to acquire. It’s the age-old conundrum: people generally won’t let you drive unless you have experience, but how else are you supposed to get experience?

Since then I’ve been determined to fill that hole in my skill set. It hasn’t always been easy. You have to be a little pushy to even get the opportunities and then when you do get them you have to be willing to take advice and, if things don’t go well, not take it personally when you get replaced. I’m not sure where I stand on the learning curve, though I know I’m a long way from the top.

StuSteer.

Last night, I got an extended stretch at the wheel of Peter Noonan’s Defiance, in the Cruiser Division. We had the Code Zero up and were pushing the sail right to edge of its safe working window. The seas were big and confused and, while the moon was spectacularly bright, seeing what was coming was not easy. You had to get into the rhythm and feel it. And I was feeling it, if I do say so myself, staying on our desired heading and enjoying extended periods over 10 knots of boat speed, which is fairly quick for a Swan 56 in cruising trim.

It was very gratifying to see the work I’ve put in over the past years come to fruition. We had the Sirius Satellite Radio Deep Tracks station cranked up and the conversation rolled as effortlessly as the waves. With a full moon shining over our stretch of ocean and the air warm enough to go with just a shorts and T-shirt, it was hard to imagine a more enjoyable evening of sailing.

I gave the helm away after two hours, feeling pretty good about my 10.6-knot high speed, which equaled the best speed of the trip so far. Of course the crew boss took over and almost immediately hit 11.7. A good reminder that there’s always room from improvement.

The breeze built through the night. We took down the Zero and were soon hitting 12 knots in 28 knots of wind, great progress toward the barn. That breeze has backed off and, now we’re back to VMG running with our Code Zero as we await the next weather feature—which will hopefully be a shift to the southwest.

That should carry us to the finish sometime on Tuesday, but nothing about this race has gone as forecast, so confidence is not exactly high. Whatever comes, we’ll keep driving on. Getting too focused on the finish will only make it take longer to reach.

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