A Finish-Line Challenge for the Past Commodore

A story in which Commodore Jim Binch and crew Andrew McTavish work out a successful exit strategy. By Chris Museler  

Becoming a Cruising Club of America member requires thousands of miles of hard-earned experience and resulting wisdom. The commodore of the club exemplifies the traits of leadership and skills needed to excel at ocean racing. As elite as these fine sailors may seem by looking at their accomplishments, they’re human.

Past Commodore Jim Binch had a doozie of a race that ended with him becoming locked in the head for four hours on the approaches to the finish at St. David’s Lighthouse—but we’re getting ahead of ourselves!

Killua Dehler 38 owned by Jim Binch 2018 Newport Bermuda

Killua, the new Dehler 38C owned by Jim Binch, starts the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race in light air. Dan Nerney/PPL photo

“We had a few racing challenges this year,” said Binch who raced his new Dehler 38 C Killua in Class 6. “We’re no different than anyone else. We have a new boat, it’s the first race for her, and we have a crew that hasn’t raced together before.”

Not understanding the crossovers for his new Code A spinnaker, Binch figured out too late that they could have been reaching knots faster in the beginning stages of the race. They learned this later by experimenting but not before ending up miles behind their competition.

The plan for team Killua was well mapped out. Despite the light patches, the southwest winds came in firm and they were looking good until an “ugly sea state” kicked up and another problem reared its head two days into the race.

“We started taking seas over a deck hatch,” said Binch, who by this point had figured out with his crew how to balance the boat with two reefs and a full jib, trotting along at over nine knots. “We didn’t know there was a leak, and when our navigator started pressing on the keys to the ship’s laptop, water came out. It was fried.”

Without access to weather and GRIB files, nor the Expedition tactical navigation software, navigator Michael Millard was left with his paper charts and a B&G chart plotter with limited digital charts. “We had forgotten to install the chip for the digital charts covering the course,” said Binch.

Missing out on some tactical and strategic moves was the least of their worries in the end. Going to the head near the end of the race, Binch locked the door to the head and quarter berth room so it was safe and secure. When he was done with his business, the door wouldn’t open. The magnetic tumbler, or dead bolt, was stuck in place.

Jim Binch Andrew McTavish with hacksaw

Andrew McTavish (right) holds the hacksaw that helped release Past Commodore Jim Binch after a long visit to the head aboard Killua. Chris Museler photo

“I took a hacksaw and cut the handle off,” said shipmate Andrew McTavish. Then he removed all the hardware and even removed a magnet from another door to try and unlock it and release his captain. Finally, a mini hacksaw was the trick. He sawed a rough circle around the lock, used massive pliers to remove the magnet and still had to blow the door open with brute force.

While this was happening, the team had finished the race and was motoring towards Hamilton. Binch was getting hot in the tiny cabin.

“He was texting me with no expletives,” said Binch’s wife, Susie, who was on shore waiting for the team. “He was very patient. I would have kicked the door down.”

Jim Binch and damaged door on Killua

Jim Binch inspects the damage done to release him from the head. Chris Museler photo

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