The Road to Bermuda: A Time Warp Boat with a Happy Skipper

Chris Museler enjoys sailing this “fits-and-starts race” in a boat older than he is, and with a skipper who cheerfully cooks and fusses and takes great pleasure in sailing offshore.

Chris Museler

Chris Museler

The fact that the Swan 44 Aura was reaching at 8 knots through the Gulf Stream on a moonlit night may seem surprising, considering that 47 boats withdrew from the race before the start for fear of a treacherous Northeaster right there. The low pressure hasn’t got this far (yet), and we’ve had breeze in the teens to 20s.

When we set the 1.5-ounce, super-tough spinnaker on Sunday, the sail and gear and boat were so unfamiliar to me that the scene was like a photo from a book about the first Whitbread around the World Race, back in 1974–the year of my birth, incidentally, and one year after Aura was built. The boat’s classic Sparkman & Stephens lines run aft from a pointy bow to a portly but pleasing almond-shaped teak deck, and eventually to a 4-foot-wide transom. Sailing downwind, the bow literally rises to waves, then the stern lifts, and then the big, heavy hull peels down the wave’s face at 10 knots as the busy sail-trimmers work on two huge Barient three-speed winches that would look out of place today on a 65-footer.

This time warp even includes a jockey pole—the English term for what Americans used to call a reaching strut—that allows the boat’s symmetrical spinnakers (which are otherwise almost extinct today) to be flown on a reach.

There was another anachronism: fear of broaching. As we rocked and rolled in the rising sea, Schuyler Benson commented that we were one wave away from “Something really bad happening”—meaning a wildly out of control broach to windward or leeward.  Because round, slow boats rock and roll a lot, even in moderate wind we felt barely in control.

Aura, a 1973 Swan 44, demonstrates her big parachute spinnaker and her rolling tendency at the 2002 Onion Patch Series. (Barry Pickthall/PPL

Aura demos her 70s-era big chute and rolling tendency at the 2002 Onion Patch Series. (Barry Pickthall/PPL)

One hour later, when we were rolling in no breeze and six-foot confused seas, the idea settled in that it could take us a LONG time to get to Bermuda. I had never felt that sensation in three previous races. Owner Bill Kardash didn’t seem to mind all this, even when the engine sputtered to a halt this morning. He is not a big man, but his soft smile can calm an angry hippo—and even a Swan 44 in big breeze. He came to sailing late after he left Garfield, NJ. The Chesapeake and friends led him to the Annapolis Sailing School on a whim, and then to racing. That’s where his addiction developed. As he says, “Success breeds interest.”

Bill raced for the camaraderie, so he sailed offshore, where there is this great world community. He chartered Aura for two Bermuda Races before buying her and now he is sailing his eighth race in his lovely dark blue classic. Along the way he’s done tens of thousands of offshore miles, and had Aura in the Med for almost a decade.

He’s our chef, too. He pours the coffee and even bakes fresh homemade pizza for lunch as we bobble around in the calm and a cold eddy that navigator Frank Bohlen selected as our path of least resistance through the Stream. This fits-and-starts race doesn’t seem to worry anybody here. Why should we worry?  Our cheerful leader is still figuring out what’s wrong with the fuel line so we can start the engine—and he’s still smiling and happily chatting about food and past races.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply