My First Race-- A DNF Disaster...
Just about everyone who's raced has told me a horror story about their first race. No way for me, I thought. I'd have a nice, relaxed time with my wife and kids for the first time.
We took off last night for a Friday Night "Toga Party" Beer Can race on the Columbia River. We made it to our C&C 27 in plenty of time and started to set up. The NW wind was very light, so I tossed the 165% genny up on the foredeck.
When we went to turn over the Atomic 4, there was a click and no more. Batteries dead? No time to trouble-shoot-- we repacked the boat and headed to second marina with our second boat-- a Cal 20.
Running short on time, we started preping the Cal 20. I found the tiller was monstrously loose on the rudder, so I ran back to the car for my tools. I tightened the tiller mounting bolts, but the rudder was still sloppy. The bottom mount was loose on the hull, and I had to climb back and inside to titghten the loose nuts as my wife hung over the transom, holding the other side with a phillips.
Now late, we pulled out of the slip and motored to committee boat. The rule was that the best bribe to the committee boat would win the race. We motored by and handed off a bag of offerings: grapes, chocolate, olives. We all wore ivy laurels, and my kids had sheets on like togas.
The minute we made our offering, the horns started the start count-down, but our sails were still down. The wind was so light that I raised the main and jib going downwind, and the instant they were up the starting horn blasted. We scrambled onto a tack at the very back of the group.
The course was to a buoy about a mile away, and as we sailed West downriver, something happenned to the wind. It jumped from around 5 knots to 20 knots, with gusts much higher. Large whitecaps appeared on the wind-blown swells. To be honest, this was the strongest wind we'd ever had the Cal 20 out in, and we've been out a lot of times, and through some real squals.
Anyway, we had lots of water over the foredeck and into the jib. Major heeling. Majorly upset seven year-old daughter. To make things better, our cockpit filled with about seven inches of water through the in-cockpit motor well (always does in high winds and chop), was was within an inch of pouring through the companionway into the boat as we heeled.
The sails were screaming as they flogged if we headed up, and our mainsheet jammed under the load and my wife at the helm couldn't let out the sheet to spill air as we sailed close-hauled toward the buoy. With two upset kids in togas grabbing onto us, tons of weather helm, a cockpit half-filled with water, and the boat heading up, my wife and I couldn't manage to change positions so I could get in back.
That seemed like a good time for an accidental jibe. The boom swung dangerously strong across the stern, the boat swung around and into a massive heel, with wife, daughter and son on the leeward side, looking at the "floor" of water coming over the rail. I was up on the windward side, my elbow crooked on the stainless handrail of the cockpit.
Once we recovered, I noticed the outhaul on the main had broken, and the main was already two feet back from the end of the boom. That was it, I called. I'm dropping the sails! I got the jib down with no tragedies, but even with the 4 hp engine at half-throttle dead into the wind, the gusts were too high for me to control the boom enough to engage the topping lift. For the first time ever, we dropped the main with the boom into the cockpit, (after we had tossed the kids below).
With more than humility, we tied things down and motored back to the marina. Even the entrance to the marina was a challenge, with wind-driven swells crashing over the waste dock. We had to enter at higher speed than normal to counteract the swells.
It's funny, but of all the times we've been out, the sudden, massive winds had to appear on our first race, with kids in togas and everyone ready for a relaxed, simple sail.
Moral of the story? Sailing teaches humility. No one was hurt, no major damage, serious adrenaline. That, and we feel chagrinned and want to fight back. On the way home, I found that it was just a loose battery terminal in our C&C 27, and we're going out as a family this afternoon. Also, we plan to do the next beer can race, and aim to finish last, but not to DNF again.
Serious fun, and afterwards our kids were more than proud of themselves. Anyone else have "first race" horror stories to tell?