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The Pineapple Cup ‘07 Race Log

Fort Lauderdale to Montego Bay Jamaica (811nm) 

Day 0 – Ft. Lauderdale, Pier 66

Jamie Neill, the crazy Australian who conceived this 30’ offshore dingy turns up at the dock the day before race day, says hello, and immediately begins pulling all the stores out of the boat. He proceeds to go through the food to offload weight: “Pop tarts? Who eats these.” And throws 2 boxes off. “Tea?!? Who’s gonna have a cup of tea?” Kole raises his hand. Jamie hands 1 tea bag to Kole, who stands looking bemused. “Coffee? Who’s gonna drink coffee?” And he pours the instant coffee (3 ounces) into the harbor. “Peanut butter? How much of this do we need? It’s heavy! Pudding?!!” All the pudding went. “Powerbars?! I won’t eat one! OK. 3 for you. 3 for you.” He threw off a bag with dozens of granola bars and so forth. Half the freeze dried food came off.

The pre-race e-mail from new owner and captain Doug Mitchell had told us the boat was pre-loaded with 6 toothbrushes, 1 tube of paste, and some Gold Bond so don’t bother bringing your own toiletries. We could bring all the personal gear we wanted that fit in a gallon Ziploc. We were issued one plastic cup, numbered, one plastic fork, one spoon, one knife, all numbered the same as our harness and storage pocket. Bowman Stevo had worn shorts down from snowy Boston because he wasn’t bringing long pants – that he would have to ship home before the start.

The crew:

Owner – Doug Mitchell. Married. 1 daughter. Lives in Boston.

Navigator – Jamie Neill. Concieved and commissioned The Cone in 2002. Married. 1 daughter 1 son. Lives in Sydney.

Bowman – Stephen (Stevo™) Forasté. Married. Lives in Boston. Runs marathons. Stevo brings crew shirts with the latitude and longitude of the start and finish on the sleeve. 

Backup bowman – Kenneth ‘Kole’ Riffle. Merchant Mariner. Single. Tiverton, RI

Jesse Rowse – Yacht designer and aspiring mini-Transat competitor.

Richard Feeny – Sailing Director at The San Francisco Yacht Club. Single. College friend of Doug’s. Lives in Sausalito, CA

 

The boat:

100% carbon, Reichel-Pugh Super 30 with ocean racing ABS construction and offshore pedigree (Transpac, Newport-Bermuda, Chicago-Mac, Sydney-Mooloolooba…). The boat is very well prepared, with all required safety gear and significant spares such as really good radar reflectors; but apparently with too much food. Sail inventory includes 4 spinnakers from a fractional chicken chute (Yellow) to masthead ‘Big Red’, Jib Top (blast reacher), Code 0, #4, #3, #2, new heavy 1, storm sails.  A unique feature is the Dacron main.

 

Day 1 – Race Start, Friday – A very good forecast for the Cone. Our boat, the smallest in the race, weighs only 1,500 kg dry, so we were praying for no wind forward of the beam. Our first problem was discovered 2 hours before the start while waiting for the 17th street bridge to open: the generator won’t run. Puffs of blue smoke, but she keeps dying. So our pre-start speech from Doug (who has done this race twice before) is about the watch system, how we deal with man overboard and other emergencies, the requirement to wear harnesses and life vests, especially at night and in heavy weather. He also asks “Is everyone comfortable heading out to the Bahamas where the forecast is for lighter conditions that might enable us to fix the generator with the understanding we might need to turn back if we don’t get it sorted.” Thumbs up all around. Next, Jamie, a solicitor in Sydney, adds that “this is an inherently dangerous boat and we are going to sail it dangerously… “ and that it is not too late to get off if anyone wants too. Like downhill skiing double black diamonds, the team is expert and the risk is assumed. Everyone looks a bit grim, but no one gets off. 

We blasted off the starting line in a brisk north westerly wind of about 15 knots, set the blue spinnaker, and planed through the lee of a Swan 70. With speed come broaches. Three or four in the first hours as we rotate helmsmen in order to get everyone on before night fall, but still we averaged nearly 15 knots to first waypoint Great Isaac light. As the speed climbs into the teens significant water comes through the cockpit. Numerous complaints are heard about the quality of every brand and style of foulies and boots. Nothing keeps us dry. The best turns out to be a Henry-Lloyd hooded Shadow smock. The combination hood and dry seal neck, while not perfect, is better than the others on board.

The reason for the Dacron main quickly becomes apparent.  Off the breeze, in anything over ten knots, the vang is let go, the sheet and traveler is eased to max and the main luffs wildly as the little boat planes on.  Watching a high tech main live through this would seem unnecessarily cruel.  After a particularly nasty wipeout, just beyond the tongue of the stream, we peel down to the chicken chute and climb north a few miles to gain weather gauge on Great Isaac.

Darkness falls, but the mood is light. We are nearly keeping up with the big boats. Their stern lights are scattered ahead, which are useful to follow because we have turned off our electronics to conserve electricity for the  navigation lights (really nice, bright, low draw LED masthead tri-color from Lopolight). Jamie comments with a smile, “How cool is this? Blasting across the Gulf Stream in the moonless black of night by the seat of our pants!” It’s a dream coming true for most of us. 

First firedrill – night 1

Tack line slips for some reason. Flashlight reveals it’s wrapped once around the pole. Dowse. Unwrap. Hoist. !@#$%^&&**! Snap shackle releases and our only led masthead halyard goes all the way up. We use the mouse feeder to haul up the spare halyard, but it doesn’t go up clean. Up goes Stevo into the black.  Near the top he uses his body as a needle to thread himself through the other halyards to cleanly reach the masthead. He comes down with all three spin halyards attached to himself, a large wave interrupts the trip and back on deck the halyards appear to be twisted – but in which direction?  3 of us up on the pointy end with lights and opinions. Jamie keeps his cool at the helm, and we eventually get it sorted. About 1 hour.

The big boats are no longer visible, but as the big blue kite fills Jamie is heard to mutter, “Right. Lets go Swan hunting.”

We never catch the really big boats again, but are kept busy all night dodging dozens of cruise ships in the Northwest Providence Channel, aka The Tongue of The Ocean.

 

Day 2, Saturday – Daybreak off Eleuthera and another race boat is in sight astern. We spend all day trading positions with the Santa Cruz 52, Renegade. No wind. Everything dries out. Everyone gets some sleep and we get the generator running well enough to boil some water for some hot breakfast, and later a warm freeze-dried dinner. Lunch is leftover submarine sandwiches, one of which comes back to haunt Jesse.  Stevo’s spelunks into the cave to retrieve a new chute and the trips up the woozy machine have left him depleted.

Feeny sails for 3 hours solo in the light air. No one covers many miles. Eleuthera still abeam at dusk. Attempt to call in noon position report on the SSB is not successful, although it does fill the cabin with the accents of Montego Bay for the first time. But the duty officer there can’t copy our transmission, so Doug sat phones his wife in Boston, who calls Jamaica with our Lat and Long. (Globalstar under whelms for voice and data in the Bahamas. Useless really.)

At nightfall the wind fills forward of the beam, from the SW, and Renegade is a bit more stable and a bit faster, but we hang on to her running lights all night under jib top and eventually two reefs.

 

Day 3, Sunday – At daybreak we are still battling with Renegade. Both boats are jib top surfing down large, waves. Jamie takes the helm and minutes later has the speedo reading 22 down a steep wave. At noon, we call Renegade on VHF to request they relay in our noon position report because our sat phone went for a swim in the bilge, and our generator is still not working well enough to power the SSB while the boat is planning. Renegade asks how’s it going? Doug answer’s “Wet and Wild!”

Too rough to cook. PB&J never tasted so good. Beef jerky and chocolate for dinner. Yummy.

The wind comes aft enough for us to attempt to clear a Bahama to leeward with a kite. Up goes the chicken chute and Doug and Jesse catch and pass Renegade. She drops below the horizon astern in about 2 hours. Finally in Cone conditions again. We are blasting at 14-17 knots. Next, Feeny and Stevo have an incredible watch in the dark that night. They sail the boat on the edge, trying to reach up to course without too many “EASE! EASE! EASE! F*&^%!” ...CRASH.  

So much water in our faces --  we can’t see instruments, we can’t see the kite … much, we can’t see the confused sea. Phosphorescence on our eyeballs. Stinging. When possible, Stevo gets a glimpse of the compass and calls out “Good angle”. Every 30 minutes we suffer a “little” broach, but still we cover just over 45 miles on our 3 hour watch.  

After the watch change and a particularly bad wipeout, we shift down to the jib top to let the crew rest .. and to make a better course for the eastern edge of Cuba.

We enter the tropic of Cancer at 15 knots boatspeed.  A secondary cold front passes, and the temperature drops out. The sea state is big (8-12’) and confused. Occasional rogue waves deliver a fierce punch in the back to those on deck. 2 reefs becomes 3. She’s very difficult to keep upright. Next waypoint Montego Bay.  Unfortunately the generator is not cooperating in the turbulent sea and we have limited time to use the electronics.  Jesse goes below to enter the waypoint into the backup handheld GPS, but the computer is off and the charts and navigation notes are sealed dry, for their protection.  We yell below – “Enter the MoBay lat long off your shirt sleeve!”  Waypoint set and on we surf. Gannets sighted.

 

Day 4, Monday - Finally the wind comes aft and we get a spinnaker up in softening trades. We also manage to run the generator long enough to cook our second hot meal. The light trades building. As the wind veers we put up bigger and bigger spinnakers until eventually we hoist Big Red. People speak reverentially about this spinnaker, and when you feel the power you understand why. It’s as though a mini-maxi might be missing their kite. Standing on the pushpit you can see the kite on both sides of the main. You can’t fit the whole thing in the camera lens. The kite can’t fly without the pole articulated and the boat pointed downwind. There is a blind spot big enough to fit a cruise ship. As speed increases, the groove narrows, but the scene is from a postcard. She rips across the water.

Just after breakfast the big sail gets the best of helmsman Jesse and we roll down into a death roll of epic proportions. Jesse is flung overboard to the limit of his tether and his eyes are as big as saucers. Stevo swims to the rope clutches to release the halyard because the little boat won’t come upright without running some halyard. Down below everything is flung helter skelter. Out the back of the cockpit we lose a spray top, VHF radio, camera, 2 toothbrushes, sunblock, toothpaste, winch handle, pretzels, kettle lid, and most important, the baby wipes.  

Noon position is 19 16N x 75 20.8W.

First dolphins visit us about 60 miles from Jamaica.

We call a perfect layline to the finish from 56 miles out and execute a nice gybe in the heavy breeze and darkness. 15 miles from the finish Doug takes the helm and all hands are awake watching the lights of Jamaica rush by. Boatspeed hasn’t been below 14 in hours. As we approach the coast the wind builds until we are sustaining 16 knots. 17. 18. 19.  There is a loosely enforced speed limit on The Cone. After 19 knots the wipeouts become very nasty. Jamie radios’s the committee that we are 7 miles out and approaching the finish at 18 knots; we should be there soon. The groove tightens as we not only need to keep the boat under the kite, but also land her right next to the JA Coast Guard boat by the finish line. Only a mile and a half from the finish line Doug is in the mid 19s when the rudder boils and over we go. The masthead instruments take a swim. Big red has punished the speed limit violators. Down comes the chute, which makes a terrific sea anchor and we finish the slalom gate just after 1am Tuesday morning under main with big smiles… Red Stripe on the brain.  

We arrive at the dock learning that we finished 10th across the line, just an hour behind Strabo the Swan 70 and within 10 hours off all the giants in the fleet. The first boat under 45 feet. The little red boat has had a good show and the crew satisfied knowing that they sailed a terrific race.

The final tally has The Cone in 2nd place for the Pineapple Cup and armed with a terrific reason to be back in two years.

 

 

Submitted 2.20.2007: Doug, Jamie, Kole, Rich, Jesse, and Stevo™

Go The Cone!

 

 

Extra! Extra! Extra!

 

White sail reaching on The Cone

By Jamie Neill

I’ve sailed a lot of miles on The Cone and coming around the bottom of Cuba in this race sticks in my mind as an outstanding example of a ridiculously wet experience. Here is what it was like. Imagine this. 

The Helmsman’s perspective.

The boat is heeling right over with the leeward rail just off the water. The boat speed is reading 13 knots.  You’re jerked backwards as the boat jumps forward and down off the top of the wave into the trough below. Your view ahead is slightly obstructed by the crew on the rail and your eyes are stinging from the wall of spray rising high into the air.

The spray off the leeward side is also satisfyingly high - over the top life lines.

You find yourself smiling as you glance at the boat speed and feel a brief sensation of satisfaction as you see the boat speed jump to 16 before the bow plows into the back of a big wave in front. You are thrown forward as the boat slows violently. The crew on the rail disappear into whitewater gushing over the deck like surf breaking on a rocky shore. Then the water hits you too. It all goes white. You hold your breath.

The foam is warm, salty and not unpleasant. Almost comforting. But still wet.

You silently pray that this isn’t the nose dive that broaches you.

Two seconds later and the foamy water is gone. You can see again. You blink a few times, wipe your eyes and glance at the boat speed – 12 knots. You look ahead through the crew and at the next wave building under you. Then you feel the jerk as the boat leaps forward, down the next wave and into the next trough. Another smile breaks out.

Six grins a minute, hour after hour.

The Crew’s Perspective 

The boat is leaning uncomfortably to leeward. You are sitting on the windward rail, clutching the life line. Your back is against the shrouds with one leg wrapped around the life lines because you know if you let your feet hang down and they touch the water, the water rushing past will rip your boots off in a second.

Spray is gently wetting back, like being in a warm shower. Then the boat jumps under you and your bum briefly leaves the deck as the crazed helmsman drops it into yet another wave. You look back at the driver, his eyes widen and eyebrows go up. You brace yourself because you know what’s coming. Then all goes white and you hold on tight as someone opens a floodgate and white water sluices over your back and head – washing you along the deck. You close your eyes and feel to see whether this is the trough that rolls the boat onto it’s side. Then the boat shakes itself free. The water clears and the helmsman comes back into view.

You push yourself back into position. The spray on your back has eased to a gentle shower again. You feel the boat start to jump into the next trough.

You look back and see the helmsman smiling and wonder why. 

Then you think “It’s my turn to drive in 10 minutes.”

And you find yourself grinning too.  

 

Race Course: 811 Nautical Miles