• Richard Murff

Let the Races Begin

Dispatch from the North Americans

Murff - seen here watching victory fade on the horizon

It was seven seconds of all out run. We’d nailed the start in the first race of the Lightning National Championships, we were sailing high, in clean air and had that glorious feeling of being sucked up the course. This is important, because unlike NASCAR or horse racing, the start in a sail race is half the battle, probably more. Definitely more if you are running a short course. This was Lake Erie on the Port of Cleveland though (it really is a great lake) so this was a long, broad course. Certainly longer than seven seconds.

That was about the time when we heard the metallic snap and the jib – that small, front sail – come loose. The jib halyard – essentially a line that runs from the top of the jib, down the center of the mast to the front man so the sail can be raised or lowered - had snapped. We lost tension, and in sailing, that means speed. If you’ve never had the pleasure, a new suit of sales is a crispy thing to unfurl and the breeze in a way that makes sailor feel all googly. In 15 mph winds, without halyard to keep the tension, a never-been-sailed jib especially for the NAs, sounds like a 65-foot tall middle-schooler with a mouthful of potato chips munching in your ear. All of which was quite a lot of noise for what is supposed to be a fairly quiet sport.

And like that, our glorious seven seconds was over: Can’t race without a jib. The front man climbed onto the hull and lashed the flapping sail down and we limped back to the Edgewater Yacht Club.

On the slow, brutal ride back, the extent of the problem unfolded. While we had a spare halyard for the mail sail, we did not have a spare for the jib. So, we had to acquire one before we could replace the other. Manufactures tend to have reps at these events for just this sort of thing and Tom Allan of Allan Boat Works was there. But Tommy is a championship sailor, and was currently zipping around lake Erie with a fully functioning jib halyard wrecking the competition, so he isn’t going to be back on land until after the second race to set us right.

The best-case scenario at that point, was that we’d have to sit out two races. Scores are calculated with throwing everyone’s low score out, so on DNF won’t kill you. The best that we could do would be two DNF’s which is an enormous deficit to start a regatta, especially in competition this stiff.

And Tom did set us right that afternoon. We got the repairs made, the mast back up in the air, and the boat rigged. An older national level sailor, Bill Buckles, came by to tell us that at least he was beating someone and invited us for a drink. Understand that Bill’s regatta blender looks like an industrial garbage can and a propeller in the bottom. I’m told that a few years back he plugged it in at a regatta and the lights of the yacht club temporarily dimmed.