At the start of the race it was a light wind beat to Gibraltar Point off the Toronto Islands. Little did we know at this point, that the whole race would go like this or worse — no wind! Our boat performs far better in 12 to 18 knots of wind on a beam or broad reach. These conditions put us far behind and in last place. We were 8 miles behind the leader and 3 miles behind second last place. We managed to hold on to the fleet with the race across the lake to the US side. Everyone’s goal was to get to the other side as quickly as possible. The forecast called for virtually no winds this weekend, everyone was trying to play the thermals from the shore, and needed to get there before night fall.
Overnight, we may have been one of the first to pop the Spinnaker in our division. This year we have a nice new addition, a code zero allowing us to sail 60 to 90 degrees to the wind. We were able to fly it for a couple hours last night making good VMG (velocity made good) of 4-5 knots in air that was not much stronger! This is where we made up some ground on our division. When we checked our results in the morning, we were in 4th place, and only 2-3 miles behind the leaders. Running code zero again, in very light air, 3.3 knots of wind, our speed was 1.8 to 2 knots. We were now 58 miles from Oswego, Ford Shoal mark.
Sunday was a hard hot day! Very light winds, lost some of our gains, but kept with the fleet. We went for a little dip in the lake to cool off and clean up! Many boats started abandoning, 25 in total and 2 from our division. Started with 7 and now there are 5. We had some wind on this day and are moving at 4 knots. We were toying around with what to do, stick it out, or abandon ourselves. But we decided we would make that decision on Monday.
A man lost at sea, and the Coast Guard Rescue Search that Black Diamond was involved in.
All day we have been hearing a Coast Guard announcement, that they were looking for a man over board near the Sodus Bay, NY State cottage area, about 10 miles offshore. They found a sailboat with no crew on board. Believed that a man was single handing and had fallen over board and is now missing. This was not a Lake Ontario 300 participant.
Late that night about 11pm, I was asleep down below, when the guys on their shift, heard a voice clearly calling out for help. We were not running our engine, it was a very quiet calm and low wind evening. The voice was definitely heard crying out for help, and for the coast guard. They claimed to have heard it 2 or 3 times. They looked all around and did not see any boat in the area. It was coming from near by and must be a man in the water. We used our military grade high powered search light, and could not see anything.
We could see the Coast Guard Vessel “Cape Heron” on our AIS, they are only about 2 miles away and conducting a sector search. We hailed the Coast Guard and they sent a plane over us along with the vessel Cape Heron. They shot off illuminating flares and continued their sector search with our direction. Also on location where friends of the lost individual with their own boat. There was no point in us hanging around any longer.
Sadly they never did find the individual. This goes to show you – a nice sunny day, calm with little to no wind, no swells. Easy to get your guard down and not worry about a life vest. You trip and fall over board. The boat is only moving at about 1-2 knots, but sails away on its own. You thought you had nothing to worry about, but you are now 10 miles offshore, with a run away boat, that you can’t catch up to. No one can swim faster than 1-2 knots that is needed to catch up to even a slow moving vessel. Then after a few hours, hyperthermia or fatigue sets in and you won’t be able to swim 10 miles back to shore. You should always wear your life vest, especially if you are single handing, even on the most beautiful of days.
You may have heard by now that Black Diamond was grounded at False Duck.
Now into the 3rd day of racing, if you want to call it that. Normally after two and half days we would have already finished and be enjoying a cold one back at PCYC. It is now Monday and still enduring low to no wind, exhausting heat and swarms of flies, we finally rounded Main Duck. Contemplating abandoning the race, due to other commitments, the whole crew of six re-arranged schedules and are now thinking of sticking it out. I was off shift, and down below trying to re-arrange my schedule with work appointments, and having difficulties with the internet. My most experienced racing crew member was on the helm, he is an experienced racer and always tuned into sail trim and helming. However, never cruised this area, and unfamiliar with the local shoals. Concentration was all on when to make the next tack, and my attention was unfortunately down below. Ultimately, I take full responsibility as the skipper and navigator.
Beating into 16 knots of breeze, these wind conditions were odd for this running of the Lake Ontario 300, but not unusual for this part of the course. We were closed hauled with a heel angle of 20-25 degrees, boat speed of about 6+ knots when our keel hit hard rock bottom, and was bouncing off of it. Thank God we were heeled so much, this actually allowed us to escape with virtually no damage at all. We were now sitting in three and half feet of water, with a boat that draw 6 and half feet. We noticed to our port side that the same thing happened to another racer. We could not power the main and jib enough to get us off, and was actually causing us to move the boat forward into shallower waters. We got the crew on the low side and Dave way out on the end of the boom, with the main way out. Tried to use the jib to get us off. This was not enough. This is when I got the idea to raise the spinnaker and fly it behind the boat. It is an asym flying off the bow sprit. We let the spin tack all the way out, all 60 feet of it and cleated it off at the bow. The tack was now flying 60 feet off to the back aft starboard quarter of the boat. The wind was blowing 16 knots and very powerful. This made it difficult to impossible to raise the spinnaker with the boat grounded. We powered up the electric winch, only with the electric winch were we able to raise the spinnaker. It seemed like near breaking load on the halyard, it was making a ticking sound. As we raised it, the spin powered up, broached the boat, the mast was almost horizontal, raising the keel right off of the rocks. The boat slowly turtled out of there like an upside down sea shell. We then dropped the spin, flattening the boat and Dave swung around on the boom from the starboard to port and was grabbed by Igor as he went by and dropped into the cock pit. We then raised the jib and sailed out of there. Thank God we were free and sailing. We checked our keel bolts and bilge’s a few times, and everything seemed ok and dry. Due to the extreme heel it just scrapped and bounced on the side of the bulb, causing virtually no damage to the bulb, and no damage to the structure of the boat. The boat is sea worthy and sailable. This whole experience only lasted 10-15 minutes. Everything happened so fast, thank God for the spinnaker idea, it got us off quickly and racing again.
We hailed the other boat to see if she was ok. There was also another boat standing by that left the scene soon after. We stood by for another 30 minutes, when the skipper confirmed the vessel was fine, we carried on. We said you could hail us if things changed and we would come back. Our radio works well all across the lake and has a range of about 50 miles. We decided to continue racing and we tacked off into the lake.
What a Lake Ontario 300 Race!
1) Longest LO300 ever, into day 4, and won’t be back until Wednesday morning. A few years ago it took us this long to get the boat from New York City to Florida.
2) The Hottest LO300 ever, with the most flies ever!
3) The Grounding took our spirits lower still. But thankfully able to get off, with little or no damage to the boat.
4) Assisted in a Coast Guard search, we may have heard the last gasp of a sailor’s call for help. We were very saddened by this experience.
5) Almost half of over 100 boats that started did not finish this years race.
We finally finished the most crueling LO300 Wednesday morning at 7:00 am, 91 hours later, almost 4 full days. 300nm / 555km probably actually sailed closer to 800km with tacks. Sailed into PCYC with our Espana Spinnaker! We ended up 5th in our division, and 26th overall. We were thankful we were able to finish the race and with the boat still intact.
I think I’ll take a break from the LO300 after my sixth year and go on a little 2 year cruise to the Bahamas. Although, during the grounding, I saw that dream flash before my eyes as well.
s/v Black Diamond