Looking forward to the great season ahead.
Sailboat Race Becomes Test Of Seamanship And Survival
by Alan Pollock
Based on marine forecasts issued by the National Weather Service Friday evening and early Saturday morning, organizers of the race anticipated winds building throughout the day to 15 to 20 knots, with seas reaching three to five feet in occasional rain. But at around
In the morning, the weather was relatively mild, Coast Guard Senior Chief Stephen Lutjen said.
“But then all of a sudden, it went from calm to 40-knot gusts of wind. In an hour it went from two-foot seas to eight-foot seas.”
Aboard the committee boat, race director Joseph McParland of Allen Harbor Yacht Club and fellow organizer Robert Moline started the race at Five of the 16 boats on the scratch sheet had opted not to race. The committee boat then came back to the harbor to get some coffee, returning to the race finish line at around
“By then, the winds had turned around from the north,” he said. At 2:06 p.m., the weather service issued a special marine warning for Nantucket Sound and adjacent waters, warning of a strong line of showers and thunderstorms moving northeast at 50 miles an hour. With the committee boat dragging its anchor and unable to hold its position, McParland made a radio announcement at around 3 or 3:15 p.m. calling off the race, but there was no response from any of the 11 boats.
Harwich Harbormaster Thomas Leach was sailing in the race in his boat, the J/24 Spitfire, when the squall moved in. He said he and the other sailors knew the competition was over, and the goal was to get to port safely. Leach and his crew while hove-too, used the VHF radio to make an agreement with another team on Neil Tomkinson's Chinook to let the northeast winds push them toward
Other boats, like the Dauntless and Warrior II, started their engines and made for
“I knew if they just bowed into the sea, they’d be able to survive eight-foot seas,” he said.
But four of the racing boats were Marshal 22 catboats, traveling a shorter course in Nantucket Sound. In a boat of this size, Leach said, looking up at eight- or 10-foot seas would be like looking up at the waves in the movie “The Perfect Storm.”
Two of the catboats, the Lulu and the Pumpkin, made it back to port by themselves. A third, the Cait’s Cat, skippered by Rick Farrenkopf, radioed for help when it began taking on water. Heinz Proft and two members of the Harwich Fire Department began searching for the boat, which was placed in tow by a passing trawler and brought to
McParland blamed the heavy rain for disrupting VHF radio communications, which might account for why the sailboats did not immediately communicate their positions to the committee boat, he said.
The last boat to be accounted for was the catboat Zephyr, with a crew of three men aboard. While all three are experienced sailors—and one is a former Coast Guardsman—they are all older than 70 years of age.
With that boat now five hours overdue, and with darkness moving in, the Harwich harbormaster’s office alerted the Coast Guard. Two rescue boats were dispatched from Station Chatham and an HH-60 helicopter took off from Air Station Cape Cod, starting an hour-long search for the tiny boat. About an hour later, the harbormaster received a call from the wife of Bob Chase, the Zephyr’s captain, saying her husband had left a message that he and the boat were safely in
“I suspect it would’ve torn their sails if they’d had them up,” Lutjen said. That the three men made it safely to shore testifies to their seamanship, he added.
No one was hurt in the race, McParland said.
“We’re happy everyone was safe, and sorry they couldn’t finish,” he said. “We will, of course, run [the race] again next year.”
Tony Prizzi is still th PHRF rater for our area. Take time now to re-apply for your 2013 rating.