The Matey arrived at 9:30 am on the dock at the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club in Channel Islands Harbor on Saturday morning, July 13th, to join the merry crew of Misfit for the 29th annual Milt Ingram Trophy Race.
It was my first race of the year on Misfit – and my sailing skills were rusty, if not wholly atrophied. So, I was glad to hear from Captain George that my primary duty would be to man the mast: hauling on halyards to raise sails. It’s a job that requires less sailing skill than a healthy bit of blue collar sweat equity.
And, of course, I’d be adding my weight to the rail and doing the kind of hiking one doesn’t do in Yosemite.
In the hour before we embarked for the starting line, the young sailormen, Sean and Andy, got down to the expert business of rigging lines and preparing sails for deployment during the race. I’ve assisted in such work in the past, but I’m not an expert like these guys. If I pack a spinnaker there’s a good chance it’ll fly out of the bag and wrap itself into an unholy tangle. Experienced salts like Sean and Andy make damn few mistakes – which is one of the main reasons why the good ship Misfit has been on a winning streak.
Instead of the classic Greek epic poet Homer’s “wine dark sea”, we sailed across a slate grey sea under a pewter sky.
As we jockeyed for position among the crowd of racing yachts tacking and jibing between the committee boat and Mandalay Bouy, I was glad to have Captain Eric at the helm. If anyone could avoid a collision and get us off to a good start, Eric would. He knows what Misfit can do – and he’s got nerves of steel. When the gun went off for the start, we were second across the line, just a boat length behind the leader.
The course for the Milt Ingram Trophy Race would take us from Mandalay Buoy to oil platform Grace, then around the west end of Anacapa, across the backside of the island, then a final northwest run to the finish line inside Ventura Harbor.
After rounding platform Grace to port, Eric put us on a course for the western headland of Anacapa – through the gap between that island and Santa Cruz. As we neared the passage between the islands, we watched with interest as a large oceangoing freighter churned through the shipping lane past Santa Cruz and across the gap.
Now, I’ve been in this situation before. It’s hard to gauge how fast these big ships are going from a distance – and small sailing vessels like Misfit must definitely give the big boys a wide berth. In the past, I’ve had the experience of guessing wrong on the big ship’s trajectory and having to heave-to at the last minute, dead in the water, and let the leviathan go by. Such a miscalculation can cripple your chances in a race like this.
As it turned out, the large ship crossed safely in front of us and, as we entered the passage between Anacapa and Santa Cruz, a pod of leaping dolphins celebrated our good fortune by frolicking across our bow.
As we sailed past the backside (or ocean side) of Anacapa, I saw the day’s very first bit of blue sky above the island’s white, bird-poop covered cliffs.
As we neared the eastern tip of the island, there were just two boats ahead of us. However, due to the arcane rules of yacht racing, those two boats had ratings that required them to “give” us time. In other words, even if they finished ahead of us, they needed to finish a good deal ahead of us to win. So, we were very possibly, under the rules, actually leading the race.
Note: This rating system apparently has to do with the size of the boat, the length of its waterline, its design and the amount of sail it can legally raise to the wind. There may also be other factors. I have no clue. I just haul the lines I’m told to haul, help to frantically gather in flapping sails, haul on the working line when we jibe, and shift my bulk from port to starboard on command. Ratings are above The Matey’s pay grade.
Now, we were sailing into the wind – and the choppy swells started splashing up against Misfit’s bow.
It was just a matter of timing and geometry before the rail meat – George, Tom and me closest to the bow — would be drenched by a sudden cascade of cold salt water.
It didn’t take long.
But ultimately, that salty baptism was like an early champagne celebration – because Misfit won the race.