Photos by Rich LaBella, RJLaBellaPhotos.com
The 25th edition of the Peconic Bay Sailing Association’s Twin Forks classic on Saturday, September 29 proved to be another memorable experience for the 70+ boats that crossed the starting line. Hundreds of East End sailors were looking forward to a beautiful day of sailing in 10- to 12-knot winds. That’s what the forecast said. It was to be what I call a PHRF day. In other words, sailboats sailing in conditions for which they were optimized so you could really see how they perform in comparison to their ratings. Not! What the forecast didn’t include was that the wind would be light and variable. The racecourse was filled with “Black Holes.” If you sailed into one, you might not ever come out.
This year the RC decided to do rolling starts, which hadn’t been done before in the Whitebread and would get competitors on the course faster and closer to sailing the same race. The process went smoothly, and we were off on a clockwise circumnavigation of Shelter Island, NY aboard Mark Rickabaugh’s E-33 Entropy. Another wrinkle this year was the boats would have to sail against the current for the first part of the race. I assumed we’d have a bit of a challenge at first – which is why we sail. So I strategerized that the further up the course we sailed before the current started against us in earnest, the better off we’d be. The reality was that the current in Greenport was the race. If you got through before the wind shifted and went light, you were in good shape. If not, well then, not.
The whole leg in Southold Bay was on the wind. Going west in Southold Bay didn’t pay, but you definitely wanted to approach “G11” on starboard. Port tack boats had to duck a lot of transoms (remember the rolling start) just as the first waggles in the breeze velocity began. The first hole revealed itself if you tacked immediately after Conkling Point into Pipe’s Cove. That made a Hobson’s choice: tack into lighter air or stay in more breeze and sail into the teeth of the current. Podium places were made or broken right there. Patience to sail in lighter wind with less current paid off.
But the Great Black Hole was up ahead. It waited patiently for victims to approach, then deftly sprung its snare. If you were unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of Hay Beach at that time, escape was nearly impossible. If you managed to escape, the rest of the egress from Greenport Harbor was a painfully slow deep reach against the current.
Once free of the demons in Greenport Harbor the travails weren’t over. We now had to sail almost the same deep reach to buoy “Mo(A)”, the turning mark in Gardiner’s Bay. We were in the company of some well sailed boats like Bob Voelkel’s J/24 Shamrock and Kevin Horne’s Ranger 26 Calli. They were in a spinnaker death match by Long Beach Point and were so close to the beach I thought they might be collecting shells. They escaped by cutting as close to Bug Light as I’ve ever seen a sailing yacht go.
Later, I asked Calli skipper Kevin Horne about it. He responded, “I didn’t know if we could sail there either.” Also in the area was the C&C Jul Bocken, who couldn’t find enough wind to fill her spinnaker. Yawateg, a Tartan 27, was stuck in the mud, along with the yawl Varuna. Seeing Calli and Shamrock escape the torrent, we tested our nerve a little and sailed east over the shoals off Bug Light. On a beam reach we could make 2.5 knots boat speed, which was a whole lot better than the “goose eggs” of earlier. We needed to east to make Mo(A) anyway, but we knew we’d have to sail deeper to get there and were hoping conditions would change. They didn’t get any better and eventually the long, slow slog ended when we rounded that confounded buoy.
I’ve written about my antipathy for Mo(A) before. My opinion has not changed. I will never get back the hours I’ve spent drifting around that buoy. As we finally passed, I turned and bowed to it. It had beaten me…again. I hope the tribute will be well received. I would’ve thrown a shot of rum to it but I didn’t have any.
You would think that turning the buoy and going with the current would end the pain. And it did until almost “N” 6 off Mashomack Point when the wind again went light and we were looking at the next mark in Sag Harbor “N” 8 as another light air downwind drift. At least we were going with the current. It was about then that the RC announced shortening of the course, which probably saved a dozen or so competitors from dropping out. Finally we rounded “N” 8 and turned back upwind to the shortened course finish at Tyndal Point in streaky light wind. There was wind, here and there. You had to be here. If you were there, you couldn’t get here.
WB 25 was another day of great weather to enjoy. Sailing expertise was rewarded. Sailors who had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time were punished severely – sometimes “unfairly.” Almost everyone was challenged by the light and changing conditions. We all learned lessons that will be etched in our sailing memories…at least what’s left of them. Remember s/v Calli? Kevin Horne’s team tested the depth off Bug Light to escape from the Black Hole. They finished first in class. Results are posted at pbsa.us – click on “Whitebread 25.”