At about two o’clock this morning, I was holding the wheel of a 31′ sailboat as she glided almost silently across the water in the middle of the night. We were sailing beneath a black sky smudged with white clouds, scattered with sparkling diamond studs and the occasional shooting star.
It was chilly, so my mates aboard GOOD TRADE and I were wearing layers of clothing. At this time in the morning, one of my companions–boat owner/captain Bob Lang–was awake and on deck with me, while Annabel and Cynthia caught some sleep on the bench seats in the saloon. This was part of the Masters of the Potomac race, during which our team competed with three other boats in our class as we sailed for about 18.5 hours straight, through wind, no wind, and cold of night. Even with challenges and some discomfort, I was so happy to be sailing that I smiled almost continuously.
The race began with a downwind start at MCB Quantico, and the downwind leg to Dahlgren VA took about six hours, during which our top speed was 8.4KT. The upwind leg took about 12 hours. This in part because the wind was very spotty on the return. For a while, our speed was 0.1KT, and at one point the air was so still that the captain deployed the anchor to keep us from losing ground in the current.
Around 2 a.m. the wind picked up again and from there we made speeds of about 3KT to over 6KT, except for the last stretch, when the wind died. Another boat, JUARUTE, was coming in at the same time and because we had no speed, we had no steerage, so we had to fend off from the other boat. Finally, a slight breeze came up and, with help from the incoming tide, we slowly made it past the mark as the sky turned brilliant orange. We flaked down the main sail, motored in, docked and tidied up the boat. Although we had yet to know the final race results, we hugged each other in congratulations for a race well run.
Best quotes from the race: Capt. Robert Lang, “OK, nobody panic!” and, much later in the race, “That was a near disaster!” And from crew member Cynthia, as we inched toward the finish in virtually no wind, so close, yet so far, “Is that a crab pot? Hmmm…it might be 2 a.m. and I am seeing things,” and “I never had a Guinness for breakfast before. Today is the day!”