As told by Gerard Girstl
Over the years, my racing experience has largely been on fully crewed offshore boats where I’ve been fortunate to do a number of Newport-to-Bermuda races, two Trans-Atlantic races, a Fastnet race, and even a Sydney-to-Hobart race. With the pandemic’s impact on sailing this summer, the plans I had in-place to go offshore evaporated. Instead, I became a “pod” crew with my long-time skipper Adam Loory on his Rodger Martin-designed, Eric Goetz-built custom 40-footer SOULMATES. Over the past few years, the closest we came to shorthanded racing was to compete in Plus One events, where we sailed with five instead of 10-11 crew. This year, in the spring, Adam began a doublehanded series when the yacht clubs began cancelling their races due to COVID-19. We discovered doublehanding is a lot of fun. Our doublehanded program stepped up enough that we took on the 238-mile Stamford-Vineyard Race.
First, we had to sort out how we would doublehand the boat. Clearly, you have to anticipate maneuvers much further in advance and to give yourselves more time to execute them. We found that in a double handed distance race, the need for exactly executed precise maneuvers can have a bit of wiggle room as you have miles of sailing to do. A few seconds expended to insure a successful maneuver is less expensive than when a maneuver goes bad and the wheels fall off the bus.
Last weekend, we entered the 238 NM Vineyard Race doublehanded to better practice ‘social-distancing’. The conditions were ideal for doublehanding with the wind mostly blowing 10-14 knots. Not only did we win our doublehanded class, but we beat the fully crewed boats, correcting to first in the PHRF fleet! We flew off the starting line first under our A2 in a northwesterly on an outgoing tide. We worried about being hit by the adverse flood current at the eastern end of the Sound, however, we were so fast getting out to The Race, we were able to sail through on the tail end of the ebb. The only monohulls to beat us out of the Sound were a PAC 52 and a Cookson 50. The owner of the Pac 52 WARRIOR WON wrote, “Extraordinary! I almost fell off WARRIOR WON when I saw you 500 meters off our stern 3/4 of the way down the Sound.” The current door slammed shut soon after we sailed through. In fact, most of the fleet had a restart as they got stuck in light air and a foul current at the Race. We pulled off the same feat coming back into the Sound; making it through the Gut (the narrow passage between Orient Point and Plum Island) as the current was turning and the rest of the fleet hit the brakes again as we ran away towards the finish.
This was a notable race for a few reasons. First, we won the 33-boat PHRF division overall by being able to sail boat-for-boat against other fully crewed boats. At the Buzzards Bay Tower, we rounded next to the Martin 49 SUMMER STORM and five lengths ahead of the Fast 40+ CHRISTOPHER DRAGON. In the end, we crushed it, beating the second-place boat in the PHRF fleet by 90 minutes on corrected time, and that was a fully crewed boat that owed us 36 seconds per mile.
Here’s to doing more doublehanding with Adam even after we’re past the pandemic. Hopefully, he’ll get some new sails to replace his five-season old main, a heavy No. 1 and a roller fuller for that code zero. Nevertheless, I must admit packing the seven-year-old spinnaker is very easy since it is as soft as silk.