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Winning the Miami-to-Eleuthera Race locked-in the 2020-21 SORC Islands in the Stream Series for Chris and Karen Lewis’s J/44 KENAI, an updated 30-year-old boat sailed by a well-prepared crew and powered by a good number of UK Sailmakers sails. Missing the Nassau Cup, with the boat still in the yard, KENAI went on to win the Islands in the Stream Series with a win in SORC Race #2 and the Eleuthera Race and a second in the Ft. Lauderdale to Key West Race.
The 300-mile Eleuthera Race was a rough, mostly upwind affair, across the Gulf Stream, followed by 200 miles east into the Atlantic and then around the southern tip of Eleuthera. Being a heavy boat, the J/44 had a relatively easier time in those conditions…although many off watch crew didn’t love the conditions so much.
The Eleuthera race was the longest in the series of the 300 miles, 280 were upwind and only 20 saw a spinnaker. The race started with a 10-15 knot breeze and the angle across the gulf stream made for a close fetch. Considering past experiences, this was a mild crossing, and we were staring at Great Isaac by nightfall. Through the night and into the next day the wind picked up and we were out of the Heavy #1 and into the #3, and then finally into the #4 as the waves really picked up as the Northeast Providence Channel opened up to the Atlantic Ocean.
On the evening on day two a failed sail change to the Heavy #1 took out the port track of the headstay foil and we left the #3 up, which turned out to be a savior since the wind picked back up into the mid 20’s as we approached the bottom of Eleuthera near midnight. Once around the southern end of the island we had an incredibly pleasant run to the finish with the A4, which was more than welcome after being hit by spray for a day and a half.
Key takeaways from the race included the importance of sail plan management. Communication with the helmsman to see how they felt with the big breeze and sea state was critical to the sail choices. At times a reef in the mainsail was helpful before switching down from the #3 to the #4. Reefing could be done much fast and with much less effort; plus, the reef could just as easily be shaken to get a bit more power during the lulls. At one point in the roughest patch at the top of Eleuthera, we sheeted the #4 outboard the shrouds, but still inside the rail to reduce heeling and give the helmsman a wider groove. We couldn’t point well (nobody could in those seas), but it kept our speed up around the 8-knot mark.
We ambitiously rounded the last mark and hoisted the A2. Being the middle of the night, it was a bit of a mess. Then a sheet popped off in a gybe. After getting the A2 down, we to the A4, which turned out to be a good thing. It was much more manageable with a crew that hadn’t slept or ate much due to the rough conditions and it was a reminder that sometimes the conservative option is fast.
The Eleuthera Race was a stark comparison to KENAI’s other two races in the SORC Islands in the Stream series that were light-air events. “Our new Titanium light #1 from UK Sailmakers made the difference in the light air races allowing us to sail competitively against lighter, newer boats,” explained Chris Lewis. “That said, our 5-year-old Titanium main continues to power the boat well, still with good shape and winning races.” It just proves that even old boats can stay competitive as long as they are well-sailed and we maintained with fresh sails and updated equipment.