Watching the sun set over the Pacific after a great race lightens the author’s burden.

From chaos to tranquility

Final Race Offers Solace

It was a total loss. The house where we had raised our daughter Steffani and had called home for so many years was consumed by the October 2007 California wildfires. All that remained was the foundation and the tall chimney, standing like a gravestone in the ashes.

After weeks of notifying insurance companies and government agencies of our loss, going through endless insurance checklists and combing through the ashes, I needed a break.

As if ordered by Mother Nature, 10 Nov. dawned crisp and refreshing. It was a perfect day for the last race of the 2007 USPS Sail Race season and an excellent opportunity for me to get away from the scorched mountain community of Lake Arrowhead.

With no official race committee vessel in attendance, our race director Lew Lyons volunteered to be the “jackrabbit.” He selected a challenging 9.6-nautical-mile racecourse around five race marks and one island. The winds were from the south at 7 knots and the skies were clearing, warming the brisk morning air to a pleasant 67 degrees. The seven eager sailboats jockeyed for position behind Lyons’ Alberg 35, Gemini,and waited impatiently for the starting signal.

The first mark, 30, was straight upwind, and the fleet immediately split into two groups. Gemini and Darrell Sausser’s lightning-fast Ericson 38, Escapade, took a long port tack. The second group chose the left side of the course and included Larry Rizzo in his Harbor 20, Calabreeze, Ken Griffing’s Catalina 36 MkII, Angel Wings, and my own Winga 862, Swedish Promise. The Bjorks’ Cal 34, Calary, and Dick Garrison’s AMF 2100, Sail Dot Com, weren’t far behind.

A few tacks later, Escapade led the way to Mark 30 followed closely by Swedish Promise, Gemini and Calabreeze. Angel Wings, Calary and Sail Dot Com followed as if tied to a towline.

The next leg was a long starboard tack broad reach to Mark 32, and while Escapade and Swedish Promise did not hoist a downwind sail, Gemini and Calabreeze made excellent use of theirs.

These ably sailed boats soon passed me and set their sights on Escapade, 400 yards ahead. Calabreeze was cleverly positioned windward of Gemini, and with perfectly trimmed sails, it eventually managed to inch by Gemini as they approached Mark 32.

Soon Angel Wings, proudly flying its patriotic gennaker, also caught up with me as I plodded downwind, dreaming of a large and colorful spinnaker for next year’s race series. As we turned west along the beach toward Island White, Angel Wings pulled up even with me just before we reached the island’s lee. We threaded our way through the anchored boats, looking across the water for areas of increased pressure and favorable winds.

Behind us, a battle between Calary and Sail Dot Com raged with the smaller vessel gaining the upper hand as they reached Mark 32. Unfortunately Dick Garrison injured his hand while adjusting his daggerboard for the new heading and had to abandon the race.
Up front, the feisty little Calabreeze expertly jibed its gennaker and continued to stalk the larger Escapade all the way to Island White. Unfortunately, Gemini lost time and distance to the leader by having to douse its spinnaker and raise its reaching gennaker for the close reach along the beach to Island White. All the while, I barely held to third place with Angel Wings nipping at my stern.

Mark 36 was straight upwind, and the smaller and lighter boats hung on to their advantage. Escapade continued to lead, and Calabreeze held a secure second place. Gemini struggled upwind in the relatively light air. Swedish Promise regained all it had lost downwind and reached Mark 36 just ahead of Gemini. After a small mishap when hoisting the spinnaker, Gemini passed me for the second time as we beam-reached east along the breakwater toward Mark 31.

By the time we reached Mark 31, Escapade had crossed the finish line with Calabreeze, still flying its gennaker, only four minutes behind.

The battle for third continued as Gemini took a wide turn around Mark 31 to jibe its spinnaker. Swedish Promise was able to cut inside and stay in front, holding off the Alberg 35 all the way to the finish.

Once the handicap was calculated, the small but mighty Calabreeze won a clear victory over Gemini with Swedish Promise, Escapade, Angel Wings and Calary bringing up the rear. After two hours and 45 minutes of racing, the second and fourth place vessels were separated by a mere 37 seconds, illustrating the close competition of the USPS Sail Races.

As I sailed back to my home port of San Pedro, a dozen graceful wooden sailboats finishing their own race greeted me as the sun set over the Pacific. Although my problems from the wildfires still existed, they somehow felt less important.