Greetings from The Bay, What a weekend. It was pouring rain when I left the house Saturday morning and rained on and off all the way to the Chesapeake. Luckily, it wasn't raining in Galesville (go figure).
I got Binary ready for sea and eventually my crew arrived and we motored out into the West River.
This is the start of season #3 for Binary and I. In his recounting of the start of season #15, John glossed over the feeling you get the first time you pull in the sheet and tiller and have your boat heel, gather herself, and drive before the wind. If we could bottle that feeling, we would all be millionairs.
Soon a storm rolled in, complete with thunder and lightening, so we headed back to the slip. True, it was a short day, but it whispered the promise of another sailing season.
This morning dawned bright and clear. Soon the little town of Galesville was alive with boaters arriving in droves. Tab, my crew for the day, arrived about 11. We fired the motor, slipped the lines, and headed for the Bay.
There was little wind in the river as the boats paraded out. But the wind freshened when we got close to the Bay, so we set sail. We cleared the mouth of the river and began working up the Bay towards the South River and Thomas Point Light. We turned on the radio at noon and Fitz (Sunward, C-26 MkII) hailed us almost immediately. Fitz then hailed Neil Calore (Rozinante, Contender-24) who had sailed down from the north end of the Bay.
The first Columbia Collision was about to happen. About half an hour later, Neil and I found each other, and we found Fitz shortly thereafter.
We began playing follow the leader in and around the spectator fleet, with Neil more or less leading. Fitz's helmsman failed to follow on one of the tacks back up the Bay and we lost him for the rest of the day.
Neil and I kept on noodling around as the spectator fleet grew. Eventually, it became a bit much to try to sail through so many boats. We dropped the sails, fired up the motors, and idled through the fleet.
The start was scheduled for 1:45 PM. The start line was about a mile north of the Bay Bridge. The Coast Guard had cordoned off the exclusion zone, a corridor from north of the bridge to Thomas Point Light, but below the light, spectators only needed to stay 250 ft from the racers. We were below the zone and eventually found ourselves in the middle of the spectator fleet, in the middle of the Bay.
Soon we could see the tops of the racers' sails approaching through the forest of masts. Coast Guard Auxilirary boats preceded the racers, sweeping spectators back to provide a clear path for the racers. All of a sudden, we realized that Swedish Match had taken a flyer and chosen a tack that took her west of the rest of the racers, right through the spectator fleet. She passed between us and the Western Shore, re-defining the playing field - technically, we were now in the race course.
It's hard to convey the feeling I got watching these boats go by. These big, sleek boats were just a trip across the pond from completing what most sailors only dream of - a circumnavigation of the globe. Less than 24 hours before, I had tucked my tail between my legs and headed for shore at the first sign of lightening. These couragous sailors had faced much, much worse braving many storms lasting days on end to get to the Bay.
And the Bay boaters turned out to cheer them on. I have heard people describe instances where the fish, ducks, or whatever were thick enough to walk from shore to shore across a body of water. While we all know these instances to be exaggerations, it most certainly appeared that you could walk across the Bay on the decks of the spectator fleet. I knew it would be crowded on the water, but nothing prepared me for the reality of the scene. It is estimated that 5000 boats had turned out to send off the racers on the pentultimate leg of the race. And while Chessie (followed by Brunel Sunergy) is the favorite here in her home waters, all the racers were winners in the eyes of the spectator fleet.
Eventually, the Whitbreads passed by and sailed out of sight, followed by a huge portion of the spectator fleet. Neil hailed me and let me know that he had decided to get a head start on the long trip home. We waved farewell, and thus ended the first Columbia get together to occur in who knows how many years.
We pointed Binary towards the West River and joined the parade home.
Not a bad way to start the season.
It's Thursday evening. The W60s have been swapping the lead as they gamble with the Gulf Stream and a high pressure zone in the North Atlantic. Last I heard, Swedish Match was ahead, but that is subject to change on a moment's notice. And on top of everything else, icebergs are working their way south, breaking up, and spawning "growlers" in the foggy Grand Banks. The W60s press on.
The Bay is quieting down, but the memory of the W60s will not soon fade. It will be a long time before I get over the beauty of the W60s carving their way down the Bay.
And I know Tab, my crew member, will remember this day for a long time.
He had such a good time that last night he bought Fitz's Contender 24.
Eric White, 7 May 98
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