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The Race from Cleveland…on to Bay City

17 July 2010
Saginaw River
Bay City, Michigan

Alongside Wenona ParkPride of Baltimore II is nestled in sung in the Saginaw River alongside a tree-lined park in a diverse fleet of ships that has see a few changes since Cleveland, where I re-joined Pride II to relieve Captain Jan Miles in command.

The passage from Cleveland ended up a relatively breathless one in terms of both wind and activity with spectacular amounts of effort required of the crew and ship at both ends. Departing Cleveland, Pride II began the first of the Great Lakes Tall Ships Challenge Races for this year. With the large square-riggers Europa and Roald Amundsen starting at 1200, the smaller “B” & “C” class boats converged on the line thirty minutes later. Pride II was under all working sail to leeward of the start boat and sailing close hauled for the line with the weather stuns’l boom run out in preparation for falling off on a reach for the finish. The breeze faded slightly in the final starting sequence throwing off the timing of our approach. With the delay, we were third over the line, with Appledore V and Lynx just ahead.

With the stuns’l and t’gallant set, we proceeded to plow ahead with the breeze back up to 12-15 knots, trying for a gap between Lynx to weather and Appledore V to leeward. Not wanting to be shadowed by our 9700 square feet of canvas, Appledore V made a sharp move to weather forcing us to come up above Lynx. The combined image was very dramatic, with the two Baltimore Clippers within 100 feet of each other and making over seven knots.

In short order, however, Pride II’s longer waterline had us out in front of Lynx and gaining on the “A” class boats that started 30 minutes earlier. Within two hours and thirty minutes of the start, Pride II was clear ahead and making nearly ten knots!

But the wind got fickle and bottomed out completely around 1500, veering to Northwest as it veered and turning the race from a rhumbline reach into a drift to a distant weather mark. With tight schedules, boats began dropping out and motoring through the fleet. First Denis Sullivan, then, surprisingly, Lynx, who gave up her second place position to make some distance toward Bay City. Finally the Toronto Brigantine Pathfinder retired from the race after the 1800 positions had everyone barely half way to the finish.

Those of us who stuck it out faced one of the most mentally strenuous challenges of sailors, one rarely encountered in the modern era – light air sailing. On a typical passage, Pride II would not dawdle along at 0.7 to 1.5 knots very long before the demands of the schedule brought motoring into the equation. But the race gave reason to gut it out and tinker with trim and angles for hours and hours. Frustrating and taxing as this is, the constant quest for a tenth of a knot hones the craft of sailing. It may be less physically exhausting than sailing Pride II when charged up, but because the sheets and braces are not under as much strain, it is possible to tinker with them, and that possibility leads to necessity in the performance focused environment of a race.

This tinkering went on aboard all five remaining competitors for the duration of the race. As the race stretched on without a wind increase, the race became one against the 12 hour time limit more than against the boats. For a time, this looked hopeless, but the breeze filled in from the East, and the possibility of finishing became real and eagerly pursued with various tactics of reaching up or even going wing on wing. Through the evening and dark hours, Pride II stretched slowly ahead of the fleet and for a brief period was on schedule to finish the race just inside the time limit.

But we couldn’t make it happen. The breeze faded again and when time expired, Pride II was 0.882 nautical miles from the finish. We sailed across the line. The results are still pending, but as Pride II was 5.9 miles ahead of the next vessel, Appledore V, we are hopeful.

After the race, the crew we busy busy busy stowing sail and motoring up the Detroit River. Tired as they were, we tied up Tuesday night at the Bean Docks in Port Huron, just below Lake Huron, for some rest. Fading breezes kept us from sailing Wednesday, so the highlight was the crew adding another Great Lake to their swim call challenge. They are now up to three – Ontario, Erie and Huron. We’ll see how cold Superior is for them shortly, but first we’ll have another race and a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Jamie Trost, Captain aboard Pride of Baltimore II