Around Isleboro Race

The Around Isleboro Race is hosted annually by Northport Yacht Club on Penobscot Bay in Maine. It's a great, small community event whose proceeds partially fund the youth sailing program at the club. There's a bit of a rivalry between Northport Yacht Club and Rockland Yacht Club and this is one of the local races that pits a number of sailors from each against one another. The two clubs are quite similar in that they each have a very friendly, low key atmosphere, strong community ties and not a single ego among them. Though it's a small club, they managed to host a terrific race and BBQ for 43 boats and their crews, family of crews, friends of crews, members, and whoever else dropped by. Most of the boats raced fully crewed but several of us entered the single handed division including Peter McCrea of Panacea and some others who I didn't have a chance to meet.

As one can guess from the name, the course takes us around Isleboro which is a long island in northern Penobscot Bay yielding a course of around 28 nm. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the race committee decides the direction around the island the fleet sails, typically allowing a downwind passage through Bracketts Channel. However because of the very light wind conditions on the morning of the race, they prepared us for a potential course shortening and decided Hewes Ledge would be a turning mark thus reducing the course length by half and eliminating the passage through Bracketts altogether. Here's the course we sailed (click on chart for larger sized image):

Bracketts would have been an interesting passage for me as I've never been through there under sail or power. It's an unmarked channel on the south end of Isleboro that is littered with rocks and shallow spots. Jeroboam is equipped with a chart plotter with up-to-date electronic charts of the area however you have to wonder about the level and accuracy of detail provided for rarely used, narrow, unmarked channels. The idea of going through there single handed flying a spinnaker certainly would have been a test but alas, it will have to wait until next year.

The start involved the usual comedy of a light wind/no wind start, that is a very dramatic cannon shot sounding the beginning of the race followed by 43 boats, all with sails up, going absolutely nowhere. I'm not sure how many minutes passed before the first boat successfully crossed the starting line but I know for Jeroboam it was a grueling ten minutes or so before I was definitely across. I started near the pin end which was probably the worst place to be because the wind, if any, was coming from the northwest and there were about 35 boats between me and it; anything but clear air. Panacea on the other hand, along with some other boats, were smart enough to start on the boat end, earning some moderately clear air and move well to the lead by the time we approached Turtle Head, the northern most extremity of the island.

I flew my large light air chute for that first leg, as did most other boats in racing class, and the wind gradually picked up as we made our way east to Turtle Head. On the east side of the island, the wind picked up from the southwest and we beat our way toward Hewes Ledge, about half way down that side of Isleboro, Jeroboam flying her usual main and genoa. In this and my last race, I've been experimenting with improving my VMG by sailing the boat higher than I used to. I think I've found some slightly tighter angles that work well based on apparent wind speeds and have seen some minor improvements.

The approach to Hewes Ledge was interesting as the tide was running against us. Each time I tacked in close to shore, I didn't see a reduction in current so I decided to stand away from land in hopes of getting more breeze however some boats who went in far further than I, such as Doug Pope's Walkabout, gained ground on me at that mark. The other interesting part of this turning mark was the ledge itself. There are two government aids that mark it, a green can on the northeast side and a red nun on the southwest side however, as two boats painfully found out, the ledge is a bit bulbous, it's belly hanging out to the southeast a fair bit. As I was approaching the ledge, I heard a very loud banging sound followed by what was surely an expletive. When I looked up, I saw three boats under sail rounding the ledge, two moving along nicely at three or four knots and the third sitting completely still obviously hard upon the bottom. They were eventually able to work themselves free and, from my angle, regain some ground on the other two boats.

Once around the ledge, the chute came out again and I caught a decent breeze back toward Turtle Head that was gusty at times but moved the boat along nicely. Though it occasionally clocked to the beam, I was able to carry the chute for the entire leg then douse as I rounded Turtle Head and turned to a close reach for the finish line. At this point in the afternoon, the wind was gradually dying and I was lucky enough to make it to the finish line before the apparent breeze dropped too much but for some of the fleet, that last leg was a painful limp home, the wind petering out to almost nothing by the time the sun was down.

The post race BBQ and awards ceremony was great fun. I found a seat near the grill and hobbled over for a cheeseburger or hotdog every 20 minutes or so. I took the single handed division and corrected to fourth in fleet including the fully crewed boats; another successful outing for Jeroboam.

My buddy Nate was in Maine for Thanksgiving and brought my attention to a nice photo of Jeroboam in Points East Magazine.