Maine Rocks Race

The Maine Rocks Race is a relatively new 112 nm ISAF Category 3 race hosted annually by Rockland Yacht Club in Maine and organized by Doug Pope of Pope Sails. A rather large contingent of serious single handed and short handed offshore racers reside in Maine, many of whom have done Bermuda 1-2 and other longer distance races, and this is one of the few local area overnight races that I know of that's up their alley. The Mohegan Island Race organized by Portland Yacht Club has a double handed division but it's quite a bit shorter at 67 nm. This year there were 13 boats entered, seven single handers and six double handers. Of the thirteen skippers, six were Bermuda 1-2 alumni many of whom had won their class and a bunch of others with impressive offshore backgrounds so the level of experience among the entrants was impressive to say the least. I don't proffer this point to scare off less experienced skippers from entering future MRRs, to the contrary I think the course marks and structure of the race are great for people new to short handed racing and of course this is a great crowd to fall in with.

I first learned of this race last summer from Peter McCrea of Panacea after seeing him at the Newport Offshore 160 and entered it last fall, it's first running. It was a long race last year with light winds and some fog but this year we had glorious weather, tons of breeze, beautiful views of Isle au Haut and Mt Desert Isle and, in the evening, an amazingly clear canopy of stars under which to sail. Peter, a long time alumni of Bermuda 1-2, raced single handed as well as Gust Stringos of Bluebird, who, like myself, was a Bermuda 1-2 first timer this year.

Here's the course (click on chart for larger image):

The start included enough breeze and gusty blasts to rattle the rigging so it made for a lively beginning to the race. The double handed division started first then the singles, the fleet sailing first briefly upwind to a turning mark, then out of Rockland Harbor to the east. The comedy of the single handed start was that the wind was howling enough that we couldn't hear the starting signal so we were all sharking around the line, not sure when to start, just waiting for someone else to cross first. After a few awkward moments, the committee boat declared the line open over the VHF and we began the race. Here's where my first blunder of the race took place. I was on a starboard tack and went forward to ease my main sheet when my autopilot went into standby mode (although as this has never happened before, I certainly may have accidentally hit the wrong button) and the boat turned up enough that my jib back winded. Jeroboam tacked directly into the path of a Tarten 41 named Tyger Tyger skippered by Steve Tofield who was flying up the line on starboard. I was able to blow the jib sheet and get the boat back over on starboard to avoid a t-bone but not in time to avoid a collision and our boats suffered a grazing blow. Thankfully, Steve was awfully kind hearted about the matter and told me not to worry about it but mentally I was shaken up for the first part of the race. Not a great beginning.

After rounding the windward mark, the last boat in the fleet to do so, I did my 360 to exonerate myself from the foul committed against Tyger Tyger and began the run to Matinicus Rock. I wasn't having any luck under jib and main keeping up with the fleet. Panecea in particular does very well against Jeroboam down wind in these circumstances and this was no exception as Peter walked away from me this entire leg. I decided to try the small spinnaker to see if I could slow the bleeding but eased the sheet too much and almost immediately and had a twist on my hands. Often, I can wrestle the sock down over the top of the spinnaker, deflating the top half of the hour glass, then unsock slowly to get rid of the twist but in this case, the sock control lines were quite firmly wrapped up with the asym, requiring an unsocked douse and manually untwisting the sail down below. In the meantime, I tried poling out the jib and managed to get the pole caught up on a stanchion. The stanchion lost the battle, resulting in a rather rakish bend to it. Next I relaunched the small asym but the wind was down enough that I should have gone right to the large asym, so I swapped it out then jibed far too early for Matinicus Rock and had to roll up my main to keep the asym filled as I worked down to the mark. All in all, a horrible leg with a bunch of painful mistakes, but lucky for me, the next leg possessed conditions very favorable to Jeroboam and her large masthead asym, already flying.

A bunch of boats ahead of me went long at this mark which helped a little in getting Jeroboam back in the race. I tried to stay a little high of the rhumb line as the forecast called for a bit of a header over the course of the leg, pressing down the gusts. Before sundown, I'd managed to pass three or four boats then on the approach to Mt Desert Rock, several boats doused their spinnakers too early allowing Jeroboam to close in on a few more. Jeroboam's elapsed leg split was among the best in the fleet for this leg as was Walkabout and Hiliho. At the mark, I ended up tacking the socked asym around the headstay manually with the jib flying with the hope that I'd be able to carry it back to Matinicus Rock but once tacking around and checking the predicted wind speed/direction change to come, it was obvious that I needed to forget about that idea.

I ended up aiming 25 degrees high of the rhumb line right off the bat as the GRIB was predicting a backing trend, N to NW with diminishing velocities. On the second half of the leg, as I worked my way back down toward Metinicus Rock in the headed breeze, the nav lights of the boats below me gradually fell further and further astearn as they no doubt pinched up to make the mark or fell off, adding miles to their course. The strategy worked amazingly well as Jeroboam's corrected leg 3 split was at the top of the heap.

Around the mark, I stayed long on the starboard tack with the hope of westing enough to clear the shallow spots along the western shore of Matinicus Island. As it turned out I need one little hitch to clear them then rode a beautiful lift all the way to the Rockland breakwall, only requiring two short tacks at the end to cross the finish line. 

The results were fantastic, finishing with my seventh victory of the season. Following the race, I was asked about my use of GRIB data in developing a strategy and put together a description of my methodology. For those of you interested in this side of racing and have comments/suggestions/advice, I'd love to hear them.