Route Halifax St-Pierre 2006
20 July 2006
The RHSP 2006 race was its third running and the second time NELLEKE entered. In the 2004 race we were becalmed so disqualified ourselves by motoring to the finish just so that we could actually get to St-Pierre for the party.
The 2006 race was different.
First, we were sponsored by my employer, the Canadian Forces, and the crew was made up of Dave, Brent and JD, all officers in this HQ and John, JD's son. Including myself that made five aboard which was the maximum that I now feel that we should have as a crew aboard NELLEKE even in a race.
For a moment, at the start, I had a bad case of Deja Vu as the wind dropped to almost nothing and we essentially drifted across the start line. Fortunately for my sanity the wind picked up almost immediately from the south and we were able to beat our way out of the harbour at a respectable 4.5 - 5 knots.
The start was precsely at noon and by 1430 we were rounding the HB bouy in the outlying part of the Halifax approaches and were setting course for France. We established a watch system with two persons per watch and settled into the trip. The winds picked up and lay to our starboard aft quarter at about 15-20 knots. This was perfect for us as we were coasting along at 5.5-6.5 knots for the first 36 hours of the race. The only negative part from my perspective was that when we rounded HB most of the rest of the fleet was well in front of us and by the follwing morning and we found ourselves 10 miles to sea off Liscomb, there was no one else in site. By noon we could make out one of the other boats off to landward from us as their course brought them out more to sea they crossed astern of us and I had the small satisfaction of watching them fall further and further behind us. We later found out that their crew was having some problems with sea sickness and eventually they withdrew to motor in for the festivities.
One of the Canadian warships, the Summerside, that was shadowing the fleet for security reasons came up abrest of us and we got some good videos of her. There was a moment of drama when she did a crash turn and set off at flank speed for what we later found out was a medical emergency on one of the other yachts. Again, later we found out that one of the racing fleet had had an accident on deck with one of the crew taking a whack to the noggin from the boom. At the time Summerside's turn the casualty was below decks getting first aid and they were trying to decide if they were going to air evac him out or put into shore. In the end they brought him to St-Pierre with the rest fo the crew.
The rest of the day was relatively uneventful except that by noon we were south of Cape Breton and the racing divisions started back in Halifax in very light airs to chase us.
Young John was turning out to be an excellent helmsman keeping his eye on the compass and never deviating more that 5 degrees from his assigned course. Much better that I can do, and far better than anyone else aboard, that's for certain.
The weather chopped up pretty good during the second night and in the morning I discovered that the starboard jib sheet had gone over and was entangled in the prop. We hove-to to sort it out. I considered putting on my dive gear and going over the side to disentangle it but with 2-2.5 metre seas I didn't think that I'd be able to get back aboard safely. So, my solution was to start the engine and put it in reverse while a couple of the crew were pulling on the other end end of the sheet. Fortunately this worked and we bent on a new jib sheet and got underway again.
Later that morning and afternoon the wind died down somewhat and our speed made good dropped to 3-4 knots and my dream of getting to St-Pierre that evening faded with the breezes.
All through the race we had maintained essentially a direct line course to St-Pierre which turned out to have been the right thing to do, for during the night the wind freshened a bit for us while others, who had followed conventional wisdom and made more easting, had fallen into the "St-Pierre Hole" and were becalmed for 4 hours.
All hands on deck for the finish and we gave John the honour of steering NELLEKE as she crossed the finish line.
We came alongside and had a diver check out the prop and shaft and bring aboard the other half of the jib sheet that was still wrapped around the shaft. While all this was going on the race committee had their results meeting for the cruising class which we didn't bother going to as we were just happy to have finished the race. Imaging our surprise when one of the other skippers came by to tell us that we had won!
We participated in the Yacht Crew parade to the town hall or Hotel de Ville and the ensuing party which morphed into a great dance under a marquee tent that eveniing. As the youngest competito, John was selected to make the presentation to the Mayor on behalf of the rest of the fleet.
Next day there was a Grand Prix de St-Pierre round the buoy yacht race in the harbour in which all the yachts were expected to participate. We took a couple of our host family with us and dutifully made the trip. Not our sort of race but every yacht participating got a case of wine simply for entering. Good weather and I have some excellent photos of NELLEKE that were taken by a professional photographer.
That night was a 5 course French dinner served along with the prize giving. NELLEKE now has a half hull model trophy hanging on her bulkhead.
We intended to leave that night right after the party, but the weather forcast wasn't too good. In fact, the race organizers relocated some of the heavier boats off the dock that we had been on for the last couple of days and put us alongside of a concrete wall. So we decided to get some sleep and start the next day. Under overcast sky, we set off to motor sail home. For part of the way we were in the company of a Nauticus 36 who had also been in the race. She was heading for Sydney, Cape Breton, so after 12 hours she began to draw off to the north and we were alone.
And that was it. For the following 48 hours we faced overcast skies, and low rolling seas and little wind. Of course that meant fog, and lots of it. In fact, when we were entering Halifax Harbour we were doing our customs clearance by telephone and navigation by GPS and RADAR. We couldn't see two boat lengths in any direction. When we finally raised the mouth of the North West Arm and began the final approach to AYC, we stayed close to one shore just for reference.
Sunday at 1700 we were alongside at our pier and the families were down to the dock to welcome us and take the crew to their respective homes.
Many thanks to Dave, Brent, JD and John for an enjoyable and successfull race.