Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race 2007
At the earliest start possible of the 2007 sailing season, we had already committed to entering the Marblehead to Halifax Race (MHOR). Interesting that in Halifax it is known as the Marblehead Race while in the US it is called the Halifax Race. At any rate it is something that is worth trying once, but which is unlikely that I'll ever enter it again. Simply too expensive!
At any rate there were a lot of preparations that were required, some of which were obviously necessessary and others which I feel were not. The former would include servicing the liferaft and updating the flares and the latter was a Survival at Sea course. If you have never had any sea survival training I would regard it as a necessity but for someone like myself who has commercial seaman's papers and the rest of my crew who were predominantly naval personel I feel it was gilding the lilly. Having said that, the course was very well run and the instructors were able to cram a great deal into an 8 hour period.
We were sponsored by my employer, the Canadian Armed Forces, so our costs were limited to any discresionary sepnding that we wanted to engage in en route and once we got to the US. Drunken binges in the local pubs would not be covered by Her Majesty.
The trip was broken into three phases to allow as many crew members to participate as possible. Four of us took NELLEKE as far as Shelburne, three more across the Gulf of Maine to Marblehead and there was a crew of eight for the actual race.
The trip down was a real slog! The wind (when there was any) was right on the nose and in order to meet the timelines, we were forced to do a lot of motoring. One of the many times that I blessed NELLEKE's big Perkins.
The first part of the trip took us from Halifax and was destined for Shelburne the following morning. However the weather deteriorated and with the crew steadily loosing their sense of humour, I decided to put into the old Blandford Whaling Station at the mouth of Chester Basin for the night to let things calm down. This is a nice sheltered spot to stop over, but it is too narrow to anchor and the one available dock to tie up to is is considerable disrepair. Fenderboards are a necessity!
Next day we set off for Liverpool where we stopped for the night and let off two crew and picked up one replacement. We were down to three crew for the rest of the delivery portion of the trip.
Day three took us to Shelburne where we stopped for a weather report and to make any last minute repairs and to top up the fuel tanks. We also met the crew of Isley Girl, another Marblehead entry.
Finally on the fourth day we set off at 0700 for Marblehead. We passed Brazil Rock at 1230 and pointed the bows for the USA. After an idillic albeit windless motor from Shelburne to Brazil Rock the winds began to build again - you guessed it - right on the nose. The next 36 hours we were treated to pound, pound, pound with the engine running at 1400 RPM and speeds ranging from 6 knots to being knocked down to 4 knots. We were in VHF communications with Isley Girl throughout and they, being a lighter boat, were having an even rougher time than we were. They were keeping their engine at 3000 RPM and were maxing out at 6 knots but were being knocked down to less than 2 knots sometimes. They were beginning to worry about having enough fuel left to be able to motor to the dock and mooring at Marblehead. At one point on the first night they put up the sails and altered course to be able to beat into the wind to save some fuel and so that the off duty watch could get some sleep.
On the second morning we raised Glouchester just as the sun was rising and the recreational fishing fleet was coming out for the early fishing. We dodged our way through the lobster pots to the dock where we cleared customs and were taken out to a mooring.
Registering for the race was quite the experience. The whole thing was run by a group of very dedicated volenteers from BYC who donated freely of their time and energy and without whom I'm sure the club wouldn't be able to organize the race.
I was also very impressed with the tender operators and their fleet of tenders. Zooming about amidst the mooring field, dodging the lobster pots that are set all through the mooring field and the channel to the dock, we never had to wait longer than 20 minutes for a pick up. Pretty impressive with over 2000 regluar moorings and 120 additional boats from away.
The next day the rest of the crew arrived and we spent five very pleasant days enjoying Marblehead. I was a little startled the first morning when it appeared that there was a war starting up in the yacht basin with each of the three yacht clubs firing off their dock cannons and a re-enactment site letting go with a whole battery. I wanted to run up a white flag and let everyone know that we Canadians come in peace but once I realized that no one else was in the same state of panic I was able to calm down.
The old part of Marblehead is definately a must visit stop on any cruiser's itinerary. Narrow little streets with houses perched right on the edge of the road. Each of them signed as to whom they were originally built for and when. Nathanial Herchoff even build a castle or abby in town as his residence. The only thing that I noticed is that there doesn't seem to be many restauraunts other than bistros, pubs, or fast food outlets. Odd. In Canada the place would be full of trendy little spots all owned by some red star chef.
Leading up to the race we were getting weather reports that sounded perfect for us. NELLEKE does best on a downhill run or at least a reach, and poorest on a beat to windward. We were being told that it looked like the race speed record was going to be broken.
On the day of the race we slipped the lines and set off to the outside harbour to mill about with the rest of them waiting for our class to start. The first couple of classes got off with forcast winds but as our turn drew near, an hour and a half after the first boats left, the winds died and backed around to the nor-east. Where were these winds when we were coming down?!
We crossed the start line under light winds and beat our way out towards Glouchester. We made the mistake of assuming that the weather forcasters were going to be correct eventually and the winds would veer around again to the south.
The wind varied from non existant to 30 knots but always from the NE. On the first day at twilight we were treated to a pod of humback whales fishing from underwater while the Glouchester fleet was competing for the same schools of fish from the surface. Remarkable.
The following morning when I came on deck to deliver breakfast and coffee to the night watch, I looked over their shoulders and saw what had to be a 20' shark cruising in our wake. There was 2.5-3' of dorsal sticking out of the water and his tail fin was 12-15' beyond that. No one wanted to go for a swim.
After 48 hours and us not being any further than 1/3 of the way across the Gulf I cried "Uncle!" and started the engine.
Still that wasn't then end of our adventures. The autohelm came loose from its fitting which necessitated a trip under the lazarrette for me. Fortunately the only thing that had happened was that the bolts holding it in place had come loose. My own silly fault for not checking them before departure. The second thing was that one of the crew leaned on the instrument pannel and broke it off. This shut down the GPS which was fairly serious except that Navigator Dave had been maintaining our position on the paper chart. At 0400 I ws able, with the help of a couple of the crew holding flashlights, to refasten and rewire everything. Every cloud has a silver lining. This made me replace the pannel with something more solid in a more convenient location. Something that the Admiral had been bugging me to do for 2 years, I might add.
Wednesday evening in dense fog we arrived back at Halifax and cleared Canadian customs. That night ther was a crew party at RNSYS and the following day there was the prize giving.
Almost a thirst of the other boats withdrew or were unable to finish in time due to the winds. Ah well. That's part of the "sport" of yacht racing. When it comes to conditions you takes what you gets.
MHOR was an interesting experience. After totalling up the bills for Her Majesty it turned out that it cost $5000 to participate. Was it worth it? Sure! But only for that one time. We plan to visit Marblehead on the trip south when we retire, but we'll do it some time other than when the race is on