By Terry Kotas
Cetus Hull # 71
After living aboard and cruising for years, my husband Terry and I decided to add another dimension to our boating experience and enter a race. Normally we wouldn’t even consider racing our boat, our home, as it isn’t a racing boat. In fact, we often compare it to a big bowling ball. It’s a wonderful live aboard and a sturdy ocean cruiser, but a lean mean racing machine it’s not. However, when several friends at our marina began talking about Gig Harbor Yacht Club’s upcoming Jack & Jill race we were drawn in to the excitement when they said it was a fun race and not real competitive. We also liked the fact that it was a “stern chaser” which means that the slowest boats get to start first. This would ensure that we would lead the race for awhile at least. We kind of thought our handicap should give us a starting position several hours (or even a day!) ahead of the fleet. The race committee didn’t give us that much of a lead, but we were the first boat to start.
We also got two other liveaboards to join in the race with us. It was a first for both of them, as well. Not knowing much about racing, we don’t know what class we were in, but the three of us called it “The Cruise-a-Home Division”.
As race day approached my apprehension increased as the weather was a mess. Constant heavy rain isn’t my idea of a good sailing day. But the weather broke the day before the race and the forecast was for great weather for the entire weekend. Unfortunately, with the change in the weather came a change in wind direction. The strong southerlies that we’d been having the past week were changing to light northerlies. This should have been expected, as the race was from Gig Harbor to Winslow and everybody knows the first rule of sailing is the wind will always come from the direction you want to go!
The night before the race we readied the boat for our big adventure by stowing away everything that looked like it could go crashing to the ground, even though the outlook was for some pretty light winds. We were expecting our first race to be more of a float.
Race day arrived and we readied the boat even more by unplugging the phone, unhooking the cable TV, and stowing the last of our live aboard comforts. We went to the pre race breakfast and skipper’s meeting and had some great food and found out where the start and finish lines were -- we were set!
We really got excited when we left the harbor and there was actually wind out there. It would be a race after all. I had butterflies in my stomach as we tacked back and forth waiting for the starting gun -- we were supposed to be the first to start and we didn’t want to blow it. There was a technical difficulty and the start times were delayed half an hour so my anxiety increased.
Finally the gun went off and we crossed the line and started on a hard fast tack up Colvos toward Vashon hoping to put as much distance behind us before the other boats got their start. We suddenly were in the midst of so many logs we felt we were in a log boom. And just as we entered this nasty area where we needed both sets of eyes to navigate safely, we discovered our first problem down below. I’d gone down to see what the latest crash was (I really thought I’d stowed everything) when I noticed some water on the rug in the head. On closer investigation I saw the toilet was overflowing! I pumped it all out, but it just kept filling up, so I went up to the cockpit and single-handed while Terry went to work to stop the flowing water. He closed off the salt water intake and came up to help with a tack. On the way up he noticed what looked like water on the table -- but it was actually oil dripping out of our new brass lamp! Apparently we had overfilled it, but he caught it before it was too much of a mess. I wrapped it in a towel and put it in the sink and headed out to tack again -- another problem solved.
By this time it looked like a disaster area down below. Terry had to empty a locker in the bathroom to get to the thru hull to shut off the head, so everything from there was still on the floor as he had to hurry back out to help with a tack. The charts and papers for the race that had been on the chart table were also on the floor along with a few paperbacks that worked themselves off their shelf. The oven door had come open spilling it’s contents ( a tea kettle and some zip locks filled with chocolate chip cookies) into the growing mess. We weren’t even attempting to pick anything up, in fact if I saw anything that I thought might fall, I‘d just put it on the floor. Luckily I’d had the foresight to take our daughter’s pet rat off the shelf in her room and put it on the floor securely before this whole adventure began. Miraculously nothing had come crashing down on top of the poor things cage. Our cat who had tucked herself securely in a cabinet during the ordeal came out and looked around and scampered back to the safety of her little hideaway. I don’t think many racing boats have to worry about the safety of the pets aboard when they’re close hauled in 25 knots of wind. It’s just a little bit different when you’re sailing your home. I was glad our daughter had a soccer game and wasn’t along for this rough ride today, or I would have had one more thing to worry about.
Just as I thought everything that could fall had, we heard a splintering crash below. I could tell it was something breaking and I was afraid to look. Fortunately it was just a wine glass that had bounced off the shelf. Now we had shattered glass added to the mess.
We were doing quite well in the race -- by our standards anyway. Sure all the boats that had started after us were passing us one by one, but all of the Cruise-a- Homes were in sight, so we felt respectable.
I’d been avoiding drinking any pop or water since the head was out of commission, but I was getting hungry so I bravely went below to get something out of the refrigerator. Imagine my surprise to find that the chocolate ice cream I’d mistakenly left in the freezer after Terry’s birthday the day before had melted and fallen out of the freezer spreading a thick brown goo all over everything in the fridge! Now I had to attempt to clean this up best I could with paper towels, since the sink was being used to hold the brass lamp so I couldn’t run the water. Luckily the winds had calmed a bit and it was a bit smoother ride.
By now you’re probably wondering if we’ve ever been out in a boat before if we were this ill prepared. Well, we have. In fact we spent 2 1/2 years sailing across the South Pacific in a 30 foot boat. But, this was definitely the hardest we’d ever sailed this boat. We’ve even had this out boat in winds as strong as these, but we’d never really raced before -- and you have a completely different mind set. Normally we would have reefed down right from the beginning to insure a comfortable ride, then my stowing job would have been adequate. However, in the heat of a race it’s more important that you get your maximum speed than worry about what’s happening to your home. We even ignored our high water alarm as it screamed for attention when we were in the midst of a critical maneuver! Fortunately it was a false alarm caused by some residual water from the overflowing head that had sloshed around and set it off.
The race continued without further mishap, but with the wind lessening and the current turning against us the last few miles to the finish line took an eternity. The finish line was the imaginary line between Barkley Rocks and Restoration Point. About an hour before we crossed it the race committee announced on the VHF that they were heading in to the dock now and anybody out there should just keep track of when they came in. Apparently they didn’t realize that we were making great time going from Gig Harbor to Eagle Harbor in less than 6 hours! A couple of other boats in our class motored in the rest of the way, but we three Cruise-a-Homes sailed to the end.
As the three of us motored up to the dock we were greeted by our fellow racers -- some who had been there for hours! They made space for us and helped us with our lines and told us we really looked good out there. They didn’t even add “as we passed you”. One guy commented that his house wouldn’t do near as well as ours.
So all and all is was a great experience and I’d even do it again. But, the very best part of racing your home is that at the end of the day when others are cooking on small alcohol stoves, discovering things they forgot, or crawling into a makeshift bed -- you are already comfortable because you never really left home.
By Terry Kotas
Cetus Hull # 71
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