It had been 10 years since I last sailed the Down the Bay Race, also on Excitation and we were hoping for a little less excitement this time around from the high winds in that edition. We got what we wanted in Annapolis with a light air downwind start. With a storm off the South Carolina coast the wind from this area was being sucked south south. That storm would slowly move north and begin to impact the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday.
We were the 2nd class to start in PHRF-A and we had a front row seat to the ORC start 5 minutes ahead of us. Most boats were approaching on port with spinnakers ready or hoisted as they were approaching the line. Nanuq timed it perfectly coming in on Starboard at the pin and jibing just at the start and hoisting. This had the affect of causing their competition to give way and one of the boats already under spinnaker under port tack had to duck behind Nanuq, miss the pin and ultimately douse their spinnaker to get back upwind to the pin to start.
While we had considered a similar move, our much larger fleet would have made that more chaotic and given we were a symmetric boat, we wanted our spinnaker up below everyone else and took the wide open part of the line down by the boat. We had a good start just a few seconds late and had our spinnaker flying before we crossed the line.
We sailed downwind for a couple hours down the bay as the fleet stretched out and boats took different angles and lanes in the deeper or shallower water. We criss-crossed the bay sailing our angles under spinnaker – generally favoring the eastern side and the deeper water. We did 4 spinnaker changes and used all 3 spinnaker as the wind went up and down and we got pretty adept at pulling one spinnaker down, swapping the lines and putting the new one up in about a minute.
Mid afternoon we were still going down the eastern side of the bay and had a close rounding of the Sharp’s island mark. As we went west of it we noticed the boat Allegiant just on the other side of it and we radioed to them that they missed it. Within a few minutes they had their spinnaker down and were going back upwind to round it. Just after that, another boat radioed Raven who was even further east and they had an even longer slog back to the mark. We continued an easterly path down the bay sailing deep under our symmetrical spinnaker and caught up and passed some of the faster boats who had gotten ahead of us, and even one of the faster boats in the class ahead of us who all were much further west sailing asymmetrical spinnaker angles.
By early evening the wind was building and we had switched down to the smallest spinnaker. I was driving and I could see boats a mile or two ahead of us with upwind sails up going nearly the same angle we were headed. We quickly raised a genoa, dropped the spinnaker and soon the wind was dead and we hunted for a few minutes before continuing in the new wind.
By then we were approaching the Potomac and the wind continued to build. Just before dark the wind was starting to get into the teens and we switched down to the number 3 while we had daylight. We all took turns going below to change into our heavy gear for the night and we carried on across the mouth of the Potomac as the seas and wind built.
Another 20-some miles we were off the Piankatank and we retired from the race and turned in for our dock at Fishing Bay. With the storm south already making for winds in the 20-25 and possibly more by the time we got south, the fun factor wasn’t going to be there and risk to breaking something on the boat ahead of a big regatta the following weekend wasn’t worth it. We pulled in to our slip just before 1 and were all in beds at Mayo’s house by 2. In the morning we cleaned up the boat and took some of the crew to Hampton by car to retrieve their vehicles.