by Jonathan Bamberger, At Ease
The Lake Ontario 300 goes from strength to strength. Approximately 170 boats started this year at Port Credit on July 17 this year. Among the racers were several from the NYC including ‘At Ease’, a Catalina 470 competing for the ‘most comfortable’ boat award with 6 aboard.
Ron Bianchi at his weather briefing the night before had promised an exciting downwind run east down the lake to main Duck Island and, I have to admit, warned us sternly of the potential for squalls (I read it in my notes after the race). The run to Gibraltar was fabulous with the spectacle of a hundred boats under spinnaker in the 15-20 kt winds. However, somewhere between Oshawa and Whitby, Ron Bianchi’s prediction came true – twice. The first line squall seemed to drop from above and caught us and many others carrying way too much sail.
We were 15 seconds too late in dousing the chute and I watched nervously the two crew on the foredeck, after our asymmetric spinnaker had been turned into 1,400 x 1 sq foot scarves, clinging onto the jacklines until the squall passed and we came upright again (with a clump of weed on the end of the boom). We saw 40 knots during this squall and the fleet now looked decidedly ragged with several boats in sight having lost spinnakers.
Less than an hour later, the second line squall hit with winds of about 60 knots. This time, as we turned into the wind to douse the main we were pinned down for several minutes by the wind and hail. The largely furled genoa thrashed about until the leech was ripped out. However, we were all in the cockpit and never felt that the boat was in danger. At Ease righted herself (weed washed from the boom) and all aboard announced they were ready to continue.
Around us was mayhem – the nearest boat having lost main and jib: both torn to shreds. We listened to the mayday and pan calls but were too far away to help (1 capsized and 1 dismasted). We thought we were through the worst and then disaster hit – the barbecue sheared off the pushpit and sank beneath the waves to cries of ‘how will we cook the sirloin now’.
Despite the threat of starvation, we continued on into the evening and night, running wing on wing under genoa and main (with only a light-weight symmetrical spinnaker in reserve) at speeds up to and over 12 knots. Morning saw us rounding Main Duck and heading into a boisterous close reach in 6 ft waves to Oswego — conditions that suited At Ease, though not her crew (no talk of sirloin now).
Rounding Oswego we faced almost 100 NM of close-hauled tacking until the wind veered and allowed us to make the Niagara mark. Wind conditions were very varied – from 0-25 kts and a three hour patch when we would have been better off anchored, while the current pushed us back at 0.5 kts.
The Olcott, NY power plant mocked us by appearing to be at the end of every starboard tack. We also managed to tear the foot of our Code 0 sail but luckily were well equipped with duct tape and were able to put it back into service. Fifty four hours after starting we were past Niagara and looked forward to a 4 hour close reach back to PCYC but it was not to be as the wind died and a 13 hour slow crawl ensued. At least it gave us the chance to cook the sirloin and enjoy (in our imagination because it’s illegal) a good bottle of wine. This, along with running the genset, allowed air-conditioning and showers for all and put us to back in contention for the most comfortable boat award.
Encouraging the crew to come back on deck to hoist or douse the spinnaker became progressively more difficult. We finally arrived back at PCYC at 6 am to finish 2nd in our division.
Over 50 boats had withdrawn after the two line squalls on Saturday afternoon but all racers made it back safely and the capsized trimaran was recovered. Several sailmakers can now afford to put their children through college. The NYC was well represented with a 1st place for Notorious and a 3rd place for Harrier in their respective divisions. While I have made light in describing the squalls, we and the boat were properly prepared and came through it well and safely. This was At Ease’s fourth LO300 start and we were not discouraged as, for us it is the premier sailing event on Lake Ontario. Join us next year!