By Bill Reed
Time was weighing heavily on the Fishers Island IOD fleet as the two Nantucket IODs waited patiently on their moorings. September had slid into October and between sailor’s schedules and narrow weather windows, the quickly changing seasons were at risk of becoming entirely unsuited for sailing an IOD in open water.
The situation was a result of the generous offer of the Nantucket IOD Fleet Association to lend boats to Fishers Island Yacht Club in order to increase the fleet size for the 2013 IOD World Championship Regatta. By borrowing two boats, both Northeast Harbor and Nantucket would get a second invitation to the Championships, rewarding the two largest fleets in the Class. But most importantly, the FI hosts were trying to control the costs of hosting a championship regatta and focus on sailing rather than a big social extravaganza. Sailing the boats both ways with volunteers would save a lot of money: rig/de-rig, launch, ferry and transportation costs. The goal was to keep costs low to allow a wider group of sailors to contemplate competing in an IOD Class event, an explicit goal of our Class development effort. Further, the chance to spend 12 to 15 hours on the helm of an IOD is not an opportunity to be missed! So, there the beautiful Nantucket boats sat patiently waiting for the trip home.
The boats came down to Fishers Island sailed by one Fishers crew and one Nantucket crew. Charlie Van Voorhis and his crewmate Kevin Carroll sailed one of the boats and the other was crewed by Colin Sykes and Roy Weedon anxious to get some tiller time. The voyage is about 100 miles and the delivery down was slow. The winds were fickle, but the sailors sailed nonstop (including 10 hours of towing), taking about 24 hours. Our hope was the return trip would be much faster, with the intention to sail straight through.
Finally, people’s schedules, tides and weather combined to form a window of opportunity towards the end of October. The decision to depart on the 26th was made about a week earlier, with contingencies for unforeseen problems put in place. The tide would change at Eldredge’s famous X point off Narragansett Bay around noon giving us an ebb out of Fishers Island Sound and along the Rhode Island coast and change to a flood heading up Vineyard Sound for the rest of the day. In order to execute this plan, our departure time was high water at West Harbor, Fishers Island, around 5 AM. So, once the plan was in place, all we had to do was execute.
As the crews assembled for dinner on Fishers Island Friday night, it was clear everything was falling into place with the one variation that winds were gaining in forecasted strength. The delivery crews included some of our most seasoned sailors with many miles under their keels, so increased wind strengths were not considered an undue risk. Charlie Van Voorhis, one of the best IOD sailors in the world would sail one boat with his brother, Norm, who has extensive off shore experience. The other boat was sailed by Bill Reed, Geordy Loveday and James Hall. Bill had delivered his IOD Golf singlehanded to Marblehead in 2001 and has extensive off shore experience (20 Bermuda races) and his crew was solid. So when Charlie shared his Sailflow wind strength forecast, no one was alarmed.
The Sailflow forecast showed wind strengths in the middle to upper 20s with the potential for lower 30s in Nantucket Sound. No problem, the boats were well found and the crews experienced, everything was GO.
Sunrise on Saturday was 7:12, so the planned departure, dropping the moorings at 4:30 would take place in the dark. Fortunately, there was a very nice waning moon providing some light which illuminated our final preparations. The entire voyage was likely to be with wind aft of the beam, so Bill and his crew did not rig the jib but waiting to clear Clay Point leaving West Harbor and simply set the chute. Charlie and Norm set working sail to get out of the harbor and then popped their chute once around the point.
The wind direction was Northwest making the run down Fishers Island Sound a broad reach. With wind off the shore, the sea state was going to be pleasant and wind aft of the beam made boat speed our friend in reducing apparent wind. The sail out the Sound through Watch Hill passage was delightful. The gloaming was stunning as we made our way past water tower after water tower as we made distance along the Rhode Island shore. Navigating is simple: read the towns on the water towers! Sunrise occurred not long after transiting Watch Hill passage and the wind was steady in direction and velocity. We were on schedule, making for the mouth of Narragansett Bay, passing Point, Judith, nature’s mix master at about 11 in the morning. Our point was to leave Cuttyhunk to port and enter Vineyard Sound on the flood, wind following the current.
Off Sakkonnet, in perfectly clear skies, we experienced a wind shift of about 30 degrees as the wind backed close to due west. A backing wind often either is short lived or indicative of trouble ahead, but this shift was forecast and winds were doing what we expected. Within 5 minutes, the breeze freshened from about 18 to 20 knots to 25 to 28 knots pretty much as forecast. As we made our way towards Cuttyhunk, the tide changed and we began to make serious speed across the bottom. Every knot of current and boat speed reduced our apparent wind, so with 10 knots of speed across the bottom, 25 knots true wind feels like 15 knots, not a problem. As we made our way up Vineyard Sound, the wind was directly astern, good for ameliorating apparent wind, but more difficult for safe driving. After a couple of hours of 25 knots, Bill’s chute blew out but there was no difficulty in collecting the pieces and keeping the boat moving. Charlie and Norm dropped their chute to match speed, so both boats sailed under main alone.
As the wind slowly built, the boats responded like the true thoroughbreds they are – tracking straight and well behaved as the power drove them deeper and deeper into the water. There were stunning times a puff would drive the boat forward into her own bow wave with sheets of water forming a fan on both sides of the bow, cascading unbroken, arcing from bow, aft to the middle of the cockpit in a display of classic yacht power. The wholesome shape of the bow kept it above water while the deck aft of the mast was several inches below water level as the boats dug holes as they went. The long run of the stern saw the stern wave collapsing on the transom as the boats sped towards the barn. Charlie had a GPS tracking system recording the speed as we made the passage, and this portion of the trip shows some truly astonishing numbers.
As we rounded the Chops, the wind continued to build and now it was on the beam. The apparent wind governor we enjoyed while going downwind was lost as we made that right hand turn and we began to experience the delights of Nantucket Sound: shallow water and lovely chop. Sailing an IOD under main alone yields a strong weather helm, and this leg of the passage exhibited that characteristic with a vengeance. We found the best way to steer was to sit on the leeward seat with two arms straight-armed holding the tiller, steering with your whole body. My biggest fear was the tiller breaking!
As we passed Edwards Shoal north of Tuckernuck, Charlie and Norm dropped their main. Concerned, we sailed by them and they passed the word everything was fine, they were just shortening sail. As the day was fast waning, we decided to carry on under full main, trying to make the entrance channel in daylight. Charlie raised his jib and continued on, at 6.5 knots, under jib alone.
The sun was setting as we made our way up the channel in Nantucket, passing what turned out to be the last ferry of the day. Our hope of leaving that night was frustrated, but both boats arrived safe and sound in the twilight of a fabulous sailing day. We sailed right into the Yacht Club basin as no launches were running. Someone notified Ian of our arrival and he came right out to help move us to a better mooring. Both boats were put to bed and we made it to shore without incident.
It turns out the weather was a little much for the ferries, so we were stranded on Nantucket, too bad for us! Fortunately, Ian was willing to host the weary crews in his beautiful homestead so we made ourselves right at home. A quick trip to the grocery store and we put on a serious feast to replenish our tired bodies from what was truly an epic sail and one to be remembered.
A short video by Norm Van Voorhis – IOD sailing on Vineyard Sound