Lake Champlain Yacht Club’s Commodore MacDonough Race

Stage One:

“This is going to be one long race!“

Although each class has its own start, it would have been difficult to tell this year’s MacDonough from the Lake Champlain Yacht Club’s Ladies Cup which features a mass start. The non-spinnaker class started at 1030 in less than two knots of breeze from the southwest followed in five minute intervals by the remaining four classes. Within five minutes of the start of the final class there was an even mix of boats spread across Shelburne Bay.

The first boat to squirt in the light breeze was John Kimura’s Melges 24 “Evoked Potential”. After a somewhat disappointing start, Kimura set his asymmetrical spinnaker and smoked up the west shore of the bay and squirted out into moderate breeze on the broad lake. Right on Kimura’s heels was Norm Alpert’s J-105 “Lionheart”. Alpert simply set his huge asymmetrical spinnaker and followed right behind Kimura. The third boat to escape the clutches of Shelburne Bay was Rand Stretton’s Pearson 37 “Magic”. A traditional 10,000-pound cruiser/racer, Stretton found high gear early on in the race and was right behind Kimura and Alpert. The rest of the fleet simply sat, waited and watched.

“Bark Ode” was the next lucky boat to escape purgatory. We sailed up close to the west shore just picking our way along in the puffs. By the time we left the bay Kimura, Alpert and Stretton were nearly out of sight. It took almost an hour for all the boats to finally get away from Shelburne Point and into the broad lake. This, of course, spread the fleet out quite nicely.

Stage Two:

“Wind… The Commodore Mac Special… “

It began to roar from the north in the high teens at about 1500 Saturday afternoon. By the time “Bark Ode” got to Providence Island, class A boats “Frankly Scarlett” (Powlison/Harris) and “Peregrine” (Brush/Horton) had passed us and were in their own little race. They matched tacks up the east shore past the Sister Islands rounding Point au Roche just behind “Magic”. The wind built to nearly 20 knots as “Bark Ode” approached Point au Roche. “Obsession” (J-35 owned by Kjell Dahallen from Plattsburgh) finally caught and passed us near the Tredwell Bay. They were a victim of Shelburne Bay.

This was the last time we saw “Evoked Potential” and “Lionheart” (who was now in the lead). As we were heading north, we saw both boats planing south with their large asymmetrical spinnakers. As we turned the mark and headed south the clouds thickened and the rain begin to fall. We knew right then, that when the sun went down we were in for an interesting night.

Stage Three:

“Diamond Island… No Problem…”

Although the wind was never too strong, we were somewhat short handed and decided not to push with the big spinnaker when we went around Point au Roche. Somewhere around Stave Island the wind began to die. “Bark Ode” did a quick spinnaker peel and hung up the big chute. Shortly after sunset a large floodlight shining on our deck surprised us. It appears that with all the rain and darkness we missed seeing the Port Kent ferry on its way to Burlington. I suspect the captain thought we had to be nuts going down the lake at 2030 at night under spinnaker… in the rain. When you think about it, they were right, we are crazy.

As we got abreast of Burlington the wind increased, as did the rain. Burlington was well lighted and easy to see, but the rest of the lake seemed to be a mystery. The wind took a big jump and we began to plane not just on the waves but in-between as well. Being shorthanded we once again took the safe way out but this time doused the spinnaker completely. Even with the GPS telling us where we were, it was most disconcerting to not be able to see our location. Similar to sailing in fog, except when it’s foggy, it’s not usually blowing 20 knots. The waves were knocking us about and according to the GPS we were still doing a solid 7 knots without a headsail. We decided that it was more important to finish the race in one piece than it was to win so we set a course for Split Rock and relaxed… well… sort of… considering it felt like we were sailing inside a black cow in a rain storm.

Jeff Hill aboard “Golden Dazy” was about a mile or so behind “Bark Ode” as we approached Burlington. With their loran giving them good positioning they kept their spinnaker up and followed the New York shoreline to the west of Four Brothers Islands and straight down to Split Rock. “We sailed all the way back to Shelburne Point on one tack” said Hill.

Only two boats made the start in Class C. Class C & D sail the shorter course avoiding Point au Roche by rounding Valcour Island. Bob Goodwin, sailing his Tartan 3000 “Legacy”, reached Valcour about 1300, somewhat ahead of Tony Lamb’s “Sto Lat II”. “The spinnaker ride south was very eventful… although we only broached once,” said Goodwin. “We actually were going as fast as ten knots at times… as fast as that boat as ever gone.”

Mike Ray and crew aboard “Impulsive”, the now famous red Able Pointin 24, rounded Valcour a bit behind “Legacy”. As the wind came up they blasted past “Legacy” who had taken down their spinnaker. “Legacy” rounded up and laid flat just after passing the Coast Guard who were in a real hurry heading north. “I looked back and saw the Coast Guard boat stopped and they were looking at us through binoculars. After we got going again they continued north,” said Goodwin.

Ray continued toward Diamond Island on his way to what appeared to be an easy win in Class D. Unfortunately, “Impulsive” had a rig failure and lost the mast just west of the Charlotte Ferry Landing. Apparently the rig was pumping in the waves and a spreader got out of alignment and the mast simply folded in two. Folded is the focus of this dismasting, as it never actual broke. After the dismasting Ray headed for the Charlotte Ferry Landing where the LCT were kind enough to let thm tie up for the evening.

Stage Four:

“This is one long race!”

Shelburne Point (always interesting and never boring) was the final turn of the race. Apparently “Lionheart” and most of Class A, as well as “Legacy” and “Evoked Potential” finished in a brisk northwest breeze. Those of us not so lucky had a different set of challenges.

According to Jeff Hill aboard “Dazy” they had no problem getting to Shelburne Point. “When we got there we had to tack twice in a light northeast wind to get around the point.” This proved to be the story of the night. With the big waves still pounding down from the north the wind simply quit as the remainder of the fleet approached Shelburne Point. Rand Stretton managed to get “Magic” stuck behind the buoy right at the point. The waves were pushing him toward shore and the wind was not strong enough to drive him forward. He lost over an hour trying to get out of the hole. “I grabbed a flash light and looked over the side and I could see the rocks. I know better than to go that close to the point,” said Stretton.

By this time in the evening, the rain had stopped and the crew aboard “Bark Ode” was on the rail and we were blasting up the Vermont shore at five and a half knots… It took us nearly a half-hour to sail the last 100 yards north so we could tack and head toward the buoy at the point. The waves kept pushing us backwards. We rounded the point and set the spinnaker for the final crawl into Shelburne Bay and the finish at about 0230 Sunday morning.

Cold, wet and tired, the crew dumped me off at the LCYC dock and motored three and a half-hours back to the confines of Malletts Bay (home sweet home). Another LCRC season wrapped up and a cold and wet Commodore MacDonough was under our belts. Check out the results for this race, making note of the actual finishing times… they tell the story in their own way!