sailmag         The SAIL Rally for 40 Ft Cruising Sailboats

Wednesday, February 21, 6 PM. The Miami Boat Show has just come to a close. Here I am on the J/42 tied up on the show floats off the Miami Yacht Club on Watson Island, isolated by bumper-to-bumper traffic and triangulated between the Bird Cage on South Beach, a line of cruise ships along the main channel and the amazing architecture of Miami's downtown. Fortunately the air temperature has returned to normal, pushing into the upper 70's and 80's during the day. Nothing like the 40's of the past weekend. I must be tired, but pleasantly so. 10 days of SAIL EXPO, 5 days of visiting friends and being a tourist with Mary in Savannah, Charleston, Beaufort and Hilton Head. Now, 5 days of the Miami International Boat Show come to end.... and we're about to depart on a unique odyssey: The SAIL RALLY for 40+/- footers. Incredibly, I'm looking forward to it. Maybe it's because we can finally go sailing. Get the J/42 in her element. For the first time in a month, I can stand aside and applaud while she does all the talking.

Commissioning J/42 #7 on the fly was quite an exercise. She was the show boat at Atlantic City. We packed her up on Sunday night and she left via truck for Miami, arriving Thursday morning, was commissioned in three hours by Garrett Almeida and his capable Eastern Yacht Sales crew and in the show that afternoon. Meanwhile, I took every opportunity to purchase and equip the vessel with all the galley gear, tools, safety gear, mooring and docking equipment she would need for a five day voyage with two crossings of the Gulf Stream.

J/42 #7 was set up for cruising to the Bahamas, having an aluminum mast and shoal 5.5' keel with 500 more pounds of bulb weight than the standard 6.6' keel. How would she differ in sailing qualities from #1 GANNET which had a carbon mast and deeper keel?

Sail Rallies date back a number of years. One eventually learns that this event was ably organized and creatively scripted in progress by Associate Editor Eric Nelson. The way it works in theory is this: Five editors from Sail (Don Abrams, Tom Linskey, Charles (Chip) Mason plus Erik) rotate in one direction taking turns sailing on five boats (J/42, Tartan 4100, Pacific Seacraft 40, Island Packet 40 and Freedom 40/40) while five sailing "panelist" couples rotate in the opposite direction so each gets a chance to live and sail on one of the boats for a day. A factory representative remains with their own craft the whole time. Skip Brown, photographer, rotated as the "5th" crew on a different boat each day. Prior to changing to the next boat, SAIL required each of the panelists to fill out a rather lengthy questionnaire. These are then reviewed and mixed with the editors comments to create a feature article which will appear in SAIL MAGAZINE'S October 1996 issue. In practice, you can imagine that there were a few variations!

I knew from the start that we were in for some surprises, unique challenges or Machiavellian hurdles thrown in our path - depending on one's outlook. From the size of the provision carts that came trundling down the docks as the boat show folk were departing, test one was going to be storage capacity. SAIL wasn't going to let us dehydrate, but did they consider the risk of scurvy? 5 cases of beer, 4 gallons of milk, 5 cases of soda pop, 8 gallons of spring water, 4 gallons of apple & cranberry juice, 1 gallon of wine. Liquids totaled 1.6 gallons each per day, including nearly a 6-pack of beer plus a 6 pack of pop. But, where's the orange juice? - in Florida, yet!? That's why I go there. I turned back 3 gallons of milk. I could have done the same with the water, but didn't. The Seagull Purifier on the J/42 does wonders to any marginal water supply and it's a lot easier to get at. All this gallonage fit nicely under the aft quarterberth, outboard of the aft section of the starboard settee and under the 3 sinks. Most of it was still there after the Rally, including 4.5 cases of beer.

The fresh produce was all stored in the starboard forward locker over the settee in the main cabin and the 5 dozen donut holes, 5 boxes of Oreos, Nutterbutters, Fig Newtons, Creme Sandwiches all adding up to over a box each it seems per day fit in the port forward locker.

Frozen and refrigerated food planning was also different. Four frozen coffee cakes, 4 packages of frozen bagels (to supplement the donut holes), frozen dinners, tons of cold cuts and cheese, several forms of butter, huge mayo and mustard with lots of bread. Five things were apparent from this exercise: We weren't going to starve. This diet would not prolong life on earth. Erik will pick another provisioner next time. The J/42 has storage capacity to spare as only half the dry goods locker over the galley counter was used. And, the J/42 was going to sail even better by comparison because of all the added weight. J/42's long waterline and buoyant U-shaped canoebody has plenty of reserve buoyancy. It would not sink as far down in the water as the diamond-shaped wide-bodies.

The Rally officially started with a reception that night at the Miami Yacht Club where we met a delightful and competent group of sailors who would become our crew for the next five days. If one had to characterize the panel's sailing life-styles or the life-style they pictured themselves in, most seemed to look at the boats as though they were fulfilling the dream of retiring and living on the boats as a couple, year-round. Yet, this was not generally the current reality. Little mention was made of family or children in use of the boat. SAIL selected the panelists from resumes submitted by cruising sailors. Of the 10, all but two, were currently living on Florida's east coast and 6 of these were semi-retired or retired.

They did not currently represent a great many seasonal sailing owners -who's current agenda is an extended 6 month summe sailing season, living aboard for 2-4 weeks at a time or on weekends, and daysailing with friends- then putting their boat up for storage during the winter.

This day set the tone for the week as far as sailing was concerned. Mission one was to get our Bahamas and return paperwork completed with US Customs near the cruise ship terminal. My next mission, with Chip Mason and Warren & Donna Higgons aboard, was to top out with fuel. Chip ingratiated himself with the captain right off by finding a source of orange juice. I had already smuggled in a private but ample supply of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats, brown sugar, a bottle of Mt. Gay to preserve the traditions of Her Majesty's Navy and some Sandemann's Port for after-dinner stories around the wardroom table. With still some fuel in the tank, we added 34.8 gallons - yet claim only 31 on the brochure. Nice bonus! Then it was out Government Cut in light air for a photo shoot: sailing shots, then a choreographed shot of all the boats sailing together in a chorus line for the October SAIL cover. Catching thermals in his hang glider must be a piece of cake for Skip Brown compared to the gyrations he went through getting this group lined up and framed in a single shot.

The J/42 performed an early rescue mission, circling in her own length while rolling up the jib to hand the dinghy operator a tow. The mother ship had failed to give him the kill switch device to plug in. In late afternoon we sailed the 8-9 miles upwind in 7-9 knots of air to the Biscayne entrance channel and to No Name Harbor. This turned out to be quite revealing in terms of light air sailing ability. J/42 sailed from behind and between the Tartan and Pacific Seacraft and doing over 6 knots moved out to a 1 mile lead by the time we reached the Biscayne Channel. This was with a 100% jib. The Tartan was next, holding pretty much the J/42 line only slower, the Pacific Seacraft about a mile behind the Tartan with about 5 degrees moreleeway, the Freedom seemed 10 degrees lower on pointing angle and much slower, while the Island Packet motored - after performing yeoman service with the Rally's dinghy. We popped the asymmetrical chute to sail all the way up the channel, dropped the mainsail, and ghosted into the very narrow harbor entrance of No-Name jibing the spinnaker,then up to our anchorage, snuffing the chute and dropping the hook. It wasn't necessary to wake up the Manatees with our engine. Every now and then those standing ovations are nice to get.

Erik announced the plan was to depart at midnight with the idea of arriving in North Bimini, 49 miles away across the Gulf Stream by noon. A crew change and sailing were planned for the afternoon. The Jacketts on the Tartan 4100, having celebrated a birthday party and the J/42 crew figured we could average over 7 knots under sail and/or power on the voyage and got permission to leave at 4 AM after 6 hours of sleep rather than loose sleep at the outset by leaving at midnight.

That plan seemed to be working well as the Tartan 4100 and J/42 motorsailed in company at 7.7 knots in light following breezes toward a beautiful tropical dawn. I was so excited about making a landfall at sunrise over Bimini with the light coming though those low puffy clouds, that I called Mary on the cellular phone at 7 AM back in Boothbay to describe the scene and to say everything was going well here in the middle of the Gulf Stream. Famous last words! When all of a sudden, WHAM, black smoke! The smell of burning rubber! I said, "Just a minute dear, there's something wrong with the engine". She hears, "Turn it off. Oh, my God! Look at the smoke. Let's get the ladder off. Oh, no! The waterpump pulley casting has disintegrated and the drive belt's burned up!". I get back on the phone to say, "Darling, it doesn't look too good I'll have to get back when we get this sorted out." I'm sure Mary left with visions far worse than the tropical dawn which had inspired the call.

So much for the motor. We called the Tartan to transfer the crew so at least they could get to Bimini and continue the Rally. We weren't sure at that point whether the J/42 would have to be scratched. Chip Mason, the first-rate shipmate that he is, volunteered to make the sail back to Miami with me with the objective in mind of getting the engine repaired by midnight, then returning to Bimini to join the fleet for Day 4 of sailing. As it turned out, the J/42 was the only boat to sail on this day. And, it was quite pleasant under the circumstances. We had a 12 knot Norther and were making 7+ knots by GPS on a close fetch toward Government Cut. Chip steered and I analyzed the engine and made phone calls. Then the wind dropped to "0" two miles out. Oh, no! The Gulf Stream could take us to Bermuda. I hailed one small fishing boat in Spanish and offered them $50 for tow into the Cut. They responded that they hardly had any fuel themselves. Fortunately it wasn't long before the wisps of a building sea breeze permitted us to set the large asymmetrical and we ghosted through Government Cut under spinnaker.

This was not easy considering all the sportfisherman, Donzi's and Cruise Ships blasting out at 3/4 throttle. The last of the flood helped into the entrance of South Miami Beach Marina. We snuffed the chute, dropped the main and glided into a slip to begin our repair program. It was noon. It had taken us 3.5 hours. We were getting good at making moorings without auxiliary power.

Needless to say, my cellular bill had climbed to astronomical heights in efforts to line up a slip in a Marina that was "absolutely full", in locating the local Miami Yanmar repairman who shut off his beeper as a courtesy to the client he was then working for, and to convince Mack Boring and the Yanmar distributor in St. Petersburg that here indeed was one of those rare opportunities to demonstrate Yanmar's superior service capabilities in front of 5 of their largest boatbuilding customers, the Sr. Editor of SAIL and 200,000 devoted readers. Certainly, the very least they could do was dismantle another engine and drive with its sheave and water pump 8 hours round trip from St. Pete to Miami. And, there would be cause for celebration, if the job were completed by midnight. We were grateful to get this exceptional Yanmar service and a complete pit-stop turnaround in the time allotted: midnight. Mary was elated when I finally got back to her to say we'd arrived in Miami Beach safely and were following a plan to depart again by midnight in order to enjoy another Bimini sunrise.

The explanation for the water pump sheave casting failure was "too tight a drive belt", placing an inordinate amount of pressure on the offset bell-shaped casting which is the supporting framework for the water pump sheave. The sheave is one of three on the main drive belt, including the main drive sheave and the alternator sheave. We've advised Yanmar that we don't think a tight belt should break a pulley after 12 hours of use, that either the casting should be heavier or that there may be a defect in the casting. In the meantime, we'd advise everyone to keep their main drive belts on the loose side. Ours was the second to go in the Florida area in the past year.

Chip and I cleared Miami Beach Marina in the J/42 at midnight and headed out the Cut into the Gulf Stream once again, motorsailing in much the same light, following breeze of the night before. Target was to arrive off Bimini at 7 AM, making contact with Erik at that time via VHF to rendezvous with the Fleet.

Our double-handed routine was an hour on, an hour off. This made the time fly and kept the biorhythms functioning at a non-fatiguing pace. Our nap times were averaging 20-40 minutes after deducting navigation and eating. We were approaching Bimini for the second sunrise in two days and our third crossing of the Gulf Stream in 24 hours.

A comment about these crossings is instructive. Instrumentation was set up with 5 KVH dual displays on deck. 3 across the companionway slider in a pod, then 1 on either side of the helm station in a deck pod. The 4 pages of info in each display (8 rows of data) could be flipped by the keypad installed next to the starboard aft pod. Reading across the top, we had in (1) Wind Direction and Wind Velocity, (2) Boat Speed and GPS Speed Over the Ground as a check (3) Compass Heading and GPS Course Over Ground (4) Bearing to Waypoint and Depth. By matching up Bearing to Waypoint and GPS COG, we found that we would be steering as much as 30-40 degrees to the right of our course in order to go to Bimini in a straight line. Makes sense. 50 miles at 7.75 knots equals 6.5 hours. 6.5 hours in 2.5 knots of Gulf Stream is 16,25 miles which is 10% of the circumference of a 50 mile circle. 10% of 360 degrees is 36 degrees. A comment about the KVH instruments. We plugged them in right out of the box, with no calibration, and they were spot on - even boat speed and wind angles. That was a first in my experience in dealing with instrumentation.

The narrow passage to North Bimini harbor, which creeps along just a stone's throw from the beach was made particularly treacherous in appearance by the very obvious grounding of a 40 foot sportfisherman, so high and dry on its deep-V keel on top of a rock at low water, that it looked as though it would tip over if the owner rolled out of his bunk. Chip and I enjoyed cruising around just beyond the shoals with jib only watching the sunrise and waiting for the fleet to depart.

It was a beautiful spinnaker run down to between Gun and Cat Cay. J/42 once again slid way out front with her raspberry asymmetric cruising chute. Nancy Stead and Jody Smith at the helm, the only New Englanders among the panelists, had a great time mastering the apparent wind angle/ boat speed trade-offs under the casual tutelage of Tom Linskey. We learned that the rest of the fleet didn't have the wind to get out sailing on Day 2, so the J/42 was still in the hunt and had not let down the Rally organizers.

The delay in arriving at the Bahamas meant that, after a cooling swim (1st of the year!), Chip Mason and I had to clear customs at Cat Cay for a combined cost of about $60 - to tie up, then pay the Customs agent overtime on Saturday. The captain was able to get Chip cleared with his Massachusetts Driver's License, one of the least convincing forms of certification and citizenry issued in the Western Hemisphere.

The waters over the Bahama banks were amazingly beautiful with each cloud and change in depth putting forth an aurora of pastel colors from yellow to deep blues and greens. Even having a 5.5 foot draft keel and seeing the fathometer reading 7-11 feet, it looked more like a foot or two of depth. We anchored off the beach, on the North side of Gun Cay for the night, changed crews and enjoyed the sunset. Once again the plan was to take off at an early hour, 4 AM, so that the fleet could make it back to Biscayne Bay by mid-afternoon for another crew change and second sail. Erik didn't have the heart to insist that the J/42 leave then also, it would have been my third all-nighter.

The J/42 crew for the night included photographer Skip Brown, Bonnie Shedd, Irv Halper and Don Abrams. We awoke a daybreak and with a 7-9 knot Southeasterly, hoisted mainsail and asymmetric spinnaker after clearing the lighthouse and, accompanied by several flying fish, headed into the Gulf Stream. A glorious sail for nearly two hours. It seemed we went faster than the wind, outrunning this finger of air off the Bahamas into a glassy mirror where the reflection of the clouds seemed to carry right down on the surface of the water. The major event of late morning was the landing of a warbler on the wheel. This was the second time offshore that a J/42 received such a visit. The accompanying picture of the author aboard GANNET off the New Jersey coast in October records the first.

Motorsailing once again, we caught sight of our fleet ahead on the horizon and trailed them in to Biscayne Bay for another crew change and afternoon sail. Fortunately the afternoon thermals kicked in and we were able to generate a little sailing excitement with Bob & Carol Harris plus Erik Nelson. We went through the normal upwind sailing through the fleet with 100% jib, closing fast upwind on a Melges 24 which was tuning up a race crew. Setting the asymmetrical we demonstrated how easy it was to jibe for one person. While demonstrating the quick, emergency take-down, Bob accelerated the process a bit - but we managed to snuff the spinnaker in a boat length, tack through 180 degrees and go in the opposite direction with mainsail only.

The following morning after a final gathering on the dock, Dave Olson from Eastern Yachts joined Donald & Gail Amesbury, Michael Tamulaites and I for a spin around Biscayne Bay then a sail all the way to McArthur Causeway. Our bright pink spinnaker had all the fake flamingos turning green with envy. Michael did an excellent job steering one leg, coming from behind and way higher than the Tartan 4100 with spinnaker set on a broad reach, he played the apparent wind and boat speed angles just right to roll down and out front to a commanding lead along the city waterfront.

How did the J/42 do? When it came to the fun of sailing, upwind or downwind, and ease of handling, the panelists seemed to like the J/42 very much. In fact, the J/42 was the only boat that every panelist had the opportunity to sail. Because of its clean functional layout and ease of maintenance (no teak on deck), the J/42 seemed to get high marks for seasonal family cruising, where many daysails and weekend cruises were combined with 2-4 weeks of extended cruising.

J/42 #7 interior decor was in the classic Herreshoff style with white bulkheads and varnished cherry trim and cabinetry, but without the cherry hull lining strips, which I prefer, in the two staterooms. Her upholstery was forest green Sunbrella with white piping and matching throw pillows. The pillows doubled as storage bags for bed pillows and fleece sleeping bags. With an "as is in the Rally" Miami boat show sailaway price of under $225,000, J/42 was the best value in the fleet. Had she been built with the optional all-teak or all-varnished cherry interior with sculpted, wrap-around ultrasuede settees,the J/42 would also have scored high on the "just like home" index. I got the impression from some of the panelists that the most significant redeeming quality of the other boats was interior styling, the all-wood decor and living-room like upholstery. The majority of the panelists seemed to be of the opinion that this interior styling was more suitable for a couple planning to move out of their house and live aboard for a long period of time.

More than likely, the conclusion of the Rally in the October issue of SAIL will be that all the Rally boats did an admirable job of fulfilling the mission for which their designers and builders intended. The editors of SAIL under the direction of Erik Nelson should be congratulated for their organization, flexibility and good humor under challenging circumstances. Skip Brown's photography should be outstanding and everyone should get a copy of October SAIL to get the complete story.

My own personal observation (unbiased, of course) is that the J/42 made a significant and surprising impact on the panelists when it came to sailing qualities. For the most part, they had not experienced anything like it. And, secondly, there was no question the panelists on the J/42 welcomed each morning with better health and more vigor, thanks to the captain's private stock of Old Fashioned Quaker oats and brown sugar.