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DÉJÀ VU AND THE GREAT RACE (3)

As to be expected, the boats that were used to racing managed to break out of the crowd and grab the lead. With all the water balloon fights creating a diversion Sachi and we were the first two boats around the course and to reach the mouth of the river. This was where things got serious. The wind, blowing 8-10 knots, was right on the nose as we headed upriver. We faced having a tacking dual between the jetties at the river mouth, continuing through weekend traffic in a narrow S-bend between a jetty and a sand bar, then up the channel flanked by two sand bars. We then had a choice to go through the American Yacht Club mooring area or through a 70-foot wide channel between the aptly named Half-Tide Rocks and a concrete pier. The last stretch to the finish line was through the city mooring area. Piece o' cake.

Sachi and we were far enough ahead of the fleet that this became a match race. The Ohlson, to be sure, was a faster boat with its longer waterline and larger sail area. But the Tartan could accelerate faster and maneuver in tighter spaces, which somewhat leveled the playing field in this obstacle-laden beat upriver. We played to the crowd all the way, short tacking by necessity and appearing to miss each other by inches. We exchanged the lead a few times but kept very close to each other all the way. My knees and shins were bloody and my arms were beginning to feel like rubber from grinding the winches seemingly nonstop. The big Barients were powerful with their 7-to-1 reduction speed, but they required many more turns as a result. Anybody that thinks sailboat racing is a relaxing sport should experience this kind of a race.

We passed the yacht club to the cheering of fellow members and began entering the city mooring area where there were some substantial commercial boats to contend with. The finish line and the crowd on the docks and on the boardwalk were in sight. You could tell that the crowd was getting energized as they recognized that this was going to be a close race. The next and hopefully last tack would be crucial. It was still hard to tell who was ahead.

We took the left side up along the docks and Sachi made her final tack further out, shooting for the right end of the finish line. We were about a half boat-length ahead and holding. To a sailor this was two outs, bases loaded, and full count at the bottom of the ninth - fourth-and-goal and 9 seconds remaining for the winning touchdown. We don't often get to do this in front of a cheering crowd. We had maybe 300 feet to go and we could see that Sachi was not quite up to speed yet. We sensed victory, but it was not a surety.

The outcome came sooner than expected. Some absolute DUNDERHEAD* in a mastless sailboat cast off from the city dock right in front of us, forcing us into an emergency tack to avoid a collision. It took a while to clear this jerk so we could head back toward the finish. It didn't matter; Sachi got the gun.

Meanwhile the bulk of the fleet was beating its way upriver, making the old Merrimack one busy place. The sight of all those tacking boats made for entertaining viewing. The Coast Guard didn't see it that way, however, and they sent a boat into the thick of things and announced repeatedly on a loudhailer to "stop zigzagging in the channel!" Why is it that those guys always seem to come from places like Nebraska?

The crowd was disappointed as the race was ruined for them too. Sachi got the trophy but I think we got the glory. We did get a sympathy prize for "Best Looking Crew". (There was also a prize for "Worst Looking Crew"). The party was fun and the goat stew was tasty, although we all suspected it contained the entire goat, not just the meat.

* In keeping with the family orientation of this site the word dunderhead is a substitute for the actual words used at the time of the event.