MIAMI, FLA., FEB. 5, 9:15 A.M.
The day is bright and clear, wind east at 20-22, with a few ragged puffs of clouds sliding high over the mast tips of the fleet gathered at the city yacht basin the morning of the race to Nassau. Along the docks the sailors are getting ready to shove off, crawling over cabin trunks to secure ventilators and hatch covers, straddling the shallow chasm between dockside and deck to pass on last-minute stores, flumping great Dacron sail bags into sail lockers, and—this being Miami—stopping all work from time to time to observe the lush little ladies ankling slowly down the dock to admire the fleet and be much admired by it. A blonde freezes the activity for a moment. Then she passes, and dockside babble of voices picks up again. "Here, hand me the soup. Where the hell did we put the genny? You mean you didn't bring it? How you going to put that line through there?" Then big, gray-white MARE NOSTRUM, at 71 feet six inches the longest boat in the fleet of 32, drops her lines and heads out the channel toward the start—first to leave.
Aboard "Hilaria,"11:45 a.m.
Fifteen minutes to the start between the Coast Guard cutter AURORA and a white nun bobbing heavily in the steep, ragged chop. We have our main, mizzen and staysail up, with the No. 2 genoa jib ready to go when we get the 10-minute warning gun. Eleven of us aboard, counting Skipper Hugh Schaddelee, some in oilskins against the heavy spray, others in shorts, their backs and faces smeared with sun cream. This is going to be a rugged ride. Dead to windward at least till we turn Great Stirrup Cay, two-thirds of the way to Nassau. Now it's time for the genny. The warning gun goes off, a puff of smoke over the pale green water. Most of the boats are jamming at the south end of the line. There's Harvey Conover in the REVONOC trailing FINISTERRE toward the line. Close behind come SPRAY and MERRY MAIDEN. COMANCHE is up to windward. Not much longer now.
We're off; 184 miles to Nassau. Poor start for us. We hung back to get out of the jam-up by the buoy. Thank God we did. REVONOC just came about. SPRAY heads up, gets stopped dead by a wave. MERRY MAIDEN'S bow comes crashing aboard, shears off SPRAY'S mizzen and barely misses crewman Timothy Sullivan. Driven ahead by MERRY MAIDEN, SPRAY plows into REVONOC'S starboard rail, and the three boats, locked together, do a slow waltz around the buoy as the men on deck battle to untangle the mess. Now they're getting free. All three are going to stay in the race, SPRAY without a mizzen, MERRY MAIDEN with her forward rigging badly bent, REVONOC with her starboard rail smashed. That's probably all for Conover. He could have been trouble, but with a messy sea like this you can't figure to win with smashed gear.
Criollo, sails trimmed fast and dark varnished hull banging through the water, is walking out ahead of the rest. This is her weather. She won it last year in worse going, and her skipper, Luis Vida√±a from Havana, wants this one badly. Jack Price's red-hulled COMANCHE, much steadier since he put in a new 500-pound bronze centerboard, is well up front.
Mogu has a good start, driving well but suddenly all the snaps on her big genny let go, and the sail sags back as though it had been unzipped from the stay. They haul the genny down and ride on the staysail, losing time and falling back while the genny is wrestled aft to get new snaps sewn on. Ready to go again, they hoist the genny back up, but the halyard parts and the sail flops toward the deck. They try rigging it onto a spinnaker halyard but the line stretches. The sail won't set. She's tender enough in heavy going. Without her big headsails, she's dead.
Hoot mon, fleet champion in 1954 and 1955, is wallowing along next to us under a big genny and no mizzen, her crew perched like a row of black crows along the windward rail. She looks out of it already. No drive. Something's wrong with us too. Our genny is rattling like a machine gun. The steel shrouds are quivering with it, and so is the mast. We try to head up with MARE NOSTRUM and can't make it. Then we lose a luffing match to MALABAR XIII. The genny is just plain wrong. It's not giving us the power we need to drive through these waves. Two men go forward to try and trim it in tighter, hanging onto the leeward rail and getting dunked to their knees as HILARIA dips her rail at each puff. Still no good. We're sagging off to leeward of the fleet all the time. Up to windward, CRIOLLO is still boiling along; and not far behind, with her small sails strapped down and drawing perfectly, is Carleton Mitchell's everlasting FINISTERRE, eating up the rough going and picking up valuable time on the big boats.
Twenty-eight miles out on the way across the Gulf Stream toward the coral banks at Bimini and Gun Cay. The bright white row of hotels along Miami Beach has dropped out of sight astern, and we're at sea for sure. Wind holding fresh at 20-25, a little south of east. We're still not making anything. This windward work out here in the stream isn't doing a thing for my stomach, either. One of the other crewmen is looking pretty quiet, too. The rest of the fleet is two to four miles upwind now. Nothing for us to do but cover the 44 miles over to Bimini as fast as we can, get under the shelter of the reefs and try to make up some time by running north to Great Isaac Light in the calmer water.
A board CRIOLLO there is the quick, nasty thud of broken gear, the boom sags, and the foot of the mainsail collapses like an accordion up against the mast. For 20 minutes the Cuban crew sweats to stretch the sail out along the boom. Finally they make it. CRIOLLO takes off again, but you can't give away time like that to FINISTERRE, not in a rough race like this one.
Wind still fresh, east by south. The rail is way down, water hitting the cabin trunk and splashing into the cockpit. The sea is quieter near Gun Cay, but I still feel pretty feeble. Well, there's no sense keeping that bad sail up there any longer. We'll do just as well on the smaller No. 3. Here we go! Wrestle the No. 3 out of the cockpit sail locker. Naturally it's on the bottom. Go forward swinging hand by hand along the lifeline, with deck slanting way over and bow pitching like a stallion. Solid water over the bow and down my pants when I sit on the bow to hand in the sail. Here she comes down, wet and stiff. A wave bangs me into the anchor winch and I lose my lunch. More water over the bow. Snap on the No. 3, winch it up and haul the old sail aft. I've had it.
We come about just at dusk, five miles off Gun Cay. This is a quieter, drier tack and we're in the shelter of the reefs. CRIOLLO goes about, and that looks like MARE NOSTRUM. That's all we can see. Can't tell if the little boats came about early to run north with the full flow of the Gulf Stream, or whether they've just dropped out of sight in the darkness.
I've been lying in the doghouse just forward of the wheel watching the loom of the town in Bimini creep by to starboard, counting the flashes of Great Isaac Light just off the bow. The night is clear and rather dark, a lot of stars. The rest of my watch is asleep below, and now I'm for the sack. We're still heeling way over, but this is a solid, steady boat and we'll sleep well. After the drunken stork act of peeling off wet oilskins while standing on a deck that pitches and slants at 35°, I wedge into the lower leeward bunk, my back braced against the bulkhead. Dry pants feel good, Bona-mine and soda water, and a warm blanket.
Back on watch. We've turned the corner now just northeast of Great Isaac Light, where the coral banks make a right angle from northeast to east southeast. We're a third of the way to Nassau. Now we have another dead beat to windward to Great Stirrup. The water is rougher out of the lee of the banks. We've been alone for hours, but we're in the middle of the fleet as the boats converge on Great Isaac. All around us masthead lights are waggling and red and green running lights switching back and forth as the boats make short tacks to stay in close to shore.
Feb. 6, 2:30 a.m.
No change. Wind ESE at 20-22, steady as I've ever seen it. Occasionally there is a warm lull as a breeze ghosts out from the islands across the rocky heads of the Gingerbread Ground reef. At Great Isaac we thought we still might have something, but it's again obvious that we're not moving with full power. Best we can do is a steady six knots; with this wind we ought to be around 7½.
Off watch I sleep like a rock, interrupted only twice by the now mechanical business of scooping up my bedding and staggering around the gimbal table to switch bunks when the rattle of blocks and winches and the sudden, unnatural motion says we're coming about.
Time to face it. Owls in the mouth, washed away by scalding coffee. Schaddelee rolls out of his bunk, groaning good-naturedly: "Mother was right. I should have bought a farm. It's a damn shame. One jib is soft, one bellies and the other's too small." That's about the story. Up on deck it's a beautiful day, except that here, only 20 miles short of Great Stirrup, we're back among the Class C boats instead of up front in a place where we belong. Ahead and a bit to starboard, riding rock-solid with her gray topsides and red bottom paint glistening in the morning sun, is FINISTERRE. That's bad news for Vida√±a, although the way he was going yesterday he might be starting the next race by now. Down to leeward we can see COMANCHE'S red hull too far back now to hurt FINISTERRE. We pull by FINISTERRE. She's a lovely sight, and Schaddelee shouts over his appreciation. Mitchell pokes his head up out of the main hatch to smile an acknowledgment. One more boat close by, Edwin Singer's WINDALIER out of Corpus Christi, a new boat to the circuit. She's doing beautifully after a long tack in close to shore gave her a fast, quiet run close to the banks last night. Wonderful sailing too. Too bad we're losing the race. Anyway, we've got a seat on the 50-yard line.
A big boat, maybe CRIOLLO, is long gone around Great Stirrup. The rest of us are making our last tack to sneak around the mark and start the final run to Nassau. Wind and sea the same, FINISTERRE is making money every minute. She's put WINDALIER away for good now. It's FINISTERRE or CRIOLLO, unless a boat we can't see ran away during the night.
We've just cleared Great Stirrup. My first trick at the wheel. It feels loose and strange at first, now steadying. She's balanced well under this rig, and driving better as we come into flatter seas. Two rain squalls sift in from the northwest, raising a fine gray mist on the surface and flattening the tiny ripples on the waves. Here comes FINISTERRE around the corner, cutting so close Mitchell could throw a pebble onto the beach.
Criollo crosses the finish line first boat in. Four hours ago she was flying, only 20 miles out, then she got a little wind shift, had to tack five times to make the line. That cost her time. Too much, probably. They'll know when Mitchell gets in.
A board HILARIA, we know we've had it, but we put in our big genny as the course eases off the wind. We're not going to take any prizes, but we might save something in our own class.
On board MARE NOSTRUM, only 35 minutes from the finish, there is a loud cracking noise from high above the deck. The 106-foot mast sways, bucks and comes crashing down to starboard, the deck a tangled mess of wires and splinters. Nobody hurt, but that's all for MARE NOSTRUM this year. The crew fastens two halyards from the mizzen onto what's left of the main, and heaves it back on deck. MOGU comes by, fires two red flares to signal the Coast Guard, and radios ahead for help. With the broken spar on board, MARE NOSTRUM starts her engine and limps into the harbor.
I've just finished another trick at the wheel. We're moving well under the big genny. If we can use it Saturday in the Nassau Cup, we'll do all right. Now Schaddelee is back at the wheel for the finish. The lights of Nassau are spread out ahead only half a mile away. We fall off to get the red range lights of the channel lined up, then head for the barn.
We get a gun from the committee boat and show them the number on our sail with a light. Race is over for us. The press boat comes alongside through the dark of the harbor and someone gives the word: "CRIOLLO at 6:45. Then MOGU. Then MARE NOSTRUM under power with her stick out. Then GULF STREAM. Then SOLUTION." That's a good finish for SOLUTION. She's got B Class wrapped up. Nobody in A can touch CRIOLLO now. Mitchell has C.
Finisterre crosses, and now the whole race is hers. No trouble all the way except for a small tear in the genny. No boat ever had a record like this. Thirty-two firsts or seconds in her past 40 races. Of those, 25 were firsts. Now she's got the Nassau Race, too. If it blows on Saturday, she'll be tough in the Nassau Cup.
OFF NASSAU, FEB 9.
Day bright, wind easterly at 12-15, pooping to five. COMANCHE got a perfect start, tacked quickly and held close to Paradise and Cabbage Beach, covering FINISTERRE all through the 15-mile beat to the windward mark at Booby Rocks. Aboard HILARIA we got off just behind COMANCHE but we're too heavy a boat to do much in this kind of air. Price is sailing a beautiful race, tacking when he wants to, and sitting on Mitchell all the way.
Up front MOGU and CRIOLLO are scrambling for first, splitting long tacks on the windward leg and hugging close together on the leeward run back to the finish of this 30-mile race.
Mogu finishes, CRIOLLO close behind, but not close enough. It's going to be MOGU, COMANCHE or FINISTERRE.
Comanche crosses the line 18 minutes after us. That may be it. Mitchell looks too far back.
He was too far back. FINISTERRE comes over too late to save her time on COMANCHE. NO one else is close enough. It's Price's race, Mitchell second, and Guggenheimer's MOGU third.
BOW VIEW FROM THE 67-FOOT YAWL "CRIOLLO" SHOWS TWO PAST SOUTHERN CHAMPIONS AT START OF MIAMI-NASSAU RACE: "FINISTERRE" (260), 1956. AND "HOOT MON" (251), 1954-1955