Running Tide's new watch came on deck at dawn the second day to see glassy swells riding into the mouth of Chesapeake Bay from the ocean, and a scattering of sails on the horizon. Several Class A boats--the biggest and fastest boats in the race --were ahead of her. Cayenne's sail was barely visible between Tide and the marker at the mouth of the Bay known as the "Texas Tower." It resembled an oil drilling platform, and each boat had to round it before heading north through the ocean.
The crew had not yet adjusted to the routine of three hours on deck, followed by three hours in the racks; they were weary from the night's exertion. On their first watch they had changed six headsails, but Tide had been unable to make up the lost time.
Beau Van Metre, captain of the off-going watch, stayed on deck to confer with his father. Thirty-six years old and deeply tanned, Beau never wore sunglasses or a hat; he steered with his whole body, leaning to weather to keep an eye on the headsail. He had attended American University, but dropped out before obtaining a degree, preferring boats and airplanes to schooling. He now owned a large, successful truck-leasing business.
He had learned sailing with his father on a succession of Van Metre boats culminating in Tide. Al Van Metre had always let Beau take the helm while he worked out equipment and navigational problems, with the result that Beau became one of the best helmsmen going.
The symbiosis between father and son was rare in everyday life and rarer on a large sailboat, where final decisions are seldom shared. Beau was a natural sailor, without much interest in mechanical and electronic aids; Al depended heavily upon the compass and other instruments when sailing. The son's instincts and the father's technical ability formed a good match.
Assisting them was Jimmy Allsopp, a 40-year-old representative of North Sails, a leading sail manufacturer and the sole supplier of Running Tide. Allsopp had crewed on many big sailboats--including one belonging to the king of Spain--and had a professional interest in seeing to it that Tide performed well with approximately $100,000 worth of his product. He acted as a kind of ramrod for the watch captain, carrying out Van Metre's commands. Allsopp wore leather deck boots with shorts and a shaggy blond mustache.
Allsopp's counterpart on the other watch was an experienced sailor from Boston, who had previously captained the sloop Evergreen. Short, stocky and crew-cut, George Varga, 27, had served on the foredeck of Tenacious during the storm- wracked 1979 Fastnet Race in England, in which 15 competitors died. Now Varga was between sailing jobs. A rivalry was already developing between him and Allsopp for dominance on deck, a contest that was good for the race.
The Van Metres and Allsopp decided to take a shorter route into the ocean, flying a spinnaker so light that Allsopp had to trim it with a cord-like synthetic line. Anything heavier would have pulled it down into the water.
Ahead they could see a ruffled surface on the water--a "wind line." The crew hung their feet off the deck on the downwind side, heeling Tide further into the water. The increased wetted surface increased speed.
"We should have left the little boats far behind," said Tim Kerns, a 24-year-old deckhand and one of the original Kiddy Corps. He squinted at Cayenne through binoculars equipped with a built-in compass, and added, "There goes 18 cases of beer."
"We'll catch 'em," said Noel Schwab, 30, the foredeck man. He had sailed more than 40,000 miles, most of them aboard Tide, some of them aboard Cayenne.
When Tide rounded the Texas
Tower, Cayenne was an
hour ahead, sailing out to
sea. Tide stayed closer to
shore. Half a dozen other boats were scattered about in her vicinity--isolated machines trying to manufacture speed through the constant, judicious application of muscle and knowledge. Slowly Tide pulled away from them.
The watch change was done with one crew member going below at a time, replaced by his counterpart on the new watch, to avoid changing the boat's delicate balance and the angle of the sails. The wind was blowing at three knots, with 11/2 knots of boat speed, less than walking pace. In late afternoon Cayenne was still in sight. "Maybe a nuclear sub will surface and take her out," said Brooks Channing, 39, a Vietnam veteran and a real estate dealer who often crewed on Cayenne.
Cayenne became an object of mock scorn. Most of the crew called Cayenne "Coyote," and her owner, Don Tate, "Tater." ("Tater's starting to eat his straw hat now.") Tide needed all the psychological help it could get. Eventually Tate became "Darth Tater," and Cayenne "the Death Star"--a dark specter of defeat rather than the white, airy sloop she really was.
Supper was served at 7 o' clock. The oncoming
watch ate a few minutes
before the hour; the sail ors who were relieved descended into the aroma of roast leg of lamb. Peggy Lord, a frequent cook aboard Tide and one of the few women members of the New York Yacht Club, stood in the slot between the propane stove and the counter, serving dinner onto plastic plates. A cloth strap held her there when the boat heeled to port. At the beginning of each watch she got up to prepare coffee and between-meals fare. Six hundred dollars worth of catered food had been loaded on Tide in Annapolis.
The bedraggled sailors seated themselves on the pipe racks or on sail bags piled on the sole, holding their plates in their laps. Ray Brown emerged from the head clean- shaven, his hair carefully combed. "I once knew a sailor," he said, "who shaved and spruced up when he was feeling low, no matter what the conditions."
Brown, the chief medical officer for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone, had served Tide well in many races. Back at his station, he pored over the charts, plotting Tide's northward course. Crew coming off watch at 1 a.m. would find him still at his post, sleeping with his head on his arms.
On deck, the lights of Ocean City glowed in the west. Off the starboard bow Cayenne's running lights were barely discernible through the mist.
Below deck the sound of the feet overhead echoed through the sleepers' dreams, and the electric night light cast an eerie red glow. Above, the work never stopped: calculation and strategizing involving watch captain and navigator, and sometimes the cockpit man; the changing and trimming of the sails with an even, unflagging intensity. Tide's crew was known for winning races at night, when most crews tend to relax.
The red orb of the sun
rose through the mist on
Monday, two days out of
white hull lay half a mile away, her crew scrambling to change a spinnaker. The discovery brought elation, and a flood of abuse from Tide's crew. They had caught up with Cayenne!
Varga appeared on deck early, grinning, bleary-eyed in his sweat suit, ready to do battle. He kidded the exhausted Allsopp and some members of his watch, and deftly offered advice. The day before, he had scratched his name--VARGA--on the white aluminum boom, firmly establishing his presence. Now the wind came up; it was a new race.
The crew went through one more furious genoa change. The two watches joined together in the effort, and then half the crew went below. Some hours later, the wind dropped. Cayenne floated in the haze, now only six minutes ahead of Tide, yet seemingly unreachable in the cold, gray-green ocean. The crew complained that Cayenne was "covering them"-- watching Tide through binoculars and mimicking her course and sail changes. "Why don't we just call her up on the radio," said Rob Pennington, 32, another North Sails representative, "and tell her what we're doing?"
All day Tide stalked Cayenne in light air. Cayenne left up her heavy Mylar genoa; Tide went to a light achines trying to manufacture speed through the constant, judiDacron reacher. Slowly she came abreast of Cayenne.
Both boats switched simultaneously to a half-ounce spinnaker. Tide crept ahead, and then jibed on a wind out of the southeast.
Big bowhead whales crossed the bow late that afternoon, rising and falling in lazy disregard for the boat's presence. They were a natural match for the crew's soaring spirits.
Tide remained in the apparent lead as Cayenne dropped further and further behind. After dark, her masthead light could be seen for a time, and then she seemed to sail off the edge of the earth. The mist on the water grew thicker, but overhead the sky was clear. Tide moved along at six knots, seemingly creating her own wind, a ghost ship drawn through the otherwise empty ocean by an invisible line. The star Antares burned orange in the constellation of Scorpio, off in the direction where Cayenne had been seen, and the bowheads returned, gasping in the darkness.
"The voice of Darth Tater!" Schwab said.
By morning the wind had
almost died. There was
no sign of Cayenne. Tide
had entered the shipping
lanes, on a glassy ocean where the bowman watched for freighters, and for sails. Cayenne could have found more wind out to sea, passing Tide during the night. Other boats racing close to shore could have found a wind that would bring them closer to the tip of Long Island, far out of sight.
Not knowing created more anxiety. Styrofoam cups and empty ice bags floating past Tide were scrutinized, to see if they could have been tossed off Cayenne, or another boat in the race. A cluster of floating boards inspired the call, "That's Cayenne breaking up! That's where she went down!"
The humor masked real concern. Now everyone wanted the race to be over, so they would know where they stood. Varga appeared on deck. He received his orders from the Van Metres, checked the instruments in the cockpit, and encouraged the crew: "Come on, we've got a true wind of five knots, we should be able to get four knots of speed. We've got three-point-one . . . Three- point-three . . . Come on, three-point-six. We can do it."
All day they reached with a light spinnaker, the most efficient sail. Tide's strategy had been conservative, sticking close to the rhumb line. By 8 p.m. on Tuesday, more than three days into the race, Tide lay south of Montauk Point, close to Block Island. A decision had to be reached on which side of "the Block" to pass.
The Van Metres and Ray Brown conferred. The wind was southeasterly. If they sailed inside, the shortest route to Newport, they ran the risk of being drawn into the mouth of Long Island Sound by the current. "That's a real bummer," said Allsopp, of the north shore of the Sound. "It's full of fish traps."
Tide would go outside. The crew demolished lasagna and meatloaf, the excitement mounting. The off-watch slept fitfully, and by midnight was up on deck. The Block Island fog horn called mournfully; the wind picked up --heavy, moist and cold. A radio transmission from the Coast Guard suggested that a boat called Morning Light, in Class A, was already in Narragansett Bay. Silence fell immediately over the crew. If the report was accurate, Morning Light could well cross the line before Tide.
The crew continued to work, jibing to avoid hitting the island, taking care not to lose advantage on the wind. Racing north, they jibed again, too slow to suit Varga, in command of the middeck. "Can't you get it right the second time?" he shouted.
Al Van Metre stood motionless at the stern; Brown plotted below, calling up positions to the helmsman. Fifteen miles from the finish line, they heard the Brenton Reef horn blowing in the darkness. An hour later, harbor lights began to blink though the fog. The foredeck and middeck swarmed with crew trying to squeeze the last bit of speed from theewind.
According to race rules, the boats had to pass between Castle Hill, the lighthouse at the mouth of the harbor, and a buoy set several hundred yards offshore. The boats were manufacture speed through the constant, judito put up a flare two minutes before crossing, to alert the judges. Tide's flare burned white, illuminating the exhausted faces of the crew and a riot of uncoiled rope on the deck.
The air filled with commands and counter-commands as the boat sailed wide of the marker buoy, and had to jibe, come back, and jibe again to officially cross the line. It was 4:19 a.m., three days, 14 hours and 19 minutes after the boat had started the race in Annapolis. No response came from the lighthouse. Though none was expected, many crew members could not escape the feeling that Tide had finished second or third . . . or worse. "Let's get the deck cleaned up," said Van Metre.
Tide motored into the harbor, her sails collapsed. The crew folded and packed them, and tied the black cover over the furled mainsail, surveying the forest of masts lining the harbor.
"Where's Morning Light?" someone asked.
Joan Van Metre and Joan Brown, the navigator's wife, waited on the dock. They had seen another boat enter the harbor before Tide, but had not been able to identify it. The crew waited while a telephone call was put through from the boat yard to the Race Committee on Castle Hill. Word traveled quickly along the dock, and across the deck of the moored sloop.
A cheer disturbed seagulls perched on the shed roof: Running Tide was first across the line!
Champagne bottles were brought up from below, and the wine handed round in plastic cups. Al Van Metre stood on the dock, his glass raised. "Gentlemen," he began, "a lot of racing is in the stars, but we work as a team . . . Let the whole crew of Running Tide toast Running Tide!" Later, he added, "We won because we never stopped working. It's a little like life."
Schwab emerged from the hold, a fresh Bandaid on a thumb he had cut on the beak of the spinnaker pole, during the last jibe. "Let's not forget the guy who never complained and never got bent out of shape," he said. "Here's to the half-ounce spinnaker!'
Cayenne would not arrive in Newport for another four hours. Ahead lay two days of partying, and an official awards ceremony where Tide would receive four Cartier champagne glasses for being first into port, a silver pitcher for being first in Class A, and a silver dish for finishing second in the fleet--an impressive list of honors. (Esprit, a Class B boat finishing long after Tide, would win overall on corrected time.)
Several crew members followed up the champagne with rum and tonics and then piled into a car and drove out to Castle Hill. They walked past the lighthouse. Members of the Race Committee in ties and little white captain's caps, gripping coffee thermoses, stared at them in disbelief, as if unshaven sailors had never been seen before, rollicking through the early morning.
A Tide crewman stood on a rocky point, overlooking the ocean. "Tater! Tater!" he called into the wind. "Where are you?"
The only answer was the bleating of the fog horn.