The trophies for the Log canoe races on the last weekend of July in St. Michaels, MD have enough silver in them that would no doubt fill every needy tooth in three counties, and we were ready for our share of the booty.
Careening along in 12 knots of wind, Mystery with all sails billowing bore down on the committee boat intending to duck her then charge down the starting line but the timing had to be perfect. When Mitch Grieb our skipper ordered the fore sail eased in order to come off the wind, Ron Mueller the fore tender could not get it to uncleat. No amount of explicative’s or starting veins would work. Easing down the hiking board I waited for an opportunity to assist. When Ron finally prevailed, the sail flew out and in a moment all three hiking boards were being swept aft and jamming together at the main mast with Mystery nearly capsizing to windward on the committee boat.
Photos by Mike Auth
Joey Finley our beau ideal sailor at sixteen and youngest crewman who with his father travels from Barnegat Bay, N.J. for every race, was riding the aft board which had disappeared along with Joey. Dick Snyder, a marine biologist at The University of Western Florida emerged from the foam and I grabbed his outstretched hand and helped pull him on board. As the foresail was brought under control and the boat righted the boards surfaced with a soggy but smiling Joey still attached. Fortunately for us and Joey’s submarine tenacity, one of the log canoe class rules dictates that you must finish with as many crew as you start with.
We soon got our wits together and not too shabbily started in mid pack. About half way to the windward mark, the Silver Heel had capsized and the Magic split her rudder forcing her to drop out. Not long after we tacked over to port we got starboard tacked by our old friend the Patricia. We thought we could cross in front of her but it was just too tight so as a penalty we had to execute a 360 degree turn, that is make a complete circle with the boat. Jibing, a part of this maneuver is not a particularly welcome event. The timing of the boardmen has to coordinate perfectly with the boat coming off the wind as she turns with the breeze coming aft. Continuing the arc the sails swing from far out of one side of the boat then swooshing across the crews’ heads to the other, as she heads back into the wind. If you round too slowly time is lost but if the helmsman comes up too quickly you can drive the boat over. Still we executed the maneuver in a professional manner, got back on the wind and closed in on the mark. Despite our athletic prowess, upon rounding we were next to last and just behind Persistence.
This was not to be a particularly auspicious day for Chester River boats. Reaching back up river we watched Persistence go into a death roll from a gust of wind off Deep Water Pt. She heeled first to port then to starboard then the pendulum once again gaining momentum finally slamming the sails into the water on port, launching several crewmen from their boards into the water. When we passed, her jib boom was sticking straight up probably having one end of the spar stuck in the shallow river bottom.
One unwritten rule in log canoe sailing is that you never gloat over another’s misfortunes. It is sort of an ‘e tu Burte’ syndrome and someone on board must have entertained a mischievous thought for soon after passing the overturned hull of Persistence, we got hammered by the same williwaw. Fortunately we were able to handle the roll but as we were recovering from the final pitch the tip of the jib got caught in the water forcing the front of the spar back towards the stern. This not only acted as a brake with the jib filled with water, but the fore and main were still driving the boat forward unable to luff and discharge their burden of wind. We were not only loosing headway but also our ability to steer when the jib boom suddenly snapped. Dick Snyder and I tried in vain to unhitch the jib from the bowsprit while under way but we lacked the leverage and strength to release it. So securing the jib to the bowsprit as best we could, Polite towed us to the dock where we accessed the damage and Franny Schauber charged off to Chestertown to get a new spar in time for the afternoon race.
If the morning race was exciting because of the dusty conditions and general carnage, the race for the Oliver Duke trophy will be remembered for light air and tactics.
Our start was improved from the morning being led only by the Billie P. Hall and Jay Dee. We were continually lifted on the St. Michael’s shore so we stayed on that course until forced to tack in shallow water. The wind which was not above six knots at the start dropped further and became spotty and the tide was near high water. Sean Callahan in the Billy P. looking for wind to work her sails spied dark water on the far shore and headed off to the other side of the Miles shadowed by the Jay Dee. As they headed east they were caught by the tide which was bottlenecked by Deep Water Pt. and a long sandbar extending west from Fairview forming a narrow ‘S’ curve for a channel. Even though the tide was nearly slack, the gap between the two points of land funneled the water from Eastern Bay to the Miles like sand through an hour glass. We watched as the two boats slipped sideways back towards the starting line, the wind on the far shore evaporating like a mirage.
Hugging the shallows around Deep Water Pt. we became what looked like the Mama Goose followed at a distance by her brood. The rest of the fleet was tightly packed following our lead, but we were able to move out of the constricted waters and make our way to the mark. In the mean time Jay Dee had found enough air to tack and rounded a distant second. Mystery headed back to the shallows on a direct line to the finish while Jay Dee stayed out in the channel and seemed to manufacture her own breeze. The wind was light and ahead of the beam so we were unable to use our staysail to any effect while Jay Dee effortlessly ate up our lead. Nearing the finish Jay Dee tacked down wind on starboard before her final approach. Mystery was on starboard nearly laying the line and when Jay Dee jibed so did we edging her out by twenty three seconds and savored the sweet sound of gunfire.
Our chief competitor this year boat for boat has been the Jay Dee but because of Governor’s Cup rules, square sterned canoes cannot compete in this race. Even though log canoe owners will take any step to make their boats faster, square sterns are deemed too radical for boats that were traditionally built as canoes that is to say double ended. So prestigious is the Governor’s cup that the Flying Cloud, originally built with a square stern was eventually altered by the builder so that she could race for that trophy. The square sterns not only give the boats a natty yacht like appearance but also greater stability. The advantage is that instead of heeling over in the breeze she drives forward instead of sideways. Many of the log canoes are altering their hulls by adding ‘cheeks’ to the chine, material just below the waterline to make the bottom of the hull flatter.
As we were towed out to the starting line Sunday for the Governor’s Cup race there was no denying we smelled blood. We were laid back and the crew was giving me suggestions about how to write the articles. Mitchell Grieb, the skipper proposed I start by using an analogy to horse racing, something to the effect of, ‘leading the thoroughbreds one by one from the paddock to the gate, wild eyed, straining at the bit, nervous jockey eager with the whip’.
I looked for signs and had only to lean overboard to spot a school of minnows. I wondered if they would precede the boat triumphantly like a school of porpoise or wait around like sharks for the scraps. As the morning wore on with the sun glaring off the placid water we lazed around the boat waiting for a breeze that just could not wake itself up. I recalled my grade school Steven Crane, in the ‘Red Badge of Courage’ saying, ‘the red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer,’ that was something I could identify with. At any rate the contest was not to be.
After sweating it out for forty five minutes the race committee called it quits firing the three guns signaling cancellation so we beckoned our groom and headed for the barn. No sooner than it took the time for the smoke to clear, a light breeze popped up but that still was not enough to cajole the race committee into a start. All was not lost however, Mystery had gotten the gun for the first time this year and saving her time on the rest of the fleet would get her name for the first time on the Oliver Duke trophy.