The last race in the Hope Town Sailing Club’s winter series — we were aboard the Abaco Rage, a traditional Bahamian wooden racing sloop. Twenty eight feet long with a 38’ boom. A crew of eighteen worked to balance her at just the right angle to keep her huge mainsail powering us around the triangle course.
Goldwin worked the foredeck. We raised her sails in the harbor and sailed off the mooring, threading our way through the moored boats and out the harbor entrance. Rage doesn’t have an engine – or hydraulics or power anything.
The start was crowded. At two minutes out, we were too close, so we snaked along, slowing the boat. Thirty seconds out and now we were in the mix – lots of adrenalin as we powered up and wove our way through the fleet, all the boats on top of each other, moving fast. They sure know how to get Rage to the line on time.
I like to ride the pries – I’m the one on the left – in my official Rage t-shirt.
Pries are ten foot long boards about a foot wide that are pulled out on the opposite side of the boat from the sail so that the crew can move its weight out to keep the boat from flipping over. It’s the best seat on the boat – I’m farthest out on the nearest pry and Goldwin is in the middle of the picture below. You lock your legs together under the pry so you don’t fall off. Leaning back puts more of your weight farther out.
It was a wet ride, with 15 mph winds – puffy early in the race. “Here comes the wind,” and we’d butt walk ourselves further out the pries. “We’re coming into a wind shadow,” and we’d crab our way across the deck to the low side. Once we’re in the groove, the tactician bellows, “Let her walk, skipper,” and we surge along, the boat slicing her way through the beautiful Sea of Abaco.
Rage loves sailing off the wind. On this downwind leg, Goldwin became a human downhaul, keeping the little jib sail flat and full as we sailed wing-on-wing – the main almost perpendicular on one side of the boat and the jib mirroring it on the opposite side.
Racing Rage is a bit athletic. Here’s how we tack: The skipper announces, “Tacking in 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.” Then he talks us through it: “weight to the middle, pries to the middle, pries out, weight out.” (The crew is the “weight.”) We follow directions in a chaotic frenzy as we scramble from one side of the boat to the other while the boom sweeps the deck with about 2 feet of clearance. Don’t let the boom hit you, stay off the jib sheets, don’t get your fingers caught under the pries, hurry, hurry, and don’t fall off the boat.
Winds of 15 mph do not favor Rage – she likes light air. Plus, this race course included three super long weather legs, i.e., we tack back and forth close on the wind. Close hauled is not Rage’s best point of sail – she likes to run off the wind. All to explain that, although the crew did a magnificent job, we finished sixth.
But the main thing is that we all had a great time. Here we are returning to the harbor after the race.
The last race – it was a blast – sailing over that spectacular blue-green water on a perfect Bahamian day.
P.S. Goldwin finally retired his official Rage racing shorts – the seat was worn beyond repair.
P.P.S. Many thanks to Will, the gifted photographer who let me use his pictures.