Nine boats came out for the resumption of the Wednesday summer series after last week’s Regatta in Megansett.

The wind was south-southwest at 8-12 knots, dropping during the race. The current had just turned to flood east at the start of the race. Actually, it had turned about an hour before, and a flooding wind-driven tide can cook along at something close to four knots. This makes a massive steel red nun look like it’s being dragged through the water by a nuclear submarine. Except the land on either side of Woods Hole Passage is going the same place. In short, the current was strong.

The southwest wind had been honking all afternoon, so the word on Vineyard Sound was that it was messy with waves and rollers. The course, therefore, was designed to give us some protection from the seas: Delta, V. Mark Delta is on the “elbow” of Penzance Point. Getting there is either a short portage across Bar Neck Road to Buzzards Bay, or about a two-mile beat-then-reach through Woods Hole Passage. It’s okay to peek at the chart here.

At the start it was Luciole by the Committee Boat, working up ahead of Hecate. Hecate tacked and found a superb lifting breeze coming down between Devils Foot and Ram Island. When the two boats met again, it was Hecate in the lead, followed by Luciole, and Scup. A couple weeks ago, in a VRV course, the same initial beat took place. It has been remarked by Chris Warner, Architect, that it’s often no great thing to be first into the Hole on a foul tide. Boats nose out into the current on starboard tack, and suffer being “set” down with the current, and suffer a loss of apparent wind. Boats on port tack, or those still sheltered from the current by land or by boulders, they’re moving along nicely. The trick is to nose out and tack quickly, before one loses momentum and, once on port tack, hold up high and stem the current. It’s not an easy maneuver. It is far simpler to nose out into the foul flooding tide too far, lose momentum, lose apparent wind since the powerful current is going in the same direction as the wind, and watch as the fleet rounds smartly inside of you and depends upon you to mark the tail-end of the fleet.

In the event, this is the nautical equivalent of threading a needle with an 1800 pound thread. If there’s no other boat nearby, either brandishing right of way or blocking one’s air, it’s a simple matter of seamanship. Bottom line is that there’s really only room for one boat at a time to get around the corner. And there are three successive corners here. The first is by the east end of Devils Foot Island, where one first flops onto port tack to head west against the current. Near the start of the race, this can make for a scrum of knockabouts all trying to flop onto port tack and move upstream. A single starboard tacker can spoil everyone’s lunch. Remember this graphic?

Now, the second “corner” comes at the west end of Devils Foot Island, where there’s a spindle on the rocks of “land” and Nun 4A about twenty feet off into the flow. Directly next to the spindle, submerged, there is a significant boulder that sheds the flow like a waterfall. This is the narrowest part of Woods Hole Passage, thus, the current-velocity maximum. If one sails the line of the current heading west along the “sole” of Devils Foot, it’s possible to remain on port tack, nose off into the current between the spindle and the buoy, and, sailing for all you’re worth, slowly inch up across the mouth of the opening to Great Harbor known as “The Gutter.” At the west, Penzance Point side of The Gutter comes the third challenge “corner”: The Penzance rocks. These granite ghouls submerge for about thirty feet, in a loose line south’ard from the land. A rowboat or a kayak can go through right next to the beach, but anything that draws say, more than a foot, had better not try it. Hecate passed gates one and two, threading the narrows. At gate three, Penzance rocks, she stayed about sixty feet off the beach. Luciole gave chase through gates one and two, but stayed closer, about thirty feet from the Penzance beach for the third test. Scup followed Luciole, reasoning that boulders only rare shift their positions, and if one boat had transected those shallows, another boat might as well.

As the three leaders moved west along Penzance, slowly cracking off , they looked back. And, like Lot’s wife, shortly before the NaCl stage, witnessed the pillage of the twin cities or Starboardom and G’Port-a. Imagine telling your story to the judge: “Well, it was like this, Your Honor, Ragwagon, Luna Nova, Salty Dog, Escargot, and Holy Moly were sailing through the Hole on port tack when Xiphias comes out on starboard under the Devils Foot spindle, and EVERYONE had to tack.” Know that Disney ride, the Teacups? Where they’re all spinning while the whole platen moves the cups along in the same direction? That’s right, only with Knockabouts. This did stretch the fleet out a good bit. In Woods Hole we often have all boats finish a race within about five minutes of the winner. Look below at the finish times, and you can see the effect of that spoiler-starboard tack on the fleet.

Hecate led the long string of boats toward the first mark. Once there, she rounded up and held the port tack for perhaps 200 yards before flopping onto starboard. This leg of the race was to have been a beat with many tacks upwind, while the Hole current tried to drag boats back toward Falmouth. In the event, the wind had veered just enough to make it possible to sail the Delta-V leg on one close starboard tack. Scup was the beneficiary, as Luciole had chased Hecate off into Buzzards Bay those two hundred yards. Scup tacked at mark Delta, and sailed a single-tack and fetched mark V, while Hecate and Luciole “cracked off” coming in to Hadley Harbor for the mark. Scup nipped in just ahead of Luciole, and there they stayed, wee-wee-wee, all the way home, through Woods Hole passage. It was a splendidly sailed leg by Scup, and she defended her position all the way home.

Results:

1. Hecate, Rick Whidden 0:00

2. Scup, Ava Warner 0:35

3. Luciole, David Epstein 1:12

4. Xiphias, Michael Dvorak 3:37

5. Ragwagon, Peter Ochs 7:45

6. Luna Nova, Fran Elder 10:03

7. Salty Dog, Art DiRienzo 11:42

8. Escargot, Brett Longworth 11:51

9. Holy Moly, Tom Lanagan 16:30

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