Six weeks after launching, SV Ruth had to sail. We told them at the bar, at the docks and we told them at the store – she wasn’t ready. “But she HAS to sail!” was their only response. I have to admit, it was a pretty convincing argument.
Though her mahogany interior was not varnished, her galley stove without propane – regardless of her lack of fresh water and her railing still a dream; she had to sail. Her anchor “winch” was just man-power, the depth sounder a lead with white-duck fathoms marked; she still missed her fisherman and fore-topsail, her main topsail rigged late the night before. But she must put out to sea! Heedless of her new green crew, having only one big pump and no GPS onboard, we were as ready as we could be for the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race.
Twelve people were on the dock in the Shallow Draught harbor before the Sun rose on the day of the race, each as nervous as the rest. How would she sail, they wondered? Did the engine really work? Would she be stable? What exactly is this “tacking” that everyone keeps talking about? Was she ready? We were about to find out.
The ship and the captain had the same resume – 12 years of experience with boats, sails, boatbuilding, rigging and crew – only SV Ruth had never been a sailboat before and the captain had never been a captain before. Couldn’t have found a better match.
The schooner left the wall before 0700 without incident, and drove under engine power to the starting line in Carlisle Bay – right to where she had been launched from. The plan had been to set sail slowly, one by one, to consider each and make sure everything was just right. But, lo and behold, in the bay was our contender – cargo brigantine Tres Hombres – under full press, sailing across the line!
“LET’S GET THAT MAINSAIL UP!”
Due to our late start, Tres Hombres had 15 minutes of ground on us… but we were sailing! Under Mainsail, Fore, Jumbo, Jib & Jibtop, we were moving wonderfully! For the first time ever, Ruth was cutting along just as she was meant to. The helm responded perfectly, the experienced Canadians taught the greenhands how to trim and coil – everyone was having a splendid time on the water. But… we weren’t gaining.
Taeo was sent up to unfurl the Main Gaff Topsail, which had never been set before. The sail is in a sense, the most complicated one on the vessel; with mini-masthoops, halliard, loose tack, luff pennant to be lashed still, a sheet leading out to the end of the main gaff and the clewline reaching the whole outline of the sail through small blocks lashed onto each corner. We weren’t sure how well this was going to work the first time. After getting some twists out here and there, the sail set correctly (well, we’ll have to play with that sheet lead a little) and we were pushed ahead faster than ever before – speeding through the water, we were catching up.
We had the advantages of a freshly painted, super-clean bottom, a few feet of waterline on Tres Hombres, and we were as light a ship as she could be. Also, Ruth choose to sail a little farther out from the Island of Barbados than many of the other racers. Putting all these factor together made for a very fast sail. Unlike on launch day, when she could have only been described as ‘jaunty’ under power, her motion was now lively and tender, and she picked up speed smoothly as soon as any gust of wind came across the water. Leaning her shoulder into the water during more powerful winds, we put the lee rail under water on more than one occasion pressing forward at up to 9 knots. We could not have asked for a better performance from Ruth.
We reached North Point in good time, decided to tack around and sail back down the coast – as we were only awarded a provisional license allowing up to sail the South & West coasts of Barbados. It was at this time that we saw the breathtaking schooner Elena charging towards us under full sail. We all decided that it would be best to tack around again and sail north alongside Elena – and we could not have decided to soon enough. We spun around (Ruth does so splendidly.) and watched the racing yacht blow past us, stealing our wind.
The sail back down the west coast was quick and wonderful – Ruth maintained eight or so knots for the whole southbound leg. We were lucky and kept the wind, whereas other vessel around the coast of Barbados had experienced complete stills.
We all hope to sail around the island next year – and of course break some records!
The Crew of Ruth