We arrived at Key Largo around 3:00 PM on Friday and began putting the boat together. Hulls, beams and the tramp went pretty fast. Then the mast went up with the spin halyard installed, but the big question was whether or not to go with the spinnaker for the next two days. The forecast for Saturday was for West to Northwest winds on a NE to SW aligned race course. On Sunday the forecast was North winds shifting to Northeast in the afternoon. As we went to Rick White’s house for registration the decision was made to leave the spinnaker off. It looked like one could only fly the chute for two to three miles of the 110-mile racecourse. That short distance is not enough to justify a 0.972 handicap adjustment on the total race time.
The race started at the mouth of Jewfish Creek and proceeded about 5 miles NW to the Card Sound bridge. It was a tight point with a West breeze of about 10mph. At the Card Sound bridge three uni-rigged 20 footers were trapeezing and followed closely by our SC20TR. Behind us there was a large gap back to the remainder of the fleet. After passing under the bridge, the course bore off about 30 degrees towards Angelfish Creek. On this reach we ran right by the uni-rigs and got to Angelfish Creek with a couple of hundred yards of the lead boat.
Angelfish Creek is due East through to the ocean so we began tacking downwind without the spinnaker. We looked back and saw the M20’s pop their chutes as they entered the creek. The first M20 passed us just as we got to the ocean side. The M20 jibed the chute to port tack and took off on a compass course of about 190 degrees and sailing as high as possible. The racecourse at this point was 210 degrees so the SC20TR took off on a double trap reach and reeled the first M20 in quickly. From then on it was a double trap reach as we gradually pulled away from the other uni-rigged boats.
If you have ever sailed the old SC20 you will remember the open lacing in the center of the tramp, this caused problems as the mainsheet kept getting washed overboard and out the back of the boat. At about 40 miles into the race we pitchpoled while paying more attention to retrieving the mainsheet and attempting to tie it to the boat than actually sailing the boat. It took us nearly 30 minutes or so to get the boat up again. The shroud extension system malfunctioned and so we resorted to our drogue chute system to right the boat. We wasted a lot of time trying to right the boat without the shroud extended and we did not know this at the time!
As we approached the finish line, we could see there was no water near the buoy. The last couple hundred yards was race of who could "push the boat as you sunk up to your knees deep in silt with every step” the fastest. This was very slow and tiring. We were the fifth boat to finish about 20 minutes after the first boats. We noticed our mainsail had started coming apart at the third batten down from the top and we had to find an open sail repair shop on Saturday afternoon to help us out.
Sunday morning was cold and windy, 20mph out of the North but at least we had high tide. The first 1.5 miles was downwind and the boats with spinnakers took off. One of the M20s had taken their spin pole w/struts, snuffer, halyard and sheets off their boat for the 50 mile sail back to windward. I don't know what the Portsmouth Number of that boat configuration is, but they were sailing to windward with a clean and lighter weight platform, which probably helped them win the second day of the race.
The second day of the Steeplechase is really why the race is named the Steeplechase. There are many obstacles/hedgerows to get over. Early in the second day of the race everyone was well overpowered tacking to windward. As the day wore on the wind shifted both CW and CCW, N to NE to N and back to NW at 10mph as the last boats finished. Again we finished fifth boat across the line about 12 minutes after the first boat. The M20’s excelled on the 50 mile windward leg the second day. Some boats tried shortcuts to avoid the Mangrove Creeks but nobody really made out doing so. Getting through a narrow wheel ditch while sailing to windward is difficult to do. We saw a couple of boats with sailors pushing through wheel ditches and trying to walk in deep silt. The old SC20TR without spinnaker came through with the lowest CT and was given the trophy which says: “2004 Steeplechase Race, 1st place”. I think that means we won the race? Avoiding that 0.972 spin adjustment was the way to go this year!
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Bill Roberts and Dave Weir sailed a 1982 built SC20TR catamaran in the 2004 Steeplechase Race, here is their account of the race:
Aquarius Sail Inc.
Aquarius Sail Inc.