Overcome with the rush of competition, we trimmed the sails and urged Swell on as we approached the middle of the fleet. But as the boats ahead of us rounded the upwind buoy, a rainbow of spinnakers sprouted across the lagoon. Just two weeks before, I had traded my only spinnaker (which I had not used once in 5 years) for some badly needed canvas work. Of course, I couldn’t have dreamed up a better day to use it, and there we were–spinnaker-less. I could have kicked myself. We set the pole in spite, and stretched the genoa as far out as possible, but it was no match for spinnaker speed.
The boats ahead grew smaller and soon the red boat passed us, then the little yellow, ‘Birdy’. We inched our way on in the light wind, until finding ourselves in the wind shadow of the island with a catamaran on our tail. ‘Birdy’ was a good lot ahead by then, too. We floundered anxiously though the calm spot until a gust came out of the valley and filled Swell’s sails on her beam. Now it was on…we were out to catch the ‘Birdy’.
The lagoon narrowed and the wind squared onto our nose. We tacked back and forth across the channel, avoiding shoals and coral heads on one side and the reef that butted up to the island on the other. Inching our way closer to ‘Birdy’, we finally criss-crossed, neck and neck, in a harrowing attempt to pass. I was a wreck of nerves as Swell barely skirted in front of ‘Birdy’ on a port tack. With the yellow hull in our wake, we smiled and trimmed the sails, cheering ourselves into the next tack. “Okay, now!” I called. But as I turned the wheel, the wind shifted in a fluky swirl near the island. The jib back-winded, forcing us into a circle as we watched ‘Birdy’ pass back into the lead!
But by and by, Swell was faster, and we overtook her again, this time putting a reassuring amount of water between us. The next boat was too far off to catch, but having no idea where the race finished, we followed its track towards the bay ahead…