A Nitemare of a Summer!
Tom Neill announced is spring that this WILL be a year to remember. Last fall when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, the doctor told him to settle up affairs and prepare for the grim reaper. "Not so fast, Doc, I've got races to do and the hell if my crew is going to have fun without me" was Tom's response. Well is has been a incredible summer and there is no slowing Tom down. Tom's only problem has been no sleep on Friday night in anticipation of racing Saturday.
Spring racing in Chicago started with 1 weekend of too much wind, the next nothing. Finally a mid distance race, nice breeze at the start, 4 mile beat, 12 mile run, then stop, sit and wait for wind at the water intake by Oak street beach. We watched the fleet sail up to us as the new breeze filled in from behind. Not a spectacular start for the season. It is what it is, the boat was tuned up, crew practiced and sails looked at, all in all a good practice day.
West Marine Cup was next, 5 races over 2 days. We raced in PHRF 1 with mostly the 45-50 footers from Chicago. A couple of the 50s are very fast upwind and most of our section can outpoint the 70. Nitemare is hull 1 of appx 20 Santa Cruz 70s made in the mid 1980's. They can be very quick, but with light hulls and little sail area compared to their length, they just don't go upwind like the modern boats. I was ask to skipper as Tom has no energy to helm (but he does make a fine coach). Starts were critical as we didn't want a fifty under our bow, this meant mostly port tack approach and a lee bow tack on the leeward boat. With Pat Considine calling tactics, we had some great starts and were able stay clear, bow down and speed up.
Five races were held in 8-15 knots of breeze, we were able to correct over the fifties in all 5 races. Nice start for the racing season, a great way to practice and fine tune the boat, crew and sails. We came away from this regatta learning a bit more. In the past, Tom was required to helm the 70 in the buoy races, but due to his condition, I took over. I usually only drive during the Macs so a lot of time was spent learning the best speed through the tacks and speed building after. This is a great tune-up regatta for the boats that are considering the NOOD regatta that follows a week later.
The Sperry Top-Sider NOOD was next up, we change out the PHRF sails and loaded the GL70 sails. The main is about 18 inches longer on the foot, and the new head sails and kites are saved for class racing. 7 GL 70s competed over the 3 day regatta. Light winds made for long, hot mornings on the water. A visiting Melges 32 asked if this was normal for Chicago, the reply was "no, it's always windy in Chicago". "Why does everyone have sun shades over the cockpits?" they asked.
The 70 fleet is now allowing asymmetric sails, and this would be the first test, is it worth the rating hit? With Pied Piper and Evolution being the fasted rated and Nitemare one of the slowest, is was interesting on the first run as we sailed faster and lower than the other 2. We won the first race and left the fleet wondering about the A sail choice. Evolution switched back to a symmetric for the rest of the regatta. We had the boat really sailing well and the new sails set up great giving us a clean sweep of the regatta, boat for boat.
The Queens cup was to be our Mac practice race. An oxygen generator was installed for Tom and we set out to see how he would do on a long race. A long race is was to be. Windquest, the 86 footer, finally passed us 2 hours into the race. shortly after they passed, we started to gain on them, Not a great sign. After 4 hours and only 10 miles offshore, Tom announced "Life is too short to waste a night out here drifting". The engine was started and back to SSYC for rum. Our mission was accomplished, Tom could breath and fill the tanks as required.
The weather for the Chicago Mac looked promising with a couple of days to go. As Saturday rolled around, the idea of a quick race faded, hoping
that the wind would now hold for our 2:00 start. The 70 section stayed close and worked our way north, stalling not too far from Racine. Sunday was spent jumping from puff to puff, working our way towards the Manitou's. Sunday night was a work out as the breeze would build and die, boat speed 12 then 0. Pied Piper, Evolution and Nitemare were neck and neck up to Beaver Island when a Easterly filled in from the West, giving Evo and Piper a little lead. The final push up though Grey's Reef and down the straights was on. Piper and Evo had 40 minutes on us and they gave us about that much. The crew performed great and we finished within our allowance winning 1st for the GL 70's. We had finally broke the "even year curse", winning 5 of the last 8 years is quit the accomplishment.
Race home to work for a few days and then over to Port Huron for the Bayview Mac race. For this race, Americas Cup veterans, Dawn Riley and Moose McClintoc joined us. Dawn has raced with us in the past and is a real treat to have onboard. Moose is an excellent sailor and fit in very well with the crew. Like the previous week in Chicago, a breeze on the nose for the start. Again, the 70s stayed close up the shoreline till Saginaw Bay shoreline slid off to the west and the fleet continued up to the NOAA weather buoy. Nitemare took the GL70 lead during the night and rounded just an hour behind Equation, a turbo sled from Detroit. Evolution followed shortly behind and the two of us raced neck and neck for the next 120 miles. From Spectacle Reef to the finish, Evo and us traded the lead a dozen times, we got the last puff and finished a boatlength in front for 2nd boat to finish and 1st in section. For the second year in a row we were awarded the Macinac Yacht Club trophy for the best combined scor in the 2 Mac races.
The GL70 headed south for the Bay Harbor regatta while Nitemare 70 headed home for a little break.We switch gears and took the Melges 32 to Harbor Springs for the U Gotta Regatta. This was the family weekend and we raced the 32 with the Considine kids (Kevin, Ryan, and Peter) and Nicole. Harbor Springs is a gorgeous little town on Little Traverse Bay. Bike riding, tubing behind Parrot Head (our whaler) and racing the 32 with the kids - doesn't get much better than that.Two 25 mile races over the weekend was all the kids could handle but they seem to have plenty of energy to go tubing afterwards. We won both races in section with a 1st and 2nd over all for the weekend.
What a series of weekends we had, seemed unbeatable. Tom is certain that a higher power was looking over us. We were leading the GL70 season championship with only the Verve Cup to race.
With Evolution only 3 points behind us for the season (Nitemare didn't race Bay Harbor, so we got 11 point added to our score), we needed to focus on beating them. Winds for the Verve were up and the sea conditions were steep making for tough racing in the 70s. Pied Piper ran away with four firsts, Mirage was second and Nitemare 3rd, winning the tie breaker over Evolution.
As the season winds down we have some fun races to do: the Leukemia Cup, Tri-State and some fall PHRF races. We achieved our goal: To keep Tom out sailing, keep him safe, have a great time, have fun at the parties and along the way we won a few races. Tom was right - this was a year to remember.