Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Battle of St. Georges Caye Sailing Regatta

A few months ago, a fellow CYC (Consejo Yacht Club) member had invited me to crew on his Hobie Getaway in the Battle of St. Georges Caye Sailing Regatta, September 11,2011, representing our club in it's second race of the year. I was more than happy to join him and thought we would make a good team. The other Hobie Getaway, that Bud and Anne had just received 5 days earlier, was also going to represent the club, but we still needed to assemble the boat and get its crew ready for the race. So the club now had two entries in the regatta, which was now, just a few days away. We had to put together Bud's new Hobie, then head out to our bay to get some much needed practice.

Unfortunately, the winds gods did not want to cooperate and we slogged through 5-8 mph winds for days. And, we still needed time to get the trailers ready to handle the Hobie Cats for the trip to Belize City. Bud was getting his trailer delivered with the boat, or so he thought. When the boat arrived, only part of the trailer was in the container. Apparently, the trailer was too long and they had just shipped the racks that hold the Hobie Cat to the trailer. The actual trailer would not arrive for a few more weeks. That would not help us, as the race was only days away. So in true Belizean fashion, we took another trailer and modified it to handle his Hobie. First problem solved. The second trailer, that would carry our entry in the race, had its own set of problems. It had sat for years, unused, and the leaf spring attachments had rusted to the point that even a minor bump, they would break. So, off to the welding shop we went, to get everything welded up so we wouldn't have any problems out on the road. I hadn't bothered to look at the tires, until then, but they were as bad as I have ever seen a set of tires. Cracked and rotted, we had no time to replace them. No tire store had them in stock and it would take weeks for them to arrive. And our spare tire was just as bad. But we decided we were still on track to go to Belize City, where we were going to launch the boats, we would just have to be extra careful during the drive.

With the boats loaded up on their trailers, we headed off to Belize City, early Saturday morning. It was a nice, uneventful trip and we arrived around 1PM at our final destination. We unloaded the boats, then went off to get some lunch before our sail to St. George's Caye. By the time we had finished lunch and got back to the boats, it was now getting close to 3PM. We still had a several hour sail over to the island, but the winds were up, so we thought we could make good time.

We followed the boats that had started out for the Caye a few hours earlier, but were much slower than us, so we figured we would catch them in a hour or so. An hour and a half later, our tacks had taken quite a bit north of our destination and we still could not see St. George's Caye and had only made up half the ground on the other boats. It was now approaching 4:30 and sunset was just a little before 6PM and total darkness by 6:30. We were not equipt to sail in the dark and with all the small islands in front of us, we needed to locate St.George's Caye and get there as quick as we could. This was open ocean and there was no Coast Guard around to help us if something were to happen.

We could see the other boats approaching an island off in the distance, so we followed their lead and sailed towards that same island. Bud and Jim were on the other Hobie Cat, two or three miles behind us, and sunset was fast approaching. We arrived at the St. George's Caye harbor just after sunset but the other Hobie was now disappearing into the night. Now we had to hope that they saw where we had gone and were able to keep a true course to get there. And, of course around sunset, the winds begin to die down.

A half an hour later we saw a flashlight off in the distance. They had made it to the harbor. We had waited for them at the mouth of the harbor, so we could both sail in to the harbor together. It was now around 7:30 PM, and the journey had taken us over 4 1/2 hours. It was time to check into the hotel then head to the bar for some ice cold Belikins. It had been a very long day.

The next morning we were able to see the suroundings and our hotel cabanas. St. George's Caye is a small island about 10 miles out from Belize City. Beautiful clear waters surround the island and the races were going to be held just about in front of our hotel.

As we watched the other races begin, we studied the winds and talked strategy on how we wanted to race when it was our turn. We were scheduled to start at 11AM, so around 10:30 we readied the boats for the race. We watched for our flag, that would indicate that it was our turn to sail. Around 11, the flag went up, which meant we had 5 minutes to start time. As we waited for the second flag to go up, indicating three minutes to race time, the multi-hull race flag came down. Our race had been postponed until 12:30. No problem. We tied up the Hobies' and watched the other races, just waiting for our turn.

The once beautiful sunny sky was now beginning to fill with dark clouds. As our start time drew closer, so did the menacing dark clouds. The multi-hull class flag went up, signaling that the start of the race was now 5 minutes away. The winds had now picked up to 10-15 mph, which is ideal for sailing a Hobie, but the menacing clouds were now even darker and much closer. We saw the multi-hull class flag drop, indicating that the race had begun. We were first across the start/finish line, headed to the first marker, with the other boats close behind. As we cleared the second and third markers, heading back to the start/finish line, of this two lap race, the wind had really picked up and we were now heading into a rather large squall. One of the other Hobie Cats, from San Pedro, had pulled a couple of boat lengths ahead of us at the start/finish line of the first lap. The wind was now in the 25-30+ mph range and we were being pelted with rain. As the Hobie from San Pedro cleared the first marker bouy, we watched as it was toppled over by the wind. We rounded the first marker, flying as fast as I have ever been in a Hobie Cat, we passed the overturned San Pedro Hobie, heading for the second mark. The other Hobie from our club, had seen what had happened to the San Pedro Hobie, evaulated the weather conditions and headed for the safety of land. We were attempting to clear the second marker, when all of a sudden, both hulls dug into the water and we were catapulted forward into the ocean. Pelting rain and blistering winds were hindering our attempts to right the boat. We were able to get the Hobie righted, only to have it blow over again. Twenty five minutes in the water and we finally had to get help from the race committee boats. Our race was now over, but as we found out, everybody had been eliminated from the finish of the race. We had come in second place, due to the fact we were in second place after the first lap. But, we'll take it. It was an exciting race, even though we didn't get to finish.

The next morning was the trip home. The day started out with dark clouds on the horizon, all around the island. The wind was from the north, so that would help us getting back to Belize City, but we were still looking at a 3-4 hour sail. As we started off, it looked as though we might make good time, but that only lasted for an hour or so. Soon the rain began, and the winds began to shift around. No where to hide, so we slogged on. Soon, the rain really began to fall, but we could see Belize City in off in the distance. By the time we made it back to the launch ramp, it was raining cats and dogs...and we still needed to load up the boats.

After breaking down the boats and loading them on their trailers, it was finally time to head home. After a couple of stops for munchies, we were on our way. By the time we got home, it had been a long 10 hour day. I was going to sleep well tonight.

The races were lots of fun and I look forward to doing more racing in the future. This is my second race, and both times I have been on the 2nd place boat. Next year, I plan to win!