Although Hood has designed many offshore racers and sailed them as well, his heart is really in round-the-buoys racing—the short events that can be completed in a single afternoon. "In ocean racing, the element of luck is too great," he says. "In the long-distance races you put all your eggs in one basket. Take the transatlantic race, for instance. You spend three weeks at it, then if something goes wrong the whole three weeks are shot. In round-the-buoys racing you spread the risks over a whole series. If you break down in one race, you make it up in another. Besides," he adds, looking at the matter from the point of view of a technician, "I think you learn more about boat speeds in round-the-buoys racing."
As Hood's newest Robin flew south in last week's race, there were no buoys in sight and no reliable index to her speed relative to the other boats other than the instinct of her skipper. But that instinct, as always, was sound. Given radar and other searching devices, the mark at Rebecca Shoals would not be hard to find, but radar is illegal in ocean racing and, like all the other boats, Robin had to rely on her navigator (ocean-racing veteran Junius Beebe who doubled as cook and watch captain) to find the way.
As the distance shrank, everyone searched the sea for the elusive but vital mark. There were boats two miles on one side of Robin, boats two miles on the other, and with Robin in the middle the speculation was that either one of the groups might have already spotted the mark and were sailing for it. For the first time in the race, Hood looked anxious. If Robin were wide of Rebecca Shoals, it would mean precious minutes lost and, with them, the race. But the navigation was all but perfect. Robin was right, the other boats wrong. The spinnaker thrashed down, the genoa up, as Robin turned the spidery steel marker and headed northward into the wind, bucking and pounding in the short, steep seas.
In the evening Robin passed a white-hulled sloop whose crew was huddled on her weather rail, using their combined weight to help reduce her angle of heel and thereby give her more power. Every wave that the boat sliced into threw arcs of spray over the crew, and one of Robin's hands, peering through the murk, observed smugly, "Look at those guys over there on her rail."
Hood laughed too, but pointedly. "Well," he said, "what are you waiting for?" And soon two of Robin'? crew were camped on her rail, as bedraggled as their rivals.
Early on Monday morning the wind switched. The big boats in the vanguard, Robin included, now were overtaken by little boats which, because they were smaller and slower, had rounded the mark just in time to take advantage of the wind shift. They were simply blown up on the bigger, less fortunate, leaders.
Hood, although he guessed what might be happening, strolled about his boat, fussing with the centerboard (Robin has a trick centerboard that not only goes up and down but, by mighty pushing and pulling on a winch handle, moves backward and forward, too), trimming the mainsail and winching in impossible inches on the genoa sheet all by himself.
On Monday afternoon in the middle of the strong, flowing, tepid Gulf Stream, the favorable wind that had been filling the spinnaker since morning faded. A fear began to grow aboard Robin that the wind would die altogether before she could reach the finish line ahead of the little boats. But the breeze kept whispering and, as the lights of Miami Beach came on. the end, at least for Robin, was a short 20 miles away.
A mile from the finish Jamel was a hundred yards ahead of Robin and silhouetted by the lights of Fort Lauderdale. She posed little threat since her handicap would place her far back in the race, but watching her made it obvious that a jibe was necessary if Robin was to fetch the line quickly. Jibing a big boat is a tricky job in daylight. At night it is a truly hairy maneuver, and for the first time voices were raised in earnest on Robin. "Let the sheet come forward," yelled a voice in the night. Then another voice joined in, then another. Another voice howled that the sheet had been let go. In a case like this usually the loudest complaints come from the skipper. Not aboard Robin. From Ted Hood came nothing but stoic silence, and the mess was cleared up all the quicker.
The finish line safely crossed, Robin powered slowly into the neon-lit canals of Fort Lauderdale. There, for the first time, her crew and her skipper learned that they stood where Ted Hood often stands in racing circles—at the head of his class.