It was a bad start. We had two days of pea-soup fog off Newport and no wind of any consequence—and then two days of no wind at all. We just drifted in the Gulf Stream and watched the fungus grow on clothing and whatever else was stored below. The heat of the Stream warmed Scylla's fiber-glass hull to about 75�. The sun had added its share of heat by beating down on us as we ghosted along on the road to Bermuda.
But about 1530 that fifth afternoon, a Wednesday, we felt some air come in, and the boat came alive. We were soon responding to this opportunity by piling up onto the deck to enjoy the new experience and set and trim all the sail we could. At 1600 hours the destroyer Hank, our escort vessel, came on the air with the afternoon weather report, which was local squalls and clearing.
At 1800 Jack Weston, Findlay Corsar and myself, as well as Charlie Ulmer, the skipper-owner, reluctantly went off watch. At this point we had reefed in the main. Scylla was driving with a bone in her teeth on a close reach, and as the light began to go we passed others of our size—much to our glee. The cabin was still like a steam bath, and the humidity from the rain squalls that accompanied the freshening air kept everyone sweating, but sweating happily.
There just isn't anything like a cold martini, some chow and the lively motion of a hull driving through the sea to make a sailor happy, and that's just what we had. Jack had stripped to his skivvies; Charlie, Findlay and myself to just about the same. Joe DaCorte, our navigator, worked the helm while we ate.
By 2000 hours we were heeling over so that we were having difficulty getting about below. We decided that before turning in we would go on deck and help the other watch reduce sail so we wouldn't get called out of the sack to do this later on.
We all agreed that we should roll in more reef in the main and go to a No. 4 Genoa with a very high foot and low center of effort that would prevent the seas from loading the sail with water and eventually exploding it. After we finished we all sat up on the weather deck watching with great interest as our proud Scylla began to drive through a forest of masthead lights. Damn—if this wasn't the very essence of ocean racing!
By now the seas were extremely heavy, perhaps 30 to 35 feet high, and wind gusts were 55 knots—so violent that the tops of the seas were being ripped off and tossed on our decks, depositing the residue of the sea—sargasso seaweed, flying fish trying to escape our scuppers, even swimming between us and the cabin house in their rush back to the sea.
Before we went back on deck after chow, we had re-dressed for the storm. I still recall wearing a turtleneck sweater my grandmother knit for me during World War II and my foul-weather gear. Also, we all wore safety belts that permitted us to hook up to the ship to prevent being swept overboard.
Jack Weston hastily put his foul-weather suit over his underwear and slipped into someone else's Top-Siders in his haste to get back up on deck. It was still warm, and clothing did not seem particularly necessary.
Once on deck, we persuaded the other watch that we had too much sail and the boat was laboring. We all shortened sail. I guess Joe DaCorte became bored under shortened canvas, so at this point Chuck Wiley took over the helm.