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Cat that goes like a bat
Hugh D. Whall
April 29, 1974
'Beowulf' was the fastest thing afloat in the regatta, but when the seas came up and rigging came down, she finished in the litter
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April 29, 1974

Cat That Goes Like A Bat

'Beowulf' was the fastest thing afloat in the regatta, but when the seas came up and rigging came down, she finished in the litter

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On the course set aside for the small centerboards it suddenly seemed as if a pod of brightly colored whales had come cruising through the action. But it was not exactly whales—it was the bottoms of overturned boats all over the place. Things got so bad that after the race was finally finished and the sailors wetly withdrew to the clubhouse to dry off, the results were thrown out because it was discovered one of the marks had drifted in the heavy seas. Nearby, divisions two and three, the small cruisers and the noncruising keel boats, were not able to sail even one leg. In the swirl of wind and sea, their second race was washed out when a marker broke loose, leaving the skippers searching all over the local ocean for their turning point, much to the embarrassment of officials who had anchored the buoy.

Meanwhile, the greatest havoc of all was taking place on the multihull course. One enormous cat with a solid wing for a sail—it came across the water like a 747 making a crash landing—suddenly lost the wing. The craft shattered into pieces that littered the water (and later the beach) on all sides.

Another multihull, a 25-footer owned by Lee Griswold, broke a crossbeam and fell apart, while somewhere on the waves not far away a similar C cat, Spirit of '76, looked as if she had been hit head on by a catamaran torpedo: both bows started to come unstuck.

And what of Beowulf? She was leading the race, naturally, but she was in as much trouble as everyone. Eventually, her boom broke apart, with the jagged ends of the aluminum spar jabbing through the trampoline. Like so many others, she did not finish—which meant that Dashew had spent his throwaway race with two more events still to come.

As the fleet limped home to dry out, Beowulf had two firsts and a second on the handicap system and three firsts on the boat-to-boat scoring—a seemingly unbeatable score. But the regatta was not over, and if Thursday had been black, Friday was worse.

This time it was not the wind. There was the black cat, all repaired, knifing along in moderate winds toward the final weather mark—so far ahead of the field that everybody was out of sight astern. She was winning the boat-to-boat with ease and was obviously ahead on handicap. Less than 200 yards remained to the orange buoy when Dashew, alternately swinging in and out on his trapeze to control the angle of heel, swerved Beowulf upwind. And that is when everybody looked aloft, as the skipper said later, with horror.

The mainsail was fluttering down; the lock that holds it up had suddenly opened. Quickly the crew wrapped the halyard around a winch and began hauling the sail back up where it belonged. But they ground too fiercely, breaking a faulty mast step, and now with even more horror they watched the whole rig—mast, sail and all—topple slowly over the side.

As an ex-philosophy major, Dashew took the mishap well enough. "I really got mad. I wondered if it was all actually worth it," he said. "But then I thought back 15 minutes to when we had been reaching along at 26 knots, and I got hooked all over again."

Several hours and a great many more repairs later Beowulf took off in Saturday's last race, winning it by an anticlimactic easy mile. Unhappily, it was too late to overcome the low handicap score posted by Harvey and Stewart's much smaller Tornado.

When the regatta was over and points tallied, co-winners were Blackaller in his Star and Paul Tara of Santa Cruz in his International 505. It meant that the official best boat of the regatta had turned out to be really two boats with identical scores. And neither was the one everybody knew to be the fastest unofficial boat—a situation that pretty much describes what sailing is all about. There would be fuel for new arguments for another year, since each sailor probably went away still convinced that his was the best boat afloat.

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