MIAMI, FLA., FEB. 5, 9:15 A.M.
The day is bright and clear, wind east at 20-22, with a few ragged puffs of clouds sliding high over the mast tips of the fleet gathered at the city yacht basin the morning of the race to Nassau. Along the docks the sailors are getting ready to shove off, crawling over cabin trunks to secure ventilators and hatch covers, straddling the shallow chasm between dockside and deck to pass on last-minute stores, flumping great Dacron sail bags into sail lockers, and—this being Miami—stopping all work from time to time to observe the lush little ladies ankling slowly down the dock to admire the fleet and be much admired by it. A blonde freezes the activity for a moment. Then she passes, and dockside babble of voices picks up again. "Here, hand me the soup. Where the hell did we put the genny? You mean you didn't bring it? How you going to put that line through there?" Then big, gray-white MARE NOSTRUM, at 71 feet six inches the longest boat in the fleet of 32, drops her lines and heads out the channel toward the start—first to leave.
Aboard "Hilaria,"11:45 a.m.
Fifteen minutes to the start between the Coast Guard cutter AURORA and a white nun bobbing heavily in the steep, ragged chop. We have our main, mizzen and staysail up, with the No. 2 genoa jib ready to go when we get the 10-minute warning gun. Eleven of us aboard, counting Skipper Hugh Schaddelee, some in oilskins against the heavy spray, others in shorts, their backs and faces smeared with sun cream. This is going to be a rugged ride. Dead to windward at least till we turn Great Stirrup Cay, two-thirds of the way to Nassau. Now it's time for the genny. The warning gun goes off, a puff of smoke over the pale green water. Most of the boats are jamming at the south end of the line. There's Harvey Conover in the REVONOC trailing FINISTERRE toward the line. Close behind come SPRAY and MERRY MAIDEN. COMANCHE is up to windward. Not much longer now.
We're off; 184 miles to Nassau. Poor start for us. We hung back to get out of the jam-up by the buoy. Thank God we did. REVONOC just came about. SPRAY heads up, gets stopped dead by a wave. MERRY MAIDEN'S bow comes crashing aboard, shears off SPRAY'S mizzen and barely misses crewman Timothy Sullivan. Driven ahead by MERRY MAIDEN, SPRAY plows into REVONOC'S starboard rail, and the three boats, locked together, do a slow waltz around the buoy as the men on deck battle to untangle the mess. Now they're getting free. All three are going to stay in the race, SPRAY without a mizzen, MERRY MAIDEN with her forward rigging badly bent, REVONOC with her starboard rail smashed. That's probably all for Conover. He could have been trouble, but with a messy sea like this you can't figure to win with smashed gear.
Criollo, sails trimmed fast and dark varnished hull banging through the water, is walking out ahead of the rest. This is her weather. She won it last year in worse going, and her skipper, Luis Vidaña from Havana, wants this one badly. Jack Price's red-hulled COMANCHE, much steadier since he put in a new 500-pound bronze centerboard, is well up front.
Mogu has a good start, driving well but suddenly all the snaps on her big genny let go, and the sail sags back as though it had been unzipped from the stay. They haul the genny down and ride on the staysail, losing time and falling back while the genny is wrestled aft to get new snaps sewn on. Ready to go again, they hoist the genny back up, but the halyard parts and the sail flops toward the deck. They try rigging it onto a spinnaker halyard but the line stretches. The sail won't set. She's tender enough in heavy going. Without her big headsails, she's dead.
Hoot mon, fleet champion in 1954 and 1955, is wallowing along next to us under a big genny and no mizzen, her crew perched like a row of black crows along the windward rail. She looks out of it already. No drive. Something's wrong with us too. Our genny is rattling like a machine gun. The steel shrouds are quivering with it, and so is the mast. We try to head up with MARE NOSTRUM and can't make it. Then we lose a luffing match to MALABAR XIII. The genny is just plain wrong. It's not giving us the power we need to drive through these waves. Two men go forward to try and trim it in tighter, hanging onto the leeward rail and getting dunked to their knees as HILARIA dips her rail at each puff. Still no good. We're sagging off to leeward of the fleet all the time. Up to windward, CRIOLLO is still boiling along; and not far behind, with her small sails strapped down and drawing perfectly, is Carleton Mitchell's everlasting FINISTERRE, eating up the rough going and picking up valuable time on the big boats.
Twenty-eight miles out on the way across the Gulf Stream toward the coral banks at Bimini and Gun Cay. The bright white row of hotels along Miami Beach has dropped out of sight astern, and we're at sea for sure. Wind holding fresh at 20-25, a little south of east. We're still not making anything. This windward work out here in the stream isn't doing a thing for my stomach, either. One of the other crewmen is looking pretty quiet, too. The rest of the fleet is two to four miles upwind now. Nothing for us to do but cover the 44 miles over to Bimini as fast as we can, get under the shelter of the reefs and try to make up some time by running north to Great Isaac Light in the calmer water.
A board CRIOLLO there is the quick, nasty thud of broken gear, the boom sags, and the foot of the mainsail collapses like an accordion up against the mast. For 20 minutes the Cuban crew sweats to stretch the sail out along the boom. Finally they make it. CRIOLLO takes off again, but you can't give away time like that to FINISTERRE, not in a rough race like this one.