Fast Ridin' on an Ultimate Daysailer
The projected daysail in a 15.5-foot Herreshoff Bullseye on Saturday turned into a daysail of a different color. More specifically, I was pretty sure our horizons were going to be expanded when I learned that we'd been invited to sail aboard a slightly larger, faster craft. Yet when all was said and done, it was still a boat designed with an equal focus (albeit a bigger budget and 50 or 60 years of technology leap) on providing an enjoyable daysail.
In the morning it was sunny and a tad chilly, and blowing 20 from the north across West Harbor at Fishers Island, N.Y., maybe more. Even though it had backed down a bit by the time we climbed aboard Elizabeth and Dick Miller's Sleighride, with a crew numbering 17 (two owners, two professionals, thirteen guests), the boat's 77-foot overall length and 100-foot carbon mast promised a high-speed sail.
When raising the main, I drew the task of tailing-not too tough with two jumping the 2:1 halyard at the mast and an electric winch helping me do the rest. But tailing 200 feet of line still took more effort than I expected! The non-overlapping, self-tacking jib went up much easier, and we soon filled away on starboard tack and close-reached for the first mile up to the bell buoy at North Hill in scant minutes with all of us guests getting used to the tilt of the open-air deck saloon-a cushioned area under an expansive hard top, just forward of the primary winches and the twin helms. There's an equally accommodating main saloon belowdecks, a small galley, head, and two cabins with a pair of bunks each. This custom 1995 Sparkman & Stephens design beat the recent daysailer/weekender trend by several years.
We bore off toward Race Rock and Dick said, "Let's set the spinnaker." Which turned out to be a big asymmetric that tacked to an extendable sprit and set in a sock out of a hatch in the foredeck. I helped jump the halyard on this one, and once we untwisted the sock and got it raised, the chute filled and easily carried us at 10 to 12 knots through the Race where we jibed and headed toward Block Island.
Since our goal was to sail around Fishers Island (and I'm not sure the boat's 12'7" draft could get in the entrance at the Great Salt Pond anyway), we dropped the chute and had a lovely fetch on port tack to Lord's Passage off the east end of the island. Some of the crew had been aboard other times when the boat had hit 22 knots. Others, during the annual Labor Day race around Fishers Island, when Sleighride did the 16-mile course in about an hour and forty-five minutes, and they'd done it in just over an hour and a half on a more recent weekend. A record wasn't happening today, however, as the northerly had eased off too much. On the other hand, it allowed the socializing to pick up and my 9-year-old second cousin Matthew to steer the boat upwind for a long stretch into Lord's Passage as smoothly as if it were his Optimist Dinghy.
Fighting the ebb tide once back in Fishers Island Sound, we were treated to a relatively slow tour of the south side of the island. We picked our way carefully past the series of rock piles the Sound is famous for and watched a small down-tide-bound sailboat bounce over Seal Rocks, apparently unscathed. Sleighride had hit a rock in the channel off Brooks Point, so Dick navigated us extra carefully through that narrow patch and we were all happy when the depthsounder stopped going down at 18 feet and began going up again. We bore off around Clay Point on the last of the northerly, dropped and flaked the sails, picked up our mooring, and bid adieu to the crew, who were soon headed back to Sleighride's berth in Portsmouth, R.I., for the night.
Ashore, during happy hour and a perfect sunset, the wind died completely. The flat calm harbor, emptied of much of its water by the nearly-full-moon ebb tide, drew schools of bluefish chasing bait fish in the shallows. As we watched, a great heron landed nearby and began stalking the shallows for his share of the fish. The light faded, and a light southerly crept in.
Tomorrow we'll have a different wind, and a different boat. The Bullseye awaits.