Each fall, right after the close of the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, I join our Boat of the Year team for new-boat sea trials and spend four “fun-filled” days sailing many, many miles, all within the relatively tight confines of the U.S. Naval Academy to the west, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the north, and Kent Island to the east. Unlike most sailors, who enjoy ever-changing vistas up and down the bay aboard the same boat, my BOTY mates and I watch the same shorelines pass by year in and year out, only we see them from many different cockpits.
And then, this past spring, I found a whole new way to enjoy that very same patch of water: My wife, Sue, and I flew into town to join sailing pal Dave Robinson, a local and owner of Magic Eight Ball, for the North Sails Rally, held on the Saturday of the three-day Helly Hanson Annapolis NOOD Regatta. This time, though, the day really was fun-filled, which is what the whole rally concept is all about: go sailing with friends and enjoy.
The NOODs, as they’re called, are a franchise of our sister publication, Sailing World, and include events in St. Petersburg, Florida; San Diego; Chicago; Annapolis; and Marblehead, Massachusetts, culminating with a championship race in the British Virgin Islands each fall.
The regattas are organized primarily around one-design fleets, and the round-the-buoy action is keen. But three years ago, North Sails stepped in to sponsor a cruising event to get nonracers out for the day and to the party at the yacht club afterward. The idea is pretty simple: skip the windward-leeward courses that promote testosterone overload and shouting; employ a well-accepted handicapping formula to level the playing field; split the fleet into spinnakers and nonspinnakers; and rely on a pursuit start (each crew has its own start time) to minimize anxiety (and carnage) at the gun.
“We brainstormed the idea of the North Sail Rally Races a couple of years ago when attending the NOODs,” says Chuck Allen, of North Sails One Design. “We were seeing similar attendance numbers year to year and event to event. We couldn’t help but notice all the boats sitting in their slips or on their moorings. We thought, why are they not out here? Answer: Sailing for three days is too much for most sailors.
“Since then, we’ve seen continual growth in our North Sails Rally Race attendance throughout the country.”
So far, 185 boats and crews have participated — including us, aboard Dave’s C&C 38, which he bought for a song, polished up a bit, and this year entered in the cruising nonspinnaker division.
Race day was typical for Annapolis. By that I mean it was hot, humid, and there wasn’t a whole lot of wind. A well-stocked cooler was key.
Being the slowest boat in the rally, we got to start first, without another boat in our six-boat class or the 13-boat spinnaker fleet even close to us.
Magic Eight Ball glided past the committee boat, and we soon determined that with a little luck, we could probably make the first mark of the course, a buoy off in the distance by Kent Island, on one tack. Excellent news for the trimmers. With the next boat not scheduled to start until a few minutes after us, we looked brilliant out there in front. And it all went so well until it didn’t. The wind died for us first, when we were still several hundred yards from the mark. As we spun in circles in the current, we watched as the rest of the fleet slowly arrived to drift in circles too. Yes, it drove us to drink.
Finally, a whisper of breeze filled the genoa. We were moving, and eventually rounded the mark and headed for the next, a good ways north by the bridge. For a good chunk of the afternoon, we inched our way toward it, sailing (and drifting) neck and neck with the boats on each side. Mercifully, the race committee shortened course and was there waiting to take our sail number when we arrived at the second mark. As racers often do, we toasted our brilliance, then furled the sails and headed for the Mount Gay tent that awaited us ashore. That evening, we were there when Dave stepped forward to accept his second-place trophy, and we tipped caps to Jon Opert, whose crew took first with his Hanse 371, Orion. Like everyone else in the tent that night, we came, we sailed, we partied. We were racers, and yes, we had fun.
Find out more about the North Sails Rally at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta here.