Two Jibes, Two Tacks: Carina Leads Another Thrash

Carina wins second straight Lighthouse Trophy.

Carina, Newport Bermuda 2012

Barry Pickthall/ppl

It may seem a little boring: one long, 635-mile port-tack reach in a 15-25 knot northeasterly, sailing mostly under jib and main. But only the big boats saw those conditions all the way through the 2012 Newport Bermuda Race as they systematically disassembled the old elapsed time records. The fact is that the smaller boats had a lot more complicated challenge, and they’re the ones that did well on corrected time.

On board Rives Potts' 48-foot Carina, the crew made five sail changes just in the first few hours as she joined the long parade aiming for the narrow gap in the Gulf Stream between an eddy and the rhumb line. According to Carina navigator Lexi Gahagan, it helped to have so many boats sailing in such close company over the first two days. "It's always good to have boats around you, otherwise you go into cruise mode." A team that pressed her especially hard on this long reach was one of the U.S. Naval Academy boats that have done so well in the race.

With the Gulf Stream behind Carina, things became decidedly multicolored for her and the other mid-size boats. Before the race, some meteorologists had predicted the breeze would collapse into a flat calm on Sunday. This forecast persuaded many that Rambler or another of the big boats that finished early would save her time on the whole fleet and pull off a corrected time victory for the monsters.

And yet, when Carina's brain trust studied a forecast on Sunday morning, they did not see a long wide calm across the area known as "Happy Valley" stretching from the Stream to the Bermuda archipelago. What caught their collective eye was a line of squalls making up near Bermuda. That was the race's game-changer. "After that," says Gahagan, "it was really all about the low."

When the wind backed through north into the northwest that afternoon, Happy Valley became an extremely tactical playing field. Now the crucial elements were good steering and clever choices of jibing angles. Boats that didn't spot the new weather (like Dorade, whose satphone was down) missed out, but boats that did – including Carina and Black Watch – gained large distances in this "second leg" of the 2012 Newport Bermuda Race.

Good steering was crucial in these shifting winds. "We told the helmsmen, 'Steer to maintain speed,'" says Gahagan. "Too many people get locked into steering compass courses. It's much better to sail better angles to keep the boat going." Still, Carina had her troubles. A cloud that produced a 30-knot squall proceeded to leave her parked in a calm for half an hour, watching the transom of a competitor disappear over the horizon ahead as the boat's speedo showed triple zeroes. "We got that one back," says Gahagan. "We were lucky there wasn't much running. We have to sail sharper angles than other boats."

Carina played the wind shifts patiently and effectively until she took in the spinnaker and went on the wind for the first time in the race, crossing the finish line on Monday evening with an elapsed time of just under 76 hours. In all those 635 miles, Carina jibed only twice, and she tacked only twice.

And that was the race.