Leg four from Cocoa Beach to Daytona Beach was not as eventful as the preceding legs.
Heavy surf is still hammering the Florida coastline and the finish was tricky in the sagging, 5 knot breeze. Winds were as high as 14 knots during the race, but they tapered as the day progressed and the sailors had tough sledding in big seas and fickle wind. The Easterly swell has grown huge after a week of strong Easterly breezes. The surf off Daytona Beach is still well overhead in the big sets even with the diminished breeze.
The race for the leg victory showed just how important the approach to the beach can be. Brian Lambert and Jamie Livingston of Alexander's aced out Rod Waterhouse and Katie Pettibone of Guident by 11 seconds after Guidant led along the approach to the beach but overstood the finish.
"We went to the wrong flag," sighed Waterhouse, "we were aiming for the orange flag on the lifeguard stand instead of the finish line." The error forced Guidant to gybe for the finish, getting dangerously sideways to the surf in the shallow water. Lambert pumped his main and Livingston slid out on the bows to facilitate surfing as they approached on a perfect angle and slipped across the line to take their fourth straight leg victory.
"We were ahead, but we went too far off-shore and didn't come in early enough," noted Lambert. He and Livingston lived dangerously, sailing the entire race with a broken rudder casting that they suffered at the start. If the breeze had freshened the whole rudder housing could have collapsed and they would have lost a lot of time coming to shore to fix it.
The race was extremely close at the top. The lead changed many times and at least 5 boats claimed the top spot at some point in the race. Nigel Pitt and Alex Shafer of Tommy Bahama sailed a solid leg to finish third, just nipping Team Tybee sailed by Steve Lohmayer and Kenny Pierce.
Most of the fleet was able to fly the spinnaker after rounding Cape Canaveral. The top group rounded the cape and set the big asymmetricals to sail back towards the shore rather than running along the rhumb-line, which led away from the crescent shaped shoreline. Those who waited too long to get back in-shore were punished and those who went too close to shore were equally hurt.
Katie Pettibone was upbeat about her first day sailing with Rod Waterhouse. "I feel honored to sail with him. The big thing with someone like him is that he's such a good driver that both of us could trap, it was huge. It's amazing how tweeky these boats can be, one small change and all of a sudden you can point 3 or 4 degrees higher."
The shore team's view of this race is vastly different from the ocean-side view that the racers experience. On shore the race is a blur of check-ins and check-outs, followed by hassles with internet hookups and associated techno-nightmares. Once the logistics are sorted out the days blend together. Shore crews and race officials spend long hours sitting on indistinguishable beaches that blend together like the faces of strangers. As the race winds on the shore-side group becomes a big family, supporting each other and sharing jokes to pass the time.
The racers are always entertained and challenged. Even on the light-air legs when the sailing isn't as intense and the mind may have time to wander there are sea turtles, dophins and sharks to spot. From the start in Miami until the finish of leg 5 in Jacksonville there is always the 300 mile barrier beach that fences in the swamps of Florida and forms the left side of the playing field. Sometimes the coastline is bearded by sprig-like conifers that lean away from the prevailing easterly winds. But more often these oases have been replaced by man-made towers of random sizes and shapes that look like children's blocks from a mile off-shore. The sailors approach the groupings of blocks wondering, "is this the finish?" But the GPS tells them when to come in.
Tomorrow the breeze could get lighter. The pressure map is turning ugly quickly and the once-packed bars are parting ways in a hurry. Some of the sailors won't mind. Les Bauman and Craig Callahan were one of the five that finished yesterday's leg. "We needed an easy one," said Callahan, "a little slower is fine after yesterday."
"Yesterday was a little tough on the bod," agreed Reigh North of Dinghy Shop.
The sailors need a little time to heal their wounds, but more than another day of light air will bring frustration and a different kind of fatigue. Rather than the bone bruising and muscle depleting workouts that they endured in the first 3 legs, the sailors will be subjected to sun damage, dehydration and muscle cramps from holding uncomfortable positions for hours. Tactical and Strategic options are greater in wavering, light winds and good decisions can mean huge money while dumb ideas can bring ruin.