The surf was so large at the finish that with proper timing a boat could catch the wave and accelerate to more than 10 knots in just 1 knot of wind.
The Wright Brother's Memorial looms over Kill Devil Hills at the gateway to the Hatteras seashore. The deeds of the illustrious Wright Brothers are etched in legend, a legend made possible by the consistent breezes that rake the barrier beach nearly every day. Today the wind was no where in sight. The fleet suffered through a third straight day of demoralizing light wind. Finally the frustration that can accompany these difficult conditions has taken it's toll. Key Sailing and Red Hook are on the beach. Details are sketchy at this point, but it appears that both teams have withdrawn from the race.
Race Director Mike Worrel reported that Key Sailing was attempting to land around Avon, just past Cape Hatteras, and their boat sustained damage as it was buffeted by the surprisingly large surf. After the boats rounded the cape they were exposed to a Northeast swell that they had been sheltered from by Cape Hatteras. The swell is throwing up beautiful 6 foot curlers and the surfers here in Kill Devil Hills are having a field day. Shore crews are watching the surfers and suffering some of the frustration the sailors are feeling. Mike Worrell is worried about the surf for the finish. "These waves could break up some boats when they land tonight," worried Worrell.
The shore crews have been working hard to keep morale up for the past several days. "We were trying to keep the team up-beat this morning, saying things like 'we're in the front row today'," explained Mike O'Brien of Team Outer Banks. His team is back on their home turf and they have a huge group of supporters on the beach waiting for the finish this evening. Peanut Johnson, a two time Worrell 1000 veteran crew, couldn't make the race this year because he is building a house. Charles Thuman took Peanut's place in the front end of John McGlaughlin's Team Outer Banks boat. But Peanut calls in several times a day for updates, even calling McGlaughlin during the racing to get the scoop and encourage his friends.
This morning I was surprised to hear the "Worrell 1000 report" on my favorite Outer Banks FM station, 99.1 The Sound. O'Brien has been doing daily radio reports as the race has progressed up the coast. The whole community is involved. Tonight Team Outer Banks and friends have planned a party for the racers and shore crews at a local pub, but it looks like the sailors won't be on the beach until 10 or 11.
After a fantastic cookout at Quagmire the whole Worrell 1000 shore-side gang headed back to the beach to set up camp for what has become the regular evening vigil. The big spenders watched from the luxury boxes (the balconies of the waterfront rooms in the hotel) and the plebes stood around on the sandy beach making like bleacher bums as the darkness came. The surf was still large, but the waves were breaking up in whitewater farther off shore due to the lower tide.
The beach wasn't quite as dark tonight as it was last night at Hatteras. The hotel was equipped with powerful sodium lights that partially illuminated the beach and fog to create a scooby doo atmosphere. The flags hung limp and information on the fleet's whereabouts was less than accurate, but at 10:35 two white shapes appeared out of the foggy night locked together like a quadramaran. Team Guidant, with a spinnaker flying in the 1 knot breeze, rolled over Fully involved 100 yards from the finish to take the leg in 12 hours 38 minutes and 4 seconds. Overall leaders Brian Lambert and Jamie Livingston of Alexander's on the Bay finished several minutes later, followed by Dinghy Shop, Team PI, Spitfire Racing, Sail for Sight, Team Tybee, Lexis Nexis, Castrol and Tommy Bahama.
The surf was so large at the finish that with proper timing a boat could catch the wave and accelerate to more than 10 knots in just 1 knot of wind. The beach here is extremely steep, so the boats that caught the wave came to an abrupt halt accompanied by a short grinding noise as the bows dug deep into the sand.
The wind was so unstable that the competitors themselves were completely surprised by their finishing positions. Most of the day was spent drifting in less than three knots, but for almost an hour some of the boats sailed in 15 knots of wind and double-trapezed with the spinnakers flying towards the finish. This strong breeze was several miles off-shore, and as the boats came back in towards the shore to finish, they hit a vacuum, trading places and parking for a long time. The sailors went in-shore, then off-shore, chasing zephyrs for most of the 67 mile leg. But despite the fickle winds the fleet finished remarkably close together. The racing was so close that David Lennard had to apologize to another sailor for pushing it on a port-starboard situation during the race!
For most of the Race Tommy Bahama led the front group which included Guidant and Alexander's. "We were in the lead all day and we were double trapping with the spinnaker up going 15 knots, then boom, we parked, we only sailed one minute farther than Guidant," complained an amazed Alex Shafer. Indeed, the shore-side officials didn't even believe that such high speeds had been attained during the day. But Jamie Livingston corroborated the information, showing skeptical onlookers the damage to his daggerboard and trunk from hitting a sea turtle while the GPS was reading 20 knots of boatspeed.
The sailors who were able to finish stood for more than an hour in the eerie lighting, exchanging stories and enjoying a beer. Shore-crews provided sandwiches and the finish line was crowded with sailors and well-wishers. Tonight is the last night before the finish and the awards ceremony. Many of the teams split off for team dinners after the ceremony. So today was a chance for the whole group to hang out together before the race moves on to the big city and it's divisive forces.
Hatteras was rough, but with almost no wind during the passage, it wasn't the beast that it can be. The boats all rounded close to the point where a large gallery of sailing fans and fisherman cheered on each boat as it passed the point. Lexis Nexis sailed within feet of the shoreline providing a thrill for the spectators, but the channel was deep there and they could keep blades down all the way around for a safe, smooth rounding.
Tomorrow is the final sprint to the finish. At 60 miles it is the shortest leg of the race aside from the prologue. Lambert and Livingston have built an insurmountable lead. We'll have a report from the start.