Today's leg was like an epic prizefight between two stubborn, punch-drunk champions who were determined to make it to the decision.
The leg from Wrightsville Beach to Atlantic Beach took 9 hours and 24 minutes for the leader to complete. At just 67 miles this was one of the shorter legs on the course, but light winds from the Northeast turned the leg into a long slow beat.
Hundreds of spectators watched from the beach and hotel decks bundled in warm clothes as Alexander's on the Bay, sailed by Brian Lambert and Jamie Livingston surfed onto the beach just 38 seconds ahead of Rod Waterhouse and Katie Pettibone of Guidant. Nigel Pitt and Alex Shafer of Tommy Bahama rallied for third. The top 3 finished quite close together then a huge pack led by Jay SonnenKlar and John Casey of Castrol finished after a 10 minute gap.
As the boats surfed onto the beach they were saluted with a martial display of bagpipe prowess by Robert Copenhaver. Robert planned his vacation from Virginia to coincide with the Worrell 1000 passage through the Outer Banks. "I just wanted to play something celebratory to finish them and I'll pipe them off tomorrow for the start," explained the humble Copenhaver
Alexander's and Guidant swapped the lead at least a dozen times and when they arrived at the beach, an energized and gracious Rod Waterhouse sought out Brian Lambert and Jamie Livingston of Alexander's to say "great race."
Lambert was ecstatic as he faced the cadre of TV cameras at the finish. "It was a tactical and nerve wracking day," said Lambert, "we lost track after the first 100 tacks." "This is my favorite leg, we've won it three of the last 4 years," added the smiling Lambert.
Nigel Pitt of Tommy Bahama was happy to see the shore after the long day on the water. "It was like they kept moving the weather mark," commented the jocular Pitt.
The strategy was simple today, protect the beach at all costs. Although the wind was wafting straight down the beach from the Northeast, it payed to stay close to shore at all times. Early in the race the wind was light and from straight upwind. The boats were not close to flying hulls and they picked their way slowly up the coast. After 1/2 hour the fleet had covered just 1.6 miles and everyone knew it would be a long day. But after 30 miles the wind shifted East and the fleet tight reached along the beach for an hour in light winds. Five miles later the wind shifted back on the nose and filled in strong at 12-15 knots. The fleet then sailed the final 25 miles upwind, double trapezing. Many of the teams that had good speed in the lighter part of the leg struggled and vice versa. Carl Roberts and David Lennard of Sail for Sight moved from 10th to 5th once the wind filled. Tommy Bahama overhauled Castrol quickly as well. Pyacht held 5th for most of the leg, but dropped to 9th when the breeze filled. Jay Sonnenklar of Castrol felt that the top 3 boats had an edge on speed and savy. "We just didn't change gears as well as the top guys when the breeze filled," commented Sonnenklar.
Lambert and Waterhouse traded leads and tacks for 67 miles today. This leg was a bit like the America's Cup of catamaran distance racing. For the last 5 miles of the leg Alexander's used match racing tactics to protect the shore, tacking on the wind of Guidant when Waterhouse pointed his boat towards the shore and allowing him clear air position when he pointed out away from the shore on port tack. The strategy worked to perfection.
The competitors varied in their opinion of today's racing conditions. It is rare, even in the Worrell 1000, for the fleet to sail upwind for most of 67 miles. Some of the racers were exhausted and commented that they would have preferred some reaching or running, but Les Bauman of Team Fully Involved would have none of that candy-ass attitude. "Today was like real racing," raved a pumped up Bauman in the hotel elevator, "you were tacking and ducking and comparing speed." "Unlike the night legs where you are sailing alone, you could see mistakes, In fact, we missed one shift near the finish and lost 5 boats, but that's what racing is." Bauman, a fireman by trade, said that this was his second favorite leg. Only the leg from Jensen Beach to Cocoa Beach in crazy, survival conditions thrilled him more.
The GPS has revolutionized this race from a competition and safety standpoint. But today a GPS helped from a statistical standpoint. Mike Walker, shore chief for Dinghy Shop, plugs his team's GPS into his laptop at the end of each day and voila! The track that the team sailed is illuminated on a chart for criticism and acclaim. Looking at the track today he counted 80 tacks for the Dinghy Shop team.
Tomorrow the wind should rotate around to the East and provide a smoother run. Tomorrow is also the craziest leg for the shore-side staff. The land-route to Hatteras requires a ferry from the mainland to Okracoke Island, and then another ferry from Okracoke over to Hatteras. If you miss the ferry, you miss the finish. The drive takes on a "Cannonball Run" flavor as teams compete to make the first ferries.