Crewmember for the Transatlantic Race Nick Wood recounts a memorable 12 days of ocean racing aboard the big Herreshoff schooner Mariette, enjoying rare roast beef and china cups on the crossing
This year the 138ft gaff schooner Mariette is 100 and to celebrate, her owner and her captain, Charlie Wroe, decided to take part in the Transatlantic Race. As she was built by the Herreshoff manufacturing company in Bristol, Rhode Island, only a few miles from the start at Newport, this seemed only fitting.
Our crew of 16 counted a total of 149 transatlantic crossings between them. Wroe reminded us that we were there to race, not just to deliver the boat. Mariette had been immaculately prepared by her full-time crew. The clinker tenders, davits and surplus gear were removed and Patrick, our cook, had provisioned amply.
We started on a murky day after a big depression had blown through, leaving a very unstable wind and confused sea pattern. This meant multiple sail changes the first night, a taste of the days to come.
Our navigator, Halvard Mabire, who has five Whitbread Races and 32 transatlantics to his name, soon had us heading south-east to find the Gulf Stream, which runs at up to three knots. By day three we were in schooner heaven, with the wind just abaft the beam, gobbling up the miles to the waypoints off the Newfoundland banks placed to keep the fleet south of ice.
We carried six to eight sails at a time (of the 17 sails in the extensive sail wardrobe), including gollywobblers and fishermen of various sizes hoisted between the rigs. We ran with ballooners, spinnakers and a combination of jibs, jib-tops and staysails on the foremast and they all needed to be trimmed constantly.
A minimum of eight hands were required to change a jib. The standby watch often had to crawl out from under their warm duvets to get back into foulweather gear, but we were covering 275-340 miles a day so spirits were high.
Patrick, who gained incredibly well developed left leg muscles from cooking on starboard tack for most of the 12 days, also kept morale high by producing great food. The menu on the sixth day was rare roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and veg – how lucky we felt thinking of crew in stripped-out raceboats eating freeze-dried food out of plastic bowls.
On day seven a big breeze arrived with large seas and the skipper chose to drop the main and hoist the trysail. Only at this point was it getting difficult to deliver four cups of tea in china cups to the on-watch crew. But still Mariette was flying under four small sails, clocking a top speed of 17.8 knots. Spume flew, ice blue waves crashed into the cockpit and the bowsprit was often totally submerged in an Atlantic roller.
Mabire warned of some difficult days transiting weather systems. He was soon proved correct, as our biggest sails hung limp and wet with Atlantic fog, and eight tonnes of rig creaked, groaned and shook the boat in the leftover lumpy seas.
Our nearest opposition, the Reichel/Pugh 63 Lucky and 100ft Finot-Conq Nomad, took a more southerly route, hung onto the pressure system and passed us two days from the finish.
We constantly tweaked the sheet leads, tried different sail combinations and sailed Mariette as hard as we could towards the Lizard and in a final blaze we were escorted into the Western Approaches at night by dolphins lit up by phosphorescence.
After 12d 7h 21m we had covered just over 3,000 miles. Mariette’s cannon was fired at 0450 on entry into Falmouth, waking up the resident seagulls. Family and friends greeted us on the dock with Cornish pasties and bottles of Doom Bar. We had finished 3rd across the line, 3rd on corrected time and winners of Class 4.
Happy Birthday, Mariette!
This is an extract from a feature in the September issue of Yachting World