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By Mac MacDevitt - Essex, NY on Lake Champlain - USA

May 24-28, Windrider 17 Trimaran - ONWARD

Big Weather, Choppy Seas, Shallow Waters: Sailing a Windrider 17 Trimaran in the 2010 OBX 130

So what was I doing, hauling my Windrider 17 trimaran ONWARD south towards North Carolina to connect with a group of guys I had never met, to sail in what looked like a pretty sketchy event in shallow water with shifting sands and weird tides, where the only real promise was a host of mosquitoes at dusk every evening? In joining the OBX 130, I was following a new dream about sailing. A dream that involved seeking more adventure, with more unknowns, and with a much smaller and more radical boat than the larger cruising trimarans that had fed my dreams in the past.

My sailing dream had begun to shift about three years ago. For more than 20 years I had been sailing trimarans, mostly on Lake Champlain. First a modified 27' Searunner with a 40 foot wing mast. Then a
31' Searunner that was big enough for each of the boys to have his own quarter berth and galley in the sterncastle that could seat all of us at mealtime. And then my Porsche, a Corsair F-27, fast, beautifully engineered, and trailerable with folding cross beams that tucked the amas under the hull.

But slowly thru all these experiences had come the building realization that the part of cruising I loved best was just being out there, close to the water, swept by the wind and tossed by the waves. Exploring inlets and coves. Sailing close to shore. Pulling up on a beach to spend the night. Sharing the experience with friends. And exploring new cruising grounds. I found this had a name, "beach cruising".

After reading everything I could find about beach cruisers over the winter, I headed out in May for the Cedar Key Small Boat Meet to get some hands-on feel for these boats. After test sailing a few sweet monohulls, Jim Brown, the Searunner designer and a real dream feeder for me, put me in the cockpit of one of his Windrider 17' designs. As I zipped around in a brisk wind I could not stop grinning. The boat was speedy, responsive, stable, and so much fun to sail. I was steering with my feet from the rear cockpit with my hands free to tend to the sheets or eat a sandwich. I felt like a kid in a pedal car, or, even better, a WW I flying ace in a biplane. And from Jim and his friends, I heard tales about beach cruising in these tris down the California coast and surfing down the waves off the Carolina coast.

Windrider 17 Onward under sail in northern waters.

So now I was driving to Cedar Island at the head of Core Sound for a Sunday evening skippers meeting. I was trying out some new storage systems and planned to take all day Sunday to pack and repack the boat. This meant that I wouldn't get to do a test sail before launching in the expected high winds and big seas on Monday.

The OBX 130 is a 5 day raid type event, a 130 mile round trip from our launch point to Cape Lookout at the southern end of the sound. The event was hatched by Paul Moffit. His dad Bill and brother Shaun had brought their Joe Michalak designed Mikesboat. Paul is 20-something romantic who had developed a deep love for the Outer Banks. He wanted to share this remote cruising ground with fellow sailors. Chuck Leinweber had come along to crew with Bill. I quickly learned that many of these OBX sailors are a breed apart. They build boats themselves, often a new one for an upcoming event. They report slapping a boat together in a few weekends out of plywood and epoxy. Paint them up so they look pretty good. Andy Linn and Mike Monies were sailing a Laguna, a long barge with two masts and professional looking polytarp sails that Andy sewed up. They were doing the raid circuit from the Everglades Challenge, the Florida 120 and heading for the Texas 200. Three of the boats were Michalak's designs - single leeboards, real shallow draft. Perfectly designed to bump and grind across the shallows in Core Sound.

David organizing gear in his Mikesboat at the Rod and Gun Club

The weather forecast was dismal. The weather channel was predicting the first named tropical storm of the season. Bob Grona, the only other WR 17 sailor who showed up, and Dave Ware who had a beautiful homebuilt cruiser dropped out before the start. I almost followed their lead, but when I saw these OBX guys head out in their slab sided, leeboard stabilized, homebuilt, backyard yahoo sailboats, I just had to follow them into the coming maelstrom.

They launched their shallow draft boats on the sound side of Cedar Island in the lee of the winds and waves. I launched at the public ramp on the windward side of the island. With my mighty 2 HP Honda at full throttle, I smashed through an opening in the rocky breakwater that left only a foot clearance on either side of my 12 foot beam, directly into the teeth of a strong NE wind with waves that had been building for days. My new systems - dual tiller extensions, mid-boom sheeting, motor spray shield, and new twin windshields got tested for the first time in these wild conditions. It took a concerted effort to get everything straightened out. To clear the island, I had to sail for about 5 miles directly into the wind. The wind was so strong that it distorted my forward windshield so that it interfered with my tiller extension on the starboard side. What really saved me was the boat's ability to provide a stable platform, just inching forward under mainsail alone with the boom out, while I scrambled around making adjustments.

When I finally rounded the east end of the island it was a straight downwind sail, 20+ miles to the abandoned Rod and Gun Club site. Navigation was a big challenge. The water is shallow, and at times a narrow channel in the middle of the sound is the only way through the shallows. Waves are steep and choppy. The land is mostly low lying scrub and flats with few landmarks available on the shore. I ran aground a few times, and once, leaning over the boom while the boat pirouetted around the keel stuck in the sand, before I knew what was happening I got flung across the cockpit and ended up sprawled on my back on the tramp. I got a lesson that a boat can be sailing and jibe unexpectedly even when it is making no forward progress.

WR 17 ready for sleeping aboard at the Rod and Gun Club anchorage

These cruising grounds presented some new challenges. With the WR I needed to anchor a ways off shore, in at least a few feet of water, and that meant being fully exposed to the wind. No sheltered coves to hide in, no rocks to use to step ashore to keep my feet dry. And the tides were a challenge. They ranged between 5 feet at the Cape, 2.5 feet mid-way, and just inches at the launch ramp. Between the rain and the spray, anchoring in deep enough water to account for the tides, and wading into shore for doses of camaraderie, I was wet almost all the time.

Each morning the boats headed out when the crews were ready. With my continual packing and repacking, I always was last to leave. The WR draws 18 inches, so I needed to avoid the shallows that the others bumped across. I never ended up sailing in company with the other boats. This felt a little weird, but that is the way these events work. It is kind of like a race, with an extended Le Mans start, and you get to the next camping spot when you get there.

On Day 2 Paul, the event organizer sailed with me. We barreled along straight down wind, sometimes even doing a wing on wing. The boat was a stable trooper. Following the narrow, winding channel down close to Cape Lookout, we missed seeing a buoy and ran hard aground. This time I stayed ensconced in the rear cockpit, well clear of the boom and shouted out orders like an admiral. Paul scrambled on deck and dropped the main. We were able to walk the boat to deeper water, raise the main, hop on and take off.

The Laguna barrels into the anchorage at Cape Lookout

While we were getting unstuck, a major drama was unfurling. David, who was sailing his Mikesboat for the first time, was heading into Harker's Island to drop out. He unexpectedly capsized, and Sean, the Moffitt boy superhero, jumped in and helped David right his boat and motor into the dock. Pete Lamarche, who had come all the way from Ontario with a sweet little sloop, dropped out as well. He had purchased a new GPS, but found when underway that he needed internet access on a computer to initialize it. He also had no charts and no VHF radio.

We arrived at Cape Lookout to find Tony Day happily hard aground at the camping spot in his Core Sound Princess, a very sweet, moderate-draft boat, that had been his labor of love for 3 years. We were now down to four boats from the original eight that had rolled into Cedar Island planning to go the distance. I headed for shore to camp, but, after the only protected flat spot we found to set up our tents filled with water at high tide and everyone moved to higher but lumpy ground, I headed back out and pitched my tent on the boat. The winds picked up to 25+ knots with gusts in the 30's, the rain pelted down in sheets, the tent bowed, held, and I stayed dry. I had spent a lot of time fabricating an oval out of PVC pipe - it was even spring loaded - to secure the gasket my wife had sewn around the hole in the tent floor to keep it tight against the center cockpit sides.

Wading thru the first campsite heading for higher ground.

We spent Day 3 hunkered down. As the rain finally cleared we visited the lighthouse and interpretive center, but the winds continued to blow. Some of the guys were out of dry clothes. Their tents had leaked during the night. My motor had fritzed out. I worked in knee deep water to pull off the carb, and Bill, the head of the Moffitt clan made up a wire and cleaned the jet. Tony took good care of me as well. He charged my GPS from his main batteries and gave me fresh gas for my motor. Later he grilled me a hamburger, saving me from another freeze dried dinner. And yup, much to my surprise, the motor fired up.

Campsite at Cape Lookout - high, lumpy and dry (except for the rain).

Unexpectedly in the late afternoon, a little Bolger designed Sweet Pea came blasting in on the high winds. George Broadlick had launched from Harker's Island, and his downwind sail in the roaring winds was an incredible feat of seamanship in my book. That night as I cooked up my meal in the tent and snuggled into my warm dry bed, I felt like a king in his castle.

George pulling his peapod ashore after a wild, windy ride.

On Day 4, Stuart Bartlett, a Brit and a friend of Paul's,  joined me as we picked our way back north into a gentle breeze that was right on our nose, hoping to make enough progress before the tide turned and swept us back to the cape or out to sea. The sun came out and I fell asleep on the tramps. Stuart too was able to take a nap while I steered. It took all day to sail back to the Rod and Gun Club. As we sat around the fire that night I realized that the challenges we all faced on the trip had begun to bond us together. We were starting to become true comrades.

That night a squall blew through and I dragged my stern anchor as the wind shifted. But the rain held off. On Day 5, our final day, the winds were again strong from the NE and I sailed back to Cedar Island with Sean as crew and with the wind in our teeth, smashing through the short choppy waves. I was hoping to pull out on the sheltered ramp that evening, but all the king's horses and all the kings men. I had lots of help, but we just couldn't muscle the boat on the trailer in the shallow water. One of the old timers at the restaurant steered me to an alternate ramp in the sound and I was able to get the boat on the trailer on the following morning.

Sean, utility player for the Moffitt clan.

We had a closing dinner on Friday night. Ah, it was wonderful to take a shower and get cleaned up. Chuck let on that he was the organizer of the Texas 200 and had built a number of boats for the events. Andy had to ask me a tough question - "How come you, with your high tech tri, comes in last every day"? I was surprised that these guys saw my WR as a high tech boat. Most multi-hull sailors see the WR
17 as a plastic toy and are amazed that we use them for serious cruising adventures. I told Andy that I wasn't a very good sailor - which actually is true. But I didn't add that in the right conditions, with a little more water under our keels and stiff wind on a beam reach, I could fly right by all of them.

By the end of the trip, I realized clearly how much I had come to love and appreciate these guys, these renegades who were about as un-yachty as they get - they make even us radical small trimaran guys look like we should be wearing yellow Bermuda shorts and topsiders. They, like most of the WR sailors I have come to know, are in these events for the adventure and the camaraderie that is all too often in short supply for us old guys. I was definitely an outsider, but they looked after me and made sure that I came back in one piece.

Andrew Linn, rugged, indefatigable, always funny.

Chuck and George




Day 5 Video commentary beating to windward on the Windrider 17.. Shot by Sean Moffitt.

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