The Susan Hood Trophy Race 2023 on Lake Ontario was a thrilling adventure that tested my sailing skills, adaptability, and determination. Alongside my partner, Dheeraj Joshi, we embarked on this challenging race in the Doublehanded category, with little practice and minimal knowledge about the boat we were sailing—a 1979 MG38 sailboat recently acquired by Dheeraj. Join me as I recount the ups and downs of this unforgettable experience.
A Rocky Start:
This race marked my return to competitive sailing after an unfortunate dislocated shoulder forced me to retire from the Golden Globe Race 2022. Despite the setback, we were determined to make the most of this opportunity. However, just before the race start, a squall—a common occurrence on Lake Ontario during hot evenings—created an unexpected obstacle. To our dismay, the velcro on our batten pockets failed, causing three battens to fall out of the mainsail and ruining its shape. With no time to spare, we struggled to fix the issue and ended up arriving at the start line one minute late, watching our competitors sail away.
Despite the setback, Dheeraj and I quickly realized that there was a silver lining. As we sailed toward the first mark, Fogh Mark, we noticed that the wind wasn’t yet suitable for spinnaker use. While other boats rushed to raise their spinnakers, we chose to hold back, sensing an advantage. It was a decision that paid off. When the wind stabilized near the mark, we seized the opportunity and hoisted the spinnaker, gaining ground on our competitors. However, as we approached the mark, we faced another challenge—we had never gybed on this boat before.
Navigating the Unknown:
The MG38 sailboat we were sailing had been set up by its previous owner for a full crew of 8-10 people. Here we were, just the two of us, facing a steep learning curve. As we struggled to gybe and maintain control of the spinnaker, we watched two boats with asymmetrical spinnakers effortlessly pass us. It was a humbling moment, but we refused to give up. Through teamwork and determination, we slowly clawed our way back, overtaking not only our direct competitors but also boats that had started minutes ahead with full crews.
Trial and Error:
As night fell and the wind died down, frustration set in as the entire fleet seemed to come to a standstill. Instead of dwelling on the setback, we saw an opportunity to experiment. We tried different sail positions and configurations, determined to keep moving while others struggled. Our perseverance paid off as we sailed past a significant portion of the fleet, possibly securing a spot in the top 10 overall and an even higher position on handicap.
Struggles and Adaptation:
Exhaustion began to take its toll on both Dheeraj and me. With no moment of rest, we continued to hoist and drop the massive spinnaker, a task typically handled by a larger crew. When we reached the Niagara mark, fatigue momentarily got the better of us, and we neglected to hoist the spinnaker promptly. As a result, several boats seized the opportunity to pass us. Yet, we gathered our remaining energy, regained focus, and slowly but surely retook our lost positions.
The Final Stretch:
Sailing under the spinnaker towards the Burlington mark, we encountered yet another obstacle. The spinnaker wrapped tightly around the forestay, refusing to come apart. With determination and combined strength, Dheeraj and I tugged with all our might until it finally opened up again. However, our struggles weren’t over. At the rounding, the spinnaker halyard got stuck, preventing us from dropping the sail. With sheer willpower, I managed to winch the halyard up, freeing the spinnaker at the cost of a few boat lengths.
The last leg of the race proved to be the most grueling. Facing strong winds and gusts, we found ourselves overpowered without battens and the additional weight of a full crew on the rail. Despite furling half the genoa and the main sail, we were still struggling to maintain control. As competitor after competitor passed us, it was disheartening to see our hard work seemingly undone.
Although our final position may not have reflected our true potential, Dheeraj and I gleaned invaluable lessons from this challenging experience. We learned the importance of thorough preparation and becoming familiar with the vessel we sail. While it was a humbling experience, we remain undeterred. The knowledge we gained from this race will undoubtedly shape our approach as we tackle our next adventure, the Lake Ontario 300 in July. Our aim is to surpass our previous accomplishments and prove our capabilities on the water.
Sailing the Susan Hood Trophy Race 2023 was a rollercoaster of emotions, testing our resilience and adaptability. Despite setbacks and exhaustion, Dheeraj Joshi and I persevered, embodying the true spirit of sailing. It’s not just about the final standings; it’s about the lessons learned, the unyielding determination, and the unbreakable bond forged between teammates. As we set our sights on future races, we carry with us the experiences gained and the unwavering belief that challenges only make us stronger sailors.