SeaPearl Moon Shadow Wins
Class 4 (monhulled sailboats) in the
WaterTribe North Carolina Challenge 2010

By Bill Fite aka Jarhead

This is a recap (written shortly after the race) of our experience in SeaPearl 21 Moon Shadow during the North Carolina Challenge of 2010. NCC 2010 was a roughly 100-mile circuit challenge for kayaks and small sailboats around Cedar Island and other land via Pamlico Sound, the Neuse River, Clubfoot Creek, Harlowe Canal, Harlowe Creek, the Newport River, Taylor Creek and a checkpoint at Beaufort, Back Sound, Core Sound, and finish via Pamlico Sound at the starting beach near the Ocrakoke Ferry landing.

The challenge started a little after 0730 on Fri 24 Sep 10, a beautiful morning, but eventually a very bright and hot day. Our only problem at the start was the boat getting away from us a little bit down the initial beach slope and running off of the forward roller, causing us to have to slide a deflated roller under the bow and pump it up to get rolling again. The tide was low enough to require the use of rollers for about thirty yards after hitting the water. We were the second-to-last boat off the beach, but only minutes behind the others.

The WNW wind was light, barely enough to move the boat, so we (and I believe everyone else in Class 4) began to row right away. Bigfoot (brother-in-law Eddie Denton) and I are each fairly strong rowers compared to the average sailor in these races. We had practiced rowing tandem a little bit, but decided before the race to row tandem only if necessary to overcome a strong current. Before long we moved from behind the fleet to the lead of the monohull sailboats, and slowly built a lead of at least a mile or more during the remainder of the morning. We continued rowing even when the wind would pick up a little. Even so, our speed had rarely reached three knots as we turned SW into the Neuse River around noon.

The wind shifted to the N a little bit, then died, then began to pick up out of the S/SSW around 1545. Our speed moved up into the 5 knot range, but we had to beat to make progress. I continue to have difficulty sailing upwind effectively, typically pinching and losing boat speed. I also probably tacked too often, reacting to wind shifts that I perceived to be headers. Our pursuers seemed to sail on longer tacks and were gaining on us. DogPaddler in his three-masted sailing kayak followed the S coastline and eased ahead of us, then Crazy Russian passed us in his inflatable catamaran, which can point higher than Moon Shadow. Next Roo and Tinker in the EC 22 Southern Skimmer passed us, and then around 1730 SOS and Dances with SandyBottom in their very nice Core Sound 20 Dawn Patrol. Moreover, Merman and Squidly in a Core Sound 17 were closing in, as were Mishigama and Seaweed in SeaPearl 21 Silmaril. This was discouraging, as all of these boats had been specks on the horizon behind us in the early afternoon.

We reminded ourselves that there was still a very long way to go, including about ten miles of canal and creek, where we expected to gain back some ground. As we tacked into Clubfoot Creek around 1900, the EC 22 and Dawn Patrol were almost out of sight a mile or so ahead of us, and the Core Sound 17 was almost within shouting range behind us. It was starting to get dark, and the wind was reduced by the trees and homes ashore. We began to rowsail, and then eventually turned straight upwind for harder rowing but better closing speed. The current was against us as well, which we were happy for. As we saw it, the tougher the going, the better for us. Eddie was at the oars as we left Clubfoot Creek and entered the Harlowe Canal.

One by one in the dark we caught boats that had passed us earlier. It was fun talking to DogPaddler, who stayed with us for perhaps a mile. Crazy Russian was working on his boat off to the side of the canal, but said he needed no help. We stopped briefly to take down the masts in order to pass under the bridges ahead. I believe we caught SOS and DWSB at the first bridge, and then passed Roo and Tinker in the EC 22 shortly after that. Neither team had much to say in reply to my attempts at pleasantries as we passed them. Eventually their lights were out of sight behind us. The moon (99% illumination) and stars were beautiful as Eddie rowed through the entire canal (about three miles), and I rowed the length of Harlowe Creek, about the same distance.

Sometime after midnight we reached the Newport River and nosed into the grasses on the right to put the masts back up. We did a little housekeeping, ate some Beanie Weenies, changed batteries in a GPS, looked at our navigation notes, etc. In retrospect, we wasted some of the lead we had worked hard to gain. We had about six miles of potentially tricky going remaining to reach the checkpoint at Beaufort.

To the eye, the Newport River is open water, but in fact there are many shoals, several different channels, and a drawbridge to negotiate. The wind we were about to face seemed to warrant reefing, so we put three reefs (turns of the mast on a SeaPearl) in the main and two in the mizzen. This was a mistake, from a racing viewpoint. The wind was probably 8-10 mph at the most. Reefed as we were, the boat handling was very nice, but in about an hour we saw Dawn Patrol closing in on us under full sail. When they passed us, we headed up and rolled out our reefs. This would have been important to do even if we had not been caught, because we were about to have to pass through the drawbridge against the wind and current, and might need all the power we could get.

Coming around the last bend I could see Dawn Patrol pulling up near the bridge. Our VHF radio had been off, and we were not sure if they had yet asked the bridge to open. The bridge keeper told me he had not been asked to open, and then DWSB piped up to say they were waiting for Roo, who was not far behind. I then told the bridge keeper we would all wait, and we would notify him when all three boat s were ready. We circled for not more than about five minutes when Roo and Tinker arrived. The bridge keeper opened promptly when I notified him, and we all sailed through without difficulty, with Moon Shadow bringing up the rear.

At about 0230 we arrived together at the checkpoint, which is perhaps a mile up Taylor Creek along the Beaufort waterfront from the drawbridge. The dock at the checkpoint is quite small. We decided to circle to allow the others to maneuver into it, and then, seeing little room remaining at the dock, eased up to the ramp on the left of the dock. Eddie held Moon Shadow while I walked around on land to find the box containing the sign-in sheet. The others appeared to be tying up and talking to Ridgerunner, who was helping with race management at the checkpoint. While signing in I looked up and saw Dawn Patrol and Southern Skimmer sailing away up Taylor Creek. I told Fat Frank, the WaterTriber in charge of the checkpoint, that they did not sign in! He replied that they had jumped up and signed in while I was getting out of my boat. I must say I was disappointed at what seemed then to be a lack of friendliness on the part of our competitors. The fiberglass Moon Shadow, with its metal rub rail and Bruce-like anchor as a battering ram would have been very competitive in a bumper-boats battle to get through the bridge and up to the dock, but that sort of scrambling seemed pointless with 40 or 50 miles still to go in the challenge. Later I realized they were simply competing, with each other as well as with Moon Shadow, and did not owe us any conversation or camaraderie at the checkpoint.

Fat Frank told me that my SPOT had not been tracking. We spent a few moments talking about that and resetting the device, and then at 0255 Eddie and I pushed off into Taylor Creek to resume the race.
Dawn Patrol and Southern Skimmer were nowhere in sight. The current was still against us, but the wind allowed us to sustain about three knots over the nearly two miles we sailed to leave Taylor Creek. Once we got into the open and began to pass below Harkers Island we picked up another knot or so of boat speed. We had a beer and admired the beautiful sky and surroundings. At around 0430 I convinced Eddie to try to get some sleep. Without putting up the camper top, he cleared a place to lie down in the center cockpit and crashed.

It was very pleasant to be broad reaching and then running as we turned NE for the long transit of Core Sound. I tried to concentrate on maximizing boat speed and watching for fish traps. Around 0530 a very fast powerboat, which I believe was a law enforcement boat of some kind, approached from the rear at high speed. We were using proper running lights, but for good measure I shined a large flashlight on my sails. The boat roared by and on into the darkness ahead. In a few moments, to my surprise, a sailboat ahead illuminated its sails as I had done. We had Dawn Patrol in sight!
The sighting of the enemy was very motivating. I guess they were 800-1000 yards away, and I tried every way I could to close the distance for about 15 minutes, but the wind was starting to die. Reluctantly I woke up Eddie, explaining that rowsailing could give us a chance to at least overtake Dawn Patrol. I figured Roo and Tinker were uncatchable in Southern Skimmer unless the wind actually stopped altogether (which it nearly did in the early afternoon). Eddie accepted this good news-bad news situation like the good sport he has always been, and the chase was on.

Through the beautiful sunrise and all morning long we chased Dawn Patrol, sometimes reducing the gap, and sometimes seeming to lose what we had gained. Both boats deployed mizzen staysails, and both used oars to augment the sails when the wind dropped a bit. The picturesque North Carolina mainland and Cedar Island coast was on our left, and the uninhabited, windblown Core Banks was on our right. By around 1100 I believe we were only several hundred yards behind. It was hard to tell because Dawn Patrol was not straight ahead, but somewhat to the right or NE of us. DWSB and SOS seemed to be following Southern Skimmer, which was about a mile and a half ahead of them, heading NE for Pamlico Sound via a route just inside the marked channel, which swings about 5 miles east of the finish line.
Eddie and I had different plans. There is a potential shortcut through a gap between Cedar Island and the first of numerous islands to the east that block the way from Core Sound into Pamlico Sound and the finish. The reward is a savings of about three miles, but the risk of a sailboat not getting through is substantial. The shortcut, used by most of the kayakers, involves crossing a mile and a half of shoal with water often only four to six inches deep. I knew that DWSB and SOS had managed to get through the gap on a recon the day before the race; they did not know that Eddie and I had also been through the day before that. I assumed they would take the shortcut, so I was puzzled that they seemed to be angling NE chasing Roo. I know now that they considered the shortcut to be too risky, and did not think we knew about it or would try it.

We tried not to hug the coast and telegraph our plans as we neared the turnoff into Cedar Island Bay and the shortcut. When we did turn NW, I told Eddie there was about to be a big anxiety attack aboard Dawn Patrol. Sure enough, within a minute of our turn, Dawn Patrol turned our direction, but now they were behind.

Wing and wing with the wind behind us, we bumped over about a mile of the shoal without getting out of the boat. After getting stuck we pushed, pulled, lifted, and ran (Gasp!) beside the boat when it broke free until it would run aground again. When we finally entered Pamlico Sound we were only a mile from the finish beach, and I knew we would not be caught. We finished in one day, five hours, and 10 minutes, first in Class 4, but only 10 minutes ahead of Dawn Patrol. Southern Skimmer was becalmed on the longer but safer standard route, and came in an hour and 20 minutes later.

This was an extremely close finish for sailboats in a race of nearly 100 miles. Had we not taken the shortcut, the race still would have been very close, in my opinion, because Moon Shadow would have done well in the mild to calm conditions that slowed Roo. It is interesting to note that Mishigama and Seaweed in the SeaPearl 21 Silmaril finished only three hours and change behind us, despite stopping to sleep for a little longer than that deficit! Moreover, they did nottake the shortcut. Theirs was a superb effort. It is impossible to say where they would have finished had they not stopped, though, because they had better winds when they resumed sailing than we had in many of the same places. Generally in these challenges, if you stop you simply fall behind and stay behind until your competitors also stop.

All in all this challenge was great fun. The race organization and the venue were superb. Once again the SeaPearl and the standard B & B Yacht Designs Core Sound boats proved to be highly competitive (the EC 22 is untouchable if rowing is not a factor). I readily admit we were outsailed, and we will try to get better. Side by side with Dawn Patrol we simply could not keep up while beating, and we could not point as high. I already know that a Core Sound 20 can overtake Moon Shadow on a run in strong winds as well, though that situation did not occur in this challenge, and a better sailor than I at the helm of a SeaPearl would perhaps erode any perceived edge held by the competition. In any case, the SeaPearl is very tough to catch in light or moderate winds, it rows quite well for a 21 foot sailboat, and would seem to have an edge as a singlehanded boat. By all indications these two shoal draft cat ketches will continue to swap leads at the head of their class in expedition-type challenges.