Blast Reaching Page 2

I admit that I was skeptical about racing on a big catamaran for a day at Antigua Sailing Week. My previous cat experience was limited, and I wasn’t expecting much. I’d seen the fleet of exotic-looking Gunboats—three GB48s and three GB62s—dockside on day one of this annual regatta. With their synthetic-fiber halyards strung from Marstrom carbon-fiber rigs and their chisel-like bows practically
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Johnstone deftly dances the starting-line samba, ducking and weaving between other Gunboats. Although the other boats are driven by his customers, it is obvious that, given a starting line and a hopped-up boat and crew, Johnstone’s competitive spirit is alive and strong. Johnstone calls for a few tacks, the crew springs from one hull to the other, and Blast does a little nip-and-tucking before her bows pierce the starting line exactly on queue, winning the start. With barely a word from the helm station, Williams and Ditton begin hoisting the big A-sail, which the crew unfurls the second the halyard lock clicks home. WHOOSH! I feel Blast 's boatspeed ramp up several knots as the big sail fills with air, its tackline flying from the weather hull. Johnstone foots off a few degrees, just enough for Blast to momentarily fly a hull, giving the spectator boats a glimpse of her slippery underside, then heads up a few degrees and locks onto the rhumb line in the lead. Glancing at the speedo, I am pleasantly surprised by the mid-teen reading; I couldn’t feel it from my perch on the weather rail.

I am even more impressed to see Blast walking past professionally sailed monohulls that are far bigger than her 48 feet. I am enjoying the view from the ergonomic weather rail, and the atmosphere aboard is relaxed, calm, with everybody taking things fairly easy. Considering how much cloth we are flying and the fact that our boatspeed is pegged in the mid-teens, you’d think things would be tense, as they often are on Corinthian-crewed monohulls sailing at this speed. It begins to dawn on me that the true brilliance of Gunboat sailing is that you can blaze past fast monohulls without much stress, while maintaining a high level of civilized comfort.

Johnstone slides us through a couple of perfectly executed gybes, but since we are sailing as fast as—or faster than—the true-wind speed, it doesn’t take long for our apparent wind to move slightly forward of the beam, allowing Blast ’s A-sail to prove its worth. And to leeward even more boats slide astern, with only the maxiyachts and the bigger Gunboat 62s proving unpassable.

Soon Johnstone issues the command to prepare for the meandering upwind leg. The jib is unfurled and the A-sail is lowered into the waiting hands of the crew, who quickly and efficiently get it sorted out, just as our bows start slicing through the small chop. Blast carries acceptable speed to weather, sailing fairly tight angles as we tear (without hobbyhorsing) up the coast toward Falmouth Harbour. Some of the faster monohulls are catching us on this long, close-winded leg, but plenty of others in our size range are still safely astern. And while the monohull crews are hiking out hard, trying to get every bit of body weight as far to weather as possible, our ride is smooth and flat. My job is to sit comfortably on deck, my legs hanging over the side, my toes grateful for the occasional hit of bathtub-warm Caribbean water, munching on a delicious sandwich.

“Peter, are you aware of those reefs up there?” someone yells from the foredeck. Sure enough, there is a boat-eating reef some 20 boatlengths from the shore. “We’re fine,” replies Johnstone. “Plenty of water, as long as we don’t sprout a keel!” Johnstone spins the wheel to weather a few boatlengths from the reef, and I watch as the headsail tacks over on its flush-deck jib track.

Blast ’s twin hulls cross the line far sooner than I would like. We finish fourth out of six boats, and only one GB48 beats us across the line. I realize then that I could get used to this sort of sailing. Really used to it. The siren song of these beautiful, South Africa–built racer/cruiser speed machines plays loudly in my head for several days. Even while sailing on state-of-the-art monohulls.

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