Relaxing Aboard Comanche at 22 knots

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
A boat as powerful as Comanche can seem to alter the very laws of physicsPhoto by Barry Pickthall / PPL

A boat as powerful as Comanche can seem to alter the very laws of physicsPhoto by Barry Pickthall / PPL

“Don’t let anyone know how easy this is,” North Sails president Ken Read said.

“Sure, no problem,” I said, far more concerned with how long he’d let me keep steering.

At the moment I was at the helm of Jim and Kristy Hinze-Clark’s 100ft super-Maxi Comanche, steering the boat on a close reach in around 18 knots of breeze, and the boat was going around 22 knots. Yes, 22 knots. And, yes, it really was that easy.

I’d been invited aboard to see what it was like as Read and the rest of the crew prepared for last June’s Newport-Bermuda Race (the same race in which they would smash the line honors record by completing the 635-mile course in an incredible 34 hours, 42 minutes). The boat also holds the current 24-hour distance record, having covered 620 miles in 24-hours during last year’s Transatlantic Race, and at press time was on standby for a crack at the Transatlantic record.

Going 20-plus knots on a 100ft sailboat is a bit like travelling at close to the speed of light in that the very laws of physics seem to go out of whack. For example, the distance between where you’re sitting on the rail and the water rushing below feels unnaturally great, like you’re flying as opposed to sailing. Similarly, the wake rushing out arrow-straight astern doesn’t gurgle, it doesn’t even hiss. It sizzles. The spray coming over the bow doesn’t just splash across the foredeck, it gets sucked into the slot and is instantly atomized as if it was being sucked into a jet engine.

It can all be a bit overwhelming until you get used to it. And then the next thing you know, sailing at 22, 23 … 27 knots—which we did when the crew unrolled the boat’s massive A-sail—seems like the most natural thing in the world until something goes wrong.

In our case, what went wrong was pretty minor. The tack fitting on the spinnaker let go: no big deal. That’s why the crew was out there, to de-bug the boat after its recent refit. At one point, though, as the crew was sheeting in—with six big guys spinning the handles on the coffee grinders for all they were worth—the line fell slack for a moment or two before the sail suddenly filled again as it came out from behind the main.

As it did so, the tack line came bar tight in the blink of an eye, in the process slapping against the carbon-fiber deck with a crack that sounded like a gunshot: a bang so violent in its latent power all heads involuntarily turned.

Again, no big deal. However, it did serve as a vivid reminder of the immense forces at work all around me. It also got me thinking about what it must be like aboard such a powerful boat when things go wrong for real—as they inevitably will aboard any sailboat—that and what it must be like handling a boat like Comanche on a moonless night changing sails in a squall.

Read may be right about helming a boat like Comanche at 22 knots on a sunny day in flat seas off Newport with a profoundly experienced crew at the ready. But don’t be fooled. Truly sailing a boat like Comanche is neither for the faint of heart nor for anyone without the very finest sailing skills.

September 2016

Related

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Check the waypoint  Most errors with GPS and paper chart navigation are caused by the operator punching in the wrong numbers or plotting the lat/long incorrectly. The surest way to double-check a ...read more

Furlex-Electric

Gear: Seldén’s Furlex Electric

Furl Power Seldén’s Furlex Electric offers an easy path into the world of sweat-free headsail furling. The compact unit can be retrofitted to an existing manual Furlex unit or installed as a replacement for whatever you’ve got now. Its DC-DC converter accepts your boat’s 12V or ...read more

11_DSC8423Tom-Zydler

Cruising: Nova Scotia

There’s a unique cruising ground that combines access to urban locations with easy escapes to wilderness and nature. Its native people may be the friendliest on the east coast of North America. Its coastline runs 250 nautical miles in a straight line, but that should be ...read more

01-LEAD-shutterstock_727849660

Boat Monitoring System

Boat Oversight In a world where you can track your friends’ locations in real time and stream yourself live on the internet, it should come as no surprise that you can also keep a close eye on your boat from the comfort of home. In fact, not only is there a plethora of options ...read more

pilot_saloon_42-_en_navigation_11

Boat Review: Wauquiez Pilot Saloon 42

Old salts grouse about modern aesthetics. It’s just what they do, and the hard lines and spartan interiors of today’s production boats give them many reasons to complain. French builder Wauquiez, however, seems to consistently be able to marry contemporary elements with ...read more

JuneWaterlines

Sights and Stories Cruising the Caribbean

Though I hate to think of myself as a “disaster tourist,” I can’t deny one of the things I was most curious about as I sailed south last fall to visit St. Martin, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico was how much hurricane damage I would see. I’m sure no one needs reminding that ...read more