Special Edition: The Ensign Regionals

by Richard Lubell, July 10th 2018

Miramar fielded a team of racers in the Regional Ensign Regatta at Nyack New York on the weekend of July 7th and 8th. It was the first time that a boat had left our harbor for a regional or national contest in more than 30 years since the days of Richie Laub and his Ensign, Cookie Monster II when he competed in an earlier Nyack Regional in the early 80’s*.

Andre Shabalin, skipper of Uforia, accepted the challenge and we assembled a team of experienced Ensign racers including myself, Nasim Shamailov, and Andre’s daughter, Maria. Leon Paley took the opportunity to crew on a Nyack boat and thereby became the 5th member out of Miramar to compete. Irv Shapiro, our most veteran Ensign racer helped with preparations and arrived at Nyack to consult and cheer us on.

As Fleet Captain, I had been in touch regularly with Nyack’s Ensign Captain, Rich Feldman, and our friendship developed aided by communication and postings on Facebook. So when Rich began marketing and coordinating this Ensign Regional, I knew we needed to be on board.

Since our Miramar members rarely trailer our boats, we faced a logistical challenge in getting an Ensign to Nyack. We could sail through the Battery and up the Hudson, but that could take 8-10 hrs, and leave us fatigued for race day. We could be towed up by a motored boat. Or we could borrow a trailer from the Nyack fleet and truck our Ensign up circuitous highways. We chose the latter.

Fortunately, a new member at Miramar, Alston Van Putten had experience trailering his Trimaran (up from Florida) and he generously agreed to pick up a Nyack Ensign trailer and help mount and deliver the Ensign from Miramar to Nyack. From the morning pickup at 10 am, to the launching and dismasting, and loading the boat between 1 and 4 pm, and returning to Nyack that evening by 6 pm, and then reassembling the mast, shrouds and stays and launching the boat that evening and eventually finding our guest mooring, the operation took a full 10 hour day. Alston delivered Andre and I back to Union Sq. in Manhattan to catch the Q train back home by 11 pm.

Launching Uforia at Nyack. Andre at right

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On Friday, Andre, Maria and I drove back up to Nyack to attend and afternoon tuning clinic given by Quantum Sails, and later a pre-race get together that evening. Leon delighted us by showing up for the clinic (a technical presentation involving tuning and adjusting ones mast and stays). Afterwards, Leon joined Andre, Maria and me for a spirited sail on Uforia in 15 knot gusty winds up the Hudson and back with the boat precipitously heeling at times. But the excitement of the occasion produced an exhilarating feeling, aided by the entrancing early evening setting along the majestic cliffs that frame Upper Nyack. We all mingled with arriving crews from competing Ensigns at the cocktail party later.

Nasim would join us, after his workweek on early on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Andre, Maria and I were hosted by Nyack members at their homes on Friday and Saturday nights.

A Canadian High weather front had pressed through a humid air mass on Friday evening, producing a clear and dry day on Saturday with moderate north winds.

Altogether, there were eleven boats registered for the regatta, including four from out-of-town locales like Huntington, L.I., Sarasota Lake, and Rochester, and us, in Brooklyn. We proudly wore our Miramar hats and shirts to represent our club and borough. Of the assembled racing teams, including those at Nyack, four skippers and crew had competed at Nationals before, and two skippers were former National Champions.

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Another hurdle to clear before we were ready for racing was equipping the boat with spinnaker rigging, in-cluding blocks, cleats, sheets, and halyards. With the help of Gil Cigal new blocks and cleats were installed on the cabin top. Nasim lent his spinnaker and pole. Barbara Ban-chik gave us instruction on how to pack and ready the spin-naker. And, during two weeks prior to racing, we practiced on four days with special attention to lifting and loading the spinnaker and pole and filling the sail on the downwind leg. Nasim was indispensable as our bow man, hooking up the sheets, and attaching the spinnaker, halyards and pole.

The first race began at 11 am on Saturday. We were late when the starting horn blasted behind the leaders already by 30 seconds. But, we made up ground and fin-ished 7th, just behind a pack of 3 other boats. We were somewhat confused by the starting sequence and had a hard time hearing the horns and deciphering the garbled radio transmissions. In retrospect, we strayed too far from the start line. We also had difficulty understanding which of two upwind marks to tack around. The standard on these regattas is to include a second offset mark which you turn first to allow for a wider and more gradual turn when begin-ning the downwind leg, while preparing the spinnaker, and also sailing away from the other upwind boats.

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Nyack Yacht Club was also running several one design club races at the same starting location for their impressive fleets of Lasers, Sonars, Thistles, Ideal 18s, and cruisers. Their starting sequences were staggered between the Ensign starts. By the time our 2nd race went off, we were fully mesmerized and confused by our starting time, and consequently, we got an even later start than the first race, a full 45 seconds behind the fleet. No matter how valiantly we tried our spirits were deflated by such an insurmount-able debacle, and we dejectedly could only hope that we’d redeem ourselves in the 3rd race.

After gliding back and forth for an hour or so, in the midday sun, waiting for the other racing to conclude, and eating our lunches, our 3rd race of the day began at 2 pm. In light 5 knot north winds, with a building tide moving up river, the last race began.

Finally we achieved a good start, jockeying with 3 other boats for the lead, some who were attempting to barge our position at the committee boat mark. We held our course, gained speed upwind, and forced the boats to swing behind us. Andre steered a unique course tacking to port away from the starboard bound fleet into cleaner air and steadier winds. We got lifted up the middle of the river, and when we turned to starboard we were able to hold our line, turning the upwind mark in second position behind the eventual regatta winners, the boat with national champs from Rochester. This would be the high point of our regatta racing.

We raised our spinnaker and began a steady but tedious downwind leg with the current flooding upriver against our bow, slowing our speed over water. We held a straight course to the downwind mark lying just off the base of the Tappen Zee Bridge, hoping we’d clear the lee shore whose hills were shadowing whatever light wind we could find.

In the meantime, other boats had gibed over be-hind us and were steadily finding the channels of wind east of us, and gradually passing us one by one. When we finally reached the mark, we were frustratingly back in 8th place, finishing upwind in that order. The race had taken an hour and 45 minutes, and we were due back on shore at 4 pm, so the first day of racing concluded.

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When the race tabulations came in later, we were only 2 pts behind 6th place despite our disastrous starts in the first two races. With a little more knowledge of local waters and race committee protocol, we could have easily competed for the 3rd through 5th positions.

Back on shore, our Miramar crew members, now reunited with Leon and Irv, congregated for refreshments, beer, and dinner, and enjoyed a convivial time, with warm open conversation recounting the races, reminiscing about past regattas, and enjoying the golden setting from a balcony overlooking the Nyack mooring field, with colored shades of yellow ochre and burnt sienna silhouetting the vessels against the ultramarine river.

As the evening progressed we met veteran sailors from Nyack, and the conversations were warm and open, as though we were discovering long lost cousins, many of whom had left the city decades earlier from neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn. The village surrounding the boat clubhouse is composed of Victorian homes on hillside roads slanting toward the river. The main streets are full of shops, bakeries, restaurants and galleries. It was an enchanting set-ting.

The forecast for Sunday’s races was for even lighter winds. So, as we left that evening, the remaining half day of racing looked doubtful.

But, surprisingly, when we arrived back to the club in the morning, a steady northeast breeze was buffeting the river and sev-eral boats got out to prepare for a 10:30 am start. But, alas, the winds faded as predicted and a flat sea greeted us as we began rig-ging the boat. Nonetheless, we attached our outboard and motored to the start line. But when we arrived the committee boat chair in-formed us that all racing was postponed, and a final cancellation came at 11:30 am.

During the awards ceremony that followed outside on their leafy yard adjoining the clubhouse, the winners were honored. Rochester’s #433 skipped by Greg Eiffert was first, Huntington’s Can Am Express #1701 skippered by Thom Hering was second, and Nyack’s Elan #160 skippered by Jon Simpson was 3rd.

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Miramar’s crew was thanked for making the road trip. And, Andre and Maria were especially honored by the race commit-tee for being the only father and daughter team at the regatta.

We got back in our cars and drove back to the city feeling fulfilled and buzzing from the excitement of the weekend. But there was one task remaining: getting Uforia back home. This time, Andre and a brave and bighearted Leon would sail the boat back on Monday morning.

The Sail Back:

With an outgoing tide, Uforia took off at 9:30 am on Monday morning on its trip downriver in a light easterly breeze. But, when attempting to start the out-board, suddenly the motor mount cracked, and the motor lurched sideward. It would take several attempts at jury-rigging the mount using multiple lines to secure it through the trip.

Uforia made the passage between the Tappen Zee and George Washington bridges in a couple of hours aided by a functioning motor. And then the wind became steady, albeit southerly, and Uforia progressed down the west side of Manhattan sailing in regular tacks, skipping in between ferry traffic.

By the time Andre and Leon reached the Battery and Governor’s Island, the day was getting late, around 4 pm, and the race tide was beginning to fill in, meaning they would have to navigate with both the tide and wind on their bow. The motor was being used intermittently, but, fortunately the winds were strong, and progress was made, now avoiding huge tankers lined up in the inner NY harbor.

As they approached the Verrazano Bridge, the southerly became particularly strong between 20-25 knots, and waves began crashing over the sideboards. Despite 80 degree temperatures, conditions on the ex-posed craft were chilly and wet. Andre crawled out to the bow, and placed a storm jib to balance the boat.

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It worked, but he was drenched and exhausted. Leon tried to steady the boat, while Andre dried himself in the remaining sun on the cockpit flooring, beneath the lee of the cabin.

By the time they passed Norton’s Point, it was 7:30, and they had been on the water 10 hours. But finally, with the wind on their beam, the boat steadied and they moved in record speed back to Miramar, arriving just after 8:30. Mission accomplished!

For all the work and challenges to field a boat and team, everyone agreed that the experience of competing in this Regional was priceless and rewarding. From rigging and sailing spinnakers, to tuning and refining our shrouds and stays, to assimilating the race course dynamics, to trailering an Ensign, and sailing the Hudson, the multitude of lessons learned were enriching and made us all better sailors.

We’re hoping that more Ensigns be-come spinnaker ready in the next year and we begin an active spinnaker division at Miramar. And, accordingly, in the near future, we are hopeful that we’ll be competing in another national or regional regatta.