When Baltimore sailor Nick Brown and the team on his J/44 Iona capped off a nearly perfect summer of sailing in a prestigious series of races on both sides of the English Channel, he had a lot of help from local talent.
Paul Mikulski of Annapolis' Crusader Yacht Sales, the regional J/Boat dealers, returned from England Sunday night. He shared memories of his summer of dream sailing, which included the traditional Cowes Week and all of its spectacle, the Channel Race, the Cowes-to-St. Malo Race, and several other events along both the English coast of the Channel and the French.
"A dream? Are you kidding?" he said. "It doesn't get any better than this. It was unbelievable."
These races are truly the stuff that sailors' dreams and legends are made of, with rich histories and traditions going back far beyond the memory of anyone living today.
All the more memorable for Mikulski, his wife, Joyce Williams (who served the team invaluably as logistician), his brother Richard and several other area sailors, including Olympic hopeful Paul Murphy, Dobbs Davis, John Clarke, George Lipps and Bill Shinn, were the victories.
What sailor, after all, could possibly ever forget a win in the Fastnet, that 605-mile legendary demon of offshore races during whichin 1979 a sudden and unusually brutal storm killed 15 sailors and foundered and smashed boats to smithereens, changing the face of yacht design, construction and safety attitudes and standards forever.
Brown arranged for Iona to be shipped to England in early June, and had two prestigious events to sail that month before Mikulski and many of the others joined him. Helmsman for the entire summer was Hannah Swett, the recently graduated top female collegiate sailor from Brown University, in her first offshore series.
First was the ancient and traditional 'Round The Island Race around the Isle of Wight, and with more than 1,500 boats racing, the Iona team placed fourth in theirclass, racing CHS -- Channel Handicap System, the local version of our PHRF, but with some unique twists.
Mikulski explained that the CHS rule is a time-on-time measurement rule system, unlike our typical time-on-distance PHRF systems, and requires weighing the boat for most accurate results. He added that an extra factor in the computer program determines the rating, which is a closely held secret, and is changed frequently enough so that designers and builders can't get a solid handle on it to build rule-cheaters.
"The rule tends to favor cruising boats," Mikulski said. "There's a penalty for using Kevlarsails, or for having running backstays or a triple-spreader rig, forexample, and the typical CHS boat is called a white-sail boat because if you're only going to race in CHS it's better to have Dacron sails than take the penalty for Kevlar."
A few days after the Isle of Wight event, it was on to the Morgan Cup, a 235-mile race around navigational marks in the Channel. Of the 48 boats in her class, Iona wasfirst; conditions were mild, and competition ranged from Beneteau 35s and X-119s to custom IOR one-offs and a Swan 65.
The next seriestook the team to France for the Trophee Sovac, beginning with the 155-mile Cowes to St. Malo.
"It was very cold, very windy the entirerace," Mikulski said. "We finished fourth in our class of 45 boats."
Iona was racing in IMS for this event, and finished just behind Jayhawk, another J/44 that won Cowes Week last year. Mikulski said that for the purposes of the series, Iona also was scored based on her CHS rating for overall trophies. That gave her second place overall, multiplied by a factor of 1.5 for the distance race, and, initially unknown to the Iona crew, was teamed up with a French J/39, J-Pito, foran overall Team Trophy.
J-Pito, Mikulski said, "was not sailed very well, but because of our first-in-class win, we had enough points to win the Team Trophy as well. Competition was the X-119s, some Lightwave 395s, similar to Express 37s, and the Jeanneau Selection, whichis similar to a J/35 in speed. The series was very exciting, mainly because of the different sailing areas we saw, and I guess winning made it nice also. We saw the neatest ports, there were parties every night, and all of the places were just beautiful. I guess from a pure enjoyment point of view, it was really the highlight of the summer."
After five nights at St. Malo, Mikulski, his brother, and two others delivered the boat back to Cowes with a stopover in Guernsey and returned to France for a brief vacation before coming back to Cowes tobegin practicing. Dick Mikulski and Bill Shinn returned to the United States at that point, and Murphy, Clarke and Davis arrived to join up.
"Up to this point," Mikulski said, "we had blown out three sails -- a new AP No. 1, a No. 2 and a main were ordered and a lot of rig tuning and sail practice was required."