Little wind to lift Cup racers' sails, or spirits

On course to St. Mary's, still air suffocates hopes

August 02, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The Scrimshaw, a pretty Alberg 37-foot sailboat, sat unmoving for nearly five hours in the still of the night on the Chesapeake Bay. Its crew occasionally glanced glumly at the bright lights of Sharp's Island still visible behind them.

They had passed the island shortly before 11 p.m. Friday, leading their class in the St. Mary's College of Maryland 26th Governor's Cup Race. But shortly thereafter, the wind had diminished and, within a half-hour, completely disappeared.

Dead calm.

It would be an additional seven hours before the crew was forced to abandon the race and arrive in St. Mary's City under power, a total of more than 19 hours after it started. But at midnight, no one knew what lay ahead.

The Scrimshaw had traveled about 18 of the 70 miles from Annapolis to St. Mary's. It was one of 162 boats in the race that had started between 6 o'clock and 6: 40 that night. And, before the wind died, Capt. Charlie Deakyne and his crew of six had been excited.

At the start, near buoy R2, which marks the entrance to Annapolis Harbor, the Scrimshaw had had an excellent start. Under Deakyne's direction, the crew had avoided two near collisions with other boats pinching in on them, and as the starting gun fired from the racing committee boat, they had snookered one of their top challengers in the PHRF C Class to get the perfect start. The Scrimshaw crossed the line first as the smoke from the starting gun floated across its bow.

"It could be a record sail," said Doug Deakyne, one of two of the captain's sons on the crew, shortly before the wind stopped.

The wind had been blowing at 12 knots or better, and the Alberg had given the crew an invigorating ride, heeling (leaning from 20 to 40 degrees) from side to side, as the crew tacked, changing the direction of their sails.

Captain Deakyne, 72, has been sailing 60 years. He is no stranger to the water or the Governor's Cup race, which he has won four times since 1984, including last year.

And his crew -- all from in and around Annapolis -- was a veteran one, too. Doug, 47, and Scott Deakyne, 46, (pronounced de-kind) have been sailing with their dad since they were each 10. Brad Kaughman, 32, and Chris Houchens, 31, have also worked with the captain for many years. Kristin Morrone, 31, was the newest member, with two years' experience.

But when the wind doesn't blow, sailors are stuck. And so the Scrimshaw and all but a few other boats were forced to sit in the middle of the bay and sweat.

It was a marvelous night -- for a sightseer. The humidity, combined with the water and temperatures made it an uncomfortable and sticky night. It also created a foggy mist, though never thick enough to block out the lights of shore or the tiny green and red running lights of the other competing boats.

The mist rose in the air for a couple of hundred yards or so, and then the sky opened and a nearly full moon and a myriad of stars appeared.

The silence was so complete, you could hear voices from crews on boats barely visible.

As the fleet waited for the wind, tugboats pulled tankers down the bay, while other cargo ships steamed up it. The Scrimshaw's radio picked up conversations between the large vessels and the sailboats, as everyone tried to stay out of everyone else's way.

Sometime about 3 a.m. the crew debated quitting, when it saw several another boats take in sails and start motoring back to Annapolis. Too early, the crew members decided. Their boat was still moving forward, propelled by the current. Captain Deakyne had calculated where the current would be and had put his boat in it earlier in the evening.

At 3, a thin wisp of air moved. One knot. Two. Three. At 4 a.m., Captain Deakyne called for the spinnaker, that big, colorful sail that puffs out at the front of a boat, which non-sailors enjoy seeing so much.

The boat began to sail.

"Look at this," said Kaughman, who was at the wheel. "The wind is three knots, and we're getting 4.3 knots. We're getting the most we can out this boat right now. Oh, six knots! Holy cow, 6.4!"

It would be the lone highlight. At about 5: 30 a.m., with the sky turning pink and the moon still visible, the wind died again near Calvert Cliffs.

A bird flew over.

"An albatross," joked Houchens. Indeed, these doldrums seemed like a curse.

About 90 minutes later, Scott Deakyne calculated it would take more than 12 more hours with current wind speeds to sail to St. Mary's. An arduous task.

Even under motor power, it would take another 6 1/2 hours before the Scrimshaw saw the finish line.

"There comes a time when you can't drift forever," Captain Deakyne said. "If we want to get there today, I think we have to go."

The crew voted, and, at 7: 15 a.m., after 12 hours, 45 minutes of sailing that covered just 32 miles, the crew gave up.

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