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Racing Rage

Written By Bob Gallagher

Center the prys! Jibe! Prys to port!

Rage has elements in common with a Chesapeake 20 and a log canoe but is entirely different from both.

She is an A class Bahamian racing sloop – built of local materials with pine planking over mahogany frames. The small jib and the main also are made locally from cotton canvas. She is about 28 feet on deck. Her solid pine mast is well forward and carries a deck-sweeping, solid pine boom about 34 feet long. The enormous square-headed main is held up by a five foot long headboard that almost qualifies as a gaff.  Even with a long traditional keel drawing nearly six feet and internal ballast, keeping her on her feet is the main job for most of her crew.

Rage was built on Man-O-War Cay in 1980. She was restored and is raced by the Abaco Rage Sailing Syndicate (ARSS), a group of Abaco sailors intent on preserving a piece of local history and a tradition of sailing local work boats.

My wife, Cate, and I rented a cottage in Hope Town for a break from January weather. I heard on the morning cruisers net that the Hope Town Sailing Club would sponsor a point-to-point race later in the week. When Captain Stafford Patterson from Sea Horse Boat Rentals delivered our rented Whaler, I asked him about opportunities to crew in the race. I was delighted when he said that I was welcome on his ride and my rapture was complete when he pointed to Rage tethered to a mooring in the harbor.

When I climbed aboard on race day there were already more than a dozen people on board. I asked Bobby, who served as a sort of crew boss and foredeck chief, how many crew we would have. He explained that the rule of thumb was one for each knot of wind and that the forecast was for 15 knots.

Dave, the main trimmer and strategist, took the helm as Stafford, also known as Captain Plug, picked up our tow rope and headed for the starting line. On the way, Bobby demonstrated to the supernumeraries the choreography that would likely win or lose the race for us.

The boat has  a large toe rail and no lifelines. Conventional hiking would be uncomfortable and ineffective. For hiking, she has three prys – two inch by ten inch timbers that are approximately as long as the boat is wide. Each pry is run out to windward and mounted by three crew. When the boat tacks or jibes, the inside hikers become outside on the new tack or jibe, as the group carefully but quickly crawls under the boom and moves their pry to the new windward side. One always moves in the slot aft of one’s pry. Confusion on this point or a slip on the always wet deck can lead to all kinds of scrapes, bruises and mashed digits and the occasional man overboard.

There are no winches or instruments on the boat and no telltales on the sails. Going to windward, the boat is trimmed to keep the rail an inch or two out of the water. To leeward the boat is trimmed to keep the boom out of the water. The long boom and extended prys can make for some tense moments in crowded mark roundings.

Dave and Captain Plug nailed the start. We were in good position as we rounded the windward mark and set off on a reach for two laps around Garden Cay. It was a mixed fleet of 11 boats including a J-32, J-95, Cal 40, a couple of big Beneteaus, a trimaran and a small catboat. The Cal 40 gave away an early lead when he went the wrong way around the cay. After a couple of hours of spectacular racing, we crossed the finish in fourth or fifth position.

Difficult and dangerous as it can be, I have found few things in sailing more exhilarating than clinging to the outboard end of a pry in 15 knots. It was a very wet ride. In addition to the spray and waves bouncing off of the hull, a big lull or wind shadow can turn the pry into a dunking stool. In a broach as you watch the keel and rudder come into view beneath you, the entire pry can slide to leeward dumping its occupants in a pile on deck. It was also a wet ride in the sense that the first beers appeared before the starting gun. Worried about how I would keep myself on the pry with one hand, I demurred until the first downwind leg.

Back at the club for the evening “stand up” we learned that we were first on corrected time. I also learned that three of the boats in the race carried the burgee of the Eastport Yacht Club.

Captain Plug and the ARSS are eager to take guests out on Rage to build support for preserving and racing traditional Bahamian sloops. If you are ever in the Abacos, google Abaco Rage Sailing Syndicate and give them a call.

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Bob Gallagher is founder and board chair of West/Rhode Riverkeeper and races his Columbia 32 sport boat in the West River.

Filed under: Crew Experiences

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Racing Schedule

Wednesday, April 4
Hope Town Sailing Club
Triangular Course
Charles Pollack Trophy

April 24 - 28
George Town, Exuma
National Family Island Regatta

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