The Race - Rules and Routes

Plans are Made:
“Ok, let’s get this show on the road,” Karl Nash said in a loud tone of voice. “As Commodore of the Alchibah Cup I say that we have come to lay down the rules and I want you all to know this is not a debating society.”

That statement got everyone sitting in the bar of the First Inn’s attention at once and the crowded room quieted down. Some twenty people were there, the three Captains, Travis, Stewart, and Bartlett, many of the crewmembers, and some of the population at large.

“First I will propose my plan. Each ship owner may briefly make comments or suggest changes, and then we vote on the rule. Each ship gets one vote, and majority will decide. In case there is no agreement or majority, I will make the rule. This procedure is what we vote on first. Any comments? None?”

“Fine with me.”
“Sounds good.”
“Captain Travis?”
“Let’s make it unanimous.”

“Good then. I will lay out what we have talked about in the past in a general sense. Except for variations in sail plan, the three contenders are very nearly identical. Interiors and working details are of course somewhat different reflecting your individual preferences but all things being equal we will have no handicap system and the winner will be judged on total elapsed time and since all will leave the starting line together the first to the finish will be declared the winner. It is also stated and agreed that none of the robots involved will share any information regarding the ships, race, or actions involved with the same.

“There are two suggestions for the course itself. One, a run up the coast and back, and the other a triangular course out to sea and then back to the starting line. In each scenario the starting and finishing point would be a line drawn across the river from the boatyard dock to a marker set on the rivers other side. In order to keep this thing limited to one day, and the race held in daylight only, the distance should be in the neighborhood of eighty to ninety miles or so. We are running about 12 hrs of sunlight this time of year and provided we have average wind conditions and a good 20-hour forecast that should work out fine. I already know Bart is going to vote for an offshore triangular course so let’s hear any comments and get this out of the way. Travis?”

“I’m in favor of a course heading north up the coast then back. Good scenery and close to shore if something goes wrong.”

“Yeah,” Bart said, “and you’ve been practicing just that route for the last month and a half in all kinds of weather, wind, and tide conditions. And you know how the wind and waves react to the various headland and other land formations.”

“Gee Bart; I didn’t realize you were paying any attention. But yes we have been up and down once or twice and it is a very pretty trip indeed.”

“We have heard Captain Travis’s proposal. Andy? What do you say?”

“I say up the coast and down the coast ain’t a race it’s the same as swimming in a bathtub. We need to go up upwind, downwind, crosswind and get away from sheltered waters in order to test all points of sailing.”

The vote went in favor of a triangular course with the first leg north ending at a buoy that would be set well out to sea, followed by a downwind leg with a turn around one of the Offshore Islands and ending with a crosswind stretch back to the finish line. To keep Captain Travis happy they agreed to set a buoy ten miles straight up the coast as a first waypoint before heading into deeper water.

“Now for the crew. We will limit active participants to four humans and four robots. Each team will nominate an observer to be placed on one of the other boats. In this case Ash goes on the Bluenose, Joe Fortson goes on the Last Chance and Larry Monroe will be on Stuart’s Cuchulainn. In addition you may take anyone else with you who desires to go; but they must not aid in the ships operation in any manner. All three ships have auxiliary power sources. Andy and Travis have ethanol and Bart has steam. For this race they may not be used to provide any form of propulsion but at your option may be used to power other ships gear such as line handling equipment.

“These rules are uncontroversial so let’s hear about your crew choices? Captain Travis, you first.”

“Is this a permanent declaration or can we change it later?”

“You can change it anytime until the race starts,” Karl told him.

“Ok, then I will have Darren Culver, Glenda Cumberland, and Steve Fallon with me.

“What about robots?” Karl prodded.

“Didn’t know you needed them. Alright I’ll take R. Columbus, R. Esso, Bolo, and Brice asked me to take R. Asimov.

“Walt Davis, Robbie McMaster with Mike Reye to do the climbing, R. Nug, R. Mycroft, R. Eddings, and R. Lewis will be my crew,” Andy said.

“I plan on Gene Washburn, JJ Parker, and Lars Neilson as my human crewmembers. For bots, the Jeep, EmyCee, and if you can spare them Karl I’ll borrow Bligh and Fletcher. Janie is coming along for the ride just in case I get lost again,” Bart said with a smile.

The rest of the details were hammered out and the race was set to start in one more week, weather permitting.

A Practice Session:
“Jeez Bart, Couldn’t you use winches like the Spacers and the Stuart boat?” JJ said as he strained alongside Fletcher, Bligh, Gene Washburn and the Jeep struggling at the capstan bar while walking round and round in small circles.”

“JJ this is how it’s done and if it was good enough for Drake, Nelson, and Collingwood it’s good enough for me. Isn’t that right Jeep?”

“Aye aye Captain Bart!” The Jeep snapped off.”

“You mean Black Bart don’t you Jeep,” Gene said under his breath, “I read somewhere that he was one pirate who treated his crew about the way we‘re being handled now.”

“I wouldn’t say that too loudly if I were you,” the Jeep answered, “Last time I mentioned something like that to Captain Bart he threatened to have me dancing at the yard arms or walking the plank or some such.”

“Keel hauled?”

“Yes, that was it.”

“This is great Babe,” Bart said to Janie from his position under the umbrella shading the table amidships, while taking another sip of the rum flavored drink he had taken to calling grog, and watching the foresail jib fill out and take shape while the fore and main sails were adjusted to just the proper angles.”

“Sure is Bart.” Janie agreed, “at least for you and me, but over training can be harmful to morale and efficiency. Or so I have heard.”

“Yeah, you might have a point…Ok everyone, lash the wheel and tie off the clew lines and take a break. Rum rations for all hands and bots go ahead and do whatever it is you do when at ease.”

Lars, JJ, and Gene helped themselves to the grog bucket and the Jeep pulled out a blanket and spread it out on deck against the side of the ship. Then all of the bots knelt down and the Jeep pulled some small cubes from his storage pocket and tossed them bouncing across the blanket where they hit the low side rail between two of the stanchions and bounding back came to rest.”

“The point is five,” said R. Fletcher as the Jeep scooped up the dice, shook his hand, and prepared to throw again.”

“Very funny,” Bart said barely suppressing a grin. “Which one of you mutinous seadogs put them up to it?” When no one answered Bart said, “Well I suppose it could have been the Jeep; what passes for his sense of humor is decidedly odd.”

“Kinda’ like yours Dear?” Janie ventured. “He does take after you don‘t you know.”

The previous Evening:
“You want me to do what Captain Bart?”

“You heard me Jeep, and I know you can do it. You walked under water and saved me and most of our supplies when we crash-landed up north. The water isn’t as deep here up against the dock, only four or five foot from the bottom to the sternpost, and you don’t need to stay down half as long. What I have here is a drogue, a small sea anchor. And I want you to attach it to Andy‘s ship. Use this mount here and screw it into the stern of the Cuchulainn where it won’t interfere with the rudder. At slow speeds Andy will never notice it and probably not even with all sails set. I have it sized to take about a quarter of a knot from his top speed. I could have easily made it a bit larger and slowed him down by a knot or so, but that might be too obvious.”

“Is this fair?” the Jeep asked.

“Fair, who ever said anything about fair? This is a race and if the rules don’t exclude something it’s almost like it was mandatory, and far more legal than we need it to be for our purposes.”

“Spoken like a true sea lawyer,” Janie said looking up from the old video of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ that was playing on her comp screen.

“What if they catch me?” the Jeep asked.

“Turn states evidence and rat him out at once,” Janie said.

“Enough of this. Come with me Jeep, we will finish our planning in the forward cable tier where such plots usually are hatched.”

“Hurry back Bart, I got ‘Two Years Before the Mast’ queued up next.”

“A couple of hours later the Jeep was on board again with none the wiser.

Race Day:
Four in the morning and the weather forecast was perfect. Five to twelve knot variable winds for at least the next three days and unseasonably warm, or at least warmer than it had been in a week. We were all waiting up stream of the starting line pointing in the proper direction but with anchors out to keep us from drifting down and past it before the start from the signal gun.

Ash then to the absolute amusement of all pulled from his backpack, a false beard, an eye patch, a floppy three pointed Hat and a stuffed puppet Parrot which he placed on Bart’s shoulder.

Over her laughter Janie choked out, “Bloody Hell, that Parrot’s dead!”

Ash put on his best Oh So English accent, “Oh no He’s not, He’s just sleeping. Yes, that’s it sleeping!”

From the deck of the Cuchulainn came Andy’s booming voice, “No matter where you go you are going to find a couple of Monty Python Pukes!”

On Board the Last Chance:
“We will win this race, and I will tell you why we will win this race,” Captain Travis said. “It’s because we are Spacers! And have a tradition to uphold! We are a long unbroken line going back to the earliest navies on Earth and it is in our blood. We will not compromise nor will we dodge or slack on anything needed to win! Is everyone clear on this?”

“Yes sir! came the combined answers instantly from all of the Last Chance’s crew.”

As the resounding roar of agreement ended Joe Fortson said, “That’ll work, so long as you also know how to sail a windjammer on the open ocean. Was that part covered in the tradition also?”

“Hrumph,” Captain Travis responded. “Perhaps not, but victory against all odds is something in our very being and we will not be denied.”
“Good luck Captain, hope it works out that way, that’s what they told me when I was still a line Marine…and you know…sometimes it did.”

The Race Begins:
The small ornamental cannon blew a two-ounce charge of black powder they were on their way. Bart got his anchor up first, only seconds before the other two boats, but the race was even from the start and stayed that way mostly as the three ships went down stream towards the ocean. They all had the bots below decks pumping on the cranks that powered the props. In each case that was good for about three knots. The spacers went to work early on using their sails to tack back and forth, raising and lowering canvas and trying to get every advantage from the light breeze coming in from the north. They got a bit more speed out of all that action than the other two boars but they also as a result had to cover much more distance.

Bartlett and Stuart held off just heading straight down stream and resting the human crew with sails ready to raise but furled and waiting for the opportune moment. For all of the expended effort employed when the three ships reached the river mouth the spacers were indeed first, but only a boats length ahead of Bartlett and the Bluenose and the Stuarts Cuchulainn was only another boats length behind.

The wind was noticeably stronger as they left the shelter of the river’s shoreline and caught the full force from the north. They headed up the shoreline towards the first marker.

On Board the Cuchulainn:
The whine of the winches raising the main and foresail were muted but the speed was evident. Andy looked over to the Bluenose and saw that he had his ship in relative trim more than a minute before Bart and he had taken a hundred yard lead. The spacers some how had managed to exit river on the wrong tack and by the time they corrected and got things right they were last place. Bartlett was running in the number two slot.

“Very good, this might be easier than I thought,” Andy said. “Looks like modern tech beats the old stuff eh Joe?”

“Time will tell but you are off to a good start,” Joe said.

“Got any money on the race Joe?” Andy asked.

“Not much fun in betting on a sure thing.”

On Board the Bluenose An hour into the race:
“Captain Bart.”

“Yes Jeep?”

“I hesitate to say this, not wishing to interfere with your plans or disparage your skills as a sailor, but we could trim out the mainsail somewhat and maybe even put out a foretopmast jib sail and get another half knot or so out of the ship. At least that’s what my calculations show. The Cuchulainn has maintained her early lead and even stretched it out by another fifty yards. Why even the Spacers Last Chance is now closing on us.

“If you were on the Cuchulainn would it look to you like we were doing our best Jeep?”

“If one didn’t know what I know I think that would be an accurate statement.”

“Good. Let’s make sure they keep thinking like that. Besides another sail out front might give us some more speed but it would make it harder to point into the wind. We’d loose the speed advantage due to the extra distance we traveled. We can save our best for the end. Why not get the top masts up but keep both poles bare and we can see how the others relate to that.”

First Inn - Liberty City:
It was an official holiday and ever chair and table inside was filled with people watching the display screens on two of the walls. The overflow crowd was sitting outside around tables under the awning listening to Erb Neilson’s commentary coming over the speakers Sabbu had wired in place.

“The Cuchulainn has increased her lead to 200 yards with the Bluenose second but it looks like the Spacers are about to take over that spot. I hate to say this folks, especially this early into the race, but it looks like Bart chose the wrong Nielson brother for his crew. We can’t write him off yet but it dose not speak highly of his judgment.”

“We’re going to need some more tables and chairs Jules,” Hanna said to her husband. “With this many people here already the whole colony could be here in a few more hours.”

“I’ll get some bots and go down to the community building and borrow a few.”

“Are you sure you’re up to it?”

“I haven’t felt this good in twenty years. Be back before you know I’m gone.”

This was after all a holiday, and there were far too many people for the Inn to handle, so the meal was pot luck with most everyone bringing a side dish or desert to go with the roasting meat and barbecue grills set up for later. But that was later and the whole day was ahead.

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Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
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