The Race Part 2 - Sea and Sail

The Bluenose

On Board the Last Chance:
“Well now Mr. Fortson,” Steve Fallon said as they edged past the Bluenose and into second place. “It seems that betting on a sure thing might not work out after all, unless you were betting on us. It’s clear to see we are overhauling the Cuchulainn as well. But what is it Bart’s up to now? I see his bots placing another set of masts up on top the first set.”

“Beat’s me Steve, but Captain Travis looks none to happy about it.”

“Dammit, Travis said to Glenda who was at the wheel, “Andy and I talked about the possibility of re-rigging as a top sail schooner so we both have the spars to do it. If the race was just up the coast and back it wouldn’t really matter. We haven’t practiced with that setup and I am not sure if Andy has either.

“Nothin’ else to do but get them up there and see what happens—Esso, Isaac, Raise the topmasts! At least we ought to be in front soon and maybe we will never have to use them or look back.”

On Board the Bluenose:
“How yah feeling Ash ol’ buddy? You’re looking a mite green around the gills. Did you practice with the crew much when Andy was working up the boat?”

“Not a bit Bart, I was too busy with other things and I am sure I’ll get my sea legs is a moment. Mind if I steer? That always helps.”

“Wish I could Ash. But the rules say no help from observers, only the declared crew gets to work the ship. And I always follow the rules. But since you are not part of the crew I will grant you permission to leave off the Captain part when addressing me. Friends like us shouldn’t stand on formality.”

With that I pulled out a brass folding telescope pulling it open pointed it towards the leading ship.”

“Where’d you get that Bart, I hadn’t heard about anyone making optics here, ancient or not?”

“Brought it with me from Earth, it’s on the manifest and declared in my carry on luggage, you could check if you want. And wait till you hear me play a jib or a chantey on the harmonica.”

“No thanks, I think I’ll pass on that for now.”

“If you start to feeling worse Ash we can sling a hammock for you below deck up front.”

“Isn’t that where the up and down motion is the worst?”

“Just a bit, but space is at a premium and I am sure you could get used to it.”

On Board the Cuchulainn:
“Score one for knowing the lay of the land, or the sea bottom in this case,“ Larry Monroe said as Travis and the Last Chance cut straight across a sand bar that the Cuchulainn and gone seaward in order to skirt it and take no chance of touching bottom.

Andy looked up from his chart of the coastline and said, “According to this here piece of paper that bar is half a fathom too shallow for us to with the tide conditions as they are now.”

“And when the data was gathered and the chart made I’m sure it was.”

“Just what are you getting at Larry?” Andy asked.

“It’s a little hazy now Captain, but I seem to remember taking the Liberty Express when we were finish with building the seawall at the Cove and dredging a couple of narrow channels through a few of the sand spits along the coast here. They weren’t meant to be permanent so I guess they never made it to the database that the charts got generated from.”

“Well it was one slick trick and there goes Bartlett tacking back to follow him through. But our lead is enough that we’ll still hold onto second and we’re almost to the buoy that marks the end of our run from up coast and then you’ll get to see some real sailing.”

When the three ship rounded the10 mile buoy and headed towards the second marker 30 miles northwest and out to sea the Last was still first and the Bluenose last, with the Cuchulainn second and gaining on the leader.

They were half way to the second waypoint when Andy said to Walt Davis, “Something is decidedly odd here.” Andy was peering through a pair of binoculars and looking at the activity, or lack of it, on the Bluenose. “I can see Bartlett standing on deck talking to Ash like he hasn’t a care in the world, none of his crew working at much, and he isn’t gaining on us at all. If anything he is falling a little farther behind us as we both are gaining on the Spacers each time we tack.”

“Could be he’s already figured out he is gonna lose and given up,” Davis said.

“Walt when you joined up with Jack the Blade you showed a lack of discernment when it came to making character judgments. Even thinking that Bart has given up shows you still have a lot to learn in that department. What do you think Nug?”

“Logically it is R. JP’s fault they are not gaining on us.”

“Go ahead and explain that one Nug.”

“My analysis of the Bluenose’s course and speed are at odds with the amount of sail she is carrying. Handled properly with the sails trimmed mathematically she should be faster than we are and be leaving us in her wake. If I can see this so can the Jeep, therefore I must conclude for some reason he has refrained from mentioning the lack of precision to Captain Bart.”

“I need to think on that for a while,” Andy said.

On Board the Last Chance:
The Cuchulainn was almost abreast of the Chance with the Bluenose a good 500 yards behind when the Captain Travis gave the order for the final tack that would set the course for rounding the northern marker buoy. “No mistakes now and Glenda make sure to shave the turn so close that Andy can’t get inside. Then we will see how the down wind leg goes. Steve, Darren, get aloft now in case we have trouble with the top sails. I want them raised as soon as we have the wind a beam.”

They managed to keep inside of the Cuchulainn forcing Andy to make a wider turn into the downwind leg and gained about fifty yards in the process. As soon as the fore and mainsails were set Travis sent Esso and R. Columbus to the winches and gave order to raise the main topmast sail. That sail was square rigged and not very useful except when sailing before the wind. Even though they had started the process first Andy had his sail up at almost the same time and lost no further distance. Because the Bluenose was furthest back Bart had been able to skim the buoy in the same fashion as the Spacers and had knocked a couple of hundred yards from the gap to the leaders. He was now only three hundred yards back and picked up another hundred by hoisting both the fore and mainmast square sails up at the same time rather than sequentially.

“Nice bit of ship handling there wouldn’t you say Captain Travis,” Joe Fortson commented.

“Very nice, but after all Bart’s had more practice than anyone at that kind of thing. Still we are out in front and with the ships all so equal and without any tacking on this leg I think our chances are good to make the island first.”

First Inn - Liberty City:
Four and a half hours since the start and Erb Neilson was still doing a running recap for all that wanted to listen. “Quite a surprise to see the Spacers make the turn first. And I guess my brother Lars must be making the tactical decisions on the Bluenose. Even so I would have expected them no worse than second. This section of the course is all down wind and ought to be relatively equal.”

Just then the view from the camera onboard the bus shadowing the racers showed a new billowing of sail from the foremast of the Cuchulainn.

“Oh, ho, Andy had a trick up his sleeve.” Moments later a flying jib blossomed from the front of the Bluenose as well. “Now things get interesting and unless the Last Chance gets one up as well she is going to start losing ground.”

After an initial burst of interest in the changed circumstances most of the people at the Inn went back to socializing and snacking and Commodore Nash announcing the sun being over the yardarm the first keg was tapped.

On Board the Bluenose:
“How yah feeling now Ash?” Bart said once again with concern. “You’re looking a little better and this downwind leg should be quite smooth.”

“Lot’s better now thanks Bart. It’s a shame your first aid cabinet didn’t have any motion sickness pills.”

“Sure is Ash, I don’t know how we overlooked that.”

“Me either,” Janie said. “I was sure they were in there when I checked it last.”

“Ash, how about going up front and asking Lars to come on back here. The fresh air and unobstructed view should get you good as new.”

When Ash left and Lars came back Bart said, “Ok Lars do we pass the Last Chance on the inside or outside and what do you think Travis will try in order to hinder us?”

“Not much he can do to hurt us without hurting himself more. He can see we have the speed to get by no matter what he does and if he tries to get in front and block our wind he’ll just lose ground on the Cuchulainn and we get around him anyway. We sail a bit better to larboard so let’s pass on an outside starboard course and hope to keep Andy in the dark about that factor. After we get by we have about a three hour run to the island and I think we better keep everything trimmed up closer to optimum so that we gain a little. If Andy has too easy a time figuring out that we are dogging it he might catch on to the drogue.”

“Sound right to me Lars. Helm a point to larboard; prepare to go by on the outside.”

On Board the Cuchulainn:
“There she goes,” Larry Monroe said, as the Bluenose went outside and passed within hailing distance of the Last Chance.

“Nug, how do you evaluate her sail situation?” Andy said.

“Much better now Captain, not quite perfect but better than on the last leg. We’re not increasing our lead and might even be losing a bit of it. The wind is gusty enough that it might just be luck and that should even out. If nothing else changes we will hold the lead to the next turn and then our superior sailing on the tack should come into play again.”

“Keep a close watch Nug. Now I think we can all grab a bite to eat and then Gabe and Jai can indulge themselves in a little fishing off the taffrail.”

They had finished with lunch when Nug reported that the Spacers had gotten an additional jib sail out and were no longer falling back.

“Must have had the bots sewing a bunch of tailors,” Gabe said to Jai.

“Naw, like a bunch of sailors,” she replied. “Let’s get the gear out and see what we can pull out of this here pond. I never did any deep sea fishing before and all the records are yet to be set.”

In the next hour, using light surface bait Gabe and Jai both brought in a few, nothing over a foot and a half in length. Two were species as yet unseen and they were very careful in handling them, the experience with the Thompson Tree was always in the back of Jai’s mind.

“We should put on something heavier and get the bait down into deeper water, might be the bigger fish don’t feed so much on the surface.”

“Good idea Jai, I was thinking that myself.”

“Captain Andy,” Nug said, “The Spacers are gaining rapidly on both the Bluenose and on us. Something is wrong here and I don’t know what it might be. All I am sure of is that with the wind as it is and the sails we have out we should be going faster than we are.”

“I can see that and unless we can up our speed we are going to have a three way dead heat when we hit the island.

On Board the Bluenose:
“That might be the ballgame Skipper,” JJ Parker said as the Last Chance started to gain rapidly on the other two ships.

“Time to muddy the waters again. Gene, JJ, back up the mainmast and get the studding sails set. Andy might send more time worrying about us than the Spacers. If we don’t give him reason to ignore them and he finds out about the drogue the jig is up anyway.”

Seventy feet above the deck Gene and JJ crawled out on the trestle trees and attached a boom at the bottom and a yard at the top on each side of the square mainmast topsail. When the sail was unfurled it was like an additional pair of wings and the Bluenose immediately began closing the distance on the Cuchulainn. At the same time Bart had all the rest of the sails trimmed to where they should have been all along and the Bluenose reacted like a thoroughbred from the starting gate.

Fifteen minutes later they passed the lead ship and were forging out in front.

On Board the Cuchulainn:
Not paying much attention to the scurrying on deck while the ships crew tried to improvise a rig to match the new sails on the Bluenose, Gabe and Jai kept up with their fishing.

“Wow, I got a monster!” Jai yelled. She was tugging on the rod, trying to raise the tip so she could lower it back down rapidly and crank in the slack but after only a couple of minutes she said. “You take it Gabe, my arms are about to fall off.”

Being careful not to lose his grip on it or let the line go slack Gabe took hold of the rod and started to make some progress. Gabe was a physical giant, only Rocco, of all those on Alchibah could come close to matching his size and raw power, and even Gabe was struggling.

“I see it, a flash of white out there!” Jai cried.

“It’s not fighting at all, feels just like a dead weight,” Gabe said as he kept pulling on whatever it was and finally got it up to the surface. “What the hell!” he exclaimed as the thing came out of the water. They both grabbed hold of the thing and pulled it over the rail. “Better get Andy, he’ll want to see this right now.”

“Damn, damn, damn,” Andy muttered staring at the soggy canvas funnel. “I should have figured this out hours ago. We checked the bottom the day before we sailed. Whoever did this, and I think there can be no doubt, did it last night. We should have made a last check at the dock before we left for the starting line. If you guys hadn’t snagged it from the back and got it all twisted up and turned around it would have broken your line before you ever got it aboard.”

Robbie McMaster spoke up, “We ought to file a formal complaint with Commodore Nash and get the Bluenose kicked out of the race!”

“To hell with that Robbie, get that studding sail finished and we got some racing to do.”

On Board the Last Chance:
The Chance had made up the difference to Andy’s ship by the time he got his new sails up but at that point began falling behind again. The Bluenose was a good half mile ahead and the island and turn to home about five more miles, another half hour of sailing, distant. The crew of the Last Chance had all seen the video, relayed from the cargo bus that showed the drogue being pulled out of the water.

“You knew about this Joe you must have,” Captain Travis said, sounding like he might when reprimanding one of his crew for a less than adequate performance.

“Who me? Perish the thought. But even if I had I’m not sure its illegal and I know one thing. Bart will do what it takes to win. So what are you going to try now Captain? You’re falling behind again and with only one leg left, the crosswind to the finish, you seem to be in trouble. Tacking doesn’t seem to be your strong suit.”

“Time will tell Joe, time will tell.”

First Inn - Liberty City:

The big screen inside the First Inn showed first the Bluenose and then the Cuchulainn followed by the Chance round the island and head for home still twenty miles away.

“How much longer is this going to take Erb?” Hanna asked. “Should we wait up for dinner? Some of the children, those that haven‘t been eating all day are getting hungry and some of the colonists could use a little food for other reasons.”

“Feed the young ones Hanna, the rest of us can wait. This leg gets the wind on their quarter and that’s the fastest point of sailing. They will be skimming on a straight line at twelve knots or better so even with the extra distance the tacking will require I’d say less than three hours to go.”

“Thanks Erb, we can hold out that long.”

When Hanna left Erb turned back to his narrative and described how Lars and Bart waited just a little too long before pulling down the Bluenose’s top rigging, letting Andy on the Cuchulainn watch them and in the process get the timing just right and make up about three boats lengths of the deficit.

On Board the Bluenose:
“How’s it gonna come out Bart?” Janie asked finally acting interested.

“If nothing changes Babe I can’t see Andy catching us. His ships newer and Karl made a few changes to the hull lines that give him a very minor theoretical speed advantage, and they are handling the ship well. Still I think our lead ought to last till the end.”

Ash, who had listened in on the conversation said, “I just want to get the thing over with. Now that we are going mostly sideways to the wind the ship is pitching and rolling a lot more than on the downwind leg. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten any of the pickled baloney and sauerkraut for lunch. You sure nobody has any motion sickness pills?”

“’Fraid not Ash, you’ll just have to tough it out. You can do it. Why not head up front for the breeze again. That seemed to help last time.”

“Thanks Bart, I’ll do just that.”

On Board the Cuchulainn:
“There she goes!” Robbie said, as the Bluenose made her next to last tack before setting a course up the river.

“Make ready to go about and…helm alee!” Andy called out a moment later.

“Isn’t this too soon, Captain?” Nug asked. “Shouldn’t we be closer to where the Bluenose made her move?”

“Bart’s trying to snooker us Nug and getting too cute for his own good. By going now he will cut it off short and end up on his port tack at the end and even though he has been trying to hide it…you can be sure that that’s his best point of sail. It might be too late but we can gain a little more on him and this race aint over yet. See what I mean?”

As soon as the Cuchulainn made her move the Bluenose was tacking again and heeling over at an extreme angle so as not to lose any ground. And then, as Andy watched through his binoculars he saw an odd flash and splash at the front Bart’s ship and a loud voice coming from the ship emergency channel.

“Man Overboard!”

On Board the Bluenose:
“Ash really looks sick up front Bart, maybe the pickled baloney loaded with garlic on top of hiding the motion sickness pills was too much.”

“Babe, as the saying goes, ‘No one ever died from being sea sick, they just wished they had,’ and anyway I finally got back at him for decking me that last time and in a way that he might not even figure out and think he has to try it again.”

“You are evil Bart!”

“I know,” I said quite happily. As we heeled back on our original tack spray flying as the bow dug in.

And then came RoDan’s cry, “Man overboard”

“Damn, loose all sail and hard a’port,” and then we went full speed into the drill we had practiced so often. Ash wasn’t wearing a life vest, none of us were, but RoDan had thrown him a ring and Ash was a very good, if not great swimmer, from his own accounts. “Get the dingy into the water and get him back on board. If we are fast enough we still might be able to win this thing,” I said, not believing myself for a moment. I could see Ash clinging to the float and bobbing up and down and waving at us so at least I wasn’t worrying about him drowning.

On Board the Last Chance:
As they watched the broadcast of the rescue unfold Walt said to Steve Fallon, “What’s with this? Bart looks to have things in hand but Andy is slowing down too. If he just keeps up his speed he will blow on by and win easily.”

“Walt, it’s times like this, when things seem under control, that they can rear up and bite the hardest. Andy’s doing what any of us who know about such things would do in a similar situation. Looking on the bright side though, by the time we near the scene Ash will surely be on board one of the ships and by the time they both can get back up to speed again we can still make a race of it.

At the Finish Line:
The three ships entered the river mouth in a dead heat, each ship looking for the slightest advantage. The minor edge in speed held by the Cuchulainn was matched by the equally slight edge in experience held by the Bluenose and they crossed the finish line abreast with the Last Chance only a boats length behind. It was going to be up to Commodore Nash to make the final decision.

“You gonna to file a protest about the drogue Andy?” Joe asked.

“If this were an old Americas Cup, hell yes I would. Unfortunately, guys: this here is open sea racing and I was dumb enough not to final check the hull. Which I assure you will not happen again!”

When the ships lowered sail and proceeded under power in order to tie up at the dock, the Bluenose was the last to arrive. And as Ash walked down the gangway he said, “Thanks for pulling me out Bart, I do appreciate it.”

“All in a days work Ash,” I said pleasantly, and watched him depart. But I will always wonder if he fell due to seasickness and the abrupt course change…or if he jumped on purpose, in order to keep the Bluenose from winning.

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Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Probably.

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Copyright (C) 2006 - 2011 by Jeff Soyer. All rights reserved.