Azorean Whale Boat Race Regatta Day 1 2013

IIt is Saturday, the first day of the sailing portions of the Azorean Boat Race.  It is set to start at 9am so I left the house at 8, laser in tow.  I got a few blocks away from the house and it occurred to me that I needed to locate the two drain plugs for the laser before I drove any further.  I removed them during the repairs yesterday and they stayed in the pocket of the shorts that I had been wearing.  After a 10 minute search, I realized they must be in my apartment, so I drove back.  By the time I got the plugs, purchased a breakfast sandwich from Market Basket and drove to the south end, I did not arrive at the ramp until 9.

I need to lay out some details of the West Rodney French Boat Ramp so you will understand the lay of the land:
A. The boat ramp is state funded and therefore the state effectively owns it.  It is free to use to launch and haul out boats.
B. Massachusetts is a Commonwealth. Look at the word and you can imagine that fair use and access to the water is laid out clearly in state law going back hundreds of years. It is.  And the case law involving boat ramps basically says, you cannot infringe peoples access to the water.  The ramp is open 365 days a year and would require an act of the Commonwealth to change that.
C. The parking lot is city property and the city charges 7 dollars a day or 50 dollars a year for a pass to park.  There are "no trespassing, boat trailer parking only" signs posted all over the parking lot.

Upon arriving at the ramp parking lot, I realized there was going to be a problem with parking.  The parking lot was almost completely full with small compact cars, no trailers attached, parked in spaces that were not actual spaces.  First this was cutting off the ability for trailer users to make the proper turns and cuts to park properly (it makes your car/truck really long and hard to back up/turn in tight spaces).

Before I could blink, three cars came into the lot and pilled into the last regular trailer space available.  I have the assistant harbor masters number on my phone so I called him up.  I was simply asking him how to have the parking lots clearly labeled rules enforced so that boat owners that would be coming to use the ramp would be able to park their cars legally.  Keeping mind that there were at least 135 (at my last count) parking pass holders that had already paid for the privilege of parking in this lot.  Keep in mind that if you just slid you boat into the water, tied it up, and now need to go park your 40-50 foot vehicle (boat trailer included), you really want to find a parking spot close by and not having to park blocks and blocks away.  Or even worse, would be coming back into the dock and finding that your towing vehicle is being blocked in by someone that is no where to be found.  You are stuck (on the water).

There are two other public boat ramps in New Bedford.  The one on East Rodney French Blvd has no floating dock, just a fixed pier that is about 5 feet above the average waterline.  It would be of no use for me because I could never reach it from a laser and the dock is so high it would probably also run the risk of ripping my sail.  There is also a boat ramp in the inner harbor near the hurricane barrier.  The inner harbor is an EPA Superfund site currently being dredged for depth and to capture the PCB's that have contaminated the harbor for the last forty years.  I have asked the police scuba diving unit, if they dive in there for training, etc. and I was promptly told, we avoid that area as much as we can.  So there is no way I am going to wade in and get that crap in my wetsuit to hold up against my moist skin.  Launch there would also require me to sail through the hurricane barrier gates, which are only about 100 feet wide and had a huge current and really huge boats cutting through it on no set schedule.  Not safe at all.

My conversation with the harbor master quickly dissolved into him yelling at me" Sir, what on earth do you want me to do? This is a very important event with high political ramifications and diplomacy involved"  I repeated " All i want is the same level of enforcement that you offer every other day of the year. I know you give out $50 tickets, and that I would get one if I was parked illegally here.  I have already paid for my boat ramp pass and the ramp is open.  If the event had a permit to close the lot or close the ramp, they would be closed and there would be a police officer or a volunteer here directing traffic and regulating the situation.  So i left things off with the harbor master asking "Is the parking lot closed?" "Is the boat ramp closed".  He said "No" to both and so I was clear to launch and park where I could find a spot.  Obviously he was not going to be doing his job today, and therefore I wouldn't be getting a ticket even if I parked kinda crazy.

The ramp was empty and the dock was clear.  I jumped into action, dropped the boat in the water, left all the parks of the dock and parked near the entrance to the lot on pavement that would allow people to get around me.  To make it better I picked up my trailer and pulled it over to the side to allow for even more room for people to drive by.

Once I was rigging up the boat, motor boats started showing up to land at the dock and they were not being patient at all, hovering 3-4 feet way from the laser.  I told everyone I would be off the dock in five minutes and please be patient.  They were not. The tried sneaking in behind me and in front of me and this is all while I'm trying to rig up the boat as best and quick as I could.  My patience waning with this whole situation. I really hope I didn't forget anything in the car.

I'm ready to cast off and the motor boats wont even back off so I will have a clear path away from the dock.  I called to the few of them to back off again and cast off, basely avoiding three collisions in the first 15 seconds.

Once on the water, I drifted into my own little world watching the whale boats and wishing they there were actually sailing instead of being pulled around by motor boats.  I spotted a police boat bobing around at the far end of the race course, so I sailed across the bay to chat with them about the ramp and parking lot.  They said that there wasn't much they could do about the parking since that was on land, but that the dock at the ramp was public and people needed to share it.  I agreed and sailed off. Around this point I realized that I had forgotten my windvane (indicator that shows you exactly where the wind is coming from) in the car.  I sailed back over to the dock and there was a guy putting his boat in the water and another guy in "Amaral II" who was tied up at the deep end of the dock.  So the dock was "full".  I circled around only to find a third motor boat unloading and loading more passengers by making them walk over the bow of  "Amaral II". Another quick circle around and they are now tying up to "Amaral II" doing what is called "rafting".  This is a clear indicator to me that no one is going anywhere anytime soon, they are using the dock as a private dock or a "tie-up" and that is clearly prohibited in the posted rules at the top of the ramp.  I pipe up " Hey guys. You can't use this as your private dock.  Take your boat out of the water or fire up your engines and take to the water!"  I sail away.  I come back and same crew is just staring at me like they didn't speak English.  And I blurted out "This isn't your F-ing dock. Move your boat".  Oh, they understood what I said this time and  came back at me with "Hey, why are you cursing about it".

Now keep in mind, I've been put through a bunch of BS this morning just to get my sail in at my local boat ramp. And I'm sailing a laser, no reverse, no crew to help me, no anchor.  So by just by giving me the silent treatment the first three polite passes I took to the dock and not trying to work something out, as far as I am concerned this guy has already said "F you little sailboat" already.

So at this point I just decide to free wheel it without the windvane and resign myself to be a hostage on the water.

So the races start.  They have a weird starting format that involves towing the boats with equal length lines and then sounding a horn for them to all hoist their sails and race all at once.  All of the excitement, jockeying and strategy of a traditional (five minute) pre-start is dissolved into watching five boats raise their sails in less than 10 seconds.  I imagine that anyone else that enjoys watching sailing was also disappointing in this display.

The course was about a mile and a half in the northern part of Clark's Cove.  Well away from the real waves of Buzzards Bay.  The wind however was W to WNW shifting around over the course 15-20mph.  I point this out because 2 foot seas, partly cloudy and 15-20 mph winds sound like a real whalers dream condition's.  However these conditions became too much for the amateur crews from New Bedford, as they capsized their wooden replica whaleboat on Saturday.

Rule number one of sailing a non-rightable boat: Do not flip over the boat! Sounds obvious, I know.
As well, another simple principal of racing in strong winds is that you never typically win a race if you capsize and many times the last boat standing is the one that finishes first.  Now I am writing this critique long after the race, and I should point out that I was most concerned about the safety of the crew since some of them were undoubtedly dumped out of the boat by surprise into cold water surrounded by lines and sails and with personal belongings falling into the water around them.  It is scary and I HAVE been there so I definitely understand.  But the seamanship and acumen of the skipper immediately had me asking "Wait, who are these skippers?"  With five or six people on board, you'd think someone or many someones would be tasked to watch the water for gusts and subsequently easing the sheets to reduce heel while going into said oncoming gusts.  "I flipped the boat because I didn't see a gust coming at me" is maybe an OK excuse if you are in a single handed boat, but for crying out loud, you have five people on your boat, they are not all needed for just two sails, and even if they were, someone's job needs to be to turn around and watch the water.  To add to the fracas, to properly right the capsized boats takes about 45 minutes, assistance from many many motor boats and a few brave souls to disassemble the masts, furl the sails, and flip the boat in the water all while swimming and then empty them with five gallon buckets.  That looked dangerous and exhausting and like enough reason to never ever flip your damn boat ever again.  I also hear that this first days capsize was the woman's boat and they had to pluck the ladies out of the water, bring them to shore, pick up the male crew from the same team and bring them out to the wreck site, drop them in and have them do the heavy lifting.  What a process and all the while it definitely slowed down the pace of the racing schedule for the day.

I found out that the New Bedford teams are primarily made up of the local rowing club. Say what? ROWING!

I rant about this at such length because a) someone really could have gotten hurt or worse b) it happened two more times for a total of three capsizes I witnessed this weekend and c) in my eyes this was just one of the more visible examples of poor seamanship exhibited by the boat crews and the event's organizers on their boats over the course of the weekend.

I should end the entire post there, but that wasn't the end of the day!

As the day went on the time between the race became longer and longer.  They had to change their crews and it wasn't until about 130pm that the racing was done for the day. Starting at noon, the wind started picking up and the areas further towards Buzzards Bay (South) were starting to whitecap.  I had a few thrilling beam reach runs in 2-3 foot waves back and forth off the west side of Fort Rodman.  It was awesome.  It was the level of laser sailing that I couldn't handle as a teenager.  I held her down and was planing up and down the face of the waves.  A few times, I was running with the waves and caught them just perfectly and the box was four feet over the surface as the stern rode with the top of the wave.  My eyes almost popped out from the sudden unexpected acceleration and feeling of sliding down hill. I have to say it again: It was awesome!  All of this occurring just off of my grandfathers old house that he literally built with his own hands made the feeling that much better.

Grandfathers house:
 This is not just any old cove.  Its the cove of the waterfront dreams that has inspired the last two generations of men in my family.  They were land lubbers, but here I am, sailing!

When I got back to the dock, the crowd on land was down to twenty people and the dock and ramp were free, so sailing for six hours had paid off, but I was sore and could really have used that damn windvane!

My phone had a missed call and I checked my voice mail and was greeted with "Hello, this is the New Bedford Police Dept calling you with a non emergency call. Please call us back as soon as you can at 508 blah blah blah"  I call and they don't have the details of the complain, but say that they were calling to get me to move my car so someone could get out.  Of course I quickly explain the situation, my complaint to the harbor master from earlier and that my car was rightfully parked inside of a lot that I have a government issued pass to park in. Womp, womp, whoaaaaaaaa! What i didn't mention is that I am quite familiar with conflict, I am right, and evicting people while you live in the same building as them was plenty enough training to deal with the police here and with the silliness of today.  And to my friends from NYC: Most of the parking tickets here are between $10-15 dollars, so now we are all laughing!

Tomorrow is Sunday.  They are having the first "Dabney Cup".  Yankee whale boats vs Azorean whale boats.  I can't miss that! Even with the BS from this morning, I got in and enjoyed myself and didn't cause any problems that effected the race results, and most of all this is OUR ramp and I'm not going to allow them to run me away because I am not one of them.  This is Sailtember buddy. You have no idea the energy and determination I have behind me.  I know my rights to the water too.

Later on, that US and THEM theme cooked in my mind over the course of the night and I questioned how many of the people involved were really sailors vs motor boaters that are celebrating a cultural thing by hopping into sailboats and flipping them.  Gee, did they know I'm Cape Verdean? I wonder if I had spoken Portuguese with proper Azorean pronunciation, if this would have all been avoided.  There certainly were plenty of motor boats launched and hauled out during the race and they were not harassed, right? I wasn't at the dock all day so I don't know actually.  Hey, are these "whale boats" really slave boats? Was everyone on board this kind of vessel a free person in it's hey day?  Oh, please don't tell me this is really a slave boat regatta and I'm so glad that thought didn't occur to me until I was home LOL!

So now, on to tomorrow :)

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