Where the heckawi?

Diana, at the helm of Scout, during a brief period in the race when there were boats behind them. It didn’t last long. Photo by Mark Barrett

Fall 2023

By Mark Barrett

The Figawi Race Weekend was unwittingly conceived in 1972, by three friends sitting at a bar in Hyannis, Mass. Bragging about their sailboats and their respective sailing abilities, they tried to settle the dispute by racing to Nantucket on a foggy pre-GPS day, got a tad disoriented (“Where the figawi?”) in the soup, and the rest is history. Diana and I wanted to be a small part of that history.

Friday night was the captains party at Hyannis Yacht Club, the kick-off event of the weekend where we’d learn our division, our starting time, and pick up the bag of swag from various sponsors. This year the bag – a red duffle from Savant – contained a T-shirt from Baxter’s Boathouse restaurant, a can of Viva Tequila Seltzer, LED strip lights, a couple key rings with floaties, some can coolers, some Croakies, a plastic cup, a “Cape Cod Life” magazine, several pens, eight red Figawi caps, the 2023 Figawi flag to fly during the race, and the scratch sheet and sailing instructions.

Just before we bought our Freedom 30, Scout, we sold our previous boat, the J/30 Mojo, to an avid racer at the Hyannis Yacht Club named Gary Blank, and she was entered in this year’s running, Division 9 Non-Spinnaker class. Scout was placed in Division 10 Non-Spinnaker with nine other boats with similar ratings. Division 10 was the division with the smallest, slowest sailboats. We had the lowest rating in our division and would start last at 10:14 a.m. The boat with the highest rating in the division, 225, happened to be sailed by our friends Chris and Mary Dixon, the Pearson 303 Mariah. They would be the very first to start in the entire 100-boat fleet at 10 a.m.

On race day, my sailing partner and PILF (Person-I-Love-Forever), Diana, arrived at the boat on Saturday at about 8 a.m., planning to leave the dock by 9:00 to get out to the starting line area by 9:45. Our start was at 10:13.59. We did not have much to do, just load our meager provisions aboard, along with a bag of ice, and remove the dodger. The prediction was for light wind, 5 to 8 knots southeast. Boats were changing out sails and putting on bigger genoas.

“Why are we taking off the dodger?” Diana asked. “Is that really going to make a difference?”

“I don’t know, but at least we’ll look like we’re serious,” I said.

We left the slip right on schedule and motored out of Hyannis Inner Harbor, out to the starting area. The Figawi is run with safety in mind, considering that a bunch of amateurs at the helms of their sailboats would be careening around in close quarters. They set up a “starting box” designated by the committee boat; three large buoys were set up 300 yards apart, marking the corners of a rectangle. Boats were not allowed to enter the box until five minutes before their starting times.

The wind that morning was stronger than predicted, 8 to 10 knots out of the south-southwest. We raised our sails and tacked back and forth just outside the box. With our self-tacking jib, tacking was a simple maneuver. At about 10:10, we entered the box. Two other boats with the same 186 rating were with us. One was a 45-foot S&S named Camelot and the other was a 30-foot Pearson named Le Petit Beauteau. We crossed the starting line right behind the S&S, with the Pearson alongside us to windward.

We headed off the starting line on a starboard tack. There was only one upwind mark we had to go around, G “5” just north of Horseshoe Shoal, and then it would be a straight shot to the finish line in Nantucket, about 17 miles away. Diana steered the boat while I trimmed the sails. We pointed Scout as high as she would go, which was not very high. Camelot accelerated away from us and, in a matter of 20 minutes, was barely visible ahead. Le Petite Beauteau was even with us, but steadily gaining ground to windward – or we were losing ground to leeward, one or the other. We made four tacks to get around G “5”, and, by that time, every entry in our 10-boat division was far ahead. The conditions were perfect, though, with clear blue skies and a steady south-southwest breeze that was picking up as the day went on. I fooled around with the traveler and mainsheet and tried to get the optimum shape in the sails, while Diana kept us right on the GPS road straight to the finish line.

Slowly but surely, all the boats that had started behind us caught up and marched steadily past. The hours went by. Eventually, we could not see Cape Cod behind us anymore, and began to just barely see Nantucket on the horizon ahead. When we were five miles from the finish line, nobody was close to us, either ahead or behind. It was a gorgeous day, regardless of our loneliness out there. Scout leapt eagerly through the waves on a reach, making a steady 6.5 knots. If this had been a leisure trip to Nantucket, it would have been a magnificent passage, but it wasn’t a leisure trip, it was a race.

We came in last in our division; 10 out of 10. We came in 54th overall out of 110 entries. Not only had our old Mojo won first place in her Division 9 Non-Spinnaker, she also had taken second overall in the entire fleet, right behind Camelot, the S&S 45 that won our division and also won line honors as the first boat to finish in elapsed time. Gary Blank, Mojo’s new owner, said I could buy her back, but the price would be high because she’d won so many trophies since he’d bought her.

Once we were safely secured in our slip, with Scout plugged in and hosed off, her dodger and Bimini reinstalled, proud pictures taken (even though we came in last) we went off to find our friends Chris and Mary Dixon on their Pearson 303, Mariah. They had finished ahead of us, a fact Chris cheerfully pointed out at every opportunity. We joined them and their crew – an affable Brit named Julian and his son Mark – for dinner at The Brotherhood of Thieves.

From the Brotherhood, we made our way to The Club Car, a restaurant in a refurbished railroad car. Finally, we returned to our respective boats.

On Sunday, the Figawi awards ceremony was scheduled for 4:30 p.m., and many boats left early due to a high-wind prediction on Monday. We stayed, walked all over town, and visited Cisco Brewery, makers of some of Diana’s favorite beverages. Drinking Whale’s Tale Pale Ale where it was made was sublime.

After the awards ceremony and dinner, we returned to the boat; we planned to leave early to catch a favorable current through Woods Hole. That night, I took the sail covers off and put a double reef in the mainsail to save time in the morning.

We cast off the lines and pulled out of our slip at 6:45 a.m. on Memorial Day, and a few boats were leaving with us. The forecast called for 15 to 30 knots out of the north-northeast; at least the wind direction was favorable for the 30-mile leg to Woods Hole, as was the current. We motored out the channel and past the jetty before we raised our mainsail. Early in the morning, it was already blowing 15 to 20.

We sailed with just the double-reefed main for a while, then raised the self-tacking jib. That added some lift, and we pointed up toward G “1” at Tuckernuck Shoal, hoping to leave that buoy to port. After a while, we knew we weren’t going to make the mark without tacking, so we kept going on the same heading and sailed right over the shoal. It was unnerving to see 13 feet on the depth sounder, but Scout draws 5 feet 6 inches and we weren’t worried.

Past the shoal, we fell off about 20 degrees and pointed toward Martha’s Vineyard. The waves built steadily, and the wind lived up to the forecast, coming in prolonged 30-knot gusts. Steering was an effort; well beyond what our ancient Raytheon Wheel Pilot could handle. With the current pushing us, and surfing down the faces of the waves, Scout was hitting over 9 knots, faster than her theoretical hull speed. On that point of sail, we didn’t need the jib anymore – the double-reefed main was plenty – but I didn’t relish going up on the foredeck to drop the sail and tie it up. A furling jib would have been nice, but a free-standing mast doesn’t allow a tight-enough headstay for a headsail furler to work properly.

About three hours after we left Nantucket, we were approaching East Chop on Martha’s Vineyard. The long fetch in Nantucket Sound, combined with almost gale-force wind, and the current, produced sloppy, confused seas, and some genuinely huge waves. At one point, an especially steep wave hit us broadside. Scout rolled over hard onto her port side. I lost my balance, my feet went out from under me, and I crashed back-first into the port side of the companionway.

I couldn’t say anything right away because the wind was knocked out of me. I saw there was blood all over the cockpit sole, and that it was coming from my hand. A chunk of flesh had torn out of the palm, at the base of my thumb. I sat down on the cockpit seat. We were rolling like crazy in the steep waves. I grabbed a bunch of paper towels off the roll that was handy to the cockpit. I dabbed the wad of paper towels on the wound and looked at it again. I was going to need stitches.

Diana stayed at the helm while I went below to get our first aid kit. “Don’t get blood all over everything,” Diana yelled from the cockpit.

I bandaged my hand with gauze and tape. My back and ribs were sore, like I’d been punched by Mike Tyson, but I was pretty sure nothing was cracked. The big wad of gauze and tape around my hand staunched the flow of blood, which was good because we were at least four hours from our port.

We would have dropped the sails and motored through Woods Hole, but I didn’t want to go on deck and mess with sails with one hand, and I didn’t want Diana to get up there. The wind direction was favorable, and we had peak current with us, so we sailed right through the Hole at record speed, 10.5 knots over the ground on the GPS. Once into Buzzards Bay, we had to make four long tacks across the bay until we finally passed Cleveland Ledge, eventually entering the calm and welcoming water of Red Brook Harbor, about three hours after going through Woods Hole.

We took the dinghy into the Kingman Yacht Center dock, and it was painful to walk past the happy crowd at the Chart Room, where the blenders were humming, and the frozen mudslides were calling us. I needed stitches, 18 to be exact, and after each one was cinched off tight by Dr. Pilcher, at the Stoneman Outpatient Center in Sandwich, a voice in my head said, “Wear sailing gloves, from now on, you moron!”

Mark Barrett started at the bottom of the boating industry – literally – scraping, washing and painting the bottoms on all sorts of vessels. He currently works as a yacht broker for Cape Yachts in Dartmouth, Mass., and he lives in Sandwich, Mass., as does Diana. They have cruised the Eastern Seaboard from Maine’s Mount Desert Island to Staten Island, N.Y., and these days, they sail their 1988 Freedom 30 Scout out of Red Brook Harbor in Buzzards Bay.