foggy fininshLuciole


  5-Jul 12-Jul 19-Jul 26-Jul 2-Aug 16-Aug 23-Aug TOTAL POSITION
  P PHP PBP  K I no race      
Blue Jean 2  DNR DNR  DNR DNR        
Luciole 1  3 2  1  1    3    
Hecate DNF  DNR  1 2  DNR    4    
Rumblefish 3  1  4 WD  7    2    
Whim DNR 4 DNR  DNF DNR        
Luna Nova DNR 2  DNR  DNR  DNF        
Ragwagon DNR 5  DNR  DNR  2        
Salty Dog DNR 6 DNR  DNR  6    1    
Scup DNR DNR 3  DNR  5        
Escargot  DNR DNR DNR  WD  3        
Xiphias  DNR  DNR  DNR DNR 4        

Sunday, July 5

Unverifiable Truths
By David Epstein
After four non-starts in the sail-racing season, I could scarcely believe the Knockabouts actually got a race off. I don’t believe the wind was eight to twelve knots from the southwest. At times it felt more like eighteen. Nor do I believe the current was turning to flow west in Vineyard Sound. It felt more like a dying east. In Woods Hole Passage, yes it was turning to run west, but not until the end of the race. I do believe the course was from a start in Great Harbor, to the middle of Lackey’s Bay and back to finish in Great Harbor.
About that start. I don’t believe I can do math. Only one boat can do math: Blue Jean. They proved it by being on the starting line more or less on time. The other boats were still trying to memorize the one mark of the course. So there it is: a Cape Cod Knockabout Race. Four boats racing, and Blue Bayou flopping about for fun. In this race the wind seemed nice, but it kicked up right after the start. And there was some west wind in the ol’ southwest. So Blue Jean had the start at the upwind end of the line, and then there was Luciole, and then further back, shaking the rust of their stop-watches, were Rumblefish and Hecate.
Blue Jean held the lead around Can Nine and into the flooding east tide of the Woods Hole passage. I don’t believe there was any way that Luciole could pass Blue Jean. Blue Jean was pointing high, and keeping Luciole in her wake. Rumblefish was charging along in pursuit. Hecate was challenging, but as the wind kept on rising, Hecate’s short-staffed crew of two had trouble holding the boat down. I don’t believe anyone can defy the Hole current. Blue Jean was swept east in the tide, and a moment later one of those injustices so common in sailboat-racing occurred: Luciole seemed to get a back-eddy entering the flow and managed to stay a little higher than Blue Jean. Halfway across the Hole, Luciole tacked first up the eddy behind Red Ledge, and when Blue Jean covered, she had to duck the Firefly on a port-starboard.
I don’t believe any boat can remember things from one year to the next. It’s like precocious Alzheimer’s, the seasonal version. Tacking around the east end of Nonamesset Island, Luciole kept heading in to shore to get out of the foul current. The other boats caught up to one another, and tacking duels took place. Rumblefish hailed Blue Jean. I don’t believe they were close enough, however. Hecate tried to pass on the shore side. And then came the great equalizer: The range marks. For those of you in the audience who don’t remember from one season to the next, the range marks are a line defined by three buoys, creating an artificial shore off the southeast side of Nonamesset Island. They are there to keep boats from rock-hopping in the more literal sense. What they really do is force all the boats out into the Vineyard Sound current and make it tough to continue the tacking duels. Hemmed in between the fake shoreline and the strong current, boats have to concentrate on sailing as efficiently as possible around the range marks. Then they dive for the boulder-strewn shore again, to avoid the worst of the foul current.
Luciole led around the range marks, and then, in honor of Carl Beverly, sailed all the way up inside mark H without taking a tack out into the foul current. I don’t believe it was raw skill. I do believe it was Luciole getting a few minutes of slightly more southerly wind. Blue Jean and Rumblefish and Hecate had to take tacks into the foul current, which allowed Luciole to extend her lead. Heading up to the mark in the vast and vague current shadow of Lackeys Bay, Luciole had the lead, followed at a distance by Blue Jean and Rumblefish. Hecate suffered the indignity of a rudder that bounced out of its gudgeons in the short steep chop. She lowered her main and drifted toward the beach, while the Race Committee stood by just in case.
While this was a spinnaker race, two things kept boats from using them. One was the wind, which had risen to blow above fifteen knots, over the starboard quarter. The second was that Hecate, who had been drilling her spinnaker sets only the day before, was dis-ruddered. And when one boat is possibly in trouble, no one was going to compound the Race Committee’s difficulty by putting up the Perilous sail. So that was the race. I don’t believe anyone felt that anything much was proved in this, the first race of the Sunday Series.
1. Luciole (David Epstein) 0:00
2. Blue Jean (Andy Ellis) 1:48
3. Rumblefish (Greg Polanik) 2:23
4. Hecate (Rick Whidden) DNF



Sunday July 12

If I Only Had a Brain

By David Epstein

Sundays being a Real Sailor’s race, that is, spinnakers permitted, only six boats came out to the course. The crew of Whim was responsible for getting half those boats out, first by haranguing anyone who came near the porch to get out and sail. Next she found crew for another boat, and finally, she ripped the nascently sipped cold beverage from the hand of Whim’s owner and frog-marched him down the gang-plank, into his skiff, and onto his boat.

The wind was that ol’southwest, four-to-eight, with occasional higher gusts. Most boats went with two people instead of three. The race began and ended in Great Harbor. The course was P,H,P.   There was a long beat up to mark P, in middle of Lackey’s Bay, then a short run to mark H, which is by the house on the bluff on the south side of Nonamesset, then a short beat back to Lackey’s, and a long run home.

The current was running to the west in Vineyard Sound and I know that NOW. At the time, having read the Eldridge’s, and having spoken with my crew about it, I proceeded to sail the race as though the current was running east, despite “overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” That phrase, in quotations marks, will always be, for me, a marker on one of the greatest pranks in history. Short version: in the early 18th Century, Jonathan Swift, whom most of us know as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, was incensed when some agrarian peasant was appointed King’s Projector.   This was done on the strength of said farmer having coincidentally and correctly predicted some random happening. Times being what they were, the seed-sower was immediately hailed as having paranormal proclivities and given the choice plum of a sinecure, the position of being the King’s prognosticator. Times also being what they were, Swift and his ecclesiastical colleagues were incensed that such a sweet job and its salary were awarded to a rank idiot. Now, among the actual work of the King’s Projector was the publication of a calendar. Usually this calendar was filled with nuggets of specificity like “In the middle of the month an officer in His Majesty’s Army with blonde curls will fall ill.” Swift and his buddies decide to do likewise. They publish a calendar saying “On the twelfth of this month, the King’s Projector will drop dead.” But they don’t stop there. As the business of death, dying, and, especially, mourning was extensive, they engaged vendors. To the house of the King’s Projector came someone to measure for mourning drapes, someone to measure the residents for mourning clothes. A casket manufacturer to measure the principal, a stationer to get the wording of the announcements right, clergy, grave-diggers, and so on. The twelfth comes and goes, and the vendors are clamoring to be paid. The King’s Projector goes to court to stop the madness. He goes to court to prove that he’s alive. He LOSES the case, on the grounds of “overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” Thus my affinity for the phrase.

Luciole had a superb start in the middle of the line. She split the fleet, had an open spot, and led going out across Woods Hole Passage. Rumblefish fell off below but stayed even. When Luciole reached mark D, which must be obeyed on the Nonamesset side, she took a short nip up to pass the buoy. By then, Rumblefish had closed a little. Salty Dog followed at a short distance. Meanwhile, Luna Nova and Ragwagon and Whim tacked up under the island. Old Salt looked back. At that point, a single word should have been ricocheting around his consciousness: “Cover.” Instead, Old Salt thought “Ha: victims of precocious Alzheimer’s: they’re doomed.” And on sailed Luciole. And then he thought better of it and tried to cover, only to find that three boats had gotten ahead. And those three boats: Luna Nova, Ragwagon, and Whim, proceeded rather far out into the sound. Again, Old Salt lit a fire in his mind by rubbing his last two brain cells together and thought “Ha: I shall make up lost ground by sailing for shore to evade the foul current. On the previous tack, Salty Dog had passed Luciole, giving the Firefly sole possession of last place. So picture this: Luciole repeatedly diving in for shore, for the shelter of the rocks and beach, while five other boats sail off into Vineyard Sound. “What suicidal lemmings,” thought Old Salt, as he nipped and tacked up the range marks, passing Salty Dog by mere coincidence. Never once did the phrase or concept of “overwhelming evidence to the contrary” enter Old Salt’s noggin. Never once until a discussion with the crew forced him to admit that this just wasn’t working. So off went Luciole, the tired puppy trailing after the pack.

By the weather mark, Luna Nova had the lead, but Rumblefish was fairly close behind.   The ‘fish began to sort out her spinnaker gear, but the run to mark H was too short to fly the chute. Luna Nova led around the second mark, and began beating toward mark P again, followed closely by Rumblefish, then, at a distance, by Whim. Behind Whim, also at a distance, came Ragwagon, and then Luciole and Salty Dog. Just before the first weather mark, on the strength of hiking and answered prayers, Luciole overtook Ragwagon.

The final run showed the four lead boats, a pair and a pair, separated by about two-hundred meters. Luna Nova led, followed by Rumblefish. Then a gap until Whim ahead of Luciole. Rumblefish raised her spinnaker and took off to catch the leader. Luciole raised her chute and closed on third-place Whim.   Each boat flying the spinnaker faced the same challenge of keeping the wind. Downwind that’s not too difficult. But as the boats headed more north toward Woods Hole Passage, the non-chute flyers could easily head up. The spinnakered boats had to, first, jibe, and second, work hard to fly their chutes on what became a reach. Keeping the wind drove them off more easterly, and the finish would be more westerly. Still, having wind in your sails, and in the extra sail, proved enough of an advantage, allowing Rumblefish and Luciole to pull ahead of their respective competition. Once having struck the spinnaker, the leeward and ahead boat could come back up on a faster point of sail and take over the position.

Thus it went: Rumblefish notched a well-earned victory! Luna Nova came in second, and Luciole took over third place from Whim.


  1. Rumblefish (Greg Polanik) 0:00
  2. Luna Nova (Kathy Elder) 0:12
  3. Luciole (David Epstein) 1:13
  4. Whim (Norm Farr) 1:24
  5. Ragwagon (Peter Ochs) 3:22
  6. Salty Dog (Art DiRienzo 3:42


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Summer Fog

By David Epstein

Sundays being what they are, only four boats came out to race in the wind and fog. The breeze was wonderful: the ol’ southwest coming in around ten to fourteen knots. The course was P,B,P. This means a start and finish in Great Harbor. The first leg was a long beat to the middle of Lackey’s Bay, with the east current dying in Woods Hole Passage, but still running strong in the sound. Strategy: stay inshore all along Nonamesset Island. Then an offshore run to mark B, the westernmost range mark; a short beat back to Lackey’s Bay, and a long run home.

Luciole squeezed Hecate up at the start and led on the way out. Rumblefish started down the line and was off to lee much of the first tack. Scup, crewed by the youth movement of Juliana, Ava, and Abe, came along behind. Luciole covered Hecate relentlessly. Luciole relented once, while tacking outside the range marks, and Hecate pounced, taking over the lead. Then Luciole relentlessly tacked on top of the charging Scup. But Scup headed out in the dying Sound current and rounded ahead of Luciole.

Hecate increased her lead, flying her spinnaker on the runs. Luciole and Rumblefish also flew chutes, much to the dismay of Scup. And Scup was excited: the crew hiked, the crew tacked, the crew tried to put the whammy on Luciole. But once the spinnakers went up, Scup could not maintain position. She remained far enough ahead of Rumblefish to hold third place to the finish.

One admires the well-sailed boat. Of course, one would rather BE the well-sailed boat, but, in the words of Eeyore: “We can’t all, and some of us don’t.” Hecate sailed particularly well on this day, pointing high and driving well for speed.   Luciole caught up a little on the final run in the fog, but Hecate’s lead was never really threatened.

Results (times are approximate):

  1. Hecate (Gale Clark) 0:00
  2. Luciole (David Epstein) 0: 15
  3. Scup (Chris Warner) 1:00
  4. Rumblefish (Greg Polanik) 1:15



N is for Knarly

Sunday, July 26, 2015

By David Epstein

Turf wars off Woods Hole abound: the Steamship Authority ferries dominate the shipping channel; the Coast Guard has dibs on the Nobska frontage; weekend summers the boating traffic makes Woods Hole Passage a mite dicey for racing in. What’s left? Buzzards Bay (have to transit the Hole to get there and back) and Vineyard Sound. On this particular day the anemometer reported a steady 20 knots. Later checks on the spindle station showed gusts to 35. So, instead of getting blankies and settling in around the telly to watch AMC, the course offered was N to port, no spinnakers.

Mark N is a navigational buoy at the west end of Middle Ground. Mapquest it and you get something like this (after you get out of your driveway): Beat to the south side of Nonamesset Island. At the southwest end of Lackey’s Bay, turn left. Beat two miles toward Martha’s Vineyard. Turn left around green buoy # 27. That gets you to the weather mark. Sailing home is easier: Sail downwind on a dead run three and a half miles back to Woods Hole. Bear left after green can # 9 in Great Harbor.

Five boats braved the start in Great Harbor. Luciole had the favored opening near the committee boat at the weather end of the starting line. Hecate was just behind, and Rumblefish was off to lee, a little farther down the line. Escargot crossed high, a little late to the line, while Whim, fresh off the mooring, also began a little late. In the tacking out across Parker Flats and Woods Hole Passage, Hecate, Rumblefish, and Luciole traded the lead several times. And then came the fateful Mark D rule.

Mark D, the buoy formerly known as “the gaslight,” is the west side of the shipping channel used by the ferries. Only a few years ago, the Knockabout fleet decided that this buoy must be left to port on all Vineyard Sound races. That is, boats must pass between the buoy and Nonamesset Island. This is to keep boats out of the way of the ferries. While the rule has changed strategy on west tide races (No more Great Circle Route out by Juniper Point (which had boats crossing the channel twice), by and large, it’s been a success. On this particular day, however, while Luciole and Hecate obeyed the edict, Rumblefish and Escargot did not. Those boats passed Mark D on the wrong side and later withdrew, but not before finishing the course such as they knew it. Off Nonamesset, Whim, in last place, decided it wasn’t worth the fight in the strong winds. She returned to base.

It was a wild ride in heavy air. The beat featured smooth rolling starboard tacks toward the Vineyard, with seas on the beam. Port tacks were bow-pounding slam-fests with gouts of green water blasting across the coaming. At the gaslight, Luciole got ahead on a strong port tack, and then covered Hecate and Rumblefish the rest of the way to N. Almost. The skipper suffered from delusions of increasing his lead by sailing away from his competitors. The crew kept advising: “Cover, cover, cover.” Alas, the privilege (and burden) of command is to make one’s own decisions. At least three times Luciole tacked away from Hecate (Keep track at home, now: that equals six extra tacks). Hecate, meanwhile, had slacked off slightly to bail the bilge. And by the time the lead three boats converged at the weather mark, Hecate slipped in ahead of the unbailed and sluggish Luciole. The Firefly, having misjudged the mark in foul current, had to take yet another pair of flip-flops, which allowed Rumblefish to slip inside for room at the mark.

The long run home had three knockabouts abreast: Luciole to the west, Hecate center, and Rumblefish to the east. They stayed that way, bailing the bilges, surfing the waves, dead downwind for two miles. All were exhausted by the upwind fight. No boat tried to take another’s wind.   At the entrance gongs, the crew on Luciole had the bright idea of being human boomvang, and Luciole crept ahead a few boat-lengths. Rumblefish, on the outside, came up to follow Hecate. And there they stayed, across the Hole, Hecate running up to attack, Luciole defending, the rest of the way home.

There is a fine feeling that comes with having gone out in heavy air. This particular day the heavy air was merciful in that it was steady, and not puffy. In fact, out near the weather mark, the wind even lightened a bit. In competition one enjoys the feeling of having been tested, and when the weather itself is a competitor, the entire race is sweetened.



  1. Luciole (David Epstein) 0:00
  2. Hecate (Gale Clark)                        0:11
  3. Rumblefish (Greg Polanik) 0:36 (W/D)
  4. Escargot (Brett Longworth) 3:56 (W/D)
  5. Whim (Norm Farr) DNF



Chutes and Corners

Sunday, August 2

By David Epstein

When in the course of sailing a race it becomes necessary for a boat to separate itself from the fleet, this is called “cornersville.” The term originates with the idea that a normal sailboat race consists of tacking upwind, and the shortest course is a theoretical zig-zag up the middle of a hypothetical race in a broad, open area of water.   The “corner” part is when a boat decides that conditions must be more favorable on one or another side of the course, and so sails off alone to a corner of the course in search thereof. The reality of cornersville is that it’s usually a desperate flier taken by a desperate boat, a gamble grabbed at in the hopes of divine intervention.

The usual way courses are sailed, at least in Woods Hole waters, is to have imbibed from the teat of Experience long enough to know the time-honored “way we sail it around here.” On Sunday, August 2, the course was to mark I and back. There was a short weather leg to a drop mark by Ram Island, which made for a beating start instead of a reaching start. Then the fleet had a short run to can nine, where the game really began. Mark I is also called “Far Lackeys,” for its placement at the southeast extreme of Lackeys Bay. Hazards include the Vineyard Sound current, rocks both obvious and subtle in the center of the bay, and rocks and current all the way there and back.

At the start of the race, the wind was blowing a charming 4-6 knots from slightly west of southwest. During the race the breeze increased to blow 8-14 from the usual summer southwest. The current was changing in Woods Hole Passage to run west about an hour before race-time. In the Vineyard Sound, where much of this race transpired, it was tricky: there the current usually changes to run west between forty-five and ninety minutes later than the change in the Hole. So, going along the usual tacks around the east end of Nonamesset Island, boats eagerly scan the lines beneath lobster pots for signs of current direction. While such signs are an improvement over the dowsing rod, when the current is light, surface breezes can distort the information stream.

Eight boats came out for the race, which is the Sunday spinnakers-encouraged Series.   Xiphias led Scup and Luciole in the middle of the line, with Rumblefish slightly to lee. Several boats tacked up through the moored boats under Ram Island. They did not fare as well as boats that played the Great Harbor gyre by tacking first toward Can Nine, and then flopped on to port to approach the first weather mark. Scup tacked back early, which allowed Rumblefish to slip in behind Xiphias. The first rounding was thus: Xiphias, Rumblefish, Salty Dog, Luciole, Scup, Ragwagon, Escargot, and Luna Nova. It is believed that the skipper on Luna Nova was enthralled with (and distracted by) her crew: the inimitable Quebecoiselle Lysandre, and her charming Franglais patter.

After Can Nine, leaving Great Harbor, the fleet hardened up to cross Woods Hole Passage. The wind still had a little more west than usual in it, so it was possible for boats to head up right into Red Ledge. So the fleet footed off to cross the western flow, which pulled at the boats on the beam, making the knockabouts like the accretion disk around some hydrological black hole. Xiphias increased her lead, while Rumblefish footed off slightly. Salty Dog, sailing fast, walked away from Luciole. In fact, the lead three boats simply walked away from the Firefly. And to pile on the discouragement, Ragwagon sailed up from behind Luciole and simply marched over the top of her, wagged her transom at the Firefly, and sailed on in pursuit of the fleet. Luciole threw out an anchor, had a good cry, and then tried to move on with her life.

The time-honored way to sail this course is to foot off into Vineyard Sound and catch the west tide for a quick ride to the far end of Lackeys. The current, however, had different ideas. Remember up above, where I gave a 45-minute window within which the current changes in the Sound? That’s the tricky part. And those sailors who have indeed lapped up the ambrosia of Experience (and remembered it—which is a whole ‘nother thing entirely), will recall an important caveat: When the current turns to run west in Vineyard Sound, it changes first along the shore of Nonamesset Island. How can this be? What does this mean? Okay, picture a volume of liquid approaching a narrows. Where the volume encounters a solid (the shore), the velocity of the liquid will increase. In terms of Vineyard Sound, that doesn’t mean that the current doesn’t change at the appointed time. But it does mean that the velocity of the water increases fastest and soonest closer to shore. Make sense so far? Good.   Not even the brainiacs at WHOI’s Summer Institute for Geophysical Fluid Dynamics know this stuff. Old Salt has always wanted to work the Summer Institute for Geophysical Fluid Dynamics into a race report because he’s paid by the word.

The fleet dove offshore, smug in its appraisal of the sundials, and with Eldgridge’s in their hind pockets. Hapless Luciole and even ‘applesser Luna Nova (notice the Francophonic suspension of the initial hache) remembered the salient and saline facts of current change in the Sound. Luciole’s crew stood on the deck and pronounced: “Pah! Lemmings! Tack sooner and they all will be staring wistfully at our transom before long.” Actually, what was said was “Go over now, and maybe the good fairy will smile on us in our imbecilic devotion to Cornersville.”

It was soon apparent that the current had changed to run west fastest and soonest closer to shore, and Luicole and Luna Nova caught up several hundred yards and were back in contention. Coming up to the mark, all the boats had overstood, and had to keep bearing off as the current tried to sweep the fleet on toward Tarpaulin Cove. Xiphias rounded first, followed by Ragwagon. Then Salty Dog simply footed down on Luciole and rounded third, just inside of Luciole. Then came Scup, Escargot, Rumblefish, and Luna Nova. And then the race began all over again.

The Sunday series is a spinnaker race. And since, next weekend is the Cape Cod Knockabout Regatta, it behooves boats to get out and practice with the ‘chutes. Xiphias, a last moment entrant to the Sunday race, hasn’t seen her spinnaker in years (Psst: try the front hall closet). Salty Dog, too, was not rigged for the big bag. Luciole rounded and bang! out popped the spinnaker. Salty Dog was quickly passed. And then came Commotion on Ragwagon: Someone remembered that only the previous week a sandwhich had been left on board, and while foraging in the bilge, a spinnaker was discovered. This led to a brief discussion, and then further rummaging in the bilges for spinnaker sheets, a pole and some hardware. A smartphone came out. Amazon’s Knockabouts and Their Arcana Department was consulted. For an additional fee of 49.95, some brummel hooks were delivered Right Now! by Pixie-Dust, and it then became worthwhile to untangle the halyards. While all this was going on, Luciole was catching up. And then Ragwagon hoisted her spinnaker. And then Ragwagon’s crew meandered on the foredeck pretending to smoke, casually straightening out the spinnaker with Chaplinesque dainty pushes at the tangled nylon. And then, Luciole and Ragwagon were dead even.

Xiphias steered inshore, trying to evade the strongly running west tide. She was blanketed by two charging knockabouts, and then simply overtaken. Farther back, Rumblefish raised her spinnaker, but didn’t fly it all the way home, as they were too distant from boats both ahead and behind. In the middle, Scup passed the Nonamesset bluff and dove in for shore, followed by Salty Dog.  After the range marks, Luciole jibed immediately and ran towards shore, looking for less foul current. Ragwagon, on the outside, ceded just a little, and then came the Dividing Line. There is a point on the easternmost shore of Nonamesset Island where the current splits. On the south of this divide, the waters run down Vineyard Sound. On the north side, the waters run through Woods Hole Passage. Approaching the divide is like running up hill. Get across the divide, and it’s like running downhill. And for a few crucial moments, Luciole was running downhill while Ragwagon was running uphill. And that has made all the difference. Vive la difference.

Speaking of things French, it is my sad duty to account for Luna Nova’s DNF. She sailed well, and her Quebecois crew enjoyed themselves.   And then, right at the end of the race, Luna Nova passed south of the guest mooring, and thus, did not cross the finish line. A final note, we the competitors acknowledge the weekly battle fought and won by the Assistant Steward, the always charming Miss Lucy, who bests unconsciousness every Sunday by one p.m. in order to fulfill her duties.   Thanks, doll.


  1. Luciole, David Epstein 0:00
  2. Ragwagon, Peter Ochs 0:26
  3. Escargot, Brett Longworth 1:15
  4. Xiphias, Elijah Switzer                1:28
  5. Scup, Chris Warner 2:12
  6. Salty Dog, Art Dirienzo 2:35
  7. Rumblefish, Greg Polanik 3:59
  8. Luna Nova, Kathy Elder DNF