PURSUIT and the Regata al Sol
The Regata al Sol, the 550-nautical mile biannual sailing race from Pensacola to Isla Mujeres, has a long history and tradition dating back to 1965. According to Enrique Lima who has coordinated the race since its inception, negotiations between his brother and Fidel Castro, smoothed the way for the inaugural event. Apparently, Fidel Castro personally assured the Mexican contingent that the nervous American sailors would have safe passage through Cuban waters on their way to the tiny Mexican island. A rich history has followed with the 29th Regata al Sol commencing on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.
Pursuit, one of fifteen entries, entered her first Regata al Sol this year and won first in the Cruising Spinnaker Class. She was the only boat to finish in her division. While many of the fleet turned on their engines and either went back to Pensacola or headed on to Mexico, Pursuit persevered through unusually light winds and was able to complete the race early Monday morning finishing in 4.8 days. (Pursuit is a Beneteau Oceanis 45 - ed.)
Pursuit prepared for this race many months in advance with final work completed in the few days before the delivery to Pensacola. Preparations included but were not limited to race advice from Tiare and Bill Provensal, food and menu planning, safety considerations, boat and sail preparation, crew logistics, Mexican documentation, strategy, pre-race weather and Gulf Loop Current analysis. Safety included preparation for worst case scenarios including fire onboard, man over board preparation, unpredictable and harsh sea conditions, and the ultimate disaster, losing the vessel in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, where rescue efforts might arrive in a matter of days not hours.
The complex paperwork from the Mexican government presented a challenge to all of the participants, but we now all know more about the American and Mexican systems for customs and border protection. Despite rumors to the contrary, we did not witness any evidence of a wall being constructed across the Gulf of Mexico between our neighboring countries.
One of the more fascinating pre-race preparations was the analysis of the Gulf Loop Current, the flow of water entering the southern Gulf between the Yucatan Peninsula (our finish line) and Cuba. This pre-race analysis of the current coupled with the forecast of light winds proved to be critical for our finish. In addition to an unusual pattern in which this occasional 3- knot current was shifted easterly towards Cuba allowing our ultimate rhumb line course to Isla Mujeres, there was also a clockwise warm eddy in the central Gulf (near the halfway point of the race around the same latitude as Tampa, Florida). The strategy in most situations is not only to sail with the current direction (often adding 1-2 knots of speed over ground to the knot meter speed), but as importantly, to avoid sailing against the current yielding a critical loss of boat speed. In light or non-existent winds, sailing against a current could theoretically set the vessel on a course back to the United States.
Using this pre-race data, Pursuit entered the clockwise Central Gulf Warm Eddy in light air conditions at a precise GPS location and was effectively set first easterly and then southerly. She exited the eddy current early Sunday morning and headed straight for the finish. A timely and strong Easterly breeze ahead of a central Gulf High Pressure weather system propelled Pursuit to the finish, sailing 180 miles in the final 24 hours with an average speed of 7.5 knots.
Regardless of preparation, the most critical component of Pursuit’s success was her crew. Beau Morse, Stefan LeBell, Christy Carney, Rob Rogers, Jim Rogers, Rocky Sanchez, Cletus Junius, and Patrick Waring all worked together as a cohesive unit. Rocky was our navigator and did a spectacular job. Christy, an accomplished sailor and chef, earned most valuable crew honors. She kept our spirits up with her award-winning menu and meals served with a smile in occasionally pitching seas. Despite light winds and adverse conditions, the crew worked for and with each other. We never quit!
Submitted by Patrick Waring