In the dark of winter, a crazy idea was hatched: six kids, one boat, and a world championship.
The MudRatz, a youth sailing organization based in Eastern Long Island Sound, were going to launch their new keelboat program with the goal of heading to Miami to compete in the Melges 24 World Championship.
With a boat in hand, a dozen enthusiastic kids, and some parents willing to serve as a crash boat, the dream began on a sunny April afternoon. I was lucky enough to be part of that dream.
DREAM – Melges 24 World Championship in Miami!
The spring and summer was filled with practices and regattas. While we were initially looked at with skepticism, the local sailing community quickly jumped on board and we were given help at every turn. Local sailing legends and world sailing phenoms came on and off the boat, coaching us and teaching us the ins-and-outs of keelboat racing. Guys like Ben Bardwell, Tom Burnham, and Charlie Enright taught us not only skills and strategies, they also shared some pretty epic stories.
As the summer season came to a conclusion, we said goodbye to the gentle summer breezes and hello to the fast, fun, fall wind. Thanks to school, we weren’t able to sail on weekdays, but we practiced every Saturday and Sunday. The final team for Worlds was selected and we spent most of our practices better understanding our individual jobs and working together as a team.
Fall practices went by too quickly and we found ourselves at our last scheduled practice before packing the boat up for Miami. It was typical fall day in New England: cloudy, cool, and breezy. Winds were out of the southwest at 20-25 knots. This was the wind we were hoping for and spirits were high.
The goal for practice was working on blow-through gybes. It was a great day and we had been out on the water for three hours. We were having the time of our life, hitting a boat speed of 18.6 knots, broaching a few more times than we care to admit, and most importantly, nailing the blow through gybes. Though the conditions were optimal, we were all getting tired and it was clear that it was time to go in.
Last downwind run and CRACK!
It was our last downwind run and our coach was out on the water working with us. We had successfully completed a series of three blow through gybes and we were preparing for the final one. Our tactician just made the call for the gybe and our skipper had started the countdown. Right before we overhauled the sheet we all heard a loud CRACK! It only took a moment to realize something was very wrong. I let go of the sheet, and turned to the coach as he hollered at us to remain downwind. I looked up and realized my worst nightmare: the backstay was gone and the mast was leaning forward at a crazy angle.
After a long tow back to shore, we were able to assess the damage. We knew it wasn’t good. As it turned out, the mast crane had broken at the head of the mast, causing significant tension on the lower shrouds. This pulled the mast forward through the deck while the compression post ripped apart the forward bulkhead. This was sure to be a difficult repair and we doubted it could be done in time.
BIG HOPE – A dream won’t end here
A wave of depression was cast upon the team. We all figured this was the end of the season, no more worlds. We’ve had a lot of people who have stepped up to help us try to attain our dream. Dawn Riley and Oakcliff Sailing set us up with a new mast. Samson donated all new lines, and Peter Ross from Peter Ross Yachts in Bristol RI has put in countless hours on our hull. Unfortunately, all this might be for naught. Peter is doubtful that the hull repairs will be done in time. We don’t want our dream to end here. Is there anyone out there that can help our team? Does anyone have a charter they would be willing to donate ~ MudRatz is a 501(c)3 organization ~ so your donation would be tax deductible!
Even if we do get to compete at worlds, the problems for the fearless leader of the Mudratz, Brandon Flack, will continue. There is so much interest in the Melges program he started that there are just too many kids for one boat. We’re hoping that others will see what great things have come of this and will consider donating us another boat (or two). I can promise you that your donation will result in great learning experiences for lots of kids like me.
by Peter Cronin