Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sailing the Heritage Race on the Classic Chesapeake 20

I see that Tillerman lamented he hasn't done much sailing. Well neither have I this spring, for many of the same reasons; graduations (TOH to Chris and Sally on successfully completing their advanced degrees), family trips and just lack of motivation.

Depend on a good friend to get you out of a funk. Bob Blomquist, star of several previous posts, featuring his Bolger Light Schooner and other boat building project, called up and asked if I wanted to crew on his Chesapeake 20 for the long distance Heritage Cup out of West River SC. In the 21 years that Bob has raced the Chesapeake 20, I had never crewed for him in a race. I had almost raced with him twenty one years ago when Bob was trying out his first 20, but those races were cancelled for two much wind. We ended up bombing back and forth on a reach until we sucked the very long mainsail bag most of the way into centerboard trunk. So much of the black bag ended up trailing astern that it looked like we were being chased by the serpentine Chessie Bay Monster. It was so bad that we had to park the Chesapeake 20 on the shallows while I dove over, swam under the boat and dragged the rest of the sail bag out through the bottom of the centerboard trunk.

The Heritage Race is a grand long distance tour of West River and Rhode River. The usual course length is about 8-9 miles. All fleets out of West River SC are welcome to take part and this year saw the Nacra 20 and F16 catamarans, the Albacores, the Flying Scots and the Chesapeake 20's milling around before the mass start off the club dock. Bob pulled off the perfect dock end start at the gun and in the light northerly we beat up to Rhode River. We had pulled out to a 200 yard lead over the fleet as we started on our approach to Rhode River. As we tacked over to starboard to head into Rhode River, we gradually became becalmed and our race fell apart from that moment on.

A wind line appeared from the East as we crawled into Rhode River. We weren't sure if if this wind line was going to filter down to the fleet, but it did and the cats and some of the trailing Chesapeake 20's roared up to us. We stayed in the middle of the river but the new breeze hugged the eastern shore and those furthest tucked into that shore sailed around us. Further up the river this breeze petered out and the old breeze, now backed into a light westerly sprung up and favored those on the other shore. In the Chesapeake 20's, Clay Taylor caught a nice westerly puff at the turn to Flat Island and sailed out to a 100 yard lead that he never relinquished. Our middle of the river strategy put us even with all the rest of the Chesapeake 20's but at Flat Island, two of them were able to carry more wind around the island and we exited Rhode River in fourth. The course was shortened but we couldn't make any inroads on those ahead on the run back to the club. A very tricky light air race, especially in the Rhode River, but still the perfect antidote to being too long away from a sailboat.

The Chesapeake 20, our local Classic class, has it's origins in a development class at West River in the 1930's and 1940's. The history of the Chesapeake 20 class is best digested if you peruse the class website.

The modern Chesapeake 20 is a light air demon, perfect for summer racing on the West River. Carrying a large main on a Star mast with a short waterline hull for a 20 footer, I can think of only one other class that has evolved into a faster light air package than the Chesapeake 20, that being the Thames A-rater of England.

The modern Chesapeake 20 has one trapeze but no spinnaker and usually one or two crew.

Here is an head on archive picture of the winner of 2011 Heritage Race, Clay Taylor.

A beam on photo of the Cheaapeake 20. Unfortunately it looks like the jib tack fitting has let go.

Two Chesapeake 20's at a start. You can get a good idea of the transom shape and the bumpkin needed to support the backstay and still clear the leech of the main.

Clay Taylor has been the driving force behind restoration of some of the old Chesapeake 20's. I can't remember which 20 restoration is documented by the following pictures. You can get a good feel for the hull shape of this Hartge design.

1 comment:

Clay Taylor said...

Great article and thank you for taking time to depict and call the race. The Chesapeake 20 under restoration is Mermaid #22 which was an experimental hull from around 1935-6. The Mermaid was finished by the team at Hatges and is now on a trailer at West River Sailing club. Clay Taylor