By Brian Hancock
Today’s winner, chicken dinner, is Spirit of Helsinki. Jussi Paavoseppä and his crew clocked an impressive 263 nautical miles in the last 24 hours. Since there are only 24 hours in a day (I think) that means that they averaged well above 10 knots for the duration. Quite good, but a stiff breeze on their port side must have had them enjoying a fun, fast reach. Swans are good in those conditions. Give them some wind and a good wind angle and they move like a miner falling down a mine shaft.
Now I have a special affection for Spirit of Helsinki. I was one of the first to sail on her. Back, well way back when I still had hair, the boat was commissioned by a lovely Finnish man by the name of Mikki Berner. His good friend Peter Fazer was talked into chucking in some sponsorship dollars and Mikki and a crew of (Swedish speaking) Finns were getting ready to race in the ’84/85 Whitbread Around the World Race. They hired me and my mate Skip Novak to train them. As soon as I heard that Peter Fazer was the biggest chocolate maker in Finland, I signed up. Silly not to right? And his chocolates were damn bloody good.
We sailed the boat from Finland to the Dominican Republic, with a few stops along the way. We did the Route of Discovery Race, a re-creation of the course that Columbus took before he stumbled into the New World. He sure took some weird turns to get here. And by the way, this weekend in the US is a long holiday; Columbus Day, only they have renamed it ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’. I guess Columbus, like most sailors, might have over-stepped his boundaries when it came to the fairer sex and might (just guessing here) have raped and pillaged his way into what now is known as the great United States of America.
Anyway (ADHD) all was well on board Fazer Finland until a low front passed through the fleet moving to the east. That was before it turned around and spun into a full-blown hurricane; heading west. It started to pick off the smaller boats that were behind us, but here is the thing. My friend Chris Columbus actually made a stop in San Salvador in the Bahamas before turning back east to head toward the DR. We had to follow his route, turn a mark off the Bahamas, and when we turned east we sailed right into the face of a violent storm. Hurricane Lilli was the second only hurricane ever recorded in the North Atlantic in December.
The boat held up great; the crew not so much but we finally made it into Santo Domingo, wet and bedraggled wearing shorts and a T-shirt that I had been wearing for over a month. Skip and I took the first plane out to Boston. When we got to customs the large (man of colour – I don’t even know how to phrase things these days) said, “hey boys, do you even know where you are. This is December in Boston and there is a foot of fresh snow on the ground…”). Such is the fun life of a professional sailor. My wife wouldn’t even let us in the house because we smelled so bad – true story.
But again I digress. Spirit of Helsinki is romping along, but then so is the rest of the fleet, some of them having been released from Neptune‘s grip; the others, well good luck with your equator crossings. King Neptune is, and always has been, a cantankerous old pr1k. Yes the 1 is intentional. Not a typo this time. More tomorrow. Today is Hump Day and I, for one, might just be having some sushi for lunch and toasting Neptune happy that I have done multiple equator crossings.