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Threading the Needle

Key West Race Week in January 2000 was one of the largest keelboat sailing regattas in the world at the time. There were more than 300 racing sailboats on the island for the event. Premier Racing from Marblehead, Massachusetts, was the managing company. Peter Craig, founder and owner of Premier Racing, was also the event director and headed up the race committee for Division 1 of 3 divisions. Sadly, I have just learned that, after 21 years, Premier Racing is stepping aside from the Key West regatta in 2016.

Anyway, Key West Race Week 2000 was my third year running the Division 1 committee boat with Peter and his staff. Power & Motoryacht’s Editor-in-Chief, George Sass Jr., was on the scene dealing with corporate sponsors and working on the race committee as well. I had a Grand Banks 52 Europa for a committee boat—a great platform for 14 people.

There were five full days to this particular event, and those days started early. Typically, two races were run on each day of actual racing, achieving a total of eight races in all. For the second race each day, the finish line was moved to a downwind location and the new heading and course were posted on a board displayed on the 52’s flying bridge for the competitors to see. Upon completion of a clean start, my job was to pull anchor and head to the newly posted finish line, reset the anchor to establish one side of the line, while a chase boat with a mark—this was often George’s job—set the other end of the line. If there were decent winds creating a fast race, there was no time for miscues.

Day one went off without a hitch: two races under our belt and four days to complete the remaining six. On day two, the first race went well with, as sailors would say, “good air”—a fast and competitive race. However, after the start of the second race, Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head! I tried pulling the anchor, but it would not break loose. I maneuvered the boat at various angles without success. I tried letting out more scope, going upwind, and winching hard with the wind and current. I even tried circling around the hook hoping to trip it but only lost more scope. Time was ticking by. Peter was getting nervous and hell, so was I!  

I called over to Capt. Mark Mitchell on another chase boat, a new Eastbay 49. He hooked onto my rode with a snub line and tried pulling. No luck! We were out of options and time. We called in another chase boat and moved all the flags, equipment, the race committee, and scorekeepers aboard in building seas. Now it was just me and my crew of two trying to retrieve this frickin’ anchor. Finally we gave up. I winched up tight, took a reading on my handheld GPS, lashed a fender to the chain, and cut ’er loose.

Back dockside I noticed a Boston Whaler with “Bob’s Dive Service” on the side. I found Bob enjoying a cold beer at The Conch Republic Seafood Company. Soon Bob and one my guys were headed out. Two hours later, they returned with my ground tackle. 

“I don’t know how the hell you did it!” Bob said. 

“What?” I asked.  

“It took me three air bags,” he continued, chuckling. “There was a coral head about 8 feet in diameter, in the very top of it was a 3-foot hole that dropped down 10 to 12 feet. You threaded the needle on your initial drop, and when you tried to circle around to release it, you wrapped it up!”

“Thank you, man. How much do I owe you?” I asked.  

“Well, if you give me those numbers,” Bob said with a smirk, “nothing!”  

“What’s down there?”  

“Some of the nicest grouper I have seen in years!”  

“Bring us a slab and you’ve got a deal!” 

 That night, we had one of the best grouper dinners I’ve ever had onboard. Yet, Ol’ Murphy wasn’t done yet. But hey, that’s a story, for another day.