Closing in on the Cuba Libre race

havana-live-cuba libre raceHAVANA, Nov. 4, The remaining 16 boats in the fleet of 21 starters in the 2015 Andrews Institute Pensacola a la Habana Race had a slow go working their way past the Dry Tortugas today with a 90-mile Gulf Stream crossing ahead of them before they reach the comfort of Marina Hemingway.

They began the race with too much wind and now have too little. The finish line will be set up late Tuesday night for finishers expected overnight or early Wednesday.

A look at weather predictions shows the usual trade winds should be building back across the course to Cuba on Wednesday. Those winds will be from the east and will be going directly against the Gulf Stream that flows through the Florida Straights, between the Florida Keys and Cuba. The wind against the current stacks up the waves. Sailing on a reach 90º across the flow, the ride may be uncomfortable for both boats and the people sailing them.

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, Kattack tracking shows the Corsair 31R, a multihull, ‘Bellafonte’ 80 miles from the finish, the closest to Cuba. The four-person crew has lost electricity for the boat’s performance systems due to wet batteries but has still been able to keep the lead. Speculation is that they have been using a hand held GPS for navigation.

‘Libra’ a classic Tripp 57 from Orange Beach, Alabama was the closest monohull at 105 miles from the finish. Larry Hamilton’s Formosa 45 ‘Serengeti’, first out of Pensacola Bay back on Saturday, was close behind at 111 miles.

The early report to Race HQ was that ‘Libra’ was motoring because there was not enough wind to make decent progress to Cuba. Motoring is allowed, but incurs a penalty of roughly 3-1 for hours motored on the yacht’s corrected time. The penalty is an adjustment based on the boat’s handicap being multiplied by a common factor and the time under power.

From straight tracks on the Kattrack map, other boats appear to be motoring as well. This afternoon Race communications was able to talk with ‘Acadia’, ‘Legacy’, ‘Tif Blue’ and ‘Serengeti’ on the single side band radio. They all are doing ok except for the lack of wind. So far ‘Acadia’ is the only one who has not resorted to the “iron jenny” and they are giving serious thought to doing so. It appears the lure of the beach is becoming greater then the thrill of victory.

‘Serengeti’ is expecting to make Habana tomorrow morning. However, they are seeing lots of traffic in the straits of Florida on their AIS, so it should be a busy night for them.

The scratch boat a J-130 ‘Lesson#1’ was 10 miles behind ‘Libra’. ‘Lesson #1’ was expected to be in a two boat race with ‘Bellafonte’ for line honors in the multihull/monohull battle. She has suffered a series of setbacks, but seems to be making up time and miles. ‘Lesson #1’ has a broken alternator and also blew out her mainsail.

Tuesday morning ‘Lesson #1’ posted on Facebook:
“At 245am, we experienced a blowout of the mainsail. Today while under the #1 [the large jib sail], we created a [patchwork] “frankensail” and have opted to race on. Currently about 230 miles from Havana. Power still scarce and only provided by a solar panel. Spirits are high and all is well.”

Looks like they have still had a 100 mile run since blowing out the sail. Making a repair that will hold through the the Gulf Stream is quite a trick and will require excellent skills and seamanship.

‘Surf Rider’, the home-made cat that went back into Pensacola Bay, continued through the Intracoastal, came out into the Gulf below Cape San Blas. ‘Makani U’I’ ducked into St Andrews Bay at Panama City, perhaps to repair the halyard she lost and is on track for Cuba again. Neil Davies and the crew of the dis-masted ‘Midnight Sun II’ had gone back to Pensacola and loaded their gear on the yacht ‘Trasea’ to return to the course.

None of the skippers and crews of these teams wanted to miss this long awaited Cuban adventure. This is truly a historic event…the first sanctioned ocean yacht race from a US port to Cuba since 1959.

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