A Grand Banks Classic 42 and the sailboat race that didn’t happen
In October, Don Mitchell and his wife Marilyn brought Coral Caye, their Grand Banks Classic 42, down the coast to Port Aransas to organize berthing arrangements for the 29th annual Harvest Moon Regatta.
From Galveston to Port Aransas, about 150 miles, Harvest Moon Regatta is the longest point-to-point yacht race in the continental United States.
But as the Mitchells motored down the coast, the weather didn’t look good. The remnants of a Pacific hurricane were approaching from the southwest, a persistent storm system had brought record flooding to Central Texas and was moving eastward, and a tropical storm in the Atlantic was sending unsettled seas into the Gulf of Mexico.
“I wasn’t worried aboard Coral Caye,” Mitchell said. “This boat will take more seas than I would want to take.”
At a little more than 42 feet, with a long keel and deep forefoot, the boat is stable and robust in nearly all conditions. As a class, Grand Banks are the most popular of the “trawler design” yachts, based on the North Atlantic fishing craft that routinely work in terrible winds and seas.
Coral Caye is comfortable, with a stateroom aft, V-berths forward, two heads, galley and saloon with windows all around. She isn’t built for speed, though her twin 375 horsepower Caterpillar diesel engines can drive her at 15 knots in a sprint.
“But that’s over her hull-speed,” Mitchell said. “For efficient cruising, she runs comfortably at eight or 10 knots. She’s sort of like the African Queen: slow and steady. Patience is a virtue when it comes to any crossing.”
Mitchell and his wife have taken Coral Caye from Brownsville to the Bahamas, north along the Eastern Seaboard, and down the Mississippi in the 12 years they have owned her.
“I’ve been sailing all my life,” Don Mitchell said. “When I was about 12, my dad bought a sailboat, and we cruised her down to Port Aransas. We didn’t have all the GPS and electronic navigation systems we do today, and we lost track of where we were. We ended up grounding her at night on a beach north of the Pass. She was towed off with no damage, but I was glad to get off that boat. I wondered if this was really a great idea.”
But Mitchell persisted in sailing, and this January he became commodore of Lakewood Yacht Club. As a soon-to-be great-grandfather, however, he has graduated from sailboats to the relative comforts of power boating.
When Coral Caye arrived in Port Aransas ahead of the Harvest Moon, Mitchell was faced with a decision. In the 29 years that Lakewood Yacht Club had been organizing the regatta, it had never been canceled because of bad weather.
Mitchell was on the Race Committee, and as the weather and the forecasts continued to deteriorate, he finally cast his vote to call it off.
It was a tough call. The alternative would be to pass weather information on to the 1,500 registered participants and let each crew make its own decision.
But sailors, whatever misgivings they might have individually, share a “let’s go” attitude. It would have been difficult for anyone to decide to stand down, even in the face of the obvious risks of injury or worse entailed in bouncing around in high seas offshore.
The Race Management Manual published by U.S. Sailing states that a race committee is responsible to “exercise good judgment, and not to win a popularity contest.” Committees are told to “make a decision based on consideration of all competitors, especially the least experienced or least capable. Don’t worry if conditions moderate later and make you look overcautious. Your concern is the safety of participants.”
Though disappointing, the committee’s decision to cancel the event seems to have been met with general approval, if not an audible sigh of relief throughout the fleet.
Conditions did abate in the following week, and the Mitchells made a nice passage in Coral Caye back up the coast to Clear Lake.
Planning has already begun for the 30th Harvest Moon Regatta next fall.