Thorfinn Presto 30 Tour Log: Leg 1
About the Tour
By sea and by land! This winter and spring we will be touring Thorfinn, our Presto 30, around the U.S. and parts of Canada. Our goals are to do promotional events (races, demo sails, and boat shows) for the builder – Ryder Boats, explore new areas for future expeditions and run custom trips. Along the way we will share our adventures.
The Race! Fort Lauderdale to Key West – 160 nautical miles
There are certain times in your life when the stars align and you embrace a memorable experience. The 2011 Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race was such an event. Through the night of January 12-13 we rode on a 30’ surf board. Thorfinn blasted down the waves. The spray off our bow ignited in the red and green glow of our running lights. In the end we finished 2nd in class and 4th overall in the PHRF fleet. It was a 20 hour sprint but it did not start out that way…
The FL-KW Race is a feeder for Key West Race week, although many boats only do the race as a singular event. The course is very straight forward. You start just offshore from Fort Lauderdale and you end in Key West. You leave the reefs off the Keys to starboard and the Gulf Stream current to port. The goal is to hug the reef but not hit it. For most of us on Thorfinn it was the first time that we had undertaken the race. The crew was comprised of myself, Matt Jacobson, Wendy Jordan (fellow Thorfinn Captain), Paul Rosen from San Francisco, and at the last minute our ringer – Jan Majer of Annapolis, MD plus wherever his current race boat is sailing.
At the skipper’s meeting the night before the race, the forecast synopsis was discussed and it looked fast! A front was pushing through and we could expect a shift to the N-NNE and 20-30 + knots of wind. The seas would build. All appearances suggested a sleigh ride. My adrenaline started to pump and I was psyched. I had been dreading either a light air race or a beat. Neither would serve our Presto well. Despite what many would observe as a thin water, light air coastal cruiser, I knew differently. Even though the Presto lists quickly at the dock when stepped on, due to its light displacement and design nature, this boat loves heavy weather – if sailed right. It is an easily driven hull that is purposely under powered.
This past fall I had sailed Thorfinn in several fall Maine gales. The boat handled perfectly, a machine off the wind as you would expect and also very solid to weather in elevated sea states. Without the heavy displacement and big keel to drag the hull down, the Presto tends to leap over the chop and keep going. During one fall adventure we clawed upwind at 5.5-6.8 knots in 30 plus knots of wind. The boat also balances really well due to its split rigs and low center of effort that minimizes weather helm and the healing forces. Designer Rodger Martin and his partner Phil Garland of Hall Spars conspired along with Ryder Boats to create a very unique and amazingly functional boat. The rigs work perfectly with the design. The free standing, rotating, masts support two “square top” fully battened sails that are controlled with wishbone booms. The “bones” are self vanging and sail control is a snap through the control “snotter” line. Yank on the snotter (or choker as some prefer) and you instantly flatten out the sail. The masts bend off and back in the puffs and automatically the sails twist open. The sails are being depowered and you often do not have to do much more than feather up when beating upwind. On a close reach, you may have to ease some mizzen to unload the rudder but the boat continues to be very manageable in conditions that would make a lot of other boats work hard.
For the first eight hours of the race we did not, however, experience the forecasted velocity that we had hoped for. Our class had started after most of the other classes and even though we nailed the start we were soon in the back of the pack. We were forced to tack downwind and sail fairly high angles to keep our speed up. We could not compensate for our lack of a spinnaker. The mizzen staysail was helping but it was not enough. We also sailed too far inshore towards the Miami skyline when we could have done a little better further offshore since the Gulf Stream contrary current was further out.
The race had started at 1 pm and by the time darkness had arrived the masthead lights in front of us were slipping away. It was frustrating. You do not drive a boat to Florida from Maine in order to suffer at the hands of the wind gods and get spanked in a race. Jan disappeared down below and went to sleep (smart thinking to rotate off-watch). The rest of us kept the boat going as best we could. We were wing on wing (sails on opposing sides), the mizzen staysail was flying in the slot. Speed: 5.5 – 7 knots. There were signs that the wind was coming; the clouds began to show more wind aloft and the temperature was dropping. Regularly I checked the forecast and it was still reporting the wind at 20-30 knots for the next several days.
Off the southern end of Key Largo, the wind finally filled in. It was about 9:30 pm (2130). The temps were still dropping but who cared? The rudder began to bubble with our increased speed and our spirits lifted. Jan emerged from his slumber and climbed back on deck.
That night was awesome! It was Cathartic! Thorfinn is a boat but it is also a symbol of hope for two new businesses and the people behind them. When the wind filled in and we took off, it was an intermediate realization of a dream. Personally, I was psyched to simply sail fast through the night and have a good showing, both as a competitive person and as a representative for my businesses and Ryder Boats. I did not sleep that night and I did a lot of steering. It was just so fun! At times I would feel guilty and release my grip on the helm but I was always close by to reengage.
We sailed as if we were on rails. The waves did build somewhat but they were moderated by our close proximity to the reef. Big enough, however, to allow us to surf/plane down them. There were always three of us in the cockpit. One person stayed glued to the handheld GPS plotter to keep an eye on our location but more importantly to witness our speed we burst down the waves. Speed: 10-11-12-13-14-14.8! Not only we were sailing fast we were also in complete control. When the wind increased it also moved forward. We had been carrying the staysail into the night and continued with it and wing on wing after the wind increased. Eventually, we doused the staysail and gybed over the main (both sails now on the same side). The only two big jobs were steering and navigating. Occasionally we shone the spot light around and adjusted sail trim but the wind was steady.
We sailed with the centerboard about ½ to ¾ of the way down. The “CB” gives us lateral resistance and creates lift but it does not do much in the ballast realm. Instead we rely on hull form and the 1,000 lbs of lead shot ballast that is integrated into the cabin sole. We did keep the cabin mostly closed off in case of a knock down but it was unnecessary. Several times we snapped off a wave and rolled the rail and stations into the water but we always popped back quickly and never took any water in the cockpit. The key to those conditions lies largely with the driver. You constantly play the waves by coming up slightly to get engaged and then drive down to garnish the speed and inflate your ego. When you hit it right you feel it. The boat flattens out and starts to fly through multiple wave trains. The key is not to over steer because you will end up all over the place and going slower. The Presto sails like a big dingy but with more stability. The helmsman generally played the mizzen trim. All of the crew did a great job steering and rotating through roles. We ate cold food, drank cold coffee, and constantly cracked jokes. To me the race exemplified a great adventure: a combination of challenge, the natural elements, and great company. A little success also helps.
Both Thorfinn and I were a little pissed. We did not like being the little, cute boat in the back of the fleet. My business is predicated on being close to the elements and providing a simpler experience but also on accomplishing goals, and I wanted to do well. Fortunately, it did not take too long for a few masthead lights to reemerge out of the darkness. They hung in front of us for some time, mixing in with the stars, but they did begin to increase and dance. When we finally passed them, we did so quickly, and locked on to the next ones.
I felt conflicted when the sky began to illuminate to the east. The night had been special and I did not want it to be over. We had put some miles under our centerboard and the Key West Sea Buoy, that marked our final turn to the finish, was only a few hours off. Eventually I laid down in my foul weather gear and shivered. When I finally went on deck, it was to quite a sight – beautiful tropical waves stretched out behind us and the crashing reefs lay just to weather. Wendy was driving fast and the whole crew was bundled up like we had been during our fall gale campaigns back in Maine.
The Key West Sea Buoy grew near and we prepared to head upwind. We had been close to the Keys throughout the entire race and we could easily spot the finish area just a few miles away. After the decision had been made not to reef (shorten sail), we cranked on our snotters/downhauls, dropped the centerboard, trimmed in with weight to weather, took the buoy tight and began to beat to windward. Several boats were around us and I was impressed at how we did against them. Even when heeled over hard the Presto tracks well and carries its speed. The hull shape is not very distorted when you are cranked over and the boat tends to lock at the rail. We out pointed and moved away on most of the other boats, even through some pretty good chop. Two of the boats we picked off were bigger PHRF class B boats. It was a perfect end to a great race, a physical pounding to the finish line. We radioed in to the race committee and crossed the line just off of Key West.
Thorfinn finished on a corrected time of 14:30:18. We were only 95 seconds (corrected) behind the boat that beat us, Ocean Dancer, a Catalina that sailed a great race. I could not help but feel a little frustration that we had come so close to excellence. If we had had the wind at the start we could have cleaned up on corrected time because the conditions were so perfect for us but “would ‘a, could ‘a, should ‘a”. We did great, had zero boat issues, and the crew was awesome.
Later that afternoon Matt and I collapsed in the cockpit and took a serious beating from the sun. My face was still burning when we grabbed our conch shell 2nd in class trophy at the awards dinner the following night . I am already scheming to make Thorfinn faster and dreaming about more racing mixed in with our regular adventure sailing.
Thanks to the Crew, the SORC, our fellow competitors, Lauderdale YC and the Beautiful Florida Keys!
There is some history around the seaworthiness and sailing characteristics of Thorfinn. The Presto is an updated version of some historical “sharpie” designs. Commodore Ralph Monroe, 1881-1933, led the charge on the evolution of these craft, including the original Presto, and his tales of sailing through winter gales off Florida and running inlets at night in heavy conditions speak to the seaworthiness of this design type. Our fall 2010 gale sailing campaigns had instilled even more self confidence in both my boat’s design and construction. The Presto is fast and rugged. It is also easy to sail which is a huge asset in elevated conditions.
These entries are before and after the race:
Florida felt long way away. I left home around 10 am on January 7th. It is always hard to say goodbye to the family. I have two young boys and it is tough to give them their last hugs and then depart. The plan was to grab the boat, tow down to Florida, and get our winter season started. Thorfinn was up at Ryder Boat’s shop in Bucksport and with a nasty snow storm forecasted I decided to leave a day early, drive straight through the night and get south of the weather. Trailer sailing opens up another element to boating and I am usually more worried about our overland transport then anything that can happen on the water.
I found Thorfinn in the shop along with three other Presto 30 hulls that are under construction. The Presto design won both Sail and Cruising World magazines’ awards this winter and five more boats were sold during the fall. It has been really fun being involved with this project from the early going and I really like the people involved. Ryder Boats is run by the father/daughter team of Richard and Belle Ryder. Both are “wicked sharp” as we say in Maine and I have been really impressed with their whole crew. Richard is usually decked out in his authentic overalls and I was surprised to see that he was sporting a new pair. The stiff new work digs symbolized the optimism and success for Ryder Boats over the past year.
We had to hustle south because we were entered in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race. The boat had to meet a lot of specs in order to compete, and while the boat was already in good shape there was a scramble to cross the “t”s. For example, our hatch boards had to stay locked in the companionway even if the boat was to get knocked down. We also had to install a wired in VHF radio with an antennae off the mizzen and I had to order a life raft. All things that had to be done anyway, but the race sped up my economic timeline.
After a couple of hours packing and lashing everything down, I was ready roll. The Presto tows well on the trailer. It is a light boat (4500 lbs) but it is long, and I always find that it takes a few hours to re-establish my trailer ninja instincts. Fortunately, I own a special mesh trucker’s hat that I reserve for all overland transport. Any form of “yachtiness” is left on the trailer. Up in the truck cab, I morph into a long hauler.
By the time I pulled out of the shop the sun was low in the winter sky. With temps in the low twenties and a high ceiling of clouds announcing the approach of the next weather system, I hit Route 1 with 40- plus hours of driving ahead. In Portland, I picked up my co-pilot and crew member Matt Jacobson. Having just delivered a new Presto 30 to the Florida Keys solo and ‘round trip before Christmas, I was happy to have another driver and companion along. Matt made a ton of burritos for our drive south. We had planned to ration them out over the next day; instead we promptly ate several apiece. With the radio cranking, plenty of caffeine products close at hand, and our bellies full of beans, we tore off into the night.
Key Largo – Fort Lauderdale
Launching, rigging, sailing
Surreal. Monday night, January 10th, found us tied up to the Lauderdale Yacht Club. Arriving at 2130, we had groped our way into the wall with a spot light and rafted up with a Hobie 33 from Michigan named Holy Toledo. It had been a long several days. Matt and I had driven almost straight through to Key Largo, Florida. Someday I might write a cruising guide to I-95. I would include side routes to avoid heavy traffic and the best rest stops. Gas stations that allow for a fifty-foot rig are perhaps the most important detail. I was pretty psyched to arrive in the Florida Keys. Behind us lay a lot of food wrappers, cups of coffee, and truck stop harassers who tried to sell us a stolen stereo. Matt and I felt like two pale, greasy, unkempt road warriors as we blinked up at surprisingly warm sun. You do get used to the den of the truck. It feels like a safe little cocoon and the simple life purpose of making miles does have its advantages.
Once in Florida we spent a day rigging and launching Thorfinn, making frequent trips to West Marine, loading and installing gear, and then departing to sail up to Fort Lauderdale. The race would start on Wednesday and after some serious labor we were in pretty good shape.
Rigging Thorfinn takes about three hours. I can do it faster with good help and motivation or it can take considerably longer. Matt and I unlashed everything and then set out to raise the masts. We carry a separate gin pole (essentially a crane) to lift our carbon fiber sticks. Fully rigged the masts only weigh about 58lbs but they are 30’ feet long, so if you only have two people then you use the gin pole. I generally prefer having four stout friends and then “person”-handling them into place. Getting the masts up is actually an easy affair. You place the gin pole in its own deck tube next to the bigger mast tube, hook on to the mast and lift. There is a worm drive winch which does the hard work. No guy lines are needed. Once the masts are in we clip on the wishbone booms, set up the dodger, run all of our lines, slide the sails on and we are good to go. It took Matt and I about four and a half hours since we were running a bit slow.
After tossing on some dock lines and fenders we launched. The Presto only draws about 13” light. That is when all appendages (centerboard, rudder, and outboard engine) are retracted. If a small power boat get wet then so can we. The only thing you have to watch is that the boat does not tear off the trailer too fast. The Presto is pretty slippery even in reverse and it can shoot a mile.
For a launching point we chose John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. Pennekamp has over 100 square miles of mangrove shoreline, grass flats, and famous coral reefs. The state park itself has great facilities, a campground, and a boat launch with a marina. Pennekamp is also the winter home for our friends at the Outward Bound Sea Program. I worked for “OB” for many years and I have a huge respect for their excellent staff and programs. OB’s new 30’ open sharpie schooners are also the predecessors to the Presto 30. Rodger Martin designed both boats and Ryder Boats is the builder for both (Southport Island Marine finished off the OB sharpies), and while the Presto is built from a different mold and is more of a boat for the general public, they both have similar excellent sailing characteristics.
After soaking up Pennekamp and our Outward Bound friends company we set out early for Fort Lauderdale. We squeezed out way out of the south channel that leads to the protection of Largo Sound and soon we were reaching on the oceanside up Hawk Channel; reefs to the right and landmass to the left. Maine Sailing Partners had built a mizzen staysail Thorfinn and soon we had it set and were trucking along at 7-9 knots.
The department of Homeland Security paid us a quick and professional visit. They eased alongside, asked us if we had recently been to Cuba and about the race we were bound for, and then rapidly disappeared – propelled by five enormous outboards.
After reaching along Key Largo we cut into Biscayne Bay through Angel Creek. Shoal draft boats open up a lot of possibilities. It is fantastic to be able to ply only a few feet of water with confidence. Once through the small inlet we spent the rest of the afternoon reaching up the Bay in beautiful tropical water. I took my first bucket bath on the foredeck and watched as the Miami skyline came into view. Even in the light air we made great time. I was feeling really good about our speed until I saw some 49ers out practicing. These fast dinghies were tearing along the Key Biscayne shoreline.
Our evening was spent motor sailing up the ICW from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. We felt like characters in a futuristic film. Towering buildings lined the constrained waterway and as the sun set their lights came on and acted as flashing sentinels bordering our course. There were about fifteen or so bridges that we had to duck under. Most of them required halting the automobile traffic and then lifting so we could pass. There was a lot of radio chatter, waiting for openings, and shining our spotlight around once darkness had descended.
I had been paying close attention for several days to the marine forecast. A strong cold front was headed our way, and the wind was to shift to the NNE and increase to 20-30 knots. I was psyched for a sleigh ride but I also started to feel the stress of the unknown. Was our little Presto 30 ready for the possible 7-9 foot seas that would be growing just to our east in the Gulf Stream?