Bay Life

Vol. 8, No. 32
Aug. 10-16, 2000
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Racing for the Governor’s Cup
Photo feature by Scott Dine
(Click on a photo to enlarge it.)

“Okay, we’ve assembled the crew, we’ve passed the committee boat, now where’s the start line?” asked C. Westbrook Murphy, owner of Sea Devil, a 38-foot Freedom sailboat. Assembling the crew brought a daughter and son-in-law from California, a second daughter from New Jersey, a friend from Boston and another friend from Cambridge, Maryland. Murphy, of Edgewater, and his crew of five were among a generous helping of racing sailboats and sailors jockeying for starting position in the 27th annual Governor’s Cup sailboat race.

The crowded start as Sea Devil pulls away from the start line, giving way to another boat. Sea Devil did a 360 degree turn and started 11 minutes late.

Sea Devil ran dead east, parallel to and just above the start line, hoping to make a quick right turn at a buoy marking one end of the start line in front of Annapolis. Alas, she pinched another boat, whose skipper protested to Murphy. According to the rules, Murphy was wrong and must fall off. He did, turned 360 degrees and made it over the line, the crowd having passed. Eleven minutes late, Sea Devil rounded the mark and headed south on the Bay. Devil’s boat class and at least one other class had already begun the race.

The finish line would be in front of St. Mary’s College of Maryland on the St. Mary’s River, 16 hours later. The college has sponsored the Governor’s Cup for 27 years. One hundred and fifty-five boats started this year. This is Murphy’s fourth time down the Bay and up the Potomac River to St. Mary’s College.

Skipper and owner C. Westbrook Murphy steers Sea Devil up the Potomac toward St. Mary’s River.

Sea Devil is a sloop (two sails) but without the usual wire rigging securing the mast to the hull. Instead, the carbon-fiber mast is especially large, slightly larger than a telephone pole, and it tapers a bit as it rises nearly 50 feet above the deck. It is free-standing, runs through the deck and is attached to the keel. The lack of rigging allows the boat to tack — that is, turn — without the noise, the flapping lines and the sudden hard jerk as the sails switch sides. It is almost effortless to sail and quite gentle. Such boats tack without knocking the captain’s martini all over a guest.

There is a drawback to this: a Freedom does not sail as well close to the wind as the sailboats that spill drinks. This is a north-to-south race course, and if wind is light and blowing from the southwest, this would be a gentle cruise with a great deal of tacking back and forth across the Bay. Wind from a northerly direction, behind Sea Devil, would allow flying the spinnaker and, according to Murphy, “turn the boat into a racer from being a cruiser.” Flying a spinnaker on a free-standing rig is like putting a turbocharger on your Rolls Royce. North wind would give Sea Devil a direct shot down the Bay.

Wind direction made little difference after the start, as there was little wind. This allowed a good view, in fact a lingering view, of Thomas Point Light.

Dinner of Brunswick stew was served as the cloudy evening sky blotted the sun and darkness arrived. The wind was elusive and southerly.

The first squall hit off the mouth of the West River. Wind moved to the east and up went the spinnaker. To get the wind behind the spinnaker, the bow was turned from slightly southeast to slightly southwest, heading the boat directly toward Holland Point below Deale. Navigator Dave Flanagan, a retired Coast Guard captain from Boston, stayed the course, a good six miles north of Holland Point and a minimum of an hour away from trouble, as Sea Devil screamed along at six knots. Flanagan is a knowledgeable navigator: He’s managed LORAN stations for the Coast Guard. He’s helped sail the Coast Guard’s tall ship Eagle.

Keith Johnson and Kirk Franks sleep on deck after the finish in St. Mary’s River.

Both Murphy, a D.C. lawyer, and Flanagan have the enthusiasm and agility and energy of midshipmen with the steady reasoning of veterans. It is a pleasure to watch them work sails and compass. The duties are split: Murphy works the compass; Flanagan the Ground Positioning Satellite receiver.

The squalls continue. One observer counted four, though Murphy said it was often hard to tell when one ended and another began. When a squall quits, the spinnaker comes down and the wind shifts, heading the boat closer to land. And Flanagan heads below to the chart table and the GPS readout. “Jeez,” he says, “at this rate, we’re going to hit the beach.”

The spinnaker requires two people up on the bow, the narrowest, wettest part of the boat. Foredeck duty is the job of Allison Murphy and Cameron Heulitt, Murphy’s daughters. Up and down most of the night, one or the other or both are on the pointy end of the boat, running the spinnaker up and down as if it were an office elevator. Navigation and sail-tending would be simple if land didn’t get in the way.

Sea Devil begins to pass other sailboats, silently, making real time. The knot meter registers 5.6, 6.7 and an occasional 7.0. There are running lights all around Sea Devil, and the crew calculates their direction by color: Red or green show up according to position and direction of travel. The only sounds are from diesel tugboats, Sea Devil’s bow wave as it slips around the boat and the splatter of approaching squall lines. The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant is lit up like, well, a power station.

So the night goes. We don’t collide with Cove Point or Cedar Point or Point No Point.

Light returns but the sun is hidden. A right turn takes us around Point Lookout at 7:45am, and six miles to the northwest is the St. Mary’s River. Flanagan has kept us off the beach.

The elevator crew goes to work, and the spinnaker comes down. We head north up the St. Mary’s, tacking back and forth. The north wind that was our friend has now turned dead against us. We zig and zag up the river to St. Mary’s College and anchor in front of the campus. It’s 10:20am.

When the results are in, Sea Devil has finished 16 out of 21 in its class and 99th out of 125 boats that finished. Or, as Westbrook Murphy put it, “We’re in the top one hundred.”

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly