Like ‘sailing in a dark snow globe’: Marblehead-to-Halifax racers offer glimpse of life on open water

Marblehead sailor James Da Silva likened the weather conditions during the Marblehead-to-Halifax race to “sailing in a dark snow globe.”

Dense fog was a constant companion for sailors in the recent ocean race, exacerbated by headwinds, light air, rain and cold.

“The fog adds a new element because you can’t see,” Da Silva said. “All you could see was fog — you saw the boat’s instruments and maybe the bow.”

Da Silva, who served as the watch captain for three-to-four-hour shifts aboard Hall Pass, coordinated deck activities, made crucial decisions and maintained a vigilant eye.

“Sailing in a race like the Marblehead-to-Halifax is an exercise in teamwork, discipline and resilience,” said Da Silva, a four-time competitor in the race. “It’s both mentally and physically challenging.”

The race, organized by the Boston Yacht Club and the Royal Nova Scotia Squadron of Canada, was the 39th biennial Marblehead-to-Halifax race. It featured 600 sailors on 70 boats across 11 fleets. Half a dozen Marblehead boats raced in the international sailing competition.

A shared bond

This year marked Marblehead native Clayton Gates’ first Marblehead-to-Halifax Race. He was responsible for handling and adjusting the spinnakers aboard Twiga.

“I’m not going to become a pro racer,” he said. “I would not want to do this all the time but am super glad to have had this opportunity.”

Given the length of the race, sailors use a rotating sleep schedule and need to maintain their energy levels with adequate nutrition.

Hall Pass crew members sleep during the Marblehead-to-Halifax race. COURTESY PHOTO / JIM DA SILVA

“You’re tired because you’re not sleeping enough,” Gates said. “You’ve just got to come up with fun tricks to keep you awake while you’re doing the 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. watch.”

Da Silva said the 363-nautical-mile course can produce challenges from the natural environment, including large swells and heavy seas.

“When you’re out in the middle of the ocean, your crew becomes your family,” Da Silva said. “It’s all about mutual support. We all look after each other and make it work.

The Gulf of Maine is notorious for its tidal currents, especially around the Bay of Fundy, requiring careful navigation and sailing strategies.

“There’s a shared bond among competitors in offshore racing, even though we compete against each other,” said Marblehead resident Ian Peebles. “We all go through tough experiences out there.”

Peebles served as strategist aboard Vamoose, analyzing the weather, sea conditions and the race course to provide advice on the optimal route and sailing tactics to maximize speed and efficiency.

“The conditions during the Marblehead-to-Halifax race this year were challenging,” Peebles said. “But that’s part of offshore racing. You have to deal with those tough experiences and push through. It’s not always easy, but it’s part of the adventure and the thrill of the race.”

Ziploc bags and sheer joy

While often too busy to take breaks, Marblehead-to-Halifax sailors said they had brief moments to appreciate at the natural beauty around them. At night, the Milky Way is on full display. Starfish were a frequent sight.

“We got to see a crescent moon rise,” Da Silva said. “We heard whales spouting, even though we didn’t see any. We saw porpoises. So, it’s always great going offshore.”

Crew members on Hall Pass are, from left, Matt Thompson, skipper John Thompson, Sam Thompson, Ron Homa, navigator Peter Fein, Kyle Heffrin and watch captain Jim Da Silva . COURTESY PHOTO / JIM DA SILVA

Marblehead resident Fletcher Boland performed helming and sail trim duties aboard Hafa Adai. He said he experienced moments of ships emerging from the fog and passing one another during the night and the day.

“Once we got out in the middle of the Gulf of Maine, you just couldn’t see anything,” he said. “We went in planning for a light air race, so the heavy weather and colder feeling temperatures were a surprise.”

The event also forces competitors to unplug.

“I appreciate the entire event because my cellphone gets put in a Ziploc bag for three days,” said Da Silva. “I literally just get to shut things off, and it’s wonderful.”

Locals claim top finishes

Marblehead skipper Eliot Shanabrook and crew aboard J/109 Hafa Adai took second place in the ORR-5 division of the race and fourth overall out of 47 ORR boats.

“After the inshore course from Halfway Rock to Marblehead Rock then Tinkers Island, it was a tactical, upwind race across the Gulf of Maine,” Shanabrook said. “The navigational challenges rounding Seal Island and Cape Sable added another tactical level to the race, which we were glad to get past without too much trouble to end running under our spinnaker and staysail to the finish in Halifax harbor.”

In the battle for the 2023 Minot-MacAskill Trophy, Team USA emerged victorious against Team Canada, winning with the boats Zig Zag, Hall Pass and Vamoose. Several ‘Headers ran or worked on these sailboats.

Marblehead father-son duo JB and Ryan Braun won the short-handed division on their boat Eos. Short-handed means the pair sailed the Marblehead-to-Halifax race without additional crew members. COURTESY PHOTO / BRUCE DURKEE

Marblehead father-son duo JB and Ryan Braun won the short-handed division on their boat, Eos, a 38-foot performance cruiser. Short-handed means the two sailed without additional crew.

“All in all a great showing by the Marblehead boats and all the trophies were won by father-and-son crews,” said JB Braun.

To his point, he noted George and Doug Halsted on Thirst won the multi hull division. John Thompson and his boys on Hall Pass won the team USA trophy. Eliot Shanabrook and his son Reid also had Chris and Grant Adam’s, sailed Hafa Adai to second overall in their ORR class.

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