The Solo-Twin Race, organized by Newport Yacht Club, is an overnight race for single-handed (solo) or double-handed (twin) sailors. We had moments of sheer joy, made an error, had moments of frustration, and near the end, several minutes of furious conditions which were the most challenging that I’ve ever sailed in.

This year’s course had us sail from the Start at Newport to the southwest corner of Block Island (1), to Martha’s Vineyard (2), back to Block Island (3) and to a finish line off of Newport (finish). A 103 nautical mile distance as the crow flies (left) which actually required 150 nautical miles of sailing (right), as one can’t sail directly into the wind. (Note the colors of the arrows in our course sailed: green is highest speed as a thunderstorm hit!)


Our class of boats were closely matched in terms of performance and the first 5 hours from the Start we were tacking into the wind all of the way to the turning mark (1: Southwest of Block Island), which was a government buoy. This was enjoyable as it was during the daytime. We could go head-to-head and saw that not only was our performance excellent but even favorable compared to similar boats.

Fearless, with Alex at the helm, sailing down Narragansett Bay
Sailing along the south side of Block Island towards the first turning mark (1)

An Error

We generally sail with the philosophy of “don’t screw up” because serious mistakes can set you back so far. As we turned downwind towards Gay Head (sailing from 1 to 2) wind strength was projected to double, so we used a smaller spinnaker ready for the heavier winds. Of course, they didn’t materialize which meant we made the wrong call and lost significant time on some competitors. But we were still doing well. Since this boat is new to us, this is all part of the learning. Which of the 8 sails should we use and when?

The wind farm south of Block island as we sailed from turning mark 1 to mark 2 off Martha’s Vineyard.
At sunset we were sailing with a spinnaker, a spinnaker staysail and mainsail and approaching turning mark 2


We turned around the Gay Head mark (2) and headed back to Block Island (3). The wind was projected to drop. And drop it did. This is where the frustration set in. Sailing in almost no wind but a significant sea state in the dark isn’t the easiest thing to do. But we made it to the turning mark (3) at 5am and then headed north to Newport and the Finish at Castle Light.  We used our largest spinnaker – this time we made the right decision for the wind conditions.

Furious Conditions

A plot of windspeed from another boat, Arkana, during the race. Not difficult to see when they got hit by the squall!

After about 20 minutes I looked over my shoulder and could see some troubling cloud formations, then we heard a clap of thunder. I was in cell phone range, opened my weather radar app and could see an intense thunderstorm was barreling down on the fleet. Alex and I quickly took the lightweight spinnaker down in case of high winds. We put a small headsail up and then the winds increased from 5 to 25 knots. We were surfing along at 16 knots (see the green arrow in our course sailed).

Wow, so much fun!

Then in an instant the wind increased in speed to over 56 knots and for about 10 minutes, Fearless was pushed over on her side in a knockdown. We always wear our life vests and were clipped in with tethers, so were not in danger. Alex and I were shouting at one another, not in anger, but because the wind was so loud, we needed to shout to be heard. We were adjusting and discussing a plan for when the wind declined in strength. When it did, we executed the plan and got on with the race.

We checked with one another that there weren’t any injuries, then checked the boat for any damage. We came through almost unscathed. The boat had a tear in one sail and the anemometer at the top of the mast (measures wind speed) was dangling from its wires. Otherwise, all was well. After some minutes of sorting the boat out the wind dropped, we could hoist the big spinnaker, and head for the finish line.

Always Learning

Alex and I are both trained to sail offshore and how to deal with these situations. This is the worst squall that both he and I have encountered and after coming through it there are a few things that stick out in my mind.

It was noisy, very noisy. The waves built extremely quickly and there was even foam blowing off the top of the waves.

There was no panic. That is not to say we didn’t have concern, of course we did, but we stayed focused, in control and ready to act. We train for these conditions but one never really wants to put that training to the test. But having come through it I believe we will sail better in the future. We know we can manage it as can the boat.

We learned we should have reduced the sail area further, which we will in the future.

And we have more confidence in our abilities in such challenging conditions.

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