The 2011 HOOK Race aboard Goombay Smash, “Cheated Death Again!”
Gregg & Amy Lynn Henning’s Ultimate 20, Goombay Smash, set out on the 2011 HOOK Race on July 16th, 2011. It was a beautiful calm Saturday morning to load up all the supplies and organize the boat prior to the 189 nautical mile race. Crew members, Pete Kulenkamp, from Bayfield, WI, and Matt Resch, from Minneapolis, MN, stowed their gear as well. Amy was shore crew and would meet Gregg, Pete, and Matt at the finish in Menominee, MI.
Hopes were high that winds would be favorable for the 20 foot sportboat as we left the dock for the start at about 9:00 A.M. Saturday morning. As we headed out, each of us took a sip of scotch for good luck and a safe journey. Goombay got a couple shots of scotch on the bow and stern for good luck as well. Little did we know how important this ceremony would be.
At the starting line, we watched the Double Handed section and PHRF 4 begin their journey under light winds from the southeast. Now it was time for our start. Just before the starting gun went off at 10:30 A.M., we hoisted our asymmetrical spinnaker and accelerated quickly. The gun went off just as we were at the committee boat at full speed. Quickly we were gaining on the sections ahead of us. Matt and I both brought video cameras to document the trip. In an impromptu commercial, Pete was getting irritated by the heat, so he went to the companionway to grab his Anti-Monkey Butt powder. Enter commercial time. I quickly grabbed the container, leaned in front of the camera and presented Anti-Monkey Butt as the proud sponsor of Goombay Smash during the 2011 Hook Race.
I would have never thought at the start that the spinnaker that we hoisted would stay up all the time until we got to Death’s Door. The winds never went calm for us. By 10:00 in the evening, we had made it off of Sheboygan. We had been east of the rhumbline the entire race. Overnight, we came upon a big boat that tried to sail over us. Pete and Matt decided to have a little fun and head up to their line. This must have shocked the big boat since it headed really close to the wind and continued to head away on to the horizon.
On Sunday, the winds continually built varying from the southwest to the southeast and back. Still somewhat hazy, we felt as we were the only boat on the lake. As we continually sailed the best VMG possible, Goombay began to plane and stay there all the way to Death’s Door averaging between 7 to 14 knots for over 5 hours. As were approaching the door, the haze lifted and boats appeared on the horizon mostly behind us. Reportedly, many boats observed Goombay flying across the horizon almost like watching a tennis match.
At 5:10 P.M., we rounded the buoy to enter Death’s Door and took the spinnaker down. Jib reaching into the door with large following seas, our pace continued at around 7 knots catching more competitors. We hoisted a spinnaker for a short reach once we were behind the shelter of the main land but eventually had to return to jib reaching. As we rounded Chambers Island and sun setting, we hardened up to a beat. At this time, could see boats catching us as this Goombay cannot compete in a waterline race.
At 8:30 P.M. as the sun fell below the horizon, it seemed as Goombay was holding off its competition. However, we were continually being knocked. At about 9:00 P.M., the lightning started. Initially there was no thunder accompanying the lightning, giving us the impression it was just heat lightning on shore. At 9:15 P.M., thunder was prevalent with the lightning, and we could see the storm approaching. As we had been getting knocked consistently and we were heading directly into the storm, we chose to tack. This put us right on course for the finish, and we were only 7 miles away. All of us thought, one hour and we will be in before the storm hits us.
And then the unthinkable hit. I looked to the sky at about 9:25 P.M. and saw a drop cloud descending on us. I yelled to the crew to release the jib, pop the boom vang, and I released the mainsheet. As the first blast of wind hit us, Goombay rolled hard, rounding up. The boat responded well and came under control quickly. Matt somehow rolled up the jib just before the second blast hit. We were in the waterspout now. Goombay was hit with the second blast which nearby boats later reported 75 knots plus. We were knocked flat to the water with the top of the mast going under. I called for everyone to the keel. Matt was the first to arrive at the keel trying to keep the boat from capsizing. Pete and I got to the side to put pressure on the lower rail but the wind and waves were too much to bring the boat back without making it a more dangerous situation. I retrieved the stern light, which was a suction cup light and put it on the bottom of the boat for light and then retrieved the Life ring and strobe light to help make the boat more visible. Pete, Matt and I spent the next hour sitting on the bottom of Goombay continually fighting the wind, waves, hail, and the boat trying to right itself.
After that hour, which seemed forever, the storm started to subside. Pete, Matt, and I decided to right the boat and attempt to bail the water and get back to the race. We righted the boat halfway so that we could pull the main sail down before bringing it the rest of the way up. Our efforts worked perfectly, and the Goombay came back up with its mast still standing. Unfortunately, the cabin was filled with so much water and the waves continued to swamp the boat that bailing the boat was a lost cause. Pete was able to get into the cabin and retrieve his cell phone that was in a pelican case. Matt had his GPS around his neck. With these two pieces of electronics still working, Pete was able to call 911 and was directed to Marinette Fire and Rescue. He proceeded to relay latitude and longitude coordinates to them, and they kept Pete on the line to make sure we were not injured.
At around 11:15 P.M., we spotted a boat in our vicinity. With my emergency whistle and strobe in hand, I continued to hail the vessel, and Pete hailed Mayday. A spot light came on, and we were located by the crew of the boat. We watched as the sails came down, and then they approached us slowly. We informed them not to come too close as there was a lot of debris in the water, and we did not want them to have any problems. At the same time, we could see the Fire and Rescue boat in the distance. We asked the assisting vessel to stand by which we later found out to be William Walsh’s, Whitecap, a Pearson 37.
At 11:30 P.M., Marinette Fire and Rescue arrived, and we abandoned Goombay Smash for what I thought was for the last time I would see her. After a short discussion with the Coast Guard that showed up just after we had gotten aboard the Fire and Rescue boat and thanking the crew of Whitecap, we headed to Menominee.
We all arrived at M&M Yacht Club around 12:00 A.M. on Monday morning. Now which is a blur, someone handed me their cell phone, and I called Amy. She asked where I was, and I told her the yacht club. She arrived in an instant. We were overwhelmingly welcomed by friends and family which warmed our cold bodies. After a quick check by the EMT’s and some information gathering, we headed to the hotel for some dry clothes. I quickly called the insurance company and gave them the information and coordinates of the boat. Original reports from the Coast Guard indicated the Goombay sank. However we later discovered that a tow boat had been there at 2:00 in the morning and recovered the boat prior to it sinking.
Goombay Smash is now dry and in repair…soon to be raced another day!
A special thanks to all of the wonderful crew of Whitecap, Marinette Fire and Rescue, Members of M&M and Racine Yacht Clubs, Pete Kulenkamp, Matt Resch, and my lovely wife Amy, that I might be here today to write this story.
Written by Gregg Henning