Pilot story and photos
by Susan Schell
Huge sails billow in the wind off Chetco Point. The boats circle restlessly, waiting for the air horn to blow, signaling the start of the race.
On this April day, the members of the Chetco Cove Yacht Club are blessed with fine weather. The sky is a deep blue and the ocean is on her best behavior. Maybe too well behaved; the boaters wonder if there will be enough wind to proceed with the race.
This is the first race in the Chetco Cove Yacht Club Championship Series and the crew of the Alcyone has their eye on winning. They certainly have a chance; their boat is the fastest boat in the race. Her owners, David and Betsy Fuller, live in Grants Pass and have been involved in the club since last year.
The Alcyone, pronounced Al-sigh-o-nee, is named after the brightest star in the Plieades constellation in Taurus. Alcyone is also the name of the goddess of the ocean, peace and tranquility.
When asked how long David Fuller has been sailing, his wife said, "Forever. He's always been a water person. He used to be in the Navy Seals."
The other two members of the Alcyone's four-man crew were Colleen Gardiner and Don Griffith. Gardiner and Griffith took sailing lessons through the yacht club and were enjoying their first race.
The fresh new sailors performed remarkably well their first time out, but were no match for veteran skipper Bodil Chickinell. The feisty Norwegian lassoed the wind with her 26-foot Blanchard Senior and forged ahead of the other eight racers. The Bothildr rounded each mark ahead of the pack and finished first in two hours.
"A lot of people were staying close to shore, but I went out to catch the wind," Chickinell said.
"Due to the geography of this coast, the further out you go, the more wind you get. You can read it on the water. If you see a blank, you steer around it.
"It's sometimes better to go off course to the marker and pick up boat speed where the wind is. If the marker is in a little or no-wind zone, make the distance between the end of the wind line and the marker as short as possible with the boat's best point of sail to lay the marker."
The tiny Bothildr, with her low handicap, stood firm in the winner's circle.
The Alcyone passed the finish line second, but placed fourth overall due to her handicap.
Chetco Cove commodore, Jim Relaford, explained that each boat has a handicap to make the race fair.
"We have such a variety of boats in the races," he said.
"There's a wide disparity of speed. Each boat has certain attributes like length, depth and maximum hull speed. In order to make the race competitive, each boat has a handicap.
"We keep track of the elapsed time for each boat in the race and deduct a certain number of seconds from the time. It's just a matter of trying to make it equal."
The one lone sailor in the race, Max Higgenbotham, has been sailing since he was 12 years old. He single-handedly steered his 32-foot dreadnought, Joya, to a fifth-place finish.
Higgenbotham joined the crew of the Alcyone for a glass of champagne after the race, dismissing any mention of the degree of difficulty in sailing solo.
"It's easy," he said casually.
The Fullers agree that the sailboat race is more about camaraderie and having a good time.
According to Betsy Fuller, "nothing is more exhilarating than a sailboat underway with a great crew in fine weather."