Dave Smith has been out of sailboat racing for a decade because of business commitments. The Canadian recently decided to resume his participation in the sport and wanted to check Key West race week off his bucket list.
Smith and the rest of his GameChanger team went to great effort to get to the southernmost point in the United States, hauling the 1D35 all the way from Lake Ontario. It was a daunting 1,700-mile trek through numerous states with an oversized load trailered behind the truck.
“As exciting as this boat is to sail, it is almost as exciting to drag it down the highway,” Smith said.
It took meticulous planning as the 20,000-pound load required 13 ½ feet of clearance and was almost 11 feet wide. So Smith had to obtain special permits from every state he traveled through and was provided with specific instructions as to which routes to take as some highways or roads had bridges that GameChanger could not clear.
“The neat thing about it is that the boat sits so high up and the weight is in the bulb down so low that when you look in the rear view mirror you can't really see the boat at all,” Smith said. “But when you look out the sunroof in the truck and see the mast out over your head, you realize just how big this load is.”
GameChanger cleared United States customs in Buffalo on Jan. 6 and made it all the way to Lexington, Kentucky the first day on the road. Smith stopped in Valdosta, Georgia the second night and Florida City the third. Permits don’t allow the wide load to be moved after dark or on weekends.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the journey was the final foray through the Florida Keys as GameChanger received a police escort. Smith was amazed that leg of the trip took just two hours as the boat was escorted along by multiple state police cars at 74 miles per hour!
“WOW! Our police escort showed up promptly at 9 p.m. and was ready to go almost immediately. The 126 miles from Florida City to Key West was absolutely incredible! Our average speed was 67 miles per hour and we frequently topped 75 MPH through 45 MPH zones with our police escort and chase car,” Smith wrote in an e-mail to his crew. “They took us on an incredible and wild ride down to Key West. This two hours included a 15 minute stop at the weigh station where we stopped for a visit and then back to the chase. But for the turbo in our truck, we wouldn't have been able to keep up!”
There was one very harrowing moment in the Florida Keys as a bicyclist suddenly appeared out of nowhere coming the other way – directly into the path of the lead police car! That forced the lead trooper to slam on the brakes and Smith, following closely behind with 20,000 pounds of boat behind, darn near crashed into the back of the police car.
“I hit the brakes and locked up the trailer and the tires were screaming. There was no way to stop until we were in the back seat of the cop car so I opted for the next lane. But there was a guy in the lane that our chase car couldn’t keep out. I have no idea how we all managed to squeeze through,” wrote Smith, amazed the rig didn’t jackknife.
“The guy beside me, who must have been under the boat at times, didn’t go beside us again. He probably went home to change his underwear!” Smith wrote. “All this barely fazed our lead cop. Off he went again and our turbo kicked in as we tried to catch up. He later admitted that the stupid bicycler caused his computer and all his files to end up on the floor of the cruiser.”
GameChanger reached Robbie’s Boatyard on Stock Island on Monday night and Smith and Mike Hasko celebrated with margaritas. They put the boat together over the next couple days and were out on the water practicing by Friday.
Several members of the GameChanger crew have competed in Key West before on other boats and told Smith what an awesome experience the regatta was. Smith is excited about the fact there are two other 1D35 sloops in the PHRF 1 class.
“We’re excited about the chance to race against the other 1D35s and we rate even with the J/111s so we’re anxious to see how we perform in relation to those,” Smith said. “Key West is a great challenge and we are looking forward to testing our skills against so many good sailors who are really into the sport.”
GameChanger has been “turbo-charged” in Smith’s words, modified from its original design to improve speed and performance. Smith would not speculate on how well the team would do and said he was just happy to be sailing under sunny skies and warm temperatures in January.
“I must say that I have a new appreciation for all those 1D35 sailors that came before me, and in fact anyone who has signed up for this adventure. It’s no small feat to round up a dozen eager sailors and get them and the boat to a regatta at the southernmost tip of America,” Smith said. “We do it because we love sailing and we love racing … and we hate snow!”