Sleep-deprived sailor Eric Thomas of Duluth was greeted by 25-knot headwinds and six-foot waves Sunday night near Keweenaw Point, Mich., on Lake Superior.
"It was like trying to swim in a washing machine," Thomas said Wednesday of the halfway point of the 20th Trans Superior International Yacht Race.
Thomas' boat, Polar Bear, navigated the turbulent water to move past Brian Van Wieren's boat, Zapada, and into first in the 22-boat solo race from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to Duluth.
"Some boats got banged up and some [sailors] were sea sick, but my boat and I were fine in the rough water and I was able to put distance on the fleet," Thomas said.
The 36-year-old won the 338-mile race Tuesday in 66 hours, 39 minutes and 14 seconds, which adjusted to 56:47:44 after a sailing handicap was administered. Van Wieren finished second in an adjusted time of 60:24:19. Ginger Kay and skipper Dick Lappin of Rogers City, Mich., came in third in 61:11:12.
During the race, in which he was the only crew member, Thomas took about 15 naps of 15 minutes each.
"You surely never operate at full power," said Thomas, who won the first solo Trans Superior in 71:02:37 in 2005. "Everything has to have a place on the boat so when you're tired, cold or confused, you can still operate the boat fast."
Thomas said his mental preparation proved vital.
"Half of the battle is getting to the start prepared," he said. "Having the boat ready with equipment ready and your mind at ease. [The other half] is the actual race with making decisions and physically getting the sails up and down."
Thomas said many sailors had trouble with exhaustion affecting their race.
"Sailing is like chess on water," he said. "Different boats have different strengths and weaknesses and taking advantage of that makes it interesting."
Thomas, who works at the marina at Barker's Island in Superior, finished second in his class in the 2006 Chicago Mackinac Race and won the Port Huron (Mich.) to Mackinac Yacht Race in 2002.
Thomas said that although it's a solo race, he couldn't do it without the support of his family.
""My dad, Nelson Thomas, has been a huge support and help with boat [preparation]," Thomas said. "Even though it's solo, it's a very big team effort with the guys at Barkers and my wife, Sarah, and mom, Margaret."
Papa Gaucho winscrewed division
Duluthian Keith Stauber and his boat, Papa Gaucho, overcame a tactical error early and benefited from the weather late to win the crewed division of the 20th Trans Superior.
Papa Gaucho finished in 57:27:24, with an adjusted time of 50:58:42. Northern Harrier, with skipper Chris Wells of Thunder Bay, Ontario, finished second in a corrected time of 51:43:35. Eric Hanson of Thunder Bay, in Mongoose, was third in 51:53:38.
After leading its class 25 miles into the race, Papa Gaucho, with a crew of nine, used the wrong sail and lost the lead.
"We didn't do well there, but we were able to stay (among) the leaders until we caught up at Keweenaw Point," said Stauber, a locomotive engineer.
At Two Harbors, the 35-foot Papa Gaucho was in second behind Mongoose, then caught a stronger wind that provided the winning difference.
"Mother nature played a role there, but we put us in a position to win," said Stauber, who won his first Trans Superior in 14 tries.
"We've been close, but never gotten the bright star," said Stauber, 55. "It was good for us."
20th Trans Superior International Yacht Race
From Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to Duluth
Adjusted time in parentheses
1. Papa Gaucho, Keith Stauber, Duluth, (57:27:24) 50:58:42; 2. Northern Harrier, Chris Wells, Thunder Bay, Ontario, 57:55:23 (51:43:35); 3. Mongoose, Eric Hansen, Thunder Bay, 56:57:50 (51:53:38).
1. Polar Bear, Eric Thomas, Duluth, 66:39:14 (56:47:44); 2. Zapada, Brian Van Wieren, Grandville, Mich., (68:34:25) 60:24:19; 3. Ginger Kay, Dick Lappin, Rogers City, Mich., 78:39:00 (61:11:12).