Published: July 1988 Mid-Gulf Sailing
© 2014 Troy Gilbert
By Walter Atkinson
The yacht Equation under the command of Buddy Friedrichs finished the 1988 Pensacola to Isla Mujeres Regatta al Sol in classic style – in a duel to the finish with her arch rival, Saga, sailed by Gene Walet. The finish consisted of forty miles of “slugging-it-out” in a close-hauled to close spinnaker reach in which Equation overtook Saga before Saga regained the lead for good to finish 2 minutes and 6 seconds in front of the twelve-meter rigged Chance 68.
The strategy of Equation navigators John Meade and Walter Atkinson, was to hold east of the rhumb line waiting on the southeasterly trades to usher them into the finish off the northern tip of Isla Mujeres. They intended to use the swirling southerly cross-currents generated by the Gulf Stream to push them toward the finish with an extra knot or two over the bottom by staying inside the correct water temperatures and by closely watching their speed over the bottom vs. boat speed. It looked as though the whole idea was going down the drain when, during the first night, the wind shifted due south making the prospect of a 550 mile beat rather disheartening.
Equation took her first hitch east until the winds began to force her away from the finish line. She then tacked over and eventually crossed the rhumb line to the west – a tactic her navigators knew was not a winning move. The wind shifted against her again so, tacking back, she fought to the east as hard as she could for the next 24 hours, finally getting no farther than twenty miles east of the rhumb. Finding herself back in the hunt strategically, and where she wanted to be on the course, her navigators called for minor wiggling east and west while staying in the southerly currents and out of the northerly currents until on Sunday morning she sighted her first competition since leaving Pensacola – a single set of sails on the horizon. They belonged to one of the cruisers which had left Pensacola a day earlier than the racers.
A short time later another set of sails on the southwestern horizon ahead turned out to be those of Saga. Apparently, Saga had sailed into a hole and sat almost helplessly as Equation sailed around her. As the wind reached Saga she came to life and laid chase. After 510 miles and with forty miles to the finish, a tooth and nail fight was the order of the day – like sailing the Round the Lake Race after being on your boat for two days! Saga was a half-mile behind at one point and headed up for boat speed and to get high enough to set her huge spinnaker against the fractionally rigged Equation. The two 68 footers sailed side by side for thirty miles and, as the superior boat speed of Saga showed itself, she edged ahead.
With the finish line in sight, the race changed complexion and navigation no longer mattered. Boat speed and match racing tactics took over. Buddy Friedrichs and his crew gave it their all in attempting to hold off the faster Gene Walet and the crew on Saga. Equation finished 126 seconds behind Saga. After adjusting time allowances, Equation won the 1988 Regatta al Sol by over five hours with the shortest elapsed time of any boat ever to attempt the race.