Local sailors win big

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:55 AM

The Sundowner, owned and skippered by Midge Verplank of Spring Lake, sailed into St. Lucia’s Rodney Bay on Sunday afternoon to complete the 2,700-nautical mile Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.

The 82-foot yacht finished the race in 12 days, nine hours and 20 minutes.

“We did get the job done,” the 81-year-old skipper wrote Sunday in an e-mail to family and friends. “(We were) first to finish out of 200 boats entered for the Nov. 27 start. Our next competitor at noon today was 110 miles behind us, or at least 12 hours behind.”

What makes this more exciting, according to Verplank, is that they had been sailing without a mainsail since Dec. 5.

“The boat just goes downwind," he wrote. "The only time the centerboard was down was for the last half-mile to the finish, as we roared into the finish line with jenny only — 2,699 and a half miles with the board up."

On board the Sundowner from the Tri-Cities with Verplank were Bill Venhuizen, Todd Amberger, Eric Landman, Kris Landman and Todd Bosgraff. Michel Picot, a shipwright from Canada, completed the crew.

“We had a great crew,” Verplank said. “They worked hard the whole time.”

It didn’t start out as planned. Severe weather caused a two-day delay, and the winds were still strong when the boats got underway.

“We had 30 knots and we were running with very short sails,” Verplank said. “The first eight days, we had not touched a motor.”

Some of that time was rough-going for the crew. A rogue wave caught the boat and sent Bosgraff flying, but he still managed to salvage his ice cream.

Strong winds and high pressure ripped a winch out of a crewmember’s hand and the handle slammed Venhuizen in the shoulder, knocking him flat.

“He’s OK now,” Verplank said. “That was a little scary.”

An accidental jibe spun the boat around one night as they were rolling down a wave of 14-16 feet, he said. That can be dangerous, as the boom careens with a lot of force.

“A wave like that ... throws your boat off,” Verplank said. “It throws the sail on the wrong side.”

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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