Halifax sailors set to re-create rush of offshore race

LS Spencer Baldwin is at the helm of Sea Smoke, a Bavaria 38 Cruiser, during the Route Halifax Saint Pierre Ocean Race in 2016.

LS Spencer Baldwin is at the helm of Sea Smoke, a Bavaria 38 Cruiser, during the Route Halifax Saint Pierre Ocean Race in 2016.

Ryan Melanson, Trident Staff ~

Being out at sea in HMCS Charlottetown is normally easy-peasy for LS Spencer Baldwin.

But change out the warship for a racing sailboat, and then add 40-knot winds and a shorthanded crew to the mix, and easy-peasy is gone with the wind.

That was the case last summer when LS Baldwin joined Skipper Captain Mike Evans, a weapons tactics analyst at CFB Halifax’s Trinity, and sport sailing veteran, on his Bavaria 38 Cruiser Sea Smoke to compete in the Route Halifax Saint Pierre Ocean Race.

The world-class event is held every two years, with participants racing 365 nautical miles from Halifax to Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a set of French colony islands off the coast of Newfoundland.

LS Baldwin is a second generation Royal Canadian Navy sailor, and he’s taking after his father, PO1 (Retired) Dean Baldwin, who has also been active in the offshore racing community.

LS Baldwin said he’s been sailing recreationally since he was a child, and had been planning for years to try his hand at an ocean race. When he came back East after a posting to Esquimalt, the timing was right and he linked up with Capt Evans.

“I’ve been doing harbour races all my life and I was just dying to do an offshore race,” he said.

Unfortunately, a number of factors added difficulty, and nearly cancelled the race entirely for Capt Evans and his crew. An injury forced a highly experience civilian crewmember out at the last minute, forcing them to take on a sailor who wasn’t familiar with the boat, and during the race itself, seasickness rendered another veteran crewmember unable to play a large role.

This left Capt Evans and two eager, but less experienced, young sailors, to run the show, leading to a nerve-wracking moment when the trio had to double-reef their main sail in the middle of the night through “nor’easter-like” weather.

“I had them in this situation in a real maelstrom of weather, it’s 40 plus knots, the sea state is pounding away, and the boat is crashing off waves,” Capt Evans said.

“Fortunately, these guys were young enough to still love that stuff, and they both did a great job.”

Despite the setbacks and tense moments, the crew was able to place second in their division, and even kept the excitement going in the final mile, ending up in a tacking duel to pass another competing boat while sailing down a narrow channel toward the finish line.

LS Baldwin ended up playing a larger role than expected for his first race, but he said he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“Being out in the middle of the ocean, but not in a ship, in this much smaller sailboat, was quite the adrenaline rush. It taught me a lot of things in a short period.”

Now, the attention turns to the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean race, another 300-plus nautical mile offshore event taking place this July from the Boston area.

In 2015, Capt Evans took home the Friar Trophy for the best combined result in both the Saint Pierre and Marblehead races, and with the strong finish at the Saint Pierre last year, he’ll be in a good position to win it again.

“That’s certainly what we’ll be shooting for,” he said, adding that the hope is to once again bring LS Baldwin along as part of his crew.

With Charlottetown currently in their workups program preparing for an extended deployment later this year, timing could be difficult, which Capt Evans said is often the case when trying to crew a boat with serving Canadian Armed Forces members. But the Marblehead Race is an opportunity for RCN sailors to show off their nautical skills on an international stage, and the duo will make every effort to team up for another successful race, hopefully with less exciting weather.

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