My gang is racing the Everglades Challenge again in 2018.
My favorite skipper Jeff Linton and his lifelong sailing buddy Jahn Tihansky sailed a highly modified Flying Scot (Frankenscot) to class victory in 2014. Then they repeated the success in 2016 with the addition of boat-designer and speedster OH Rodgers on board the purpose-build, OH-designed Spawn of Frankenscot.
The 2017 Challenge didn't happen for the trio (short story: weather cancellation, de-cancellation with variable start, confusion, punt).
This year, the Spawnsters are going two-up, and the big modification to the boat throws back to the original water-ballasted design.
The word "ballast" comes –– according to a few clicks of interweb research –– from old Swedish. It was the "last load," or the thing a boat carried when there was no paying cargo around.
Sailing ships, I hardly need remind anyone but am gonna anyhow, move by means of leverage. They skate the edge of tipping over and skipping along with the wind; they need weight for stability. Hence ballast.
What was handy and heavy back in the day? Rocks.
Rock ballast persists like a scar at the edge of sailing routes. Many old port towns have a "Ballast Point," named for the spot where boats used to summarily offload their ballast rocks.
Tampa has a its own Ballast Point Park (formerly Jules Verne Park –– which is kind of cooler, no? –– after Verne's use of Tampa as the launch of his fictional From the Earth to the Moon). It's a good place NOT to run aground.
Back on track, fast forward to modern racing skiffs.
Instead of rocks, we see sailors leaning out from the side of the boat (confusingly called "hiking" since the people are generally sitting down) or suspended even farther from the center of effort by a wire.
But water as ballast?
Call me old-fashioned, but I like to keep water on the outside of a boat. Might actually be the definition of a boat: a thing that separates a person from water.
Luckily for the team, I'm not in charge.
Instead, Mr. Linton and OH Rodgers figured out where and how to take advantage of saltwater's native weight (8.6 pounds per gallon).
Working with polycarbonate sheets, whale-guzzler pumps, a quart of Flex Seal (as seen on TV!), and more than a few MacGyvering lightbulb moments, these mad scientists created...the OH2.
Instead of me trying to write my way through how the OH2 works, here's a quick videoclip my sister Sarah Ellen Smith took of it.
The weather has not permitted a heavy-air test, but the addition of a few gallons made a big difference in stability, especially when the boat is being rowed.
T-minus two weeks and a couple of days until the hundred+ craft launch from Fort DeSoto Beach.
Here's a stirring bagpipes-enlivened video of that moment. Listen for the guy who shouts, "Freedom!" at the 2-minute mark or so. I don't know who it is, but we love his spirit.