C&C 53 Custom
Owner or others associated with
Herman, W. Bernard
Lake Ontario International.. the FLYING STEAK...
In the summer of 1979 I sailed as crew on the C&C Custom 53 Bonaventure V - a one off design - a VERY successful boat. including our attendance at both the Port Huron and Chicago Mackinac races.. In the course of the summers racing we had experienced many different weather patterns including keeping an eye out for line squalls..
Our standard operating procedure was to shorten sail and be ready when the squalls hit us with winds that were typically 20-30 knots and we became pretty proficient at this.. Our Marine Domestic (paid hand) Andy Staneland and his Brother Peter were regulars.. After one day race prior to the start of the Lake Ontario International Peter was attempting to impress some ladies on shore with his physical prowess and tried jumping over a park trash receptacle only to catch his feet on it and tumble down on the ground dislocating his shoulder in the process…and thereafter having his arm strapped tightly to his body after a trip to the emergency room.. This earned him the crew position of cook as he was not much use for other duties..
The course for the Lake Ontario International (LOI) was Toronto to Niagara, left turn down lake to between Stoney and Galloo islands and a right hand turn towards the finish in Rochester… Winds were steady but light as we rounded Niagara we set the brand new 3/4 ounce running chute and our new Daisy staysail which sheeted to the end of the boom.. sailing very broad down the lake.. Our navigator wanted to get some shut eye so he turned off the VHF radio as we proceeded down the lake before dinner - we had no clue as to what was coming for us...… the menu that night was steak, mashed potatoes and salad..
Second nights dinner was supposed to be Lasagna which I had cooked at home ahead of time - two trays of it.. Well as dinner was approaching and we were just sitting down at the dining table the call for ALL HANDS on deck came out which excluded the navigator who had awoken, our Owner Bernie Herman and the cook (Peter) as the rest of us scrambled up on deck, no harnesses no life jackets - UP WE WENT… and behind us was a very mean dark line.. The plan… Change to the heavy 1.5 ounce start cut, drop the stay sail, reef the main and be ready when it hit.. except… it hit us at over EIGHTY knots.. We know because the rain felt like NEEDLES on our skin the the anemometer was PEGGED at the top of the scale and there we were with two chutes up at the same time.. the light chute went in the water behind us like a sea anchor the star cut filled to leeward and the boat started heeling with the stay sail flapping the full main up… and it kept on heeling..
Down below Bernie the Owner was sitting to port beside the navigator as the boat leaned over and his steak slid off his plate and onto the center of the dining table .. we later found fork marks in the teak top as he was chasing the wayward steak as the boat proceeded to go on its side.. then the steak detached itself from the table top and flew to the wall of the starboard upper bunk and stayed put there.. Later Bernie walks over to the steak, peels it off the wall, puts it back on his plate and hands it back to the cook telling Peter - “here cook it some more its still ALIVE”.. Meanwhile on deck we had one man in the water out of the cockpit holding on to the mainsheet, the rest back there were clinging on for dear life … I was mid ships kneeling on the starboard grinder pedestal which had turned horizontal looking down the mast as the head dipped into the lake.. while I was undoing the vang and every other thing including the spin sheets.. the one holding the star cut zipped past the fore guy and Andy with his red hair was holding on to the head stay with his friends Ian Douglass with his legs wrapped around the head foil praying that the thing did not part.. the spin sheet sliced through the fore guy with friction and we found red hair melted in either end.. as the light chute split the clue pulled out of the heavy one and we got the knot out of the halyard.. the boat stood up the fellow in the water pulled himself hand over hand and there was boat under him as it stood up again.. and we were charging though the water at 12-14 knots with the mainsail drawing only .. and we had to sheet it in as the pressure on the lee spreaders was so severe the rig was in jeopardy.. we gathered in the left overs of the chutes.
Lowered the stay sail and got a triple reef in the main sail… setting a small reacher and then later the 2.2 ounce chicken chute.. the waves were HUGE and we surfed at 14-16 knots.. They made us go down for dinner but then we came back up to enjoy the fun. I had never sailed so fast and on one blast we achieved 18.5 knots - the power was like an atomic weapon going off in the palm of your hand.. Then we were forced to go off watch… I woke up with the watch captain saying “we have a problem”.
The bunk was warm I could hear the water scream past the hull and I am thinking my world seems pretty good to me… I asked "what kind of problem do we have?” - "someone has to go up the rig to straighten the halyards out".. I am thinking meh big deal - I mean I was 22 years old and immortal. . so I say “not a problem I will go” and he looks at me and says I am a braver man than he is.. Well up I go as we are sailing between the two islands.. I go up and it’s QUIET as a mouse up 80 feet aloft. I straighten out the halyards and then its time to go back on deck… but the view of the boat with all that white water round it was breath taking.. we were still charging ahead at 12-14 knots.. After I got down … they told me there was only 4-5 feet of water below the keel - we drew 9 1/2 feet.. If we had run aground … I would have been slingshot to Halifax..
All was however good.. until we made the turn and there was so much water coming over the deck that it was hard to change sails getting the new one up the foil … We tore the luff tape out on one .. went to an alternate as I went below to sew the tape back on by hand.. Then later switched back to the small reacher.. as we headed to Rochester.. We finished that race in record time … we had the lasagna for lunch on the wall in Rochester on Sunday.. I saw a wind surfer for the first time in the harbour screeching back and forth at super high speed.. I had never seen anything go that quickly in the water before.. When the squall hit the fleet there was a Viking 33 named Mary Poppins..
A crew on that boat grabbed the lazy guy and unfortunately wrapped it round his hand as the wind hit and it carried him off the boat and flung into the water.. never to be seen again.. We were taught NEVER wrap a line round our hand.. he apparently never attended OUR school.. and it cost him his life.. When Bernie heard the story … he said we got off cheap..
The chutes were repairable.. we busted very little and that ride was the fastest trip I had ever done on a sailboat.. Until later when I purchased a Hobie Trifoiler .. and wound it up to a sustained speed of 35 knots in Toronto Harbour.. measured on my wrist mounted GPS.. 1979 was the year of the Fastnet Race and the disaster.. there.. Some very unusual weather patterns.. The VHF radio … never was shut down by anyone EVER again.. I have been truly blessed in my life to have learned to sail properly with and against some of the finest sailors that ever drew breath..
That race.. is seared in my memory..
Dan Erlich. Feb 2022
Bruckmann Manufacturing Ltd.
Southern Ocean Racing Conference 1972,
Freeman Cup 1982,
Freeman Cup 1971,
Onion Patch 1974
2001.0066.0340 ( 1-15)
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