In Memoriam

Manfred P. Rose

Oh Captain, my Captain!

In loving memory of Manfred Rose: sailor, adventurer, and friend.

In 1982 I received an invitation to crew in the Kauai Yacht Race – a biennial race from San Francisco, California to Lihue, Kauai. We would be racing Manfred Rose’s Cal 2-30, a classic Southern-California sloop.

At the time I was a 31-year-old firefighter, trained as an EMT. I was active in the Santana 20 one-design class in Fleet 7 (San Diego), and I had done some coastwise racing, but this would be my first trans-Pacific race.

Manfred and I sailed the Double-Handed Farallones race as a shake-down to check out the boat in heavy weather. The boat performed well; unfortunately, the event was marked by tragedy – several lives were lost that year.

Although the boat was well-equipped, it did not have a storm spinnaker. Manfred ordered one from a well-known loft, and the manager assured us he would have the sail completed in time for the race.

He made good on his promise – barely: Manfred picked up the sail on the way to the boat as we were loading her up for the trip. I opened the turtle on the dock and traced both luffs and the foot to confirm it wasn’t fouled, then put it in the sail locker. I remember thinking that it seemed rather large for a storm spinnaker, but hey, I’m a light-air Southern California sailor, and everything seems big when you’re used to racing a 20-footer.

Manfred gave me the honor of being on the helm at the start, and we were first across the line when the gun went off. Somewhere there is a great picture of the start line with us in the foreground followed by the fleet, with Merlin, the 67-foot ULDB, coming on strong.

Needless to say, as the smallest boat in the race, that was the last time we led.

What I remember most about racing to Hawaii is sunrises, sunsets, occasional huge waves, and being overtaken by squalls (just to see if you’re paying attention).

I had been watching a particularly nasty-looking squall for a while and I was about to say something to Manfred, but he already knew it was there. “Time to shorten sail”, he announced; “Put up the storm spinnaker.”

As the bowman, I secured the spinnaker turtle to the bow pulpit and rigged our heaviest sheets. The squall was nearly upon us when I signalled Manfred that I was ready to go. We dropped the 3/4-ounce chute, I moved the halyard to the storm spinnaker, and the crew hauled away.

The spinnaker came up out of the turtle, and my head craned as it went up… up… up… until it filled the sky – it was enormous! It caught the wind with a “whomp” and the hull surged forward with a vengeance.

Now I’m no stranger to planing in a sailboat – my Santana 20 was made for it, but this was on a whole new level.

We rocketed down a wave with spray flying; all I could think was, “God, I hope nothing breaks!”. The experience was exhilarating – I had never felt the boat move that fast – but for the helmsman it was a half-step away from terror.

The squall eventually passed and we looked around in silence for a moment, then broke into exultation; the storm spinnaker stayed up for the rest of the race.

When squalls ran us down, whoever was on the helm was there for the duration, because he had “the touch”, and nobody wanted to step in and take over.

Of course, the inevitable happened – an accidental gybe in forty knots. It snapped the boom like a twig and tore the foot out of the mainsail, but the rest of the rig was undamaged.

We spent the next few hours rigging a replacement (yes, we had a spare boom) and repairing the mainsail. We crossed the finish line under a reefed main, flying our new favorite sail, the “storm” spinnaker.

The fact that we were the last boat to finish in no way dampened our enthusiasm. It turns out that we weren’t the only casualty: the 58’ Frers-designed Swiftsure suffered a knockdown that damaged her mast.

When we returned home, Manfred asked the sailmaker about our “storm” spinnaker; his response was, “Well, it’s a race, isn’t it?”

2022 is the fortieth anniversary of the race, but unfortunately, Manfred isn’t here to savor it with us – he passed away two years too soon.

Rest in peace, Manfred; we’ve got this.

Crossing the finish line!