Mattituck man sailed from Seattle to New York in competition

06/28/2018 5:50 AM |

When Duffy Drum awakes in the middle of the night he still feels as if his world is rocking. He’s back on the mainland at his cottage on Peconic Bay at Marratooka Point in Mattituck, but that floating feeling after more than a month at sea is hard to shake.

Aboard the 70-foot racing yacht Visit Seattle, Mr. Drum’s brief intervals of sleep were spent tucked in a bunk six feet off the floor. 

“If you roll out of the bunk, you could easily break an arm or hip or something,” he said.

During most days on board, crew members slept in intervals of four to five hours, with the yacht heeling at a 40-degree angle at times, he said. On a good day, he might get six hours of sleep.

“You’re either sleeping, working or eating, so there isn’t a whole lot of time for other things like social events,” he said.

Starting in late April, Mr. Drum, 63, sailed down the Pacific Ocean from Seattle to Panama and then up the Atlantic Ocean to New York, where Visit Seattle arrived two weeks ago after a 40-day journey. He was part of an 18-member crew that sailed under the guidance of skipper Nikki Henderson, 24, in the penultimate leg of the Clipper Round the World Race.

After the yacht arrived in New York, Mr. Drum invited some of his crew members back to the North Fork for some R&R before it set sail on its final leg across the Atlantic Ocean back to England, where the race began. While some of the crew are known as the around-the-world sailors — meaning they sail all eight legs — Mr. Drum joined the crew just for leg seven.

“It’s gone over and above what I had expected,” Mr. Drum said. “I got so much out of it. I met so many great people, crewmates and the skipper and people that I know that I’ll be seeing sometime in the future somewhere down the road.”

Mr. Drum said his Mattituck cottage — which has been in the family for many years — typically gets rented out for the month of June to the same family. When he returned to the mainland he learned the renters decided not to book it this year. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring some of his new friends out to the North Fork.

Shannon Dean was one of the crew members who joined Mr. Drum. It was a homecoming for Ms. Dean, who grew up in Mattituck before relocating to Seattle about 30 years ago. Ms. Dean left Monday aboard Visit Seattle to begin the eighth and final leg of the competition.

The two discovered they were from the same hamlet while training in England last year.

In her diary post on the race website June 11, as Visit Seattle neared the end of the seventh leg, Ms. Dean, 54, wrote: “I’ve made a home in Seattle … but I’m a New Yorker born and bred, through and through. Not the city. I’m from the island, we eastenders assert. And I’m sailing home.”

Mr. Drum, who earned the opportunity to sail by winning a contest sponsored by the New York Daily News in 2016, said he lucked out with the particular leg he sailed. When the crew arrived in Seattle after sailing across the Pacific Ocean for the sixth leg, he could see they were a battered group. The conditions across the Pacific were particularly challenging, with hurricane-force winds at one point with huge, 40-foot waves.

“These guys and gals, you could tell they really had some rough sailing over the course of their leg,” he said. “You could tell on their faces.”

Mr. Drum (center) brought several fellow sailors back to his cottage after the crew sailed from Seattle to New York. He was joined by Toni Wilson of London, Shannon Dean of Seattle, who’s a Mattituck native, Chris Goodwin of West Islip and Phil Whittaker of Britain and South Africa. (Kelly Zegers photo)

The journey for Mr. Drum wasn’t so bad, especially on the trip down the Pacific, as the boat sailed with the wind to its back, allowing the yacht to stay more level. The weather was warm. Near the end of the first half of the journey, the crew detoured to Costa Rica to refuel. The overall competition features several smaller races within each leg for the 12 identical yachts, and at times when those races are complete and the yachts are approaching port, they use their motor. At some points, the yachts even tow each other, Mr. Drum said.

From there, they sailed to Panama.

“Transiting the canal was quite an experience,” he said. “That was pretty extraordinary.”

They sailed through the older locks that lift ships up to an artificial lake and then lowers at the other end. An expansion of the canal was completed in 2016 to accommodate the world’s largest ships.

“I was surprised by the size of the lake in between the locks,” he said.

The first few days sailing up the coast following Panama were the most challenging as the crew began to sail into the wind, causing the yacht to heel at a greater degree.

There were plenty of moments to let the beauty of it all sink in. He would see dolphins swimming adjacent to the yacht for stretches of 10 to 15 minutes before they would take off. In the Pacific he saw big turtles floating by, their shells sticking out of the water. He also saw a manta ray. 

“A lot of times you just kind of catch things out of the corner of your eye,” he said.

Life aboard the yacht provides little chance for contact with the outside world. Mr. Drum said he could communicate via text message with family at some points, but he was mostly in the dark on world events.

He thought about how he had no idea who won the Kentucky Derby. 

“And then I realized, wait a minute, not only is the Kentucky Derby over, so is the Preakness and Belmont,” he said. “You get back and find out there was a Triple Crown winner.”

As he travels around town now he bumps into friends who are excited to see him again and want to know about his trip.

“I think my celebrity status is waning now,” he said with a laugh.

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Photo caption: Mr. Drum said crew members typically worked in six-hour shifts aboard Visit Seattle, although the shifts were sometimes shorter during the hot days while sailing down the Pacific. (Courtesy photo) 

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