It’s been exactly a year since I left Seattle on Idefix. After a rough trip down the coast, my second Singlehanded Transpac, a month in Hawaii with family and friends, crossing the equator, cruising the South Pacific Islands, sailing the East coast of Australia, five months in Sydney, plenty of buoy and offshore racing, and two weeks of traveling around Vietnam, I’m back in Seattle. It’s kind of felt like one of those years that’s been more eventful than the past ten combined. To keep things interesting, I’ve made the decision to make my thirties the most awesome decade of my life, and things are going well so far (to kick things off I spent my birthday riding a motorcycle through the central highlands of Vietnam).
I plan to spend the summer reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and looking for opportunities to do interesting things. I might even get to use my degree in aerospace engineering! Of course there will be plenty of sailing. For starters, I’ve been invited to do the Chicago-Mackinac race, which has been on my radar for a long time (a 290 mile race – on a lake!). And I get to do it on an Olson 30… The start is July 13th.
Meanwhile, the Bermuda 1-2 race starts tomorrow in Newport, Connecticut. SHTP veteran John Lubimir will be on the starting line with his trusty Flight Risk. Go Flight Risk!
The Lord Howe Island race on Frantic was one of those trips where everything just seems to miraculously click together in spite of all odds: the ragtag crew put together at the last minute (there was a lot of shaking hands on deck at the start), the barely used sails from another boat, the light air start that looked like a guaranteed OCS but turned into a perfect start…
I’ll gloss over the details, which you can read about here. The conditions were far from typical for this race, with a light breeze dying on the second day, which meant a lot of playing with local conditions, chasing down squalls and rain cells for a day or two. Frantic took the southern route, looking to get out of adverse current and maybe even get a boost from the eddies coming off the EAC, with inconclusive results. But we kept the boat moving when all the rhumbline boats got parked in no wind. We knew we weren’t doing too bad when we looked to starboard on Day 2 and saw the scratch boat – A Volvo 70 – a couple miles off. And when the wind filled as forecast from the southeast on Day 3, Frantic started tearing up the race course headed straight for the island at 9 knots. The rest of the fleet suffered on a much tighter angle in lighter winds, and we cruised to victory in both IRC and ORCi.
I owe a big thanks to Mick (Frantic’s owner – a very cool dude to sail with) and Ken (who put together the crew) for putting me in the navigator spot. I was a little nervous navigating in a fully-crewed effort, as I didn’t want to disappoint the crew, but everything just clicked and we have a great result to show for it!
For Easter weekend I flew down to Melbourne and hopped on the TP52 Frantic for a delivery up the coast to Newcastle. This is the biggest yacht I’ve ever sailed, and definitely one of the nicest. All carbon, twin helms, coffee grinder, the whole shebang! But it’s actually a pretty simple boat, and surprisingly easy to sail. And for those of you that are thinking “who the hell is insane enough to take an oversized skiff offshore?”, Frantic isn’t a fragile inshore toy like the other TP52s, but a solid offshore steed that’s raced the Sydney-Hobart.
A southerly wind and eight-person delivery crew combined to make our trip up the coast a smooth one. The only incident of note was a couple wipeouts that ended in a torn spinnaker, the result of our desire to play around a bit and get the boat moving fast in the building wind. I’ll be back on the boat this weekend for the Gosford-Lord Howe Island Race. This 414-mile trek off the coast is the only Category 1 race in Australia besides the Hobart. I’ve been assigned the role of navigator, which won’t be easy with the forecasted light winds and strong current. You can check out the lineup and follow the race here. The start is April 6th at 1300, and with this forecast it’ll probably take us 3 days to get to the island.
After the race, Frantic will be sailing straight back to Melbourne, which should be a sweet 1000-mile downwind sled ride. I’m kind of curious as to how quickly they will go. I’m thinking less than 4 days.
In other news I have a ticket out of Australia… to Vietnam! Departure is scheduled for April 29th. I’m looking forward to seeing a bit of southeast Asia before a stateside stint.
Since there’s not much going on right now, and I was thinking of Normandy, I will share the single longest sentence I’ve ever read (click the little french flag for the original):
Granite to the south, sand to the north; here sheer rock faces, there dunes. An inclined plane of meadowland with rolling hills and ridges of rock; as a fringe to this green carpet, wrinkled into folds, the foam of the ocean; along the coast, low-built fortifications; at intervals, towers pierced by loopholes; lining the low beaches, a massive breastwork intersected by battlements and staircases, invaded by sand and attacked by the waves, the only besiegers to be feared; windmills dismasted by storms, some of them-at the Vale, Ville-au-Roi, St. Peter Port, Torteval-still turning; in the cliffs, anchorages; in the dunes, sheep and cattle; the shepherds’ and cattle herds’ dogs questing and working; the little carts of the tradesmen of the town galloping along the hollow ways; often black houses, tarred on the west side for protection from the rain; cocks and hens, dung heaps; everywhere cyclopean walls; the walls of the old harbor, now unfortunately destroyed, were a fine sight, with their shapeless blocks of stone, their massive posts, and their heavy chains; farmhouses set amid trees; fields enclosed by waist-high drystone walls, forming a bizarre checkerboard pattern on the low-lying land; here and there a rampart built around a thistle, granite cottages, huts looking like casemates, little houses capable of withstanding a cannonball; occasionally, in the wildest parts of the country, a small new building topped by a bell-a school; two or three streams flowing through the meadows; elms and oaks; a lily found only here, the Guernsey lily; in the main plowing season, plows drawn by eight horses; in front of the houses, large haystacks on circular stone bases; expanses of prickly furze; here and there gardens in the old French style with clipped yew trees, carefully shaped box hedges and stone vases, mingled with orchards and kitchen gardens; carefully cultivated flowers in countryfolk’s gardens; rhododendrons among potatoes; everywhere seaweed laid out on the grass, primrose-colored; in the church yards no crosses, but slabs of stone standing erect, seeming in the moonlight like white ladies; ten Gothic bell towers on the horizon; old churches, new dogmas; Protestant worship housed in Catholic architecture; scattered about in the sand and on the promontories, the somber Celtic enigma in its various forms-menhirs, peulvens, long stones, fairy stones, rocking stones, sounding stones, galleries, cromlechs, dolmens, fairies’ houses; remains of the past of all kinds; after the druids the priests; after the priests the rectors; memories of falls from heaven; on one point Lucifer, at the castle of the Archangel Michael; on another, Icart Point, Icarus; almost as many flowers in winter as in summer. This is Guernsey.
Victor Hugo, The Archipelago of the Channel
After six weeks on the market, Idefix has been sold. Her new owners Ken and Jess are pretty excited to have the only Olson 30 in Australia, and it looks like she’ll get a workout in all the Newcastle races. On Friday night Ken and I went for a sail across Sydney harbour and I had the pleasure of steering her in a steady breeze for what may be the last time, before hopping off at the Manly wharf and watching her sail into the night. Ken was so keen to get her racing that he sailed her throughout the night so he could make the start of a race in Newcastle the next day! It was a bittersweet moment for me, as the boat and I have shared 16000 miles of adventures over the last four years.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what I am going to do next. First of all, Ken has managed to get me a spot on the TP52 he races on for the Lord Howe Island race. At the end of March I will fly down to Melbourne to deliver Frantic up to Newcastle, then we will race to LHI, stay on the island a few days, and sail the boat back to Melbourne. I’m really stoked about 2000 miles on the Tasman Sea on an Aussie racing yacht.
And to stay busy in the meantime, I’m still racing on weeknights and weekends, on Secret Men’s Business in Pittwater and a variety of boats in Sydney Harbour. The crew of Secret Men’s Business is one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. Racing yachts are often a chaos of people stumbling around, crawling all over each other, and lots of shouting and swearing, but SMB is like a well-oiled machine that silently goes about its business. I’ve been on the boat for 5 or 6 races now, and yesterday was the first time I heard an expletive come out of somebody’s mouth, as the spinnaker twisted itself furiously around the forestay. The relaxed attitude with which everybody goes about their business belies many, many years of sailing together.
I met up with my Seattle friend Goran, who’s in town visiting his family, and he took me down to CYCA to try to get on a boat for twilight racing. Wednesday night races are NFS (no spinnakers), so I figured it would be a handful of cruising boats floating around the bay watching the scenery, but boy was I wrong. CYCA is the big club in town, the one that puts on the Sydney-Hobart, and it was packed when came in. We put our names up on the whiteboard and sat down at the table in the corner with the other boatless crew, and within about 5 minutes the whole table was snatched up by a Sydney 38 skipper with no crew. Once on the water, and after a couple practice tacks, I realized this was pretty serious business, as there were a LOT of boats in the starting area, including an ACC, a VO60, some fancy one-offs, and of course a handful of Farr 40s and other Sydney 38s. The start was incredibly tight, and we had no idea how far off the line we were, because we were sandwiched in a cluster of boats, a handful of which ended up OCS. Also, did I mention there was plenty of wind? And sun too! I quickly realized how weak I am when I was barely capable of grinding in a 100% jib on this 38-footer. Sydney harbour is quite narrow, so there were plenty of tacks, and I felt my strength leaving me when we finally made it to the windward mark, at which point the beer started flowing at an alarming rate. Pole out the jib, a couple jibes and we’re back to leeward and time for lots of grinding again. By now I’m soaked from hanging on the wet lifelines, but who cares, it’s February and a nice warm day. We’re second of the four ’38s, not bad for a crew put together 15 minutes before the start. At the windward mark my throat is parched from all the grinding, thankfully the cold beers are back on deck. After the finish it’s time for socializing at the clubhouse (anybody want an Olson 30?), and I get off the bus in Newport at about midnight, a little tipsy and still soaked with seawater.
The next day it was the same thing all over again, but this time on a 42-footer racing out of the Royal Prince Alfred on Pittwater. This time the ride was arranged ahead of time by my friend Linda (on the commodore’s boat, no less!). The crew were all incredibly relaxed, and the conditions were great: 15-20kts, sunny and warm. Pittwater is even narrower than Sydney harbour, so I was grunting over the winches again, but the ergonomics of the boat must’ve been a little better, because I had no problem bringing in the bigger sails on a bigger boat.
After two days of racing on big boats, my sides, back and shoulders are quite sore (that good kind of sore that lets you know your muscles are growing), but I’ve had a lot of fun and am looking forward to next week!
Shirley has left to visit friends and family in various parts of the world, so I’m now left in Sydney to sell the boat. The last few days have been very rainy, so I’ve had a chance to reflect a bit on the past six months, and I’ve put together a litle collection of lessons learned from crossing the Pacific on a sailboat:
- Have local cash before you leave, as a number of islands don’t have ATMs, and you often have to pay a clearance fee immediately upon arrival.
- Don’t expect lights and navigational aids marked on your charts to actually exist, or lights and navigational aids that exist to be marked on your charts. Fiji was especially bad for this.
- Don’t expect your charts or their datum to always be accurate. Use your eyeballs, and stay away from unlit obstacles at night.
- Be prepared to deal with your anchor not wanting to come back up from the bottom.
- Noonsite and other sources of information regarding clearance procedures & fees are often inaccurate. That’s not a reason not to check them, of course.
- People have very different opinions of how interesting, boring, pretty or unpleasant anchorages, cities, islands, countries and other places are; one person’s paradise is another’s hell. Take advice with a grain of salt.
- It’s really easy to spend your whole time somewhere catching up on email, weather, news, facebook, blogging, planning your next stop, etc. Get out of the boat and explore!
- Island time starts at 05:00, sometimes earlier. Lots of things are over by 10:00. The market in Niue is empty by 08:00.
- Many islands have very limited resources, and their people often live in fairly precarious conditions. For the most part, there’s no bargaining or tipping in the South Pacific. But there is plenty of trading.
The closest call we had was in Fiji. We were just leaving an anchorage. We threaded our way past some reefs, and when I thought we were clear I put the autopilot on to help Shirley get the sails ready to hoist. I was keeping an occasional eye on the water up ahead, and I got a bad feeling, and thought I could see a tinge of brown in the cobalt-blue water about thirty feet in front of the boat. I ran back to the tiller and gave it a big pull, then watched us sail over rocks and coral as we passed by a big bommie. If we’d been three feet to the right, we’d probably have hit. We also spent a sleepless night at anchor in Fanning. A gale hit the atoll in the middle of the night, and we found ourselves about 200 feet off a lee shore in 30+ kt winds and heavy rain, with the anchor lying on flat stones and broken coral in an area with notoriously poor holding. Luckily the chain wrapped itself around a coral head and the boat didn’t budge. I was too sleepy to be really worried at the time, but in retrospect this was a very delicate situation to be in, and in a very remote place.