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.
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!
Idefix is in Hanalei, rafted up to Green Buffalo (thanks Jim!). Got in shortly after midnight last night. The last day was an incredible white-knuckle ride. During the night I’d taken down the spinnaker in a squall, just left main up and gone to sleep for 5 or 6 hours. I woke up on Friday and the wind had finally arrived. The waves had picked up quite a bit too. The boat was moving at 6 or 7 knots with just the main. I did some quick time-distance-speed calculations and was faced with a conundrum. I was 150 miles away, and I could slow down some and get there early Saturday morning, as planned, but I would’ve felt stupid trying to slow the boat further. I didn’t want to arrive in the pre-dawn hours, because I’ve been falling asleep at 3am like clockwork. But I see that if I average 8 knots, I can get there at midnight. So I decide I’m going to put the pedal to the metal and try to get there as early as possible. The catch is that there’s no way the autopilot is going to handle the boat with a chute up in 20-knot winds and messy 10-foot seas. So I finish breakfast, toss an armful of snacks and drinks into the cockpit, crank up the music, hoist the chute and am off on a wild ride that’ll last 16 hours. I was doing mental math the whole way and calculated an average 10 knots for the first hour, and 9-9.5 for the rest of the day. I got drenched by waves breaking into the cockpit within the first 10 minutes, so needless to say it was not a comfortable ride. I managed to leave the tiller 5 or 6 times to fuel up on food, water or caffeine, but that often ended in a broach or accidental jibe. At some point I went past the research ship Kilo Moana, which was hoding station 85 miles from Hanalei, and chatted them up on the VHF. They mentioned they’d seen another sailboat go by five days ago, by the name of Truth, and he was hauling like me. I was pretty flattered that they thought I was anywhere near Truth in speed! Eventually the sun went down, and the Kilauea lighthouse came into view. Then it was down to the last few miles, and soon I was trying to pick out the lights of the condo, and trying to reach the race committee on the VHF, and getting run over by squalls. Last time I had cleaned up and shaved before the finish. This time I took one last big gulp of coffee and managed to spill it all over myself. Oh well. Finally just pulled out my cellphone and called the race deck. Last couple miles the wind shifts a ton. I’d been expecting it, but then forgot. Fighting to keep the chute up, eyes riveted to the GPS to make sure I cross the line without hitting the reef. Finally I’m there.
Sent at 2012-07-13 15:50 UTC from 23°11.21′N 156°57.58′W
After the great fun Peter and I had on Northern Century in August, I was pretty excited to return to the San Juans in November for Round the County. This race is a little shorter, with an overnight stop in Roche Harbor, and a full crew. Alexia, Jay and Adam volunteered to deliver the boat, and Jay’s wife Jennie was kind enough to drive the chase car, prepare food, and arrange for accommodations on the islands, since we couldn’t sleep the whole crew on the boat.
Of course, the experience was completely different. A big weather system was passing through and the winds were ripping all weekend, with plenty of cold and rain to boot. Both days involved getting up ridiculously early to get to the start line, and a glimpse of orange sunrise on the first day was all we saw of the sun. The race started out with a tight reach up Rosario Strait, which quickly opened up and left us wishing we’d hoisted a bigger chute, and earlier. A couple minutes later we attempted our first jibe in 25 knots and managed to lay the boat down twice, first to windward, then to leeward, which ended with Matt and I going in the water, Matt being almost completely over the lifelines. We managed to get back in the cockpit before she righted, but were pretty cold and wet for the rest of the race, and my PFD inflated. Once the boat was back up she was off like a rocket, and we sailed decently for the rest of the race, and finished in the middle of the fleet. Owing to our cold & wet disposition, we opted to skip the party at Roche Harbor and warmed up by the wood stoves in the neatest little cabin in the woods, which Jennie had found for us.
Day 2 started off pretty poorly with us making extra miles to get away from shore looking for current that wasn’t there, and we were out of the running pretty quick. We reached around San Juan under genoa until the wind eased up in the Strait, and hoisted the big chute. This was all fine until we got close to the South end of Lopez and saw all the boats ahead of us broaching, and some spinnakers exploding. It looked like the wind was picking up around the point, and the strong currents coming out of Rosario were causing the waves to pick up significantly, right where all the boats were jibing. We had visions of our epic jibe the day before still fresh in our heads, and this one was looking way nastier, and we had a bigger chute up. The boat was planing continuously now, and would have to keep planing through the jibe. I had a death grip on the tiller and told the crew to prepare to jibe. Without one word, everybody clipped their harness tethers in. The tension was palpable. When the command was given to trip the pole, my focus went 100% on steering the boat through the boiling waves ahead while keeping her as level as possible under the spinnaker. Not a word was said among the crew as they executed a perfect jibe. When it was done, they all hiked out as far aft as they could and we headed up for the ride of our lives. The waves were steep and a couple times we ran off the top of a wave into the trough, and I expected us to stuff the bow of the boat into the next wave and round up, but with the incredible lift generated by the spinnaker, and the weight of a full crew in the back of the boat, we rode right over the top of them in perfect control. On a particularly nice surf we hit an outright speed record for the boat of 19 knots. Eventually the wind abated and became more westerly, and we were on a tight reach up Rosario Strait. We carried the chute as long as could, making great speed, and rounding up occasionally, and we eventually had to drop the chute, before soon putting up another only a mile from the finish. We corrected to a not-particularly-brilliant 12th out of 15, owing to our big strategic blunder, but the terrific rides we had made for a fun weekend, and I felt that we sailed pretty well overall. After finishing we repaired to the Brown Lantern in Anacortes for hot food and cold beers, then Alexia, Matt, Adam and I had an uneventful delivery home through Saratoga Passage, which was a first for me.
It’s been a while since my last update. This writeup of the Northern Century is a little old, but I’ll post it anyway… After five days of chilling in the islands solo, I was ready for some doublehanded distance racing. There was a pretty fantastic turnout for the race, with over 40 boats registered (about half doublehanded and half fully crewed), which meant quite a crowd at the dinner and skipper’s meeting at Anacortes Yacht Club. The competition in our division would be pretty tough, among others: the Perry 66 Icon, fast enough to make it into completely different wind conditions, and stay out of trouble with the currents; the custom 40-footer Madrona, helmed by olympic gold-medalist Carl Buchan and his son; multiple SHTP winner Dan Newland on his Pegasus XIV; SHTP vet John Guzzwell on his beautiful wooden Open 30 Endangered Species; a Soverel 33 and Express 37; and our closest competition, the Ross 930 Emma, crewed by olympic medalist Eric Jespersen and his son Ross, both freshly back from the international 6-meter worlds.
The start was at 19:30, which I really liked, since it allowed us to sail into the first night relatively well rested. We got off to a decent start, only a couple boatlengths behind Emma, leading the pack. Of course it was only a matter of minutes before Icon and Madrona rolled everyone and took the lead… then promptly stopped in the wind shadow to the lee of Guemes Island. All the slow boats caught up, then found wind just below the bluff of the island, the last spot I would’ve thought to go. After way too much hemming and hawing, and waiting til we were the last boat in the pack, we bit the bullet and bore off to the bluff and caught the wind, before stopping in another pile-up half a mile down the course. The stop-and-go continued as the sun set and well into the night, with winds oscillating between zero and 10 knots, and shifting from the northwest to southwest. We tried to keep the boat moving and felt we were doing pretty well (it’s hard to tell when you can’t tell what boats are around you), until we parked in a hole off Lummi Island and got passed by a continuous train of running lights for the next 15 minutes. Being stopped while others are moving is really frustrating, doubly so at night when you can’t see the wind effects on the water. All we could do was sit and wait, watching running lights and counting shooting stars. Eventually the wind hit us, the spinnaker filled, and I was happy again. I forgot about all the boats that had sailed out of sight and concentrated on the ones next to us, especially ReignMaker, which I could see on the AIS display. Having an AIS transponder on board is great for safety, but probably not the best tactical move, as I could see exactly where they were, how fast they were going, and their course! We traded jibes through the early morning hours, as the wind built up to 13 or so, racing towards our mark at Point Roberts. Peter and I each took a couple 20 minute breathers down below, while the other sipped yerba maté and listened to music to stay awake. Eventually the colors of dawn tint the sky, and the moon and
sun rise in sequence over Mt. Baker. By the time the sun has risen we have rounded Pt. Roberts and are heading down Haro Strait towards our next turnpoint at Hein Bank, close hauled, port tack, rail in the water in about 8 kts southerly. It is a beautiful morning for sailing. We count 5 or 6 boats within sight behind us, and another handful ahead, but we really have no idea where we are in the fleet, and I estimate we are in the bottom third.
The wind lightens up as we get close to Saturna Island, and I see we are catching up to the Soverel 33, Grafix. Eventually I realize they are in a nasty current eddy close to the island, and give it a wide berth. We shoot past them, riding a 4-knot river of current, while they are moving backwards. I spend the next couple hours with my eyeballs riveted to the water, trying to stay in the strongest current, and following the next boat ahead, the MacGregor 65 JOSS. Coming up to Turn Point, I realize they are stuck in a wind hole right next to the point, and I can see 3 other boats stuck out in Canadian waters. I maneuver Idefix to split the difference between the two groups of parked boats, and we miraculously flow past all of them, carried by our little river of current. Eventually the wind starts to fill out of the Strait, and as we make our way South, so does the swell. As we beat down the shore of San Juan, the building wind forces us to trade the genoa for the #3. We are trading tacks with Blackfoot and ReignMaker, both in the fully crewed division, but there are no doublehanded boats around, so we are kind of clueless as to our position in that fleet. As we work our way out into the Strait towards Hein Bank, the wind starts to abate and we have to switch back to the #1, which isn’t a quick affair with only two aboard. The dying wind makes the motion of the boat in the big swells more and more uncomfortable, and suddenly Peter succumbs to seasickness. He goes down below to rest in his berth, and I’m left to deal with getting the boat around Hein Bank in adverse current, nasty chop and only 3 or 4 knots of breeze. After about an hour of this the wind creeps back up, the chop abates some, and I ready the chute as we make our final approach to the mark. Peter comes on deck to help me hoist as we round the mark, and we are soon on a solid 9-knot broad reach towards Rosario Strait and the finish line, alongside JOSS. Some more nasty currents await us at Rosario Strait, and for a while I’m worried were going to be swept onto the rocks on the South end of Lopez, but we manage to make our way around the rocks, find the finish line and cross it a little before 5 o’clock, putting an end to 21 hours of excellent racing. We’ll correct into 3rd place in our division, behind Emma and Madrona, both skippered by Olympic medalists. After a burger and a couple beers at the Brown Lantern, Peter and I crash into our berths. In the morning a thick fog covers the marina. Many boats have arrived in the early morning hours after spending a night out on the race course, in the fog, and quite a few have retired, with only 5 out of 11 in our division finishing.