Archive for June, 2010
Read Part Five.
I awake in my berth at 08:00. I realize I’ve slept through my timer, and am slightly panicked that I might have lost a lot of miles to my competition in the last four hours. As I climb on deck though, I see that the boat is still moving about 5.5 knots under main alone. Perhaps the other Olson 30 drivers I talked to, who doused their chute at the first squall and went to bed, had it right. I’ve been exhausting myself trying to get ahead, and it seems to have worked, but I am in dire need of a good night’s sleep. It’s morning now, and there is not a squall in sight, so I hoist the chute, then make breakfast before checking in with the rest of the fleet. I’ve made good distance on the fleet, but Ronnie is not on the air this morning, which frustrates me, since I have been half expecting his faster boat to suddenly hit good winds and pull a fast one on me. I wonder if he slept in, or is dealing with a rigging problem, or perhaps something worse… For the first time I dare to calculate my ETA: July 4th, 05:00 PDT (02:00 Local). I’m not really looking forward to the possibility of coming in at night, especially given how exhausted I’ve been, but that’s still a long ways off. Four more days of solitary non-stop ocean. Four more days of being confined to this glorified surfboard, rolling on the waves, banging my head and limbs every time I turn around. Four more days of constant rushing water, screeching autopilots, and creaking rigging. Four more days without walking, without smelling anything other than the sea or my own sweat, without hearing a voice that hasn’t been stripped of its humanity by oscillators and filters, without seeing a human face. Four more nights without solid sleep.
I settle into my berth for a nap, but am awakened several times by the boat rounding up and broaching. The wind has picked up to about 20 knots, and speed is keeping between 8 and 10 knots, often more, but the swells have grown and keep knocking the boat off course. There are two swells, one from the East-North-East, which the boat surfs on easily, and the other from the South-East, which rolls the boat onto its beam, throwing it off course. The autopilot is slow to react to the rolls of the boat, occasionally allowing the boat to round up enough to broach. I was hoping for a restful day after my exhausting night, but spend most of it hand steering, or going about my chores while keeping an eye on the autopilot, ready to jump to the tiller and keep the boat from rounding up. I rinse some of my cushions and lay them out to dry in the cockpit, but they get doused with seawater when a couple waves break on the back of the boat. Thankfully the waves are helping the boat gain speed, and I see the speedo hit 14.3 in a surf.
While it seems that there might not be a lot to do on a small boat at sea, I manage to always be incredibly busy. My paramount task of course is to keep the boat sailing fast, trimming and changing sails. I start the day with some hand steering to get a feel for how the boat is sailing, then put the autopilot on to make breakfast, copy the fleet’s morning positions, chat for a while with the other skippers, and make an entry in my log. I go back to steering after check in, then clean the dishes and make lunch. In the afternoon, I tune the radio to the weatherfax frequencies, and hand steer the boat while the faxes come in. The autopilot interferes with the HF radio, so I have to turn it off for several hours at a time to get clear weather pictures. After this is done I analyze the weather, plot positions, and update my strategy. If conditions allow I’ll take an afternoon nap. Then I have to make dinner, check in with the other boats for the evening, compare positions again, make an entry in the log, and decide a strategy for the night. On top of all this there is boat maintenance, fixing chafed rigging, cleaning, refilling my water bottles from the tanks, shooting pictures and video, and many of the other small tasks that keep the boat going in an orderly fashion. All this work, and the sense of solitude, isolation and humility caused by the presence of the ocean, help to clear my mind completely from the mundane thoughts one has ashore. It’s impossible not to live in the present of my situation, to be completely focused on the task at hand. Clarity of thought is something I have always loved about sailing, and now I feel that my mind is almost rid of the non-sailing world. There are times when I can reflect on the past, or think about my future, but with a detachment that is not possible when one is not surrounded by a thousand miles of ocean.
By evening check-in I’m very tired again, and Ronnie mentions that he’s going to douse his spinnaker and go under main alone for some sleep. This sounds like an appealing idea. I decide to hoist my #4 jib and pole it out. The boat barely slows down, averaging 6.5 or 7 knots, and still surfing frequently up to 10 or 11 knots. Down below, the sound of rushing water, waves slapping the hull, and the groaning autopilot are almost deafening, but they reassure me that the boat is running like it should, and I feel I can finally spend a quiet night. By morning I’ve made 85 miles towards Hanalei, only having to get up once when the boat was knocked beam-to by a large wave, and couldn’t get back down with the jib backwinded. I switch back to the spinnaker at dawn, and the boat is again barreling down the swells on the edge of control. My ETA in Hanalei is now July 4th, 0:00 (21:00 Local).
Read Part Seven.
Read Part Four.
Over the next couple days, I make big gains on Warrior’s Wish, adding 25 or 30 miles to my lead for each 12-hour period. Ronnie is two degrees of latitude to the North and having a difficult time with little wind. I empathize with him, as a couple days ago I was the one stuck in light air while everyone else was moving, but the wind filled quickly for me. Part of me wishes Warrior’s Wish and Idefix were sailing in the same conditions so we could have a boat-for-boat race. Ronnie and I formed a friendship in the week preceding the race, and although we have different backgrounds, we share a bond in our love for competitive sailing. We have both put the last year of our lives completely into this race. We are both twenty-somethings racing 30-foot ultralights, and we’re both keen on having some good competition. I have more sailing experience, but Ronnie has sailed this ocean before, and I know he’s been spending a lot of time practicing on Warrior’s Wish and other race boats, whereas Idefix has hardly left the dock in recent months. Ronnie suffered horrific injuries as a soldier in Iraq, but has the incredible confidence, strength and stamina of a 25-year old Marine who has just rode a bicycle most of the way around the world. I am somewhat exhausted from months of hard work, but have managed to keep up a decent exercise regimen for the last few months, so I am by no means in poor shape. Ronnie’s Mount Gay 30 is a modern and powerful boat with lots of sail area, but my Olson 30 is significantly lighter, and easy for one person to handle. It would be a good battle, but for the moment I’m thankful that I’m in the lead with good wind.
With my growing lead on the rest of the fleet, it dawns on me I could be in the running for first on corrected time, not only in my divison, but for the entire race! Before the start, we were each handed a binder with the division breaks, handicaps, and tables in which to enter each boat’s position at every check-in. I’m looking at my binder now, doing some calculations, and identify Saraband as my closest competition. Dave has been pushing the Westsail 32 very fast, and he has the second-highest handicap in the fleet. I’m about 200 miles ahead, but owe him 58 hours. I make a guess at our average speeds, and figure that if I want to finish comfortably ahead of him, I need to have a 365-mile lead. At the rate that my lead has been increasing, it seems like I could barely achieve this by Hanalei, but I’m going to have to keep the boat moving fast.
The winds have been progressively lightening up and shifting from north-easterly to easterly. In the early morning hours of the 29th, my nights become interesting. I am overrun by a squall, and the wind picks up to 20 knots. The boat is moving nicely, but as the wind shifts I am slowly getting lifted up towards my self-imposed heading limit of 280 degrees. I really need to jibe, which would put me on a more direct course to the finish and get me away from the zone of light winds behind the squall. But the night is very dark, the boat is rolling on the swells, the wind is shifting frequently, and I’m terrified at the idea of jibing my big spinnaker in these conditions. I could douse the spinnaker and re-hoist on the other jibe, but that’s double the workload, and would slow the boat down enough that I’d inevitably end up stuck behind the squall. So I sit tight, watching the conditions, and trying to build up my courage for the maneuver. I’m now getting close to the edge of the squall, and the wind is starting to lighten up. Eventually it drops to 15, and I leap up to the foredeck and start the jibe. This is my first jibe with the spinnaker net up, and I’m a little unsure of how to handle it, but I eventually figure out a method that works without tangling anything up. The jibe goes smoothly, and I head back into the squall, but I’ve wasted too much time hesitating before the jibe and end up sailing into the forbidden zone behind the squall. The wind immediately dies, and I am stuck chasing zephyrs for hours. I eventually oversheet the spinnaker a bit to keep it from hanging limp and go to bed. I’m woken from my dreams around 04:00 with the boat broached, pots and pans crashing across the cabin, spinnaker flogging. I jump into the cockpit to straighten things out, then put on my rain gear and hand-steer the boat across the squall before getting stuck in light air again until morning. The alternation of squalls and holes is exhausting, and I end up making only 61 miles towards Hanalei through the night.
The 29th turns into a hot day, and the trades are still weak. There is no refuge from the sun, and I haven’t been using the sunscreen diligently enough to avoid a few burns. I used up the last of my loaves of bread this morning for breakfast–still good after 10 days at sea! The trades pick up during the day and I get some good video of the boat surfing in the trades. This is what I’ve been waiting for: steady breeze, hot air, sun, warm, clear, blue water, and beautifully long swells. Like giant dragonflies, flying fish come out of the water ahead of the boat and draw long, graceful curves high over the tops of the waves before plunging back into the water. They seem to often come in pairs, flying in close formation like fighter jets chasing each other over mountains. By evening check-in I’ve managed to make a respectable 80 miles towards Hanalei in 12 hours. I’m now an impressive 121 miles ahead of Warrior’s Wish, still in weaker winds on its more northerly track. To the South, Solar Wind is sailing in good wind, but 230 miles behind, and I’m confident my lighter boat can stay ahead. Saraband is now 265 miles behind me, so I need to gain another 100 miles on her. With Hawaii 675 miles ahead, it’s not an impossible task, but it will be close.
After my experience with the squalls and broaching the previous night, I decide I need to stop sleeping down below at night with the spinnaker up. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to break my circadian rythm and sleep during the day, so my remaining option, besides striking the spinnaker, is to sleep in the cockpit, hoping a squall will wake me before the boat broaches. The Olson 30 cockpit is not a particularly comfortable place to lay, and I want to be able to see the squalls coming from astern, so I eventually settle on a spinnaker bag in the front of the cockpit, with my legs hanging over the traveler and my head on the companionway step.
From my new “berth”, the squalls can be seen for dozens of miles in the light of the full moon, bright, towering clouds trailing a dark shadow of rain below them, appearing out of thin air, ballooning into monsters, wreaking havoc on an otherwise benign sea, dissipating, then reforming again, moving alone or in single file, in columns, encircling me, trying to cut me off, plotting my demise. I open my eyes every once in a while to keep an eye on them, often having to extricate myself from my uncomfortable hole in the cockpit and adjust course to keep from being run over. By 04:00 I’ve realized I can’t keep this up all night. I’m groggy and sore, can’t get comfortable enough to sleep, and my brain is no match for the squalls and the unsettled winds they leave in their wake. I’m ready to admit defeat, douse the spinnaker, leave the boat beam reaching in a Southeasterly wind under mainsail alone, crawl into my berth and set the timer.
Read Part Six.
Read Part Three.
June 26th marks one week at sea. Despite the chilly morning, I figure it’s about time I cleaned up a bit, so I fill a bucket with seawater and shave, then splash myself, soap myself down, dump the bucket of cold ocean water on myself, and rinse off with half a gallon of fresh water. Of course, that afternoon it gets hot and muggy, and I wish I’d held off on my shower until later in the day. The autopilot is doing a fine job of keeping the boat on course at speed, so I spend most of the day rinsing the salt out of my clothes and setting them out to dry. I’ve only used 5 or 6 of my 28 gallons of water, so I consider doing laundry, but decide to hold off for a few more days (I will eventually give up on the idea of clothes altogether). By evening I’ve made up 5 miles on Warrior’s Wish.
I wake up at 04:00 on the 27th to find that I slept through my timer. I haven’t had any problems with squalls yet, so I’ve been leaving the spinnaker up at night and sleeping in 30 to 60-minute spells. Fatigue is starting to get the better of me, though, and it seems that I’m not hearing the timers anymore. I’ve also moved into the port quarterberth. It was on the lee side during the windy reach, so I didn’t use it because I was trying to keep my weight on starboard, and the berth was wet from spray coming down the companionway. It’s dried out now, and I favor it because the noise of the autopilot on starboard is deafening, whereas I can barely hear it on port. What I am hearing, though, is a knocking against the hull, close to the rudder. I make my way to the cockpit and feel the tiller. Vibrations confirm something is caught in the rudder. The boat is moving over 7 knots despite the fouling, so I decide to wait until daybreak to clear it. An approaching squall changes my plans, though, and I end up dousing the spinnaker and backing down the boat until the mystery object, likely a plastic fishing float, floats off in the darkness. I take advantage of the break to fix one of the links in my spinnaker net. The net is just a couple strips of webbing, rope, and luff tape that fills the foretriangle to keep the spinnaker from wrapping itself around the forestay. It’s a tangled mess when not in use, but works perfectly once hoisted. With the spinnaker back up, the boat accelerates quickly, with a noticeable improvement in speed. I hope whatever was stuck on the rudder had not been on there for too long. I have a new worry though. The rudder shaft seems to be making a new groaning sound when I turn it under load. I’m beginning to be a bit paranoid now that I am 1000 miles from land, and am worried that the fiberglass rudder shaft might be cracked. I’ve been talking about it to Paul on Culebra. He used to own a Santa Cruz 27, an almost identical boat to mine, and his rudder shaft once cracked at the head. The nuts on the tiller bolts have also been coming loose and making annoying popping noises, so I’ve been tightening them every other day.
I get an unexpected surprise at the morning check-in. I have made up 30 miles on Warrior’s Wish, and am now leading by 3 miles. It looks like Ronnie is not getting the good wind I have to the South. I am broad reaching in 17 knots, on course for Hanalei, and moving fast. The day turns sunny and hot very quickly. I find a small flying fish in the cockpit, and later notice some larger ones on the foredeck. I feel that the rudder noise is getting louder, and decide to investigate. The head is slightly loose, and the shaft is slipping a little. I douse the spinnaker, let the boat round up into the wind, and remove the tiller head. There’s no sign of cracks in the shaft, so I put the head and tiller back on. I’m a little more at ease now, and hoist the chute back up. Once the boat is moving again, I prepare some sauerkraut and sausage to celebrate my passing the halfway point. In the afternoon a tropic bird flies a couple circles over the boat before disappearing.
Sailing day after day on a featureless ocean leaves me kind of disoriented. I’m used to sailing on the confined waters around Seattle, surrounded by hills, trees, houses, and mountains. Sometimes I think of the clouds as hillls, and the clear skies between them as a lake. I end up trying to make landmarks out of the clouds, but whenever I look back at my wake, the clouds I was looking at are gone, and different ones have taken their place. The shadow of the spinnaker moves over the boat, and I am convinced for a while that I’ve just sailed under a bridge. It’s impossible for me to think on the scale of the Pacific Ocean.
Read Part Five.
Read Part Two.
During the day, the wind turns to a very light breeze, dotted with intermittent puffs, with big shifts that get the boat going 7 or 8 knots, but only last about 10 to 20 minutes. These are challenging conditions, and I have to stay on my toes all day to take advantage of each gust of wind. As night falls, the puffs keep coming, and I know it’s going to be a long night. The boat will sit for up to a half hour moving at a snail’s pace, then a puff comes through and I have to react quickly to keep the sails trimmed and get the boat up to speed. By 04:00 I’m exhausted, and the yerba mate I’ve been sipping (the only caffeine I allowed myself on board) can’t keep me awake. There are no more puffs of wind to be found, and I douse the spinnaker and let the boat drift under main alone until daybreak.
At the morning check-in, I’m elated to find that my hard work paid off and I made up my 16-mile deficit on Warrior’s Wish, then pulled an additional 10 miles ahead. But I’m completely drained from the long night, and the wind is completely dead, so I spend most of the morning sleeping. I awake to find the boat bobbing on a sea of glass. The water is a beautiful cobalt blue. Plastic objects float all around me: a coke bottle, a fishing float, a small crate. All have mussels and anemones growing on them. I fill a bucket with water, strip my clothes off and wash myself down, then dry myself off in the sun. In the afternoon the wind starts to fill from the northwest. It plays with me for a while, coming and going, and I spend most of the day hoisting and dropping the genoa. It’s an old kevlar-mylar laminated sail, and it’s become rather fragile with age, so I drop it in the calms to avoid it slatting against the rigging in the swells. Nevertheless, sections of mylar are peeling off of it. I hope the sail will make it to Hanalei, as I’ll be needing it on the trip home.
At the evening check-in I learn that Warrior’s Wish is back in the lead by 10 miles. I’m disappointed, as I thought we were sailing in the same conditions, but Ronnie is reporting 5.5 knots to my 0.0. Suddenly I think I’ve made a serious mistake in selecting my route. The forecasts pointed to the wind shutting down on the whole course, then picking up slightly more in the southern part than the north. Could they be all wrong? During the night the wind shifts to the southwest. Well, this is unexpected. I’m sailing to Hawai’i on port tack, close hauled, when I should be on starboard tack, broad reaching. But I keep the boat pointed at Hanalei, and she moves at a decent 6 knots. I spend much of the night trimming the sails to the ever-changing conditions, and by 03:00 I am too exhausted to pay much attention to the pod of dolphins playing around the boat, and go to sleep.
I spend most of the 24th close-hauled with the #3 jib. In the evening the wind dies and finally turns back to the north, so I re-set the reaching spinnaker. All these sail changes are exhausting. Over the last 24 hours Ronnie has increased his lead on me to 33 miles, and I’m still going quite a bit slower than him. I’m hoping that the wind will turn to the northeast and pick up before he gets too far ahead. I spend another night trimming the spinnaker, but can’t stay up past 03:00 and end up sleeping through my alarm, waking after sunrise to find the boat sailing quietly along at 6 knots.
The 25th is a turning point in the race for me. The morning is markedly warmer, and I spend some time sunbathing, before digging through my gear to find a Hawaiian shirt. The boat is on a beam reach with the spinnaker up, sailing a decent 6 knots in 7 knots of wind. Ronnie and I had been discussing weather information at the last check-in, and since he had access to high-resolution weather data, he advised me to not venture too far south, as there seemed to be an area of lighter winds ahead. This fits nicely with sailing high to keep the spinnaker full and the boat going fast, so I’m heading due west, or slightly north of west, for most of the day. My only trouble comes in the afternoon when the topping lift bridle on the spinnaker pole breaks. It was severely chafed and I should’ve replaced it before the race. I douse the spinnaker and re-set with the backup spinnaker pole, and take the other one below to fix the bridle, a ten-minute job. Around evening, the wind has picked up to 15 knots and I’m growing impatient, so I bear off and hoist the
big spinnaker. I’m soon surfing at over 8 knots, pointed straight at Hanalei, happy as a clam. At evening check-in I’ve managed to reel Warrior’s Wish in by 4 miles, leaving me 40 miles behind. In the beginning of the night, I spot a heavy barrier of rain in my path ahead. It seems to be perfectly stationary, and I wonder if I’ll get a gust of wind when I sail through it, like I would in a tradewind squall. I’m soon in the downpour, and the wind immediately hits, sending the boat on a 10-knot surf. I’ll have to keep an eye out for squalls from now on, but the road ahead looks clear, and the boat seems to handle fine under autopilot with the big chute up, so I manage to get a fair bit of sleep. I’m now tuned in to the boat enough that the rig shaking, or too much heel, will wake me, but I’m still setting a kitchen timer at 45 minute intervals. At morning I find the guy almost completely chafed through by the unfaired end of the backup spinnaker pole, so I douse the spinnaker to change back to the old pole, and shorten the guy. I’ve managed to make up an extra 8 miles on Warrior’s Wish, and the boat is surfing handsomely on small swells in 15 knot winds.
Read Part Four.
Read Part One.
Dawn comes and thankfully it looks like the sun is going to come out and provide some degree of warmth to my cold, wet body. At morning check-in I hear that Mirage has returned to Sausalito and Southernaire is restarting. Warrior’s Wish leads me by five miles. Sitting by the radio jotting down positions wreaks havoc on my balance and I have to lurch for the companionway again to throw up. In a couple minutes the sea will have washed it all away. I think back to Mirage. For some reason the thought of returning to San Francisco had never occured to me. I had been so relieved after the start, because in my mind it symbolized the end of a year of preparation work, and the beginning of a journey that would one way or another end back in Seattle, with a stop in Hanalei. But I’d never considered that something could cause me to have to turn back to San Francisco. Hearing of Mirage turning back makes me realize that I’ll really have to baby my boat through the next couple days. I decide to baby myself first, and lie inside the boat for a while, with a sliver of sun shining through the hatch onto my wet foulies. The noise inside the boat makes it hard to relax. Waves crash on deck and slap against the hull, the mast seal has failed and the deck pumps against the mast, my fresh fruit, stowed in a gear hammock in the bow, is bashing itself against the hull. At noon I eat some hot oatmeal, the only meal I think I can keep down, then go on deck and hand steer for a couple hours while my computer downloads weather faxes off the HF radio. The autopilot tends to interfere with the radio, so this will turn into a daily routine. I’m thankful for the sun, which warms me somewhat, despite the wind and ice-cold spray. I sail past a sunfish which is also basking on the surface despite the waves.
By the evening check-in Warrior’s Wish is 19 miles ahead, and over 60 miles to the North. I’m a little worried, but decide I should rest for the night so I can push a little harder tomorrow, after I have a clearer view of the weather ahead. I summon all the intelligence left in my cold, wet brain to scrawl some gibberish in my logbook: “N34d51′ W125d51′ DTF1920 225T 7.7kts. wind 300@20ish. lots of bouncy. had some pasta. fruits crushed.” I set the autopilot and let it drive all night while I curl up in my berth, shivering constantly. I have a hard time understanding how people can spend so much time, effort, and money putting themselves through such a miserable time. The ones I really can’t figure out are the guys on Hecla, Harrier, and Dream Chaser who are not on their first race. No one ever told me how unpleasant this part would be, but they knew this was coming! At daylight on the 21st my teeth are sore from chattering. I’ve been headed a little further southwest than I want to, because the wind is still from the northwest. I could head up a little bit, but that would put me further into the wind and slow the boat dramatically. I get more weatherfaxes showing the wind dying down on the north side of the course in the next few days and decide to head a little further south. The wind has weakened a bit and I can put up my big genoa, which gets me up to 8 knots easily. While up on the foredeck I spot a basketball-sized jellyfish. I’ve warmed up a little, despite the overcast, and finally get to change into dry clothes. My feet have been in wet boots for two days, and look like deep-sea creatures. I let them dry out for a while and decide it’s warm enough to forego the boots, which will never dry anyway. It’s a pity I took my spare boots off the boat before the race. I’ve managed to stay 15-20 miles behind Warrior’s Wish for the last couple check-ins. The wind is slowly lightening up, but every time I consider putting a spinnaker up something happens to dissuade me: a big shift, a gust of wind, a wave breaking over the cockpit… I settle for the #1 and eventually shake out the reefs in the main. I get a decent night’s sleep, but at three in the morning I’m awakened by the autopilot beeping and the boat rounding up. I leap into the cockpit to find the autopilot drive unit has failed. It’s been driving continuously for 12 hours on an aggressive gain setting. I leave the boat up to her own devices for a minute and crawl down below to dig out a spare and lower the gain. I have a third spare should this one fail, but it worries me a little that a brand new drive should fail so quickly.
On the 22nd the conditions lighten up and I finally get the reaching spinnaker out to find that I can point the boat at Hanalei on a beam reach. I spot my first albatross and flying fish. Ronnie misses the morning check-in, which annoys me, because comparing our distances is my great motivator. We’ve been informed that Bandicoot has returned to San Francisco with radio problems and may restart. Mirage has withdrawn from the race. That leaves only Warrior’s Wish and Taz!! in my division, and I have a 100-mile lead on Taz!!. A quick glance at the other boats shows that Dream Chaser and Saraband are only 19 and 28 miles behind me, respectively. I owe Saraband 58 hours on corrected time, so Dave is doing quite well. At the start I had picked him out as my favorite for winning the race on corrected time, so I’m not surprised.
Read Part Three.
It’s a beautiful morning in Tiburon. I wake up around 06:30 after a rather poor night’s sleep on the boat, and walk up to CYC’s beautiful century-old clubhouse for a shave and a long, hot shower, my last for a while. I check the weather and it looks like it’s still blowing in the 30s off the coast. My dad arrives and takes me out to breakfast. I contemplate my plate for a while, thinking about the gale and breaking waves awaiting me outside the Bay, and how I’m going to have to work hard to keep this food down. We return to the boat to find a small crowd on the dock – mom, who’d gone on a last minute shopping trip for me, and aunts, uncle, cousins from the Bay area, here to wish me farewell. Since yesterday there’s also been a steady flow of well-wishers, mostly sailors from the SSS and CYC, walking the docks. Some of them have done the race before and are curious about which route I’m going to sail. Frankly I’m not so sure at this point, and I’m too distracted by the rush of last-minute preparations and the thought of surviving the first couple days outside the gate to think much about it. I’ve been planning on reaching as high as comfortable across the gale to get out of it fast, heading a bit south of the rhumbline, and assessing a couple days out to see if I should stick close to the rhumbline or duck further south.
It’s nine o’clock and things are definitely getting frantic in the small marina. We were warned that boats would be towed out whether they were ready or not, and the first tow would be at 09:30. I manage to say goodbye to a couple of the other racers, pull out the sails I’m going to be using (#3 for the start, #4 for outside the gate). 09:30, Hecla is being towed out. Run the sheets, put away the mainsail cover. Ronnie hoists his mainsail and sails out, and everyone in the marina applauds. I cheer him on, envious. Sailing out of your slip for an ocean race is a pretty classy move, and I’d like to sail out, but I’m not ready. (Ronnie later told me he wasn’t ready either, but Don Grey, the owner of Warrior’s Wish, untied his lines, pushed him off and told him something along the lines of “get your main up, you’re sailing out, you pussy!”). I hug my family, and already the CYC’s launch is coming up to me and it’s time to go. One last goodbye, I tell mom not to worry, and we’re off the dock. This time I’m the one the whole marina is cheering on, and I feel like I’m in way over my head.
I get the main up and set the whaler loose, put on the autopilot, and slowly begin to wind down. I have over an hour to my start, and it’s a beautiful morning. For the first time in a year, I don’t feel rushed. This is it, there is nothing more to do, and really nothing more I can do. In an hour I will be starting a 2120-mile singlehanded ocean race. Whether or not I am ready is irrelevant, I am here. Alea jacta est.
I set about to explore the starting area. There is a sharp wind gradient – it is blowing 12 knots or so by Angel Island, perhaps 8 knots at the pin end of the line, and markedly less close to shore. Out on the Bay I can see whitecaps, and boats heeled well over. I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of putting up the #3 for the start, but I want to get ahead as soon as possible, and figure it’s worth the effort of a sail change. I also want to look sharp and powered up for the Latitude 38 photo boat. This is a decision I’ll regret for the next four days…
There is also a strong ebb current flowing through the start area. It will be great to have it carry us out the Golden Gate quickly, but for the time being I’m worried it’ll carry me over the start prematurely. I have a bad memory of a windless Summer Vashon Race where I got carried down the course before ever crossing the start line.
“Transpac Race Committee, good morning, this is Idefix seven four two niner six, checking in.”
“Idefix, SSS Race Committee. Good morning Adrian, and have a great race”.
I never realized an hour could go by so fast. Fenders and mooring lines are stowed. Jib is hoisted and sheeted. The starting area is starting to fill with racers, photo boats, and onlookers. John Denny sails by on his Hobie 33, Por Favor. He will be starting the Pacific Cup in a few weeks, and I socialized with him a bit on the dock in Alameda. I give him a wave. Ronnie sails by, and I yell out “Dude, let’s sail to Hawaii!”. His main is reefed. Good idea. I take a reef.
“This will be the five minute warning for Division A.” A countdown, the gun sounds. I set my race timer, and start positioning myself for the start. At the skipper’s meeting, Bob Johnston, the race committee chair, gave us the “guys, this is a 2000-mile race, don’t be over early” speech, and Ronnie and I have been talking trash and joking about how we’re going to nail that start line. How do I do this again? I haven’t started this boat in a race all winter. I think back to laser racing on Union Bay, and move over to the right side a bit to give myself plenty of room for a starboard tack reach down the line. One minute left. In the excitement of the moment I forgot about the wind gradient and I’m stuck in light air. I’m going to be late. Oh well. The gun sounds, and I drift languidly towards the line. Bandicoot and Taz!! have nailed the start, and are sailing off to Hawai’i. Warrior’s Wish is drifting a couple boat lengths behind me. The under-30 crowd has just been put in its place by the greybeards. Eventually I get a bit more wind and cross the start, about a minute late. Thirty seconds later the boat is heeled over twenty degrees, spray flying, and I’m trying to keep her upright for the photo boat.
This is only my second sail on San Francisco Bay. The first was two days ago when I brought the boat over from Alameda. I’m falling in love with this place. I’d like to bear off and sail around Alcatraz, and Angel Island, and go anchor in a cove somewhere where I can smell the eucalyptus trees, and spend the day watching the Bay and the city. I round a headland and the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view, and the sight of the bridge brings me back to the very obvious task at hand.
The radio crackles. Division B has started. I hadn’t given much thought to the other divisions, since I wasn’t really expecting to do all that well on corrected time, but it would be a major embarrassment for a boat from another start to catch up with me before the Gate, and I tell myself I need to hold them off at least to the Farrallones. The boat is moving through the chop surprisingly well, and I manage to catch up to Taz!!, the smallest boat in our division, before tacking to stay in the center of the channel. No shipping traffic in sight. Race Committee reports an outbound container ship crossing the Gate in an hour and two Japanese Navy Vessels inbound and expected in a few hours. The wind is a steady 18 now, there’s plenty of chop and I’m wishing I had the #4 up. The Olson 30 can handle plenty of wind, but it’s designed to race with 5 or 6 big people hiking on the rail. Sailing her shorthanded means carrying way less sail area than usual to keep her on her feet, unless I’m going downwind.
The boat sails out of the sun and into darkness. We are under the bridge. It’s so high up, it’s as if it weren’t really there. I’m in the center of the span, right where I want to be. Taz!! is not far behind me, and Warrior’s Wish is rounding the headlands, maybe a mile behind. Boats from the other starts are thankfully still out of sight. Only Bandicoot is ahead of me. The cat-rigged boat is showing its prowess in this lumpy beat, and I worry that it will only be faster when we start reaching. Meanwhile, I’ve taken in a reef, but I’m still overpowered, and decide it’s time to switch to the #4. To do a peel, I have to set it up while I’m still on this tack, and a rocky, unfamiliar shore is looming ahead of me. I crawl up to the foredeck and fasten the tack, feed the sail, bend the halyard. The boat plows into a wave and I commune with the ocean. The foredeck of an Olson 30 is a wet place in chop, especially when there is someone’s weight up there! I’m wearing foul weather gear, but I forgot to seal up the wrists and my forearms are damp. Back to the cockpit. Hoist the sail. Tack. Back to the foredeck to douse the old sail. Another wave. This time my foulies had rode up one of my ankles and my boot fills with water. Stuff the sail down the hatch and crawl back to the cockpit. I’m thankful for the handrails I installed on the foredeck and cabintop before the race.
Another tack, the Japanese Navy ships are coming through. No problem, I have time to clear out of the channel. Has it been an hour already? Time is flying by, but I’m so focused on the race and navigating in these unfamiliar surroundings that I’ve completely lost track of it. Behind me, Warrior’s Wish has caught up to Taz!!, and I’m expecting him to do the same to me soon. The Mount Gay 30 is a beautiful machine, with a deep fin & bulb keel, and I expect it to be much better at powering upwind through these waves than my Olson 30. Hopefully the upwind leg will be short. By now, I am thoroughly soaked by waves, the dampness has spread inside my foul weather gear, and I’m getting cold. I kick myself for starting with the #3 and doing a sail change on the foredeck right after the start. I’m 2 hours into a 2-week race and half my cold weather gear is wet.
I spot the first set of channel buoys that mark the passage across the San Francisco Bar. I’ve read about all the dangers of the Bar and know I want to stay in the channel. There is no traffic, so it will be easy, tacking from buoy to buoy. Bandicoot is doing the same ahead. Hecla passes me down the center of the channel, leaping off of waves. I wave to Jeff, wishing I too could be dry and comfy (Jeff later assured me he was neither). I sail past the weather buoy we were warned about in our weather briefing, narrowly miss one of the channel markers, and set off across the Gulf of the Farrallones. I consider easing the sheets and bearing off onto a close reach for a little more speed and comfort, but I know I should get away from the shore as fast as possible, which means staying close hauled for a couple more hours. The steep chop of the Bar is slowly turning into longer ocean swells, which helps a bit, although every third wave or so sends spray all over the boat. The wind is blowing 20 to 25. I go down below to warm up a bit, and decide I might as well change some of my wet clothes out. By the time I’m done, the motion of the cabin has overwhelmed me, and I lean out the companionway hatch and let loose my breakfast into the cockpit. I suddenly feel much better, and lean back into my berth for a rest. This is my first bout of seasickness in over 20 years of sailing.
By the time of the evening check-in, I am close reaching WSW at 7 knots, and have cleared the Farrallones to the South. I am a little nervous about getting the HF radio working, since I’ve only used it a couple times, but manage to make contact with Jeff on Hecla, who will relay our positions to Race Committee for the first few days. The other boats report their positions. I am two miles ahead of Warrior’s Wish, and pleased that I’ve managed to hold off Ronnie for so long. I can see his tall rig in the swell behind me. Bandicoot and Mirage are missing at the check-in, and I’m disappointed, because I’m sure they are doing well and would like to know where they are. I last saw Bandicoot before sunset, to the North of me, slightly ahead. The only boat to report ahead of me is Hecla. I figure this is not a bad start, but I have a rough night ahead. The wind is showing no sign of abating, and neither are the waves. Occasionally one will break on the boat, soaking me and spurting water down the companionway into the leeward berth. I am freezing cold, and my feet are still soaked, since I have no change of boots. I can barely keep any food down, and snack on a cereal bar. I’m having an easier time than the autopilot keeping the boat going straight, so I spend much of the night hand steering, occasionally retiring to the cabin for a short nap. I’m keeping an eye on the faint light that is Warrior’s Wish, and in the pre-dawn darkness, I see him cross behind me, headed straight for Hanalei. Part of me wants to head up to cover Ronnie, but this isn’t a match race, and I know that I would probably lose in a boat-for-boat battle. From talking to Ronnie before the start, I know he’s been considering a rhumbline course. It sounds appealing, but the weather charts seem to indicate the wind will shut down over the whole course, and I’m worried the rhumbline, while shorter, might have less wind overall. I’ve decided to head a little further south, so I can have slightly stronger wind in the middle third of the race, which will help keep the boat surfing. This more southerly course early on also results in a slightly deeper (and thus faster) reach for the first 2 or 3 days.
Read Part Two.
I had a fitful night on the boat at CYC. There’s enough swell in the harbor to make the boat tug at her moorings, with all the accompanying creaking and groaning, and it was quite a chilly night at the mouth of the Bay. Of course, this is ridiculous in comparison to what awaits me the next couple days, with 25 knots and 12-foot seas on the beam, and cold ocean water breaking over the boat, and inevitably getting into everything.
The day started with some intense prep work in anticipation for Idefix‘s final inspection. I walked over to Adam Correa, a very cool dude racing a turbo’ed international folkboat liveaboard, and bummed a couple garbage bags off of him. A couple minutes later, Rob Tryon, race co-chair, walked up to me and asked me to produce some garbage bags, and I showed him the devices. He joked that he now had to seal my propeller shaft, and I told him he’d have to go to Seattle for that, at which point he shook my hand and wished me an awesome trip to Hawaii!
The rest of the day was spent dealing with some small rigging tasks, putting loc-tite and seizing wire on all the shackles, taping up all the pins, and lubing the tracks. There was a big fancy lunch and send-off party where lots of nice things were said, then a skipper’s meeting where we all went over the rules, then some more rig prep, last-minute provisioning, and dinner with my parents.
One of the fun things I did today was wander the docks and take pictures of some of the other boats and skippers. Here’s my direct competition:
That’s it, start at 11:05 tomorrow!