The start of Chicago Yacht Club’s 105th Race to Mackinac was a pretty impressive sight, with over 300 boats milling around waiting for their start sequence. Spar Wars III got off to a decent start in Section 7 and chose to take the left side of her fleet, hoping for a bit of a thermal effect along the Wisconsin shore. After an uneventful night we were still within sight of most of our competitors when the wind started to die. This began about two and a half days of bobbing around in zero to three knots of wind, blazing sun, and clouds of vicious horseflies and mosquitoes, with intervening periods of light breeze, barely long enough to put up an adequate sail and get a few precious boat lengths ahead. On Monday evening, exhausted, short on potable water, and seeing we were far from being able to put enough of a lead on our competitors to score a respectable place (we were the second scratch boat – and the smallest in the race), we turned into Boyne City, the boat’s home port.
I was a little bummed to miss out on the Mac’s finish, which is arguably the coolest part of the race: reaching through the tight notch of Grays Reef with boats all around, then running down the Strait of Mackinac and under the gigantic bridge to the little island still resolutely stuck in Victorian times. But I did enjoy the great hospitality of Spar Wars’ skipper Bruce in Boyne City, then caught a ferry to the island to deliver the J/33 Retriever back to Chicago. Inevitably, the wind blew right on the nose for a couple days, but after a couple relaxing stops in scenic Northern Michigan, we had an uneventful trip home. Some of the boats that left a little behind us got hit by some big thunderstorms, but we only saw a few showers with no real wind.
Despite the annoying weather, this Chicago-Mac was an enjoyable and valuable experience. I got to crew with some talented sailors, meet some very interesting and friendly people, and see a part of the country I didn’t know at all. And I spent a fair bit of time observing the formation of thunderstorms and tracking them on radar. Although we avoided almost all of them, the sailors on both Spar Wars III and Retriever told me stories of 100-knot wind bursts in past Macs. I consider 35 to be about as much as I ever want to see on an Olson 30, so 100 sounds absurd.
I’m now on a plane to California to look into work opportunities, and the sailing continues next week with a Portland-Seattle delivery.
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.