Posts tagged storm

Chicago-Mac Wrapup

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.

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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.

Idefix Arrived Bundaberg

Idefix has finally arrived in Australia. There’s a problem with the wiring for the HF modem so I apologize for the previous update posting late. If you’re interested in me digressing on a bunch of topics, you should just scroll down and read it.

Being only a few hundred miles from Bundaberg, I felt that it wasn’t worth the time to troubleshoot the modem wiring to get a weather update. Because Shirley was somewhere between sea-sickness and actual illness, I had been hand-steering almost continuously for the last two days, with only a break here and there. The last forecast had shown mild winds for the rest of the trip. On Sunday, a line of convergence clouds obscured the horizon to the south-west of us. I knew there was a zone of convergence, but didn’t expect it so close. About mid-day, lightning started flashing in the clouds, which were clearing getting closer. At nightfall the clouds were almost on top of us, and around midnight we sailed into the thunderstorm. Lightning was almost continuously flashing all around us, but there was surprisingly almost no thunder. I tried not to think too much about what could happen if we suffered a direct strike. More worrisome was the fact that we were at precisely that distance off the coast where freighters like to cruise when we were surrounded by rain and the visibility dropped to only a dozen feet or so. But the only thing that hit us was heavy rainfall. I took cover in the cabin and steered the boat with our rope contraption, until the downdraft hit us and the boat heeled over dramatically, pinned hove-to with the jib aback. I ran back out to the tiller in the pouring rain and straightened out the boat, heading due south for a bit. The wind then veered another ninety degrees and I jibed and pointed the boat back at Australia, making six and a half knots. Just as the seas started building, the wind shifted another sixty degrees and started easing. By the end of it all I was completely soaked and getting cold, so I hove-to and changed to dry clothes while Shirley made me hot tea. We somehow managed to avoid the other storm cells, and around dawn we sailed past Sandy Cape and into Hervey Bay. The land is so flat here, and the water so shallow, that we had to stand off far enough from land that we couldn’t see any of it. Only about 3 or 4 hours later did the first sign of land appear: “The Hummock”, the only hill in Bundaberg. By early afternoon we had completed our last ocean crossing of this trip and were docked at the marina, which is a little hike away from town, and cleared in with customs. The boat is confined to Bundaberg until the importation paperwork is completed, which will hopefully take less than a week.

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