Whew. While alot of my new friends are either in Johnstone Strait or preparing to enter the Seymour Narrows, my race ended a few days ago, in Victoria.
It’s been a few days, I’m back in Seattle, and have finished my first shift in the shipyard after living on the Minnow for basically a week. What an experience. I honestly want to point at the team that put the event together and say, ‘Bravo’.
My race week started on Monday. While ‘We sail with the tide!’ sounds awfully romantic, my departure was more ‘We sail once we drop the kids off at school!’ as such, I didn’t get thru the locks and on the salt until about 10:30 or so. It was a fairly uneventful trip to Port Townsend; winds from the north meant i ended up motoring most of the way. On the way, the scenery was amazing, reminding me of one of the many reasons I love being out on puget sound in a small boat. Here’s a shot I got of George, surveying Foulweather bluff in the distance.
I ended up pounding into the wind on the motor, pulling into my slip around midnight. a quick shower and a change out of my drysuit, and I slept soundly.
I awoke in a magical place; the docks were abuzz with anticipation of the race to come. Hands were shaken, friends who had only met online over Google video chat and Facebook met face to face for the first time. Teams I’d only ever heard of indirectly appeared thru the marina entrance. In the area of the marina where I was at, one could feel that there was less of a competitive sprit, and more of a feeling that “we’re all in this together”. (Ironicly, The boat next to me in the slip would turn out to be the winner of the 10k. That boat’s a rocket ship. Seriously.) I did take a walk over to the linear dock, where Team Tritium and a few other teams were berthed. Over there, Those guys meant business.
The next two days were a whirlwind. Flip-cup at the Captains’ Lamb roast. Meet and greet the public on the docks. Safety inspection. Emergency runs to West Marine for a forgotten radar reflector. making arrangements with Team Golden Oldies meets Ghost Rider to transport the 1953 Johnson outboard to Victoria for the trip back.
Me and the crew woke bright and early, and took a photo.
Obviously, only one of us is a morning person.
I got up, got my Ocean Rodeo Drysuit on, and was ready to go at 4:00 for the 6:00 am start. There were strong southerlies we’d have to fight to get out of the marina. Only one problem: I was blocked in by large catamarans. I had hoped to get out early so that the current would help take me to the start, and to give me some time to maneuver, However because i was blocked in, I ended up swept past the edge of point wilson after a tangle with team sistership. I found myself beating against the current and the wind, trying to claw my way around the point back to the start line, and not making much progress. According to the captain’s meeting, we had an hour to cross the start line before the door closed and we would be disqualified.
before long, I was screaming along, upwind, trying to get around the point to make the start line and not making much progress as boats flew past me in the opposite direction.
After half an hour of this, a RIB pulled up along side and asked if I was having troubles. I explained the situation, and they seemed disheartened at my predicament. a few minutes later, they pulled up alongside and shouted they had talked with raceboss on the radio, and I should consider myself started.
Flip the boat around, full canvas, and wind at my back into the point Wilson tidal rips. Two or three boats pulled up alongside to take pictures and shout words of encouragement. My plans were to make as much westward progress as I could while the southerlies lasted, then as the wind turned to be from the west turn towards the north. before long, the rest of the fleet was slowly disappearing over the horizon.
Not long after the wind shifted, it died to a faint breeze.
Team Kelp passed me, close enough to toss a few jokes back and forth, making about a knot or so more speed than me. I yelled to George the sock monkey that they were gaining on us, as they passed. After a while, the only team I could see was Team Kracken Up as they worked their way west, hugging the coast, outlined against the bluffs east of protection island. I slipped in a mini-tack after the winds shifted. This put my track further west than pretty much any of the other boats.
Then, the wind died completely.
A faint fog in the distance made for a surreal experience. I was adrift in the straits, on a sea of glass, without even enough wind to keep the boat consistently pointed in any direction. I could not see land in any direction.
Then, I heard something off the starbord side. I turned in time to see an Orca surface twice in the calm. this would prove to be one of the highlights of the voyage.
Ironicly, I thought to myself that this was the one situation i had prepared least for. Here I was, all my gear lanyarded into the boat, in a high-tech drysuit that cost more than the boat i was on, a masivly oversize bilge pump as a crash pump to pump the boat out if it overturned, every scrap of gear in waterproof enclosures, enough emergency provisions to last for three days….. and no wind. I made a half effort at the oars, but decided that for the little progress i made for the exertion, I’d be better off waiting for weather, as i could see some off to the west and knew the forcast was for wind later.
After a while, the wind grew to the faintest breeze, not even enough to fill my sails.
I began to play with my sail adjustments, to see if I could tease any motion out of the whisper of wind. I pulled all the sails flat as the tarps they were made of, eliminating any belly or shape that could flap in the wind as the boat rocked. I took the collapsable west marine paddle that I usually used for docking and wedged the handle knob into a hatch cover and sheeted the boom against the end of the paddle, using it as a whisker pole to keep the boom locked at about 30 degrees off centerline.
I forced the boat back to my intended heading and waited. I felt nothing. I looked back at the stern and noticed… ripples. little whirlpools coming off the rudder. I checked the GPS, and to my surprise, I was making between a knot and a knot and a half in the direction I needed to go. Not much, but I’ll take it.
Time became subjective. I’d look at the radio to check the time, thinking it had been an hour, to find it had been fifteen minutes.
As the front moved in from the west, the wind grew and it began to rain. Soon I was sailing along, and I eased the outhauls and let up on the downhaul to power up the sails. I sailed for a few more hours, making good time on my heading towards Albert Head.
And here’s where I made it; my Big Mistake.
My original plan was to make as much westward progress in the morning before settling into a heading for Albert Head, then turning to Victoria when it was 90 degrees off my starboard. The thought behind this was that as the winds shifted to westerlies in the afternoon, the westward progress i made under the southerlies we had in the morning would make for a course a little more off the wind, and a more favorable point of sail once they turned to westerlies. I figured this way, when i turned the wind would be at my back, and regardless of the current I’d be able to head on in.
My Big Mistake was that once I saw that cruise ship moored next to the harbor entrance, I got greedy, and decided to cut the corner and head on in. Unfortunately, I didn’t allow enough for the current. 1.1 nautical miles from the harbor entrance, and I couldn’t make it in. I did a short tack to try and see if I could make any headway. No dice. I did a long tack to see if the wind or current was more favorable further off shore. Still no dice. At this point, Race Boss was hailing me on the VHF. The cost guard boat had already pulled along side to check on me. I relayed my decision to head for the lee of Trial island.
I figured the wind would be bunted going over the top of the low islands, the waves would refract around the island, and the current around the ends of the island would create a back eddy. This would suck me into the back of the island.
I managed to pull in and anchor about ten feet from shore in about four feet of water. I set the anchor alarm on my phone, and set the alarm for 9:30, when the current was set to change from flood to ebb. I popped open an MRE with the R2AK Spyderco Salt 2 knife all the entrants were given as a gift from Spyderco and Sage Marine.
I choose ‘Beef Patty’, as it was not quite Steak, and I had not quite a steak knife.
After a snooze, and a snack, and some noodling on Facebook it was time to sail with the current. And here’s where I had trouble. The anchor had stuck in the rocks, and I could not free it. i tried to use the sails to get a different angle on the anchor to pull it loose. No luck. While trying to accomplish this, I lost my balance and had to sit down in my cockpit. I sat right on the tiller, and broke the last six inches off. With these six inches, I also lost my tiller extension.
At this point, I had to make a tough decision. this was my only anchor on board, and I could not get it free. If I cut it, I was committed to making port tonight, or beaching the boat somewhere downwind. The wind was supposed to build as the night went on, so I was hesitant to hole up overnight.
So, I committed. I whipped out the knife, and cut the line to my only anchor.
After I pulled south off trial island, I picked up an alert from the Canadian coast guard of a sailboat aground on Trial Island. I responded, letting them know my vessel description, and that I was fine, but let them know that Team Kracken Up had holed up in Oak bay and that I did not know their status. the wind began to build.
Soon after talking with the coast guard, I realized that a freighter was barreling down on me. It wasn’t a close call, but it was closer than I like to be to these large ships. After going out for a while, i tacked and started to head Northwest, to begin my run into the harbor. The wind was growing. it was about 11:00, and dark. I had a hard time picking out the channel marker lights from the ground clutter, but figured it would be wise to head for the aft of the cruse ship docked at Ogden point, as I knew the channel into the harbor to be in that area. I turned in towards the harbor.
But something was wrong. As I tried to make progress to the back of the Cruse ship to make the harbor, the wind continued to grow. It was now blowing 20-30 knots, from the southwest. and for some reason, my compass heading kept changing. I eventually realized that the cruse ship was backing out of it’s slip, as the coast guard vessel came longside and hailed me to make way for the cruse ship that was now rotating to turn to leave. As I was illuminated by their spotlight, i put in the third reef in my main.
I eased the mizzensheet, and backed the main to swing the bow over. I could now make out the harbor lights, dead downwind. The rest of the ride in, things got… interesting. at one point, the wind pulled the mainsheet from my hand, and the boom swung around over the bow, pointed fully forward. I scrambled onto the cabin to grab a line to regain control of the main. From here on in, I had to manage the mainsail with no mechanical advantage, with just a bare line in my hand. The boat was really moving. there was so much force on the mainmast from the reefed main, the cabin roof was between a foot and six inches from the water. I had to spill wind to keep the bow up, but the more I spilled the wind, the more the boat rocked and started to show some reverse heel. if i pulled in the sheet, the rocking became more predictable, but the bow was forced into the water more.
‘The flight of the Valkyrie’ begun to play in my head.
So I continued. before long, I was past the breakwater. The wind began to ease. As I entered the inner harbor, I dropped the sails. At this point, I was supposed to row. I was tired, and it was almost 1 am. My lazyjacks had come loose, as they are set up to do instead of getting tangled up when things get rough. I dropped sail, and the yard and boom fell to the cockpit and cabin roof. i debated getting the oars out for the row in, but soon realized that even though I had dropped sail and the seas had calmed, there was enough wind that I was still making a knot or two under bare poles. I coasted up to the dock, using just my folding paddle and the remaining wind in the inner harbor. I pulled to the float. Noone was there to greet me, no cheering crowds, no bell to ring. I called customs and cleared in.
The rest of the weekend was spent in a lovely hotel, enjoying Victoria. My wife had taken the clipper from seattle to meet me. At the racer’s dinner, as a thank you to Team Golden Oldies meets Ghost Rider, I gave them their own small sock monkey from one of the Victoria gift shops.
They loved the thank you, and ‘Steve’ as he was named continued on to Ketchikan, ringing the bell when they came in 10th.
Overall, it was a phenomenal ecpriance. I spoke with sailors who sailed much higher end craft and with much more experiance, yet there always seemed to be common ground and camaraderie. Days later, as a I was in the middle of writing this I was humbled by hearing that the first place finishers, Team Mad Dog Racing, thought highly of my sucessful 1st leg entry, and talked of it after they finished their remarkable first place run.
And, thats the story. Would I do it again? maybe. Go the whole way to Ketchikan? maybe. Me and my wife have a moratorium on talking about such questions for a month to let the experience sink in.
Am I glad i did it? Yes.