Fleet Captains Report: Nov '13

posted Dec 15, 2013, 8:47 PM by A Rice   [ updated Dec 15, 2013, 8:47 PM by PacificNorthWest MultihullAssoc ]
Season’s Greetings NWMA Members - 

RTC 2013 has come and gone and while it won't go down as a typical Nov weekend of sailing in the PNW, it will be remembered by many, for the exasperation and frustration of trying to make the most in light air, opposing currents, with some nice sailing tossed in.  Our story aboard Alii Kai started in Anacortes on Friday afternoon.  I had Pete McGonagle and Ray McCormack aboard.  Pete and I sailed together at Kings Point and he is now a professional captain and partner at Swiftsure Yachts.  Ray McCormack was a referral from a FB post looking to crew on a fast multihull for Northern Century this past summer, and drove up from Vancouver. WA.  I had checked in with Jim Thompson of Danger Zone and he was heading over early Friday to spend the night on the hook in the Islands. I would like to make it over to West Sound one of these years, but scheduling the crew hook up was proving too challenging.  As in previous years, we went with the easy and familiar by visiting the crowd at AYC on Friday evening and following the parade to Lydia Shoal early Sat a.m. is familiar.   Commodore Vince DePillis (Freda Mae) had sailed from Shilshole to Port Townsend on Thursday with lots of breeze and hooked up with John Hulburd (Impulse) in Port Townsend. The two had a nice sail across the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Friday, and other than the Coast Guard boarding of Freda Mae as they entered Guemes Channel, I believe their delivery was uneventful!

We arrived at the start on Saturday a.m. with plenty of time to evaluate the flood tide that was roaring up Rosario Strait.  There was just enough breeze from the NE to overcome the flood tide and sail away from the line, but you didn't want to turn for the start too early.  The multihull fleet started with all the big IRC boats. We had a conservative start and thought we would clear Dragonfly on port who was still rounding the committee boat, but as soon as they ran parallel with the current, we chose to yield to the starboard tack boat and were forced to tack to port.  Next time I will ask if I can cross. While we knew the major current flow was in the middle of Rosario Strait running towards the north tip of Lummi Island, we ignored our game plan and continued to sail towards the Orcas shore attempting to convince ourselves that we were keeping pace with those boats out in the main current. The current chart indicated a large back eddy on the north side of Lawrence Point that was of some concern, but we were committed once the Peapod Rocks were abeam of us.   As time went on, those boats farthest right won out big time and we were relegated to deal with the back eddy at Lawrence Point.  The fleet was split with Dragonfly, Freda Mae, Danger Zone and O'Benannas in the lead pack and Blue Steel, Alii Kai, Blue Lightning, and Impulse at the back of the pack.  Impulse and Blue lightning did well to catch up from a 25+ minute deficit having experienced unknown issues, where the current kept them from being able to cross the starting line with the rest of the division!

Image curtesy Jan Anderson

Visit JanPix to see this and other RTC pictures.

There were plenty of boats in front of us to show us the most favorable "current lane" and every time a mass of air came from the ENE, we hoped it would catch us up to the leading boats. Unfortunately, the puffs were not strong enough for us to keep pace with, and the rich got richer, while we "sea" sawed back and forth with the boats close at hand. As we started to see boats disappear over the horizon, the tide was starting to ebb, and we were forced to start pondering time limits.  Could we make it to the 1/2 way mark at Alden Point on Patos Island?  As we neared the SE tip of Matia we watched a few boats behind us, including Blue Steel, move forward in what appeared to be a southerly breeze between Orcas and Matia. We were miffed at their "strategy", until I read this report from Nige Oswald, skipper of the F32 Blue Steel ... 

"Because we were doing so badly and getting swept west of Matia, we figured that one last flyer can’t hurt as we were getting to the point of not being able to make the half-way point in time. We thought there would be half a chance of some current relief to go between Puffin Island and Matia as the tack back out into the channel would end up with a SSW vector.

There was a small reef/spit on the west end of Matia leading giving shelter from the current so we followed that up on Port with the aim (ha) of getting some speed up to cross it and tack.   One of the guys, Mike decided to camp out on the sprit to get as much warning as possible of rocks and somehow lost his concentration at some point and slipped off.   As we were only going about 2kts through the water and 0 over the ground, he managed to grab hold of the bobstay and hang onto it, and then one of the other guys helped him up. (He was wearing a dry suit too so was fine).

We are (unfairly) blaming him for us not making it through as we got swept back and never had another chance with the same wind/speed.

What did we learn?  

1. Don’t fall off the damn thing (it really is quite easy to lock yourself in)

2. I guess if you are really paranoid about safety during the day while going 2kts, he should not have been there but I am not in that camp.
3. If he hadn't done it, we persuaded ourselves we might have snuck through and been within throwing distance of the Lagoon cat, possibly slightly less demoralizing.

4. If he hadn't fallen in and we had managed to scoot through with that first (best) attempt, we would not have had to try the second time and consequently would not have smacked the nice clear carbon dagger board into a rock.  (I will be taking the mast down and dagger board out this weekend.  I can’t believe it looks pretty but was not vibrating too much on the Sunday when we were sailing pretty fast).

5. Don’t allow a MOB to happen or you will need to air all your bad choices on this forum.


Once that first boat radioed in that they were retiring for the day, like Lemmings running off the cliff, we spent the next 30-45 minutes listening to most of the boats around us report to the race committee that they were retiring for the day.  Since it wasn't raining, we were not cold, and there were still a few competitors waging war with Mother Nature, we stood fast.  In spite of the fact that we lost close to 1/2 a mile of forward progress, parked up off the shore of Matia, we eventually noticed a dark line moving towards us from the west and north.  Was it more current or wind? Turned out to be wind and our fate of being the last boat to retire was sealed.  We sailed to weather in adverse current and 5 kts of breeze with the screecher, eventually leaving Matia behind.  As we passed "Danger Reef" off the NE shore of Sucia, we noticed a boat that had run aground. Others who had already retired were going to attempt to spare them a long night, all alone, on "Danger Reef"

It was the best breeze of the day as we rounded Alden Point at 1640 and took off for Turn Point at 9 kts over the bottom.  We were definitely delusional in our thinking that the breeze would hold, maybe increase, and we could possibly make it around Turn Point on Stuart and finish in Roche by 1800.  After passing the light on Skipjack and watching our speed over the bottom slowly disappear with the wind, we finally accepted our fate and at 1730 fired up the outboard, hooked up the auto helm and headed for Roche Harbor.  We arrived to find out that the free beer was long gone, but the band was in full swing. We grabbed a quick drink at the bar and headed towards Friday Harbor for a meal and a quick nights rest before part II.

Sunday dawned with broken skies and a more positive outlook than expected.  We watched the monohulls who chose to gybe along the shore for current relief make large gains on those who chose to seek more breeze farther off shore.  Our biggest tactical error may have been not checking the wind report out in Haro Straight and the Hein Bank buoy, but as the day wore on, I believe it would have been a moot point!  While we initially did well maneuvering amongst the larger IRC boats, it became apparent that the speed differential out in the strait was much greater than the current relief we were getting.  No doubt the large inbound container ship may have wished for better timing as the entire fleet was strewn across her path and 5 blasts from the ship's horn indicated that she had plenty of targets in her path.  We saw Dragonfly, Blue Steel, Blue Lighting and Freda Mae streaking across the horizon and when we finally left the shelter of the shore, we crossed with Jim Thompson and Danger Zone. I believe Jim was double-handing for the weekend and as usual had Danger Zone in hot pursuit of the larger Multis.  In fairly short order the entire fleet was on port gybe heading for the 1/2 way mark at Iceberg Point.  We had slowly sailed away from Danger Zone and some of the bigger monohulls by the time we passed the mark boat off Iceberg Point. However, the wind began to lighten and several of the IRC monohulls started to overhaul us as we changed gears from the chute, to the screecher, and finally down to the jib. We were sailing close hauled as we rounded Davidson Rock for the final leg up Rosario Strait and the finish back at Lydia Sholes. In spite of the hobby horse chop, we seemed to make gains by getting into the middle of the strait versus those who tacked for the Lopez shore. The ebb tide started to flow with the 5-8 kts breeze smoothing out the water, and we had the majority of the fleet to our left in very pleasant conditions. We left Bird Rocks close to Starboard and then crossed tacks with the schooner Martha mid channel again, attempting to ascertain which side was favored.  We saw the J-160 Jam do very well against the other IRC boat by choosing the right side, however we chose the left and the eventual current relief along the Shore of Blakely Island.  I now wonder how much water may have been coming out of Thatcher Pass such that Jam had made out so well.  After hard tacking the back eddy along the wall of Blakely ... tack, tack, tack, now tack again ...  Our forward progress halted as we got to the torrent of water pouring off the wall just north of the green can G "11".  It was just after 1400, we thought we could see the finish line as we were less than 3 miles from Lydia Shoal, I believe we had our time on Danger Zone, and while Dragonfly and Blue Steel were nowhere to be seen, Freda Mae and Blue Lightning were, er, ... well,  here is how Vince described it .. 

"Blue Lightning was staying West up the straight.  We were well east, and saw that the Fast Monos were crawling up the shore of Cypress; we faced a choice—continue up the East shore, or cover Blue Lightning.  We decided to cover.  We got swept into a wind and current trap along the Blakely shore, and we never got out.  Part of it was we kept getting these little sucker puffs that conned us into thinking we could avoid the painful process of sailing to Lummi in order to get enough north to make the Lydia Shoal buoy. It was the mother of all current and wind holes - Brutal!"

For us, we crossed the channel to seek the visible wind, and after a few tacks and not making any real forward progress, the pain we would endure for next few hours was becoming apparent.    Eventually Danger Zone, along with several other monos sailed up to and around us on both sides. Blue Lightning finally escaped the purgatory they had sailed into and as the daylight faded fast, it was Danger Zone, Alii Kai and Blue Lightning all finishing within 60 seconds of each other. Within site of the finish for the 2nd day in a row, Freda Mae did not make the time limit. Unlike the "moral victory on Saturday for Freda Mae, I believe Sunday was the opposite except for maybe Danger Zone :)

With a little help from fellow f-boater, Bill Bouman, Alii Kai was back on the trailer and ready to travel by 2000. Having not had much social time with my fellow multihull sailors as a result of "too much time on the water", I checked in with John Hulbird and his crew Eric and Piper aboard Impulse who had just tied up in the marina.  Our little gathering proved to be a nice close to the weekend as I could share a well needed sigh of relief for the completion of another RTC, and a  debrief of the weekend from another F boaters perspective. 

For any of you interested, the Southern Sound Series kicks off Dec 7th with Winter Vashon, and sport a race a month through March!  Hope you all had a lovely time with family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday, and may the holiday season of December bring you much love and peace, and the beginning of a wonderful new year.

Go Fast and Sail Smart,
Doug Barlow - NWMA Fleet Captain.
F-28R  #49  Alii Ka