RACE REPORT - Round The County 2016

posted Dec 7, 2016, 12:14 PM by PacificNorthWest MultihullAssoc   [ updated Dec 7, 2016, 12:16 PM ]
Thanks to Doug Barlow for the following:

This years 100 boat maximum was filled within 48 hours of registration going live and I am always grateful when Bob Brunius calls to remind me that if i don’t register now, it will be too late! With the boat registered and Ray McCormack already confirmed I needed to find one more crew member. Since we’d had fun earlier in the year doing the STYC Race to the Strait, Mats Elf was all in.

The weekend started on Friday with an 0830 tour of Bob Perry’s new 43 foot carbon cutter being built by Jim Betts in Anacortes. Bob is my neighbor up here on Port Susan. Wow, what an amazing project. After a major dose of carbon envy, Ray and his friend Susan helped step the mast and we launched the boat on a balmy November Friday afternoon. The Anacortes Yacht Club pre-RTC party is always a treat and the hospitality is first class. Thanks for the vegetarian chili option Stephanie and team!

With the promise for wind on both Saturday and Sunday, we headed to bed as it's an early morning to travel the 14 miles to the start at Lydia Shoal from Anacortes. The first of many fronts blew through hard in the middle of the night, and when we left the dock at 0624 there was a nice breeze blowing with a large easterly component. By the time we got to the start the forecasted 20-30 kt SE breeze was on. We put up the jib to analyze the conditions and on the first tack, the spreader punched through the leach of the jib. Why we never put a spreader patch on that big roach jib is a mystery to me! With the wind up and down, we chose to go with the full main, and hoped that the T-tear in the leach of the jib didn’t get any worse.

The tide was flooding at the start. The breeze was about 25 kts and although we were about 30 seconds late for the start at the weather end, we managed to foot off through the monohulls bad air and off to weather we went.

The breeze backed off a bit and and we wound up short tacking the Blakely Island shoreline attempting to seek current relief. We had to manage the following challenges for the first couple hours: disturbed air from the two starts before us, hanging the torn jib up on the spreader on a few tacks, wind holes, and tidal chop. We were to leeward of most of the fleet on port tack as we headed towards Lopez Pass. As we passed Kellet Ledge, which is a mark of the course off Cape St. Mary on Lopez Island, the sea state appeared to explode. The SE breeze had come on hard again, and with the ebb tide now flowing into the breeze, the sea state was like Goliath’s washing machine on turbo agitate.

With green water occasionally washing over the boat from all directions, I suggested we tuck a reef in! The crew's response was hold on this isn’t going to last.  I didn’t know if we were going to last! The conditions for the last couple of miles getting around Davidson Rock were rather extreme and we watch Mama Tried, the 8.5 meter trimaran, blast by us to weather as we all cracked off on port tack to round Davidson Rock.

We were blast reaching in the high teens with the jib, attempting to keep the bows out of the waves in front of us as we bore off towards Cattle Pass. The excitement was short lived as predicted by Mats and Ray, and the breeze started to ease off. Up we went with the screecher, and shortly thereafter to the spinnaker, as the F31 Big Broderna was coming up quick from behind. By the time we hit the ½ waypoint at Cattle Pass, the breeze had all but disappeared. The 3 faster tris in the division were all in plain site as the tactics of light air sailing took over from the overpowered,adrenalin sailing of just a few minutes earlier!

One had to pay very close attention to the lanes of breeze and current as the race progressed in the new conditions. As we passed Cattle Pass, the boats close to the SW shore of San Juan Island did the best and sailed away from us. We sailed lower than Big Broderna, and appeared to have a bit more breeze as we eventually reeled them back in, but by the time we got close to the shore at Pile Point, it was anyones guess. Mama Tried had somehow escaped in a lane of breeze, Big Broderna was clear astern about a mile, and Blue Lightning, the F31 with only Mark Gumley and Pat McGarry aboard, attempted the outside route. They eventually succumbed to the lack of breeze and negative current on the outside track and retired.  With about 5 miles to go to the finish we were trading gybes with the J125 Hamachi, as we approached Lime Kiln seeking current relief. Carl Buchan and Madrona were about a ½ mile offshore in a lane of “invisible” wind that had them come from way behind to almost 90 minutes in front of us at the finish line .. Olympians, pffttt!!!  

Although we were apparently moving through the water, it was not enough to offset the adverse current!  We wondered who was more crazy, the people on the beach standing still in the rain watching us, or we on the boat, apparently stuck to the water, barely moving, watching those on the shore. As the frustration built, Big Broderna came from clear astern, and “blew” right by us as we finally made it past Lime Kiln! We watched Big Broderna sail away from us towards the finish as we desperately tried to stay in touch. We heard them finish and took note of the time, as what little wind there was started to disappear again.

With the finish line in sight, and our breeze disappearing, several larger monohulls were coming up fast from behind bringing breeze, but it didn’t last, and then it happened!! The miracle puff from nowhere descended upon us and were were able to cross the line, wondering how close we were to Big Broderna on corrected time. We motored up Mosquito Pass into Roche Harbor celebrating with a well deserved beer, happy to have finished, knowing that many got caught out by the light air and ebb tide. As we arrived at the dock, having endured a challenging day, the trailing edge of the cold front gave way to a surreal blue sky and cloud mosaic, and a well deserved glowing sunset.

As one who is always happy to camp on the boat, RTC is one event where a warm shower and a dry space to hang out, can add to the experience.  However, at the last minute, your options can be limited. So I treated the boys to the honeymoon suite at the Quarryman Inn and we were off to the the Party Barge. It is a great place to meet up with friends old and new, share a beverage/story or three, refuel in the barbeque pit, and boogie with the band. With the kegs drank dry, we drug our jib into the honeymoon suite to dry it out for the repair and before we knew it, eyes were closed and the recharge was on.

We awoke to relatively clear skies and continued mild temps for early November. The breeze was light from the south and with the flood tide, and a downwind start, the first couple of attempts to start day two demanded a general recall. Being the small boat in our start with all of the big monohulls, we didn’t want to get caught to leeward and thought clean air would be the proper tactic. So much for strategy! We were a bit early and got too close to the big monos vying for the boat end start as the breeze was filling from the right. 

We were one of the last boats to finally get clear of the line, but with the SE breeze wafting down Spieden Channel, all was not lost. The breeze was still filling from the right, and as many boats gybed to port, things were looking good .. that is, until we realized that we needed to leave the Danger Shoal buoy to Starboard. We immediately gybed, put up the jib, took down the spinnaker and were able to squeeze around the proper side of Danger Shoal with Neptune’s Car (Santa Cruz 70) and Hamachi (J125) following our lead and close astern.

While the view of the 100 plus boat fleet in front of us was nice, it was not exactly where we wanted to be! However, it did provide us with valuable information on how to get back into the race.The entire fleet was compressing up against the SW shore of Stuart Island,along with the best breeze, and in no time at all, we were trading gybes with Mama Tried (8.5 meter rule),  the F31s Big Broderna and Blue Lightning, and the other 100 plus other boats in the fleet! Exciting, tactical sailing for sure. 

The next obstacle to negotiate was Turn Point and the open waters of Boundary Pass. With very light air and a bit of positive current, we doused the chute and ghosted around Turn Point waiting for the SE breeze to help us break free from the lee of Stuart Island.  Since we were on the inside, we had to be patient and eventually we started gliding forward. The leads boats indicated more breeze coming and it looked as though we’d have a steady, but tight jib reach towards the gap between East Point on Saturna Island (Canada) and Alden Point on Patos Island (USA). Suggestions were to stay high, maybe a bit fresher breeze, and pop the chute, but I chose to sail rhumb line since the boat was moving well.

It wasn’t long before the wind started to get light in front of us. The boats that stayed high were still moving nicely and the boats to leeward were doing the same. At the same time, the lead TP52s appeared to be tacking to port to stay in the breeze. Keep calm, this is yacht racing on the Salish Sea! Mama Tried was dead ahead of us and in the same void. One of the 31’s that had been moving well to leeward, closer to the Saturna shoreline, all of a sudden appeared to be going backwards. We stayed focused and kept the boat ghosting along as best we could, as we were all sitting on the leeward float and as far forward as possible. Eventually the breeze came back and before we knew it, we were tight reaching with the skreecher at 12 kts and finally in the passing lane. We rounded Alden Point (½ way point) with Mama Tried just a few minutes ahead of us, and no other multihulls to be seen.

Aliikai has a new carbon screecher, and when I asked Dave Calvert what its wind range was, he said that we could carry it until we got too scared .. more about that later. My previous screecher that came with the boat was only good for 6-8 kts of true wind, so we are still sorting out how best to use this new sail. With the monos able to point a bit higher around Alden Point, we stayed with the screecher and chose to follow Mama Tried on a long starboard tack towards Alden Bank, while the rest of the fleet tacked along Sucia and Matia Islands. The breeze was around 7-10 kts and and according to the current chart, the ebb current could be a bit stronger on the left side going into Rosario Strait. Unfortunately we were getting lifted and when we tacked back, it didn’t look all that good, as the breeze appeared to have gone right!

Tacking with the skreecher in breeze is still a bit of a puzzle to me. Since we can’t roll the sail going to weather with an apparent wind of close to 15 kts on the nose, here’s what we did.  We put the jib up, and when we are ready to tack, we’d roll the screecher up as far as we can, take a dive to leeward to get the rest rolled enough to clear the forestay, tack the boat, roll the skreecher out, and drop the jib! Quite a process even with three capable sailors aboard. Maybe it's time to upgrade my furler to a continuous line, larger diameter unit!

We were questioning our tactical decision as the next time we located Mama Tried, she had dramatically increased her lead on us. She tacked onto port off of the Lummi Island shore, clearing the Sisters off the SE corner of Clark Island and appeared to be heading for Lawrence Point on Orcas and the finish line. As the day afternoon progress, it seemed as thought there was more pressure closer to the Orcas shore. Mats and I were thinking that we were done with the screecher. As we approached the lee of Clarke and Barnes Islands we prepared to roll it up and drop it on deck. What happened next is forever imprinted upon my brain.

We called for the dive to leeward just as we were hit by a puff. The boat went into a crash stop as the leeward float dove hard into the sea. I was thrown across the cockpit and when I looked up, all I could see was the cold depths of the Salish Sea. I thought to myself, this is what it feels like to pitch pole a trimaran. Time slowed way down with the prospect of a very cold swim, when I spied the main sheet which had been travelled down to leeward. I reached over and released the main sheet. It seemed like an eternity, and as the boat pivoted into the wind and the leeward float was once again paralleling the surface of the water, and the boat dropped back onto the water with the right side up. Ray, who had been driving, took the biggest hit from our flawed maneuver. Having been on the weather ama, his forward progress toward the ocean was halted when his chin impacted the cockpit coaming. I don’t know how far we came to completing the unthinkable, but I am grateful that someone was looking after our well being .. sort of!

With Ray being a bit shook up and injured, we sent him below with pressure on his split lower lip to stop the bleeding. We got the screecher furled, assessed that we were all ok, and continued on our way! It was still an absolutely stunning November Sunday to be on the waters of the Salish Sea. We had a lovely breeze, sunshine with a few clouds and mild temperatures, as the positive current added to our forward progress around Lawrence Point.

As per RTC tradition, getting across the finish line at Deer Point can be a challenge.  The only breeze appeared to be in the main channel of Rosario Strait. It was absolute glass along the Orcas shoreline to the finish, so we we continued going to weather wondering what our next tactical move would be. As we started to overstand the finish, the windline started advancing towards the finish line and with fingers crossed, we tacked for the finish line. We relaunched the screecher, and started passing a few more monos as we approached the finish line. Our spirits were lifted when we saw a trimaran still leaving the finish area. Could that be Mama Tried? We crossed the finish line a few minutes after 1600, not quite sure how we ended the day, but grateful to have survived another RTC in challenging conditions. The sail back to Anacortes was heaven; flat water, 10-12 kts of breeze, a balmy sunset, and a couple of cold beers as we roared to weather at 8-9 kts.

When we hit the dock we sent Ray off to seek medical attention. We took some time to decompress and refuel before derigging the boat, loading her on the trailer, lowering the mast and taking a deep and gratifying breathe. Thanks to Mats Elf and Ray McCormack for helping Aliikai sail to a 2nd in the multihull division and an 11th overall in a fleet of 105 PHRF boats.