Round the County 2017

posted Dec 2, 2017, 3:17 PM by PacificNorthWest MultihullAssoc   [ updated Dec 2, 2017, 3:22 PM ]
Start at the ending.

 Couple miles north of Shilshole, 7pm, a week after the race.  Cold, but not raining.   Dying wind,; adverse tide.  Johnnie watching for logs, Frodge is steering, I am standing next to the shrouds staring into the dark, looking for traffic, trying to see if the Meadow Point buoy is getting any closer.   It is, but not very fast at 3 knots over the ground. 

No talking.  Rustle of water at the bow, planes lining up to land at Seatac, a train headed south past Blue Ridge.  Remembering so many returns to Shilshole-- in hot sun; in an indigo dusk; after a 30 mile spinnaker run, or a brutal slog of a motor.  With these guys. 

We get to the dock, and tiredly congratulate each other.  We sailed well, all the way from Anacortes in 11 hours, in winds of 5 to 30 knots. Up wind all the way.  We reefed and unreefed so many times I lost count.  We are beat, but proud to have completed the adventure.

For us, round the County is an ADVENTURE.  I guess for the folks who have done the Van Isle 360, or the R2AK, it’s no big deal. It still seem like a big deal to us, because it is 5 or 6 days of sailing in November, when the days are short, the winds are strong, and the rain is cold.   We have gotten stuck in Port Townsend on the way to the race, unwilling to cross the Strait in the teeth of a forbidding forecast.  We have torn sails, and gotten stuck in Anacortes.  We have failed to finish, the time expiring in sight of the line.    We always sail there and back, often budgeting two full days up and two days back for the “delivery”.  For us, it’s not an easy delivery--  two guys drinking hot chocolate, as the diesel pushes them along regardless of wind and tide.  We sail, because we have to sail, especially now—  our new 6 horse outboard is not going to push you into any real weather, and sailing slow is much preferable to listening to its drone. 


It was a 35 knot pounding at Round the County that inspired me to set up a bullet proof reefing configuration—installing two deep reefs in the main, an inner staysail, with check stays to support the staysail.   We have it pretty much dialed in now—we put one reef in the main on the second day starting at Roche, while we were in the starting sequence, and didn’t miss a beat.  That was quite a start, with the pin right up against the shoal, and a rapidly building southerly.  As we hardened up and headed out into Haro, we could see boats flogging their mains, and heeled way over.  Dragonfly was ahead of us as usual, and caught a big gust.  Windward hull went WAY up, and then splashed down—I was sure they were going over.  Pat said later it was no big deal, and for him I’m sure it wasn’t.  Guy has ice-water in his veins. 

I, on the other hand, am a chicken.  I reef early and often.  The guys are so used to it now that they are ready for the reef even before I call it.   You don’t necessarily lose a lot of speed with a good reef—if the sail plan is balanced and sail shape is good, you can even make better progress.   My set up is not totally perfect yet, because I still spend too much time on the foredeck corralling the big jib and fixing jams in the staysail furler.    This year, coming across the bottom of the islands, in a very short sharp seastate, I was airborne with jib halyard in my teeth at one point- and landed hard on my knees.   Old guy like me, needs to spend as little time on the foredeck as possible.  Gonna replace the furler with a more robust unit, and gonna rig a down haul for the jib.   It is important enough to me that I plan on going back to a steel forestay with bronze hanks, because it is much quicker to drop the jib with that combination than with the soft hanks and Dux forestay. 

But man, once you get that staysail set up, it is like training wheels. Boat slows, pounds less, is totally balanced.  In the upper 20s, you can put in the second reef in the main.  And just chill.  In relative terms. 

So to me, the single most important safety precaution you can take, before adventuring, is to dial in your reefing. 

A boat you build.

We started dead last on Saturday.  Multihulls start with the fast guys and they are all amped up at the start.  I just want to stay the hell out of everyone’s way.  We had a minor collision this summer on the race course (our fault) and I never want to hear that sound again.  Ever. 

And yet, we finished pretty well towards the front of the overall fleet (14th out of a 100+?)  at least in terms of elapsed time.  Johnny keeps saying “you don’t even know how fast your boat is” (referring to the replacement of the beams and floats).  Part of which is just to say “if you would just delay the reef a bit, and put up the spinnaker a little sooner….”   And of course, he is probably right. 

So I am super happy that Super Freda seems to have an effortless extra gear.  I never get bored of watching the lee float knife though the water, riding high, the spray sliding effortlessly aft, undisturbed by ugly chines, parted cleanly by the streamlined nose of the front beam.  But as we pounded brutally into the short chop on Sunday, slamming so hard my teeth clench, I stayed alert for the sound of ripping carbon, watching for cracks in the beams, looking for unanticipated movement.  Kept thinking about whether I would have time to radio for help if the boat starts breaking apart.   I steer aggressively into the waves, pointing up into the wind as we go up, rotating the boat away from the wind as we crest, hoping to land in the trough at an angle.  But the waves are so short, this often does not work.  Makika caught use while I was going slow, trying to preserve the boat, approaching the entry to Rosario strait on Sunday.  They were flying full sail, 4 guys on the windward float, no issues. 

To tell the truth, once we got into the strait, and the wind started dying, it took me a good 20 minutes to finally put up the spinnaker.  I was physically and emotionally wrung out from working the foredeck, and worrying about the boat.

Far as I can tell, so far, the Super Freda is totally solid.

Sleep.  The delivery up to RTC was pretty easy this year.  First day from Seattle was light to Point No Point.  I was on the phone downstairs dealing with work.  Missed the orcas, which was a bummer.  But by then end of the day, I had started to relax, and I slept like a baby on my narrow hard settee, barely hearing Frodgies thundersnores.  Adventuring is good for sleep.

Mistakes.  Friday, we sailed too close to some rocks off Allan Island, pushing too hard in light air and a strong adverse tide.  We sailed right over Alden Bank on Saturday and got stuck in the kelp.  On Sunday, we misjudged the approach to the finish line and just barely eked across the line as the wind died.  I get really angry when we make a mistakes like that.   They are mistakes of inattention--- of insufficient foresight.  They are fundamental seamanship mistakes.  A great sailor is always thinking ahead, always considering the invisible forces of tide and wind, always considering what might be under the surface of the water.  That emphasis on foresight, on thinking about the invisible, applies to the boat as well—how old is the gas?  Is there a chafed spot on the reef line for the second reef?    Did I remember the Loctite on the new reef cleats?    It’s endless—and no wonder I don’t look at the phone, or read, or daydream--- it is full on attention—and still we make stupid mistakes. 

Every year, I get a little better, but not near as fast as I would like.  I resent getting old, not just because of the aches and pains, but because I wonder if I will have time to become the sailor I want to be.  Seems like I’m running out of runway.

After we finished on Sunday, the miscalculation weighed on me for a bit.  But we made it, we finished, and we did ok.  Third in class on corrected as it turned out.  We didn’t get swept like that other time, we didn’t have to sit in our own private wind hole and watch other boats finish.  I got over it.  Shortly after we finished, the wind came up and it started to rain, and so we had our hands full getting back to Guemes channel.  In the channel, it was dark, the wind died again, and it was pisssing a cold hard rain.  Our little 6 horse was flat out for what seemed like hours.  We got to the motel exhausted, must have been 7pm.  Dinner and bed.  All mistakes in the past, already thinking about the morrow.  How to get back to Seattle and when.  Too much wind predicted for Monday.  We make the seamanlike call—to Kristin, who graciously agrees to come pick us up.  A mistake avoided.

So what?  I spend a lot of money on this hobby.   I get all wound up about it, I conceive of these adventures in heroic terms.  I can’t sleep the night before a heavy air day.  I read books about it, I spend hours and hours and hours learning how to make shit, and how to splice, and imagining further improvements. I take pride.

 But to what end? If I look at it wrong, it seems like self-indulgent play acting.  The drama contrived, the stakes low, the learning of no interest or use to anyone except maybe a couple other white-bearded fellow “hobbyists”.   I hate that word.  Hobby. 

But you know, I can’t be thinking like that.

It really was an adventure, if a relatively small one.   An adventure that I can handle.  It really was spectacularly beautiful, and that beauty cleared my mind of low and obsessive thoughts, if only for a time.  It really was a renewal and a deepening of the 20-year friendship between me and Johnny and Frodgie.

Those things are small in the great world, but in the context of my life, they are large.  Essential.


So, that’s it folks, my thoughts on Round the County 2017.