It was a small but mighty fleet of Lasers at Bellingham Yacht Club’s Dale Jepsen One Design regatta this year. Jorge Yanez, the winner of the DJOD last year and the winner of the Laser Radial Masters Nationals event in the Gorge this year was there; the winner and runner up from 2015, Sascha Smutny and Doug Honey were there; and Perham Black, fresh off his win at the Bellingham Youth Regatta was there. The top of the 9-boat fleet was so evenly matched that places changed at nearly every mark rounding.
Mike Johnson lead the regatta after two races with a first and a third for four points, followed closely by Yanex and Black with five points each. Yanez jumped out after that with two firsts in races 3 and 4, establishing a five point lead on Black. Undeterred, Black went hard right on the last beat of the last race, jumping past several boats and winning the race. Yanez finished 4th to save the regatta win by one point. If he had been 5th, the tie breaker would have gone to Black.
Third place went to Mike Johnson with only 4 points separating third through sixth places. It is for this kind of tight racing, often overlapped with other boats at every mark rounding and multiple boats arriving at the finish together, that we keep showing up. There were no protests, no starting line abuses, and only a few capsizes. Racers compared their ideas after each race were clearly glad to be lucky enough to be having fun among friends.
Regatta chair Mike Poulos, race officer Jonathan Knowles and their terrific volunteers, did a great job under difficult circumstances to choreograph five well-run and fair races. All races occurred on Sunday due to no wind on Saturday. Saturday had been the regatta organizer’s nightmare. Just enough wind to leave shore that went flat at the first warning, and then came back up 10 minutes after all boats got back to the parking lot. So on Sunday, everyone was elated to see a sunny 8 to 12 knot southeasterly materialize from the glassy bay – less than an hour before the first warning. The breeze held nicely right up through the last race and then died.
It is interesting to note that only three participants at the event this year were also at the event last year. Some could say we lost the others but the positive perspective says we gained several new people. Let’s build on that momentum and have some great events this fall. We could have a start at Corinthian’s PSSC (October 7-8) and Turkey Bowl (November 18-19). Would it be crazy to imagine 15 Laser’s on the starting line?
Ed. Note: I’d love to post something on the FJ and 505 fleets, so if anyone wants to share some words or photos, send them along and I’ll get them in. Also, thanks to Jay for the Laser report. No, indeed, 15 Lasers is not too many to expect for for PSSC and Turkey Bowl, especially if the great young sailors show up. Maybe both full rig and Radial fleets? Note this video from the Junior Olympic Regatta.
SYC Coach Cameron Hoard Reports: Seattle Yacht Club hosted the 2017 North West Jr Olympic Regatta. The racing took place August 26-27, on Shilshole Bay. This year the event had 93 boats with 112 Jr sailors competing for gold in one of the largest Junior regattas in the NW. Two days of perfect sailing, with 8 races sailed in 8-15 conditions on Puget Sound, plus an excellent Salmon dinner on Saturday, and fun party with raffle prizes and piñatas!
I’ll echo what SYC sailing director Brian Ledbetter has said, that much of the success of junior sailing in the area can be attributed to Andrew Nelson of The Sailing Foundation.
It’s worth noting that the tremendous turnout and enthusiasm was for traditional classes: FJs, Vanguard 15s, Laser Radials and lots of Optimists. Kids turn out in droves and have plenty of fun in those “old” designs!
It’s fun to track Fujin‘s triumphs, even if we don’t get to see her around the PNW. The Bieker-designed boat skippered and owned by Greg Slyngstad is turning a lot of heads, and not just because of her unique bows. Brad Baker of Swiftsure Yachts was once again onboard and shared a few thoughts. Could we be losing Brad to the multihull world? Hopefully not completely. I’ve borrowed a couple photos from Facebook to illustrate the latest Fujin triumph. – KH
It was a great race for Fujin. We set the course record. The sailing was about as good as it can get for the boat and It was a race I won’t forget, that’s for sure. We reached all the way around the course, at times with some awesome sustained speeds in the mid to high 20s. After the start, we did only one gibe and that was at the mark. No tacks! The wind speed ranged from a low of about eight knots up into the low 20s, with a few higher gusts.
The thing that was perfect for Fujin was it was all reaching, spending most the time with true wind angles from 70 to 120. We sailed the 238 mile course in just over 15 hours, nearly a 16-knot average. What’s crazy about that is we had pretty good current against us for most the race, and certainly against at all the narrow passes.
Great group to sail with, I can’t say enough about Greg and the team he has assembled.
For a little more Vineyard race context, the 10 year old course record was was 20 hours, 20 mins. Fujin finished in 15 hours 7 minutes. That was 2.5 hours ahead of the second finisher, a Volvo 70, which will now hold the monohull course record. And thanks to the stellar crew for a nearly flawless effort! After two years racing the boat, we are getting pretty comfortable pushing the boat hard. The weather was ideal for Fujin with a mostly northerly wind blowing across the course in the high teens, low 20s so we spent most of the race sailing at 90-120 TWA with only one jibe at the buzzards bay mark.
Post by Charles Goodrich in Facebook: New Vineyard Race records! Fujin is the first boat to finish, just after 4 AM Saturday, breaking the Vineyard Race course record by more than 5 hours, finishing in 15:06:50 hours. Two other multihulls (Nala and Tribe) and 3 monohulls also broke the record. Congratulations to team Fujin!
The Anacortes-based Melges 24 MiKEY, skippered by Kevin Welch, finished an amazing third in the open fleet Melges 24 Worlds in Helsinki, Finland July 28-August 4. Ian Sloan gives us insights into the event and what it takes to race at that level.
I would say the primary key to success was time in the boat. We shipped our boat to Sweden in April, and sailed the Nordic Championship in Marstrand in June. We sailed six days in Marstrand and came in 4th in that event. It’s an amazing place to sail: windy and quite big seas, and it was very good preparation for the Worlds in Helsinki.
In late June we joined a group of Victoria boats for a two day training session in the Royal Roads area, the venue of the 2018 Worlds. This was a great two days of sailing where we tested a couple of new sails and got to sail on the racecourse of the 2018 Worlds.
Then in July we sailed the North American Championship in the Gorge, one of our favorite places to sail. While the conditions in the Gorge are unlike anyplace else, it is a perfect place for heavy air training. We enjoyed fantastic sailing conditions with another 6 days of sailing. During this event we continued to learn and develop our rig tune and sail setup.
You’d think that after sailing the Melges 24 for eight years we would have it figured out but it’s amazing that nothing is ever set in stone and we continue to learn more and more about getting the boat tuned and balanced correctly. We won the North American Championship beating out some great local teams. It’s really exciting to see the level of sailing here in the PNW continue to improve in all the teams. I always say, it’s not about what level you are currently at, but rather about improvement every time you sail. That’s what keeps teams going.
Two days after returning home from the Gorge we flew to Helsinki to prepare for the Worlds. In Helsinki we enjoyed five days of training prior to the start of racing. We used a couple things we learned at the Gorge to further fine tune our rig setup (of course a different boat and nothing is ever as simple as just “making it the same”!) Again, what we’ve figured out is that setting these boats up is always a moving target, and there are no hard rules how it should be done. There is always something more to get. So, in the two weeks leading into racing we had sailed 11 days. There is nothing more important than time in the boat!
I would say the other primary keys to our success were:
1) No big numbers! It was a primary goal to not have any “shockers” during the event. This is so important in big fleets. We achieved this goal, finishing the event with the best throwout of the regatta, a 19th.
2) Speed. We work tirelessly to constantly improve our speed. Speed makes the tacticians job much easier. There are always gains to be made, and our team has been extremely fastidious about pulling every ounce of boatspeed out of the boat.
3) Never, ever, give up or think you can’t make back a deficit. We were in some extremely difficult positions during the Worlds. The racecourse was very volatile a few days of the regatta, and it was very easy to get frustrated with a poor position or rough shift. We managed to keep our heads screwed on straight and keep fighting till the end, which is a primary reason we didn’t have any really poor finishes (see #1 above).
4) Preparation. We spend an inordinate amount of time going over our boat and our equipment. This resulted in no mechanical or equipment failures, which will end your regatta very quickly. Lucky Dog, a very strong US team, broke not one but TWO jib halyards on day 2 of the regatta and thus they had no chance of a top finish.
5) Dedication. Our team, led by owner Kevin Welch, is extremely dedicated to success. There is never a time we don’t think about how we can improve and how to work towards that end. We are so lucky to have someone as dedicated as Kevin to making this happen. He has provided unwavering support for our team for many years. It was very nice to see his dedication and everyone’s hard work pay off with a podium finish at the Worlds!
Our crew consisted of Kevin Welch, Jason Rhodes, Ross Macdonald, Serena Vilage,Ian Sloan and Jeff Madrigali (coach)
Looking ahead we have the Canadian Nationals in Toronto in September. Then our local PSSC in Seattle in October. In November we will start our winter season in Florida and some longer training sessions down there in the warmer climate… All this is in preparation for the 2018 World Championship in Victoria BC in June next year!
Thanks, Ian, for sharing the story of the Melges 24 Worlds. Once again, it’s great to see PNW sailors “out there” doing well and bringing those lessons home to the rest of us. Ian Sloan owns Anacortes Rigging and Yacht Services.
It’s getting to my favorite time of the year where the global weather picture starts getting really active especially in the zones where hurricanes start forming. Luckily, we don’t really have to worry about those up here. Instead, we just want to know what sort of weather we’ll have for the weekend (great) and if there’s going to be any rain (no). Then for the sailors who are racing starting tonight out of Anacortes on the Northern Century Race, they want to know if there will be wind (yes and no) or will a century be the amount of time needed to finish the race? Kidding!
As you can see from the surface charts we will have some nice weather for the weekend and for the eclipse on Monday. Just make sure you wear plenty of sunblock (always) and that you’ve got the right glasses or viewing equipment for you, your phone and your camera. And no, two pairs of sunglasses stacked on top of one another won’t cut it and the eclipse can do permanent damage to your retina and your cameras, so it’s no joke.
For boaters, the usual places will have plenty of wind. The eastern end of the Straits and the southern end of the Strait of Georgia. Gale warnings tonight in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and a Small Craft Advisory for the southern part of the Strait of Georgia from 2100 hours tonight until 1000 hours Saturday morning. Rig your jack lines before you leave the dock and get everyone into foulies and safety gear as the sun goes down. Make sure whoever is navigating knows precisely where you are when the sun goes down so there’s no confusion about the range and bearing to the mark and what the hazards are around you. It’s after you get south of Patos on the reach, beat, reach to Hein Bank that the wind will really begin to drop off and will pretty much stay that way until late Saturday afternoon in the San Juan Islands.
As usual, the tides will play a role in this race, with the strongest being Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon. Remember also that the tides in Cattle Pass at the South end of San Juan Channel are double the velocities shown below.
1930 .91 Ebb
0018 .55 Flood
0712 2.8 Ebb
1400 1.89 Flood
Haro Straits, Turn Point Boundary Pass
0121 .37 Flood
0714 2.18 Ebb
1433 1.13 Flood
The general rule of thumb for the Northern Century is the sail the shortest possible course from the start to Pt. Roberts, which means leaving Guemes to port even though you might have the ebb with you out to Rosario Straits. The problem is that you will fight a stronger ebb than if you went closer to Lummi Island.
(Click on any image to enlarge)
By the time you get to Pt Roberts the breeze should be on and you should have an exciting close to beam reach back to the green buoy at the east end of Cabbage Island just north of Saturna. In the past, if you’re feeling lucky, you might try to cut the corner and aim towards San Juan Channel. The problem this year will be that this is where the breeze will die first and if you can’t make it out of Cattle Pass by 0900 hours Saturday morning, you could be anchored for about six hours because you can expect the wind to be light and variable from 0700 Saturday morning until it finally fills back down the Straits around 1500-1600 hours. To stay in the breeze you will probably be better off to sail outside of Stuart Island and go around Turn Point. The other problem is that if you go outside of Stuart the wind in Haro Straits will be light and from the south, southeast until you get south of Andrews Bay on San Juan Island where it finally clocks around to the west-southwest. At least there will be wind and less tide than if you tried to go the inside route.
Running the High-Resolution GRIBS with the polars that I have, I have Rage, Hamachi and LawnDart able to make that gate but just barely. Do you feel lucky?
From Hein Bank to the finish it will be a pretty straight forward run.
All in all, a very challenging race on some of the most beautiful water there is in the world.
Jack Christiansen clued me into the Thunderbird (aka T-Bird) Internationals that were sailed last weekend in Port Townsend. As the owner of the Seattle North Sails loft, Christiansen gets to sail some very sophisticated boats and win big races. However, this win with skipper and brother-in-law Grant Chyz was clearly special. After all, it’s family. And a great story.
Grant Chyz sold his highly successful T-Bird Raptor 18 years ago some years after competing hard in the Pacific Northwest and winning two Internationals. Chyz won his first Internationals in Toronto in 1991 with his wife Laurie Lootens Chyz and her dad Dick Lootens aboard (along with the former owner of T-bird Tight Jeans, Sally Clark). The 1993 win was in Vancouver with Grant, Laurie, Dick and Jack. Jack is married to Ann, Laurie’s sister.
Fast forward to two months ago, when Chyz decided to repurchase Raptor and have a go at another Internationals, this time with his daughter Helen (25) and son Paul (turned 22 during regatta). Jack Christiansen filled out the crew. Helen is a grad student at UW and Paul is a senior at USC and on the sailing team.
This past week’s regatta started with practice races on Monday and a 17 (!) race series Tuesday through Saturday in Port Townsend.
Christiansen reports very close racing in the 14-boat fleet, especially for the top three boats. In the final results it was Raptor, Duane Emnott’s Thunderbaby (Emnott also built the boat) and Stig Osterberg’s Raven.
It’s super to see T-bird’s having a great regatta. It’s the quintessential Pacific Northwest boat with a great history of local design and home builds. It’s family friendly with limited crew requirements. Old boats are competitive, as are wood ones. They can even cruise! For lots more on the T-Bird, go here.
Why run a first person story from a race that was sailed a month ago in a place far, far away? Especially one we’ve covered with Brian Huse’s account of same? Well, this first person is by Paula Bersie, a shipmate of mine and a go-to at Fisheries Supply. Paula moved here from the Midwest, and this was a homecoming of sorts for her. And it’s in one of the great one-design classes, the T-10 (Tartan 10). Every year the T-10s race the 333 miles (statute) as a kind of clump, often finishing overlapped after 60 or more hours of racing. Join Paula for a three day race that includes teeth-rattling conditions, a real and necessary watch system and a close finish. As Paula says, it’s the full regale, but for those of us who’ve raced Macs or are thinking about some distance racing, it’s a wonderful tale. it’s a Here we go:
A Harrowing Mac
This… is NOT a summary of my race. It is a full regale!
The Chicago Yacht Club 2017 Race to Mackinac was certainly a memorable one. Of the 302 boats entered in the race, 99 retired due to breakdowns, injuries, or sickness. 8 out of the original 17 T-10’s on the starting line retired. That is nearly 50% of the fleet. It was a brutal marathon slog all the way to the finish line. “Why do we love sailboat racing again?” was a frequent quote heard on the rail. But in the end, it was totally worth it, and I already know I’ll do it again.
After reviewing the latest forecasts, we finalized our game plan. Head north via the east. It’s not typical to go up the east side of the lake because the weather moves west to east, and usually you want to get to the wind first. In fact, I heard very experienced people say they’ve never done it before. But given the likely weather patterns, it would put us at an advantage once we reached the Manitous.
Our start wasn’t great, but it wasn’t particularly bad either. We were trying for the boat end of the starting line to give us clear air and keep us to the east. That was pretty much everyone else’s plan too. We were closer to the boat than the pin, but we were moving too fast and needed to slow down to not be over the starting line early. We ducked around one or two boats to leeward and ended up in the second row. It was not the start we had wanted, but the Mac is a long race and 333 miles is a great equalizer for 2nd-row starts.
We spent the next 10+ hours trying to shake one of our fellow T-10’s who decided to cover us like we were match racing. It was hard to understand why they were using this tactic in the Mac. The Mac is a marathon and they were slowing both us and themselves down. Every time we went up, they went up. Every time we went down, they went down. We broke away a bit and headed more east, they followed and proceeded to match another boat for a while. Apparently, that boat yelled at them and they made their way back towards us. We managed to create just enough separation to concentrate on working our way up the lake instead of wasting energy on them, but it was an additional unexpected factor that we needed to take into account in our tactics.
The forecast called for a big wind shift to the north right around midnight. After sunset, we discussed the plan to douse the spinnaker so that we would all be ready when the time came. That way, when I went below to get some rest, I knew what to expect if the shift came early and I was called up suddenly.
Of course… I now know that the alarm on my watch doesn’t work, because it didn’t wake me up at 10:45 pm for my 11 pm shift as planned. I don’t want to be “that” person that is late for my shift. Typically someone else is waiting for you to come on deck so they can go below. They are usually tired, cold and in need of a break. Fortunately, since we were racing with 7, I was a floater and an extra hand, so no one was waiting for me.
When I got on deck at 11:15 pm, there was a small-med sized storm cell with lots of lightning over Milwaukee. Gretchen sounded concerned and asked what I thought. It was hard to tell at one glance. If it were moving west to east, we would likely be north of it by the time it reached us. We were headed North Northeast at about 7-8 knots in a southerly breeze. We decided to watch its progress. It didn’t seem to be moving very fast, but the winds gradually picked up.
Not too long after I came up, all hands were on deck. We were piled into the cockpit on a fun downwind scream. However, we knew our douse was imminent. The core of the cell was going to be just south of us, but we couldn’t escape the edge of it. All of a sudden, a big 40-knot puff hit us. With perfect timing, we dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the jib. We were screaming downwind at 10 knots under the jib alone when I announced that the true wind speed had pegged a 52.3-knot gust, which then backed down to 36 knots. John asked me if I ever thought I would say those words and I laughed that no… I didn’t ever think I would ever say those words.
Just a few moments later, around 12:15 am, I heard the DSC alarm and the radio chatter started. I heard only a few words in the high wind, “Dark Horse” and “distress”. Then I heard “Sociable” and “distress, under control”. I have a friend who was sailing on Sociable and started to get concerned. Sara went downstairs to hear the VHF better. We were still listening but hadn’t gotten much more information when another call came through. “Mayday Mayday Mayday, this is the Meridian X, we have a man-overboard“. I also heard “trimaran capsized, four sailors are all accounted for and sitting on the bottom of the boat.“Sara wrote down the GPS coordinates and I pulled up our chart to see how far away the various situations were. It turns out that they were too far away for us to help in any kind of useful time frame and with many other boats closer, we decided to press on. But we kept listening anyway just in case. We were pretty nervous for the sailor who went overboard and wanted to confirm their location. Finally, just after 12:30 am we heard that the Meridian X had found and rescued their crewmate. I can’t tell you how relieved I was and how lucky he was given the conditions. And as I learned later, my friends on Sociable were fine. They had been providing assistance to the trimaran (High Priority 2), whose small handheld VHF radio did not have much range.
After the storm, the wind started clocking a bit to the west, so we decided to leave the jib up and barber-haul it to trim the sail. It felt like we were making good time when I finished my shift at 3 am. I was seeing some lights off to starboard and wondered if it might be Michigan. When I turned on my phone to check, I magically had service in the middle of the lake! I downloaded the latest weather forecasts and checked the race tracker. We were in 1st place!
It wasn’t my alarm that woke me up for my next shift, it was someone yelling “STARBOARD!!”, getting tossed off the bench when we suddenly tacked, and then the subsequent shout of “NOT COOL, Man!” I hadn’t bothered to take off any of my foulies when I went below for a sleep/break, so I just went straight up to see what was going on. It was a completely different scene from when I went below. We were close hauled and healed over on a knife’s edge pounding through 6-10 foot waves coming from multiple directions. The wind was blowing pretty hard, averaging about 30 knots. There was another boat that had also tacked and was now on starboard and headed in the opposite direction. It was just a close enough encounter to be uncomfortably close in such rough conditions.
The next 18 hours were particularly grueling and plodding. We had reefed the main. Gretchen was very seasick and spent almost all of it in a bunk. I called waves and 30-40 knot puffs for so long, I started to lose my voice. I trimmed the main; I traveled down; I trimmed the main; I traveled down. I don’t mind big waves actually, sometimes I pretend that they are roller coasters and did my own little arm wave. But imagine being on that roller coaster for 18 hours straight. It was rough.
We generally stuck pretty close to the eastern shore. The land juts out a bit south of Pentwater, which provided some relief from the worst of the waves. In mid-afternoon, we started to notice a few boats without reefs in their mains. Gretchen was still down for the count, and our combined crew weight on the rail was pretty low. Gretchen, Sara and I are pretty small women. I outweigh the two of them by a lot at 135 lbs. Mark and John are not big guys. Peter is tall, so likely has some weight for leverage on the rail, and Tom has some muscle but is also not huge. Tom was driving for much of the time, and he was still having trouble in the puffs. But the wind had diminished a bit, likely averaging 20-25 knots with puffs maybe up to 30. We started to notice another T-10 was moving up on us. It was Monitor, and they did not have a reef in their main. We called all hands up on deck around 5:00 pm. Even Gretchen, who immediately got sick again was sitting on the rail. In hindsight, we probably should have shaken our reef out sooner, but Monitor ended up passing us at about 5:30 pm.
By sunset that evening, we were still beating upwind trying to keep Monitor in our sights. The sky had finally cleared, and it seemed like the perfect conditions to see the elusive green flash that people say happens just as the sun sets. When I blinked I saw little sunspots behind my eyelids as I intently watched the horizon. I was hoping to finally see it for the first time ever. But alas… that unicorn is still out there for me.
After the sunset, I went below to try to get a little rest. The day had been pretty rough on the boat, and one of the benches ripped out of its hinges leaving only 3 benches for crew members to lie on. They were all full. Not having a blanket, or a place to lie down, I propped myself between the two benches and fell asleep sitting up. At some point, one of my crewmates got up for his shift and I managed to get an hour sleep in the bunk. He even put a blanket on top of me. It was glorious.
When I went up for my next shift it was very dark, and there was a bit of confusion. There was a high beam spotlight making sweeps across the channel and a bunch of chatter on the VHF between the Manitowoc Ferry and a sailboat. We had also just tacked. It was to avoid the ferry. The reasons you have crew shifts in a race is because fresh rested eyes can make more sense of the seemingly random patterns. What my crewmates didn’t realize is that the ferry wasn’t talking to us; it was a different sailboat a few miles away. I saw the ferry and watched. We were definitely not in its path. There were no red/green navigation lights. It was headed away from us.
Another source of confusion is where the South Manitou buoy was. It marks the northern side of the channel heading inside the Manitou islands. You can go outside and around the islands, but it adds a lot of miles to your race. You either have to know that the wind will be significantly better outside the islands to go there or be taking a flyer to catch up. Therefore figuring out where the channel starts is important. I’m not sure why this is a difficult buoy to find, but every year it seems to be a struggle. After consulting the charts and methodically checking each light with our binoculars, we found the buoy and went inside the Manitous.
Once the drama of the ferry and finding the buoy calmed down, I had time to look up. Star gazing on the night shift is one of my favorite parts of the race. The Milky Way did not disappoint. Being so far from the light pollution of a city allows the cloudy mix of stars to shine brightly. The northern lights glowed. They weren’t the shimmering dancing ribbons that you see in pictures, it was more of a warm blush in the sky, but pretty nonetheless. There were shooting stars that lasted 10 seconds or more. I made a wish on every one.
As you navigate at night, you are constantly monitoring the lights on the water around you for boats, navigational aids, etc… When I looked to the east, I saw the strangest sight. It was a huge orange shark fin. I was like “What the hell is that?!” In my sleep deprived state, it took me just a moment too long to realize I wasn’t hallucinating, and that it was the moon rising. It was spectacular. A perfect crescent shape, it looked exactly like the drawings of the man in the moon except for the fact that it was blood orange. He was peacefully looking over us and the rest of the night was uneventful.
Once again, I was woken up at about 6:30 am by a tack, but this time it was much much slower and the boat was much much flatter. I emerged from the cabin into the morning sunlight still wearing my full foulies and everyone immediately started making fun of me, but I was still cold. There was no wind. We were moving maybe 0.8 knots (on the GPS, the speed through the water read 0.0 knots of speed) and the sun was already shining brightly. I warmed up quickly and proceeded to peel the layers off and lay them in the sun to dry. The most important of which was my shoes and socks. My feet were soaking wet and had been for about 48 hours at this point.
I find that the 2 am to 6 am shift is one of the hardest, and the crew who were awake were tired. It was very light wind conditions at that point. Sailing in those conditions requires a tremendous amount of patience that is hard to muster when energy is waning so far into the race, especially after the day before when we were beating upwind for over 18 hours. We hadn’t moved very far since I went down to sleep around 3 am. We were still just to the east of the north side of North Manitou Island. I have had the benefit of sailing with some fantastic sailors in my life. One thing I’ve learned from them is that if you are not moving, at LEAST point the boat towards the finish line until you can find some wind. We were pointing at the north end of North Manitou Island. After I pointed that out, Mark said, “Why don’t you take over driving for a while.”
I slowly turned us to at least point towards the finish line, stopped moving the tiller so much and immediately started looking for signs of where the breeze was coming from. I looked for tree fuzzies in the wind. I looked on the water to check for the tiniest of ripples. I tried to see if the insects were generally coming from one direction in particular. I paid attention to the small hairs on my face. We started moving incrementally better, but still very very slowly.
Our plan had been to stay close to the Manitous because the wind was predicted to be better on that side of the channel, but we were pointed away from North Manitou Island. I didn’t want to turn back. We were getting the faintest of ripples of wind and I just wanted to keep the boat moving. The wind looked better ahead of us and looked worse behind. Peter saw one tiny little cloud over Leland on the mainland and expressed a hope that it was a sign of an early sea breeze forming over on the mainland. It was a bit prophetic. Soon, we were getting small fingers of light wind and those little clouds started to multiply. Someone observed that those little clouds are like magic. You never see them form but you blink, and another one just appears out of thin air! By the time I gave up the tiller, we were moving around 3.5 knots towards Gray’s Reef and were ahead of the rest of the fleet by 6 miles.
It became an almost idyllic day for sailing. We had all of our gear spread out all over the deck to dry. It looked like a garage sale. It was sunny and warm without being hot. There was enough wind to keep the flies at bay and was blowing enough to keep us moving in the right direction. Mark and John, who weathered most of the steering and tactics, both got several hours of uninterrupted sleep. It was enough to brighten everyone’s spirits for the final push to the finish line.
In the late afternoon, as time inched towards sunset, the wind started dying again. We had our binoculars out and Yellowbrick tracking, trying to figure out if there was more wind on the other side and if our competition was gaining on us. I had a borderline manic moment right as the wind was dying, where I gave a “pep talk” to the crew about light wind racing and this being the point where we could lose the race. Quite rightly, John brought it all back down to earth. Tom surprised us with the best looking sandwich I’ve ever seen on the Mac. It was a full baguette covered with layers of lettuce, sliced tomatoes, salami, roast beef, ham and horseradish cheese covered in oil and vinegar. We all felt much better for eating it. I must have been hungry.
Our biggest tactical decision throughout the afternoon and evening was when to tack and consolidate back to the rest of the fleet. It was a tough call. We ended up tacking four times. Our wind was light and shifty. Had we stuck to just 2 tacks, we may have arrived at the better and more consistent wind before our competitors. But in the moment, you just can’t know for sure and hindsight is 20/20.
Of the three nights, the sunset on Monday was by far the most spectacular. You need clouds on the horizon to have a proper sunset. They are something for the sun’s rays to bounce off of. Sunset on Sunday didn’t have any clouds at all. The swirls of high cirrus clouds that reached towards us with the lower and puffier nimbus clouds marching in a row just underneath them provided multiple layers from which the light could reflect and bounce.
Just after sunset, Mark asked me to take the helm again. It was hard. The transition between daytime, dusk and then nighttime is a very tricky one. In general, I need a reference point. Something I can use to keep my heading.
As the sun set, I kept losing my reference point and I’ve learned that it takes me a while to transition to solely using the compass to steer. I am not naturally good at steering by the compass, and soon Mark (quite rightly) took the reigns back.
In the middle of the channel, there is a small island/shoal called Ile Aux Galets. On it is a lighthouse called Skilagallee to warn vessels to avoid the area. The charts indicate that there is a green navigation can with a 9-second flashing light on the northwest side and a red navigation buoy with a 2-second flashing light on the northeast side. With all of the navigation buoys around, it’s pretty tough to tell what’s what. At least the lighthouse was easily recognizable. I identified the red buoy marking the shoal to the northeast, but couldn’t find the green 9-second flashing can to the northwest of the shoal. We had to make a decision as to whether we would go to starboard or port of Skilagallee soon. The wind essentially made it for us. It had gone south and was inching toward the southeast. This put us at a disadvantage to our competitors. They were coming in on a starboard tack on a fast reach. We were coming in pretty low and not moving as fast. There was a buoy in the place of the green 9-second flasher, but it was a red flasher which is why we didn’t recognize it. We skirted just inside of it after I checked the charts and our course and determined it was definitely deep enough for us to not hit bottom.
We hardly had to change course at all to make it straight down Gray’s Reef from that point, but the damage from the inopportune wind shift was already done. Both Erica and Monitor consolidated in front of us just before the Grays Reef Light.
We were still under spinnaker, and our next decision was whether or not we would be able to hold the sail after leaving New Shoal Lighted Bell Buoy 3 to starboard. I scanned the fleet ahead of us as they rounded the mark. Not one of them was carrying a spin. We decided that we wouldn’t be able to either.
As I was scanning for spinnakers, I saw a freighter heading down the straights towards the channel. We were about ¾ of a mile past the reef by the time it made the turn. I was very glad that we were past the channel when it went through, it can be harried in those close quarters at night under sail when going through with a freighter. Both Monitor and Erica would have definitely gotten away from us if we were also battling with the freighter.
When you start down the straits you expect to see the Mackinac Bridge, but sometimes weather can cloud it from view. At night in clear skies, however, you can see the lights from pretty far away. Seeing that bridge is very emotional. It marks the final leg of a very long race and you get the impression that you are nearly done. I almost always get a bit teary-eyed with relief when I finally see it. But that bridge is still 20 miles away and a lot can happen in those 20 miles, so it is important to not lose focus because you are ready to be done.
On the drag race down the Straits of Mackinac, we started to creep up on Erica. Monitor was really hard to see as their masthead stern lights were very very dim. It was hard to tell if we were making progress on them as well or not. They had both gone higher, presumably to be able to set the spinnaker and come into the bridge on a reach. We stayed lower and were, therefore, sailing faster. Our rationale was that you never win a race by following the leader. We had been using a light on our jib to see the telltales, which makes it easier to trim the sail, but also harder to be inconspicuous in the dark. We finally got to the point where we thought we could carry the spin and turned off our lights. We were hoping that we could be sneaky and set our spin before Erica, but I heard from them after the race that they were watching our light anticipating that moment. In the end, we were definitely not sneaky. We were pretty loud, and when we got settled, Erica had also set their spin and were pulling away a bit again on a better angle.
We passed under the Mackinac Bridge just before 4 am a little less than a half mile behind Monitor and Erica, who were nearly on top of each other. The sky was just starting to lighten up, and we could see them more clearly.
Passing under the bridge is always exciting. If you sail the course, you know you won’t hit the bridge. But it looks like you are going to hit the bridge and a favorite Mackinac newbie joke is to pretend that it is possible to take out your mast to freak them out. There are countless gorgeous pictures out there from sailors taken under the bridge.
The wind typically changes after the bridge. We were able to sail higher and we were catching up to Monitor and Erica who were battling each other and sailing lower. It turned out that there was just a bit more wind coming in from Lake Huron. As Erica tried to get around Monitor we were sneaking up on them fast. It was a super close finish, but we managed to pick off Erica and finish in 2nd place only 12 seconds behind Monitor. If we’d had another 100 ft, we could have pulled off the upset. In the end, Erica was only 13 seconds behind us. It’s amazing that we sailed 333 miles and it came down to only a few feet!
It was an exciting and brutal race, but I felt great about how we sailed and how we finished! It was my first time on the podium on the Mac race. Obviously, there is a lot of skill that goes into a race like this, but there is also a significant amount of luck. I have friends who race on Erica and they did an awesome job. I was sad that they had to take 3rd for us to take 2nd. It was a bit of luck that the wind filled in exactly where we needed it to in order to get in front of them. They worked hard and deserved their place on the podium.
I had an awesome time and even though it was a really difficult race, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I want to thank the entire crew of Retention, but especially Mark for having me. You are all awesome people and great sailors. I wouldn’t hesitate to race with every single one of you again. Thank you so much, Mark Croll, Gretchen Croll, John Croll, Sara Otto, Tom Carney, and Peter Dubois!!
If you want to read more of Paula’s adventures, visit her blog.
While Hanne Weaver’s US Singlehanded Championship win might be an eye-opener to some, it comes as no surprise to those of us in the Seattle Laser Fleet. Like so many exceptional sailors before her, she started sailing Lasers at a young age when simply holding the boat down was a challenge. Gradually, persistently, she worked at the skill independently and with coaching until she climbed to the top of the junior rankings. Now she’s headed to the Netherlands as part of the US Sailing team where she’ll get to do battle with some of the world’s best women dinghy sailors at the Laser Radial Women’s Worlds .
I got to steal a few minutes of Weaver’s time to chat about the US Singlehanded Championship, sailed in conjunction with the US Laser Nationals.
Weaver got to the Lake Tahoe Regatta site a couple days early to get used to the venue and attend a clinic, and immediately saw Tahoe’s unique challenges. “The wind would come in from the west, then spread out across the lake,” she explained. “You have to keep your head out of the boat.” She also learned about the shelf along the edge of the lake where the depth drops steeply. The race committee would set the marks in the shallow areas, so time learning about playing those shores was very helpful. Other than that, the usual regatta routines apply, including teaming up with a competitor to do split tacks before the start.
There was wind the first two days of the regatta, then a no wind/no sailing day. It looked there might be no racing on the fourth and final day of racing, but the wind filled just in time for the PRO to get in a sixth and final race. She sailed into a hole that final race, but won the regatta comfortably on the strength of her first five races.
While she won the US Women’s Singlehanded Championship, her performance also put her second overall the Radial fleet, behind Chase Carraway.
I’m used to seeing “Camp Hanne” at Cascade Locks on the Gorge, with her family setting up a tremendous campsite to provide amazing regatta support. At Tahoe, she was on her own with no individual coaches or parents hanging around. She did, however, have a great place to stay. “I met someone while training in Belize last winter, and he had relatives with a place right on the Lake.” She even had her little guest house to call home for the regatta.
There are many keys to Hanne’s success. Certainly, talent is one of those. From the very beginning that was obvious. And, of course, sailing Lasers at that level requires extreme tenacity and the ability to shrug off bad regattas.
No sailors get to this level without support and coaching. In addition to her parents, Weaver is member of both the Seattle Yacht Club and Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. While she’s not currently a part of either sailing team (aah, right, she’s on the US Sailing Team….) she certainly benefited from both programs.
A big part of Laser sailing is the physical aspect, and Weaver has paid a lot of attention to that over the years. These days, she’s following a program designed specially for her by none other than Anna Tunnicliffe, the Olympic Gold Medalist. Weaver follows the program and then reports on how it’s going online where Tunnicliffe reviews and makes adjustments to the plan. Renowned for her fitness, and a top CrossFit competitor, Tunnicliffe is a great resource.
While less of Weaver’s sailing is in the Pacific Northwest these days, she’s still out there on Puget Sound. In the coming days she’ll head from her job at West Marine at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle directly to the docks where she’ll log in some time in the waters where she got her start years ago. “Seattle is great for sailing. The cold water makes us tough.” That said, she’s now at a point where she has to go to where the competition is. And this month, it’s the Netherlands.
Weaver is yet another young Pacific Northwest sailor setting an amazing tone for other Northwest sailors, young and old, men and women, to follow. She’s taking on a big challenge, sticking with it, and accepting the available help. Through it all, she remains a classy competitor and fun to talk to.
Bill Eimstad wrote this immediately after the Laser Master US Nationals. Between the newest women singlehanded champs, Abbie Carlson in the Junior Women’s and Hanne Weaver in the Singlehanded Women’s, we’ve had a lot to cover at the front of Laser fleets. My own experience was somewhere in the middle of the Master US Nationals.
There’s a danger in thinking sailboat racing is all about winning. One of the things we value in sailing is the never ending learning curve (especially it seems in the deceptively simple Laser). Another is the fleet camaraderie, which in the Laser Masters fleet is exceptional. Here’s Bill’s tale of struggle and triumph.
Cascade Locks July 7 – 9, 2017 A few weeks ago I decided to race in the Laser Masters U.S. Nationals. After all they were being held right in my own back yard. Go sail against the best and learn as much as I can. It would be my third regatta in the Laser. For me there wasn’t any choice between a standard rig and the radial rig. I only have a standard rig.
After 48 years of racing sailboats I bought myself a Laser. I wanted to get back into a one person dinghy where the only thing that mattered was your own sailing skills. I started out 49 years ago learning to race a variety of sailboats at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Over the years I’ve raced all kinds of boats… Laser II’s, Stars, Lidos, Santana 20’s, and lot of other different keel boats including a 70’s era IOR 3/4 tonner Rhapsody, a well known race boat in Puget Sound area that I was the proud second owner of. That boat was a serious handful downwind in heavy air!
Day One: Friday morning it’s blowing a good solid 20 as everyone is preparing to leave the beach for the first start. I got some last minute advice from one of the clinic instructors, “try to keep it upright because capsized is slow.” No kidding! I got off the beach OK and sailed out into the river to bear off downwind. As soon as I turn downwind the boat takes off on a plane and wham, I capsize to windward. It kind of caught me by surprise. OK… I stood the boat up, got control and tried it again… wham, I capsized to windward again. After the fourth or fifth iteration of this same scenario I decided it was time to return to the beach and reevaluate the whole situation. It turned out four other guys in the standard class hadn’t even left the beach. All four are guys with a whole lot more experience in a Laser than I have. I was greeted with “you made a good decision” and Emilio Castelli offering me a glass of wine. Thanks Emilio. It certainly helped relieve some of my frustration. After another 5 of the standard rig sailors joined us on the beach before the 1st race was over I didn’t feel quite so bad. Hats off to Tracy Usher, he made it out for the second and third races. By race three the wind is hitting 30 most of the time.
Fortunately a couple of guys pointed out why I crashed to weather. DON’T LET THE MAINSHEET OUT SO FAR! Hey, I came here to learn right.
Day Two: Saturday morning seemed calm compared to the day before. There was a nice wind in the low teens with lots of nice solid gusts thrown in. I got off the beach early to try to get comfortable in the boat and get my bearings in the race area. There seemed to be a little more pressure on the Oregon side along with more pronounced gusts, and the water was a little flatter. Out near dolphin #14 on the Washington side there was a rough patch of water where the current velocity made the waves stand up pretty good. I chose the left side on the first beat hoping the smoother water would make up for the difference in the current velocity. Wrong! Again I’m learning.
Race two the wind is building. I lost track of the time in the sequence and had a horrible start but made it around the course with out any major problems, just slow going to weather in the chop. I’m starting to realize that my mere 155 lbs is a bit on the light side for keeping the boat flat and powered up enough to punch through the waves. Downwind is a blast! The boat just rockets through the puffs.
By race three the wind is still building and is well into the 20’s. The committee gives us a “D” course with the reach legs. I tell myself that should be one hell of a fun ride. Another poor start because I misjudged how quickly the boat would take off when I had to reach off a little to keep from being over early. More learning! Both beats are just agony because I can’t seem to drive the boat through the waves. The second downwind leg is another blast with lots of big puffs that send me closer and closer to the fleet again. I look back as I set up for the gybe mark and notice that I’ve got a little “calm” between puffs in which I can make the gybe. Both boats directly ahead of me capsize during the gybe. Just as I reach up to throw the boom across and throw myself across the boat the next big gust hits me and I go down too. As the boat goes over I throw myself onto the centerboard, untangle myself from the mainsheet and quickly get the boat back up. The big puff stays with me as I rocket towards the leeward mark. Man, what a ride! I even pass two boats! I manage to come up close hauled around the leeward mark without crashing and I’m thinking that I just need to make a couple of good tacks to make the finish line ahead of the two boats. Not to be. Three times I put the boat in irons trying to tack. Frustrating! After finally crossing the finish line I sail out towards the gybe mark to watch a closely packed group of the radial sailor round the mark. Unfortunately two of the guys end up capsizing on top of each other and getting all tangled up. Both sailors popped up and appeared to be unhurt. Tough conditions for everyone.
Race four I finally get a decent start and head for the right side to ride the current. I’m certain though that I’m doing more up and down in the waves than I’m making in forward progress. By the time I get to the weather mark I’m worn out and the beach looks mighty attractive, so I call it a day.
Day Three: The wind is smoking again in a repeat of Friday. I make it off the beach OK this time but promptly crash on a poorly executed gybe. When I stand the boat up I end up in irons again and then crash again before I can get the boat moving. I repeat this scenario a couple of times before I realize I have the vang down way too hard. I release it and sail the boat back to weather. I’m already worn out so I call it a day. This is not an easy decision for me to make as I want so badly to be out there racing. I have to hand to all the guys in the front of the fleet who were flat out racing under the conditions. It takes a tremendous amount of skill and finesse with a big dose of strength and stamina to sail these little boats under extreme conditions. I have a lot to learn.
After taking a couple of days to reflect on the whole experience, I have a Radial rig on order and I’m looking forward to having another go at this in a few weeks. Thanks to everyone who offered friendly advice. A big thanks to the race committee and regatta organizers for the great hospitality and a very well run regatta.
There were plenty of big stories in this years Transpac Race. Comanche‘s 5-day, 1 hour record, Mighty Merloe‘s stunning victory and the return of Merlin are probably the top three.
The Merlin story includes a part that’s very near and dear to us in the Pacific Northwest. It was Carl Buchan’s first big offshore race of the kind. Pacific Northwesterners are eager to claim Carl as one of our own, and with good reason. He’s won an Olympic Gold Medal (with Jonathan McKee in the Flying Dutchman) an America’s Cup – sort of – (with Dennis Conner in 1988) 505 North Americans (with Carol Buchan) Tasar Worlds (with Carol) and last but not least the Star Worlds (with Hugo Schreiner).
On Madrona, a 40-footer to his own design, Buchan is a perpetual force on the PNW race courses including events as diverse as Round the County and the Race to Alaska.
Most importantly, through all of it, he has retained both his humility and energy for the sport. Both came in handy on Merlin this year. As one might expect, Merlin‘s crew was rife with experience led by The Wizard himself, Bill Lee. Buchan may ooze boatspeed and racing smarts, but he was the offshore newbie aboard Merlin. Staying in character, he did his job and learned a lot.
Sleep The first learning curve is one of the most important and challenging. “I was starting to get into a rhythm the day before we finished. I was a basket case before that sleep-wise,” Buchan explained. I’m not sure how he did it, but accepting that you have a problem is always the first step.
Knowing the Boat “One of the things that became clear was the importance of knowing the boat, in particular the polars and (sail combination) crossovers. You usually don’t have other boats around to get that performance feedback. It was great to have Pyewacket out there. They were always pushing us. We were expecting to fall behind early, but our goal was was to be within about 20 miles when the high speed running conditions started to favor us.” In the end, Merlin beat Pyewacket into Hawaii by a couple of hours and only trailed the much higher rated Runaway on elapsed time. On corrected time, the Alan Andrews-designed Pyewacket won, followed by the Santa Cruz 70 Catapult and the Merlin.
Merlin While it may have been tempting to think of Merlin’s 2017 Transpac as a trip down memory lane for a 40 year old boat, it was obviously a lot more that that. Over the years she’s been modified and upgraded many times, and since buying the boat a year or so ago Bill Lee has put in a number of other changes. Here’s a Scuttlebutt post with more on the program. “Once in a while Bill would say something like ‘at this point in the race back then’ but he’s really forward thinking,” explains Buchan. “It’s not clear what the next phase will be for the boat, perhaps chartering or selling.”
Offshore Tactics Buchan is used to finding the fastest way upwind, downwind or to a point somewhere along the course that will take advantage of current or expected windshift. In the Transpac, the usual course of things is to be lifted on starboard gybe as you make your way to Hawaii. The big decision is when to gybe to port. “Things happen more slowly out there on an ocean race. You set a waypoint into your plans and maximize your speed to that point. But conditions are always changing, so you’re constantly updating that information and updating the game plan. You have to be set up to take in that information.”
A Transpac for Madrona? Watching Madrona take shape locally in carbon, with many helping hands, was fascinating for many of us. At the time we heard Transpac mentioned. “Even when I built the boat it was on my mind,” Buchan says. Madrona‘s moderate beam and relatively full ends not only look like it would go fast downwind, it does. A couple of memorable Round the County runs revealed Madrona as not just a really fast 40-footer, a blisteringly fast 40-footer in the right conditions. “In many ways, the Transpac would be right up Madrona‘s alley,” Buchan said. Hmmm.
In the end, Buchan’s understated summary was “I got that out of the way.” Tellingly, he also said “I certainly enjoyed the longer distance race. I came away seeing it’s a very interesting challenge, especially for the navigator.” My guess is he did a lot more than check something off a list – I’m pretty sure he absorbed a tremendous amount of Transpac know-how, and we’ll see it again, processed and upgraded.