Thursday, May 31, 2007


I guess I finally graduated from day sailor to something else - although the whole thing only took a little less than 24 hours, and it all happened in the San Juan Straits, meaning it hardly qualifies as real offshore racing. Plus we were racing a 40' Benetteau - which is decidedly more similar to a floating Winnebago than a true racing boat in terms of creature comforts.

Nonetheless, it was a bit of an adventure. We left Bellingham Friday morning for Victoria; since it was dead calm, we motored most of the way. On the way, we got to see a pod of Orcas from a distance, which is always neat. West of the San Juans, we finally got a little breeze and sailed the rest of the way. Victoria Harbor is a trip in itself - the buoys say stay right, and you'd better heed them, since otherwise you're likely to collide with one of these:

This has got to be the only busy harbor I've ever seen where the channel also doubles as a rather well-frequented runway. Then there are the cruise ships - nothing like trying to dodge floating city blocks... We got into Victoria in plenty of time to check in, have some dinner, organize stuff, check out the party, and get a good night's sleep.

Since we had rafted up as one of the last boats in, we had to be one of the first boats out; here we are just before shoving off. Heading out to the start area, the Winnebago aspect quickly became clear as Doug, one of the three partners in the boat, whipped up eggs and sausages and coffee for breakfast. Not your average race experience; it was only the start, as that night he actually produced a pork roast for dinner...

The start was a bit of mayhem, as hundreds of boats tried to find their spot on the line for the multiple sequences. We were the third start, and our fleet was a bit over-eager, resulting in a general recall. Too bad, since we had really nailed the start, positioning perfectly at the boat end and ready to hit the line at speed on zero. Next sequence, we ended up OCS and had to go back - kind of funny to be worried about losing 1 minute in a 24 hour race in a keel boat.

We were blessed with plenty of wind, with only one brief lull of about 10 minutes between when the day's seabreeze died and the approaching front created a nice Westerly. We played the currents (lots of those in the Straits) and made our way to the Neah Bay return mark by 10pm. Just before that, we got to see this really nice sunset and have dinner in shifts (the aforementioned pork roast). The return trip was a bit quicker - for the deep reach across the Straits we set the spinnaker, which was a bit of an experience in the dark. Before jibing on the Canadian side, we doused the chute and just went with main and genoa - with the following swell and plenty of breeze, we didn't really lose any speed, as we were still making between 7 and over 9 knots through the water - about as much as you can reasonably expect out of a Benetteau.

Just before Race Rocks, while it was still dark, we had a bit of excitement as we spotted a strobe in the water to starboard. It was at water level, so it was clearly not a navigation aid or a boat - which meant it was probably an emergency signal of some sort. By now, it was blowing around 25 knots, so hardening up to check it out was a bit exciting. We beat up, tacked over, and approached to find that it was an EPIRB. At first, seeing the strobe reflect on the orange of the EPIRB's housing, I had this dreadful flash of strobe on life-jacket - meaning I thought there was a body in the water. We were relieved to see that wasn't the case, and when we called in to let the RC know about it, they told us that other boats had called in before and that noone was missing or in trouble - big sighs of relief all around for that one. We lost two positions on this, but given that we were right there, it didn't make sense to call in first - it would have taken way too long to make our way back to it. We later were told the RC would consider a time correction to provide redress.

We made it to the finish by about 6:30 am - which means we were underway for roughly 20 hours. That was a fair bit faster than expected, thanks to the great conditions. Apparently it's not uncommon for portions of the Swiftsure to turn into the 'Driftsure', resulting in boats seeking shelter from unfavorable currents under anchor, waiting for the tide to turn and the wind to pick up. We were spared that kind of thing, and instead had lots of power the whole way - to the point that things got a little exciting once in a while.

Being prone to seasickness, I was glad that my patch worked (if you ever need it, ask your doctor about Transderm-Scop - sure helped me); I generally get green as soon as I go below, but that wasn't a problem this time. I even managed to take a couple naps at night, as well as enjoy dinner and the occasional warm-up break below deck.

All in all, a fun adventure with a great group of people. The whole thing was just intense enough to be a great experience, without getting into the stupid zone - good stuff all around. The trip back from Victoria to Bellingham was gorgeous - sunny skies, 20 knots from the West, and even a pod of harbor porpoises coming by.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

And now for something completely different...

This weekend, I'll be crewing on a Benetteau 40 taking part in the Swiftsure race out of Victoria - (see NOR here). The boat I'll be crewing on will be skippered by a friend and is named Yikes! - gotta wonder about that. There are a number of races that weekend - the one we'll be doing is out to Cape Flattery and back, which is a mere 104 nautical miles (as the crow flies), compared to just over 140 for the Swiftsure Classic. The forecast is for Westerlies around 20-25 knots. Should be fun.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

On the way to U7 soccer...

"Dad, look at the trees - it's really windy."
"Yeah, you're right."
"Wow, I bet you could go fast in that."
"Yeah, I bet I could."
"Hey Dad, or we could go together and go really fast."
"That would be so fun!" - Points at her almost two-year-old brother: "But where would we put Jonah? I don't think there's enough space on the board for him."
"Oh well, it's the last soccer game anyway - we'll just have to sail another time."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Jetty Island slalom launch


This shot was taken by Michael O'Leary, a photojournalist for the Everett Herald, when I made my way across the channel to the island yesterday (see previous post). You can see that the tide is *really low* at this point - which means that wind on the water was a bit obstructed. Even with the tide and the current from the Snohomish River outflow combining, though, the breeze was strong enough (and northerly enough) to make it over to the island in one tack. Sure beats paddling ;)

Thanks for the picture, Michael!

Picture courtesy Michael O'Leary/The Herald

Jetty Island


Since I spend most Tuesdays in Everett for work, I usually try to reward myself for battling traffic and sitting through a day's worth of meetings by grabbing a session at Jetty Island after work. JI is a special place - it's a sandy spit right off the Everett Marina. On most summer afternoons, as the winds fill in from the Straits of San Juan, they get an extra thermal kick here, creating perfect 15-20 knots westerlies - usually accompanied by sunny skies. The kiters tend to own this place; they tend to arrive at the boat launch in droves, pump up inflatable kayaks, paddle accross the channel, walk across the island, then launch on the long sandy beach (or, at low tide, the flats off the beach - that's what you see in the background in that picture on the left). They certainly seem to enjoy the half-mile of shallow water off the beach, and the safety of a nice sandy leeshore.

For windsurfers, JI is mostly a formula kind of place. You can launch your big gear off the boat ramp, sail around the south tip of the island, and be out in open water in about five minutes (which is about how long it takes the kiters just to paddle across the channel). Yesterday, however, the thermal got an extra push from an approaching front, boosting wind speeds to an incredibly steady 20-22 knots (measured on top of the pier at the launch) out of the NW.

Given the conditions, I decided to take a chance and try for a slalom session. I launched off the dock encircling the boat launch and made it across the channel in one tack despite the ebb going with the breeze. Walking across the island with my gear wasn't too bad (the island is only about 1/3 of a mile wide at this point), then I had to walk out a ways across the flats (since the tide was at 0 feet), then wade out into deep enough water. I'd never actually set foot on the island before - it's certainly a bit of a jewel. From the beach and from the water, you can't really see the Everett waterfront (naval station, marina, light industry) too well - you do, however, get to enjoy great views of the mountains all around, and the Sound and islands to the W/NW. Hard to believe it's right there off Everett, of all places.

On the water, it was slalom nirvana. Flat water and steady winds closer to shore for hero jibing practice, more wind and nicely formed swell (and starboard ramps - for some reason I can't jump on port, so this was a nice change from the usual setup at Post Pt. or the Event Site) further out.

I sailed for about 1 1/2 hours fully powered. On the outside, the troughs were lined up for mach-speed broad reaches on port - wish I'd had my gps with me. At that point, I started getting suspicious, since there seemed to be a bit of oscillation in the wind direction - which smelled like oncoming conversion. So I got closer to shore (to kiteland...), sailed a bit longer, then started the trek back. Crossing back through the channel was a bit tricky (the wind had gotten pretty light on the inside). Derigging, I noticed that I'd gotten lucky and timed things perfectly, as the kiters weren't going anywhere anymore in the dying breeze. Great way to finish the work day - especially since by the time I left, traffic on I5 had completely abated.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Spring Fever...


This was taken last week at Post Point - I had several great formula sessions, all on the new 9.9. The last one (on Thursday) was even blessed with brilliant sunshine. The new 9.9 is feeling great - can't wait to get the 10.8 (any day now...). Went to the Gorge over the weekend, got some good sailing there despite early season flukiness in the conditions - winds at the Event Site were pretty up and down; on Friday, we were going back and forth between FW and slalom, but invariably the wind would die after being out on the small gear for just a bit.

Learned that my board handling on slalom gear seems to have improved over the winter (nothing like survival sailing to make you feel like the swell off the White Salmon bridge is a very nicely organized playground). Also learned that I got just a bit too comfy on my FW stuff, with my setup tending more towards control rather than pushing the edge for that extra bit of angle - not surprising if you're sailing in cold water, cold air, and don't have a tuning partner for a few months. Nothing like lining up with Bruce to keep you honest.

Can't wait for racing to start ;)