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.

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