I wake up at 6:00 today looking forward to a hearty breakfast served by our host Dick at Dicks Last Resort in Winter Harbor BC. Today’s start is at 8:00 so we’ll need to leave the dock at 7:00 and with a 138 nautical miles to race it might be a long day. The stop in Winter Harbor has been great, with enough time to get a little rest and make sure the boat is all ready to go. After a victory in the last leg, our first this year, the Cheekee Monkee team starts today (Sunday June 19) tied for first in the multihull division with Dragon Fly. It is great to know we’ve recovered from the few weak finishes we’ve had earlier in the race.
Kim receiving the First Place flag from Bob of Bad Kitty
While Dick if fixing breakfast we get a look at the wind forecast from the internet and see it has changed a bit. Last night we were expecting a long light air beat for most of today followed by a spinnaker run on a moderate northwest breeze late in the day. Kim and I had strategized to take both our screechers in order to maximize our upwind sail selection and leave the weight of the code zero (CZ) ashore. Now the forecast says the northwesterly will arrive earlier but be much lighter than previously expected. In light air downwind conditions the CZ is more stable than a spinnaker, which is very important in the waves we’ll find on this open Pacific coastline. I suggest to Kim that we reverse last nights sail change and get the CZ back aboard, leaving the heavy weather screecher to ride with the road crew and he agrees.
Sail changes made, we leave the dock at 7:00 well fed and ready. Wind near the starting line is light, almost nonexistent, and a swell is rolling in. It looks like we’ll be on a sloppy broad reach to start so the CZ is hoisted and ready to unfurl. Kim sees a slight breeze just offshore from the right side of the line and opts to start at the right end. Our multihull competitors all choose the left end of the line, which is closer to the finish. The gun goes off and it is a struggle to get moving. With all weight to leeward we get the CZ to fill and begin to creep offshore. We’re not headed for the finish yet but instead are headed for the breeze. The other multi’s seem to have a bit more breeze just after the start and fight to fill their chutes. Once our CZ gets working it pumps with the waves and gives us thrust, while the same waves collapse spinnakers around us.
Soon it becomes clear that Kim’s strategy is working, so Dragon Fly drops their chute and heads north to reach the breeze we are in. It is a very slow start to the race but we are soon in the lead and headed south toward Solander Island just off the tip of the Brooks Peninsula. This area is known for nasty waves and currents, but today the wind is light and the swells gentle so we move along the coast without a worry. We look aft keeping an eye on the competition, all the while looking to do what we can to maximize our boat speed. Dragonfly has worked slightly further offshore from us and has enough wind to be gaining. Bad Kitty and Blue Lightning are closer in to the beach and are also gaining slowly, perhaps with some help from current. About 2/3 of the way to Brooks, Dragonfly has caught up and sailing just offshore to us at a comparable speed and Bad Kitty is just several boat lengths back on the landward side. Jason comments that we’re sandwiched between two cats.
Sometime after noon we finally reach Brooks point. Dragon Fly chooses to pass well outside Solander Island while Bad Kitty takes the more hazardous path of sneaking through the rock-strewn gap between the island and Brooks Peninsula. We are headed directly at the island so we can choose either side. In the end Kim picks passing just westward of the rocky island. We pass less than 100 feet from the rocks and watch the swells roll on the rocks. We’re close enough to see the whiskers on the 100's of seals gathered on the rocks and are impressed by the size of the huge bull seal seen guarding his harem. What a beautiful sight on a warm (well by BC standards!) Sunny afternoon.
Seals on Solader Island
Once past the rocks we see Bad Kitty has lost a bit of ground because of the wind hole behind the rocks. The wind is filling slightly, maybe 6 knots now, and our course can be deeper since we are past Brooks so up goes the spinnaker. The next few hours are spent working downwind along the coast angling slightly offshore. Dragon Fly starts to sneak away slowly, not surprising for the larger faster boat. Bad Kitty has worked to within a hundred yards behind and appears to be glued to our wake. We head up and faster, so do they. We sail deep and they follow. It is clear they have chosen to cover the Monkee and we will have to work hard to shake them.
The breeze slowly builds during the afternoon and when out boat speed starts to reach 10-12 knots we begin to feel good. At this speed we start to use the lifting foil in our leeward outrigger and reduce our drag. Now we’re a able to start slipping away from Bad Kitty. Seeing this they change to their larger “Big Blue” spinnaker that often does wonders for them downwind. Seeing their distraction we decide now is the time to jibe toward the shore and lose them. The wind forecast vectors we saw before the start indicated that from here south we should find more pressure on the shore, so in we go.
Bad Kitty sticking with us before hoisting Big Blue.
We do indeed find the wind closer to shore and Bad Kitty failed to cover us. From 18:00 to midnight we spend surfing downwind at 16 to 18 knots, occasionally bumping 20. Kim does a great job driving as we jibe back and forth within about 3 miles from shore and soon Bad Kitty is out of site. At these speeds the foils do a great job and most of the time less than half of the lee ama is immersed with most of the load riding on the foil. As the sun sets we are happy to find a large 3/4 moon ahead to light our sails and give us a beautiful view of the ocean. As I sit with Kim on the ama and he carves down a gentle swell at 19 knots I tell him “it doesn’t get much better than this (OK 25kts would be better but...)!
Now we’re under pressure wondering if we’re close enough to Dragon Fly to cover the handicap time difference. We continuously push to tune tweak and push the boat to 100% potential. At this pace we might finish about 1:00 in the morning. Kim has been driving all day and I start to worry about his ability to steer his best, so ask his if I can give him a break. He says “no thanks”, and as I watch his performance I realize it is still flawless. He explains later that he gets into a downwind “trance” and because the helm is so light he can steer for hours and hours without getting tired, and of course Red Bull helps!
At the midnight radio check in with the Coast Guard we realize Dragon Fly has finished but we’re not sure when they crossed the line. At the check in I inform the Coast Guard we expect to finish about 01:30. Knowing the Dragon has finished gives a new intensity to our drive push the boat. Unfortunately the wind begins to fade as we get withing 5 miles of the finish. After hours of 15-18 knots we are now struggling to go 5. We quickly transition to light air downwind mode. The list includes foils up, rotator, outhaul, weight forward to leeward and a number of other details to maximize the speed.. The feeling on the boat is intense, we know we must finish soon to beat the Dragon and we want it bad. Jason sheets the spinnaker on every wave to assure we get the most from each surf down. The night is beautiful and our eyes are glued to the lighthouse at the finish line in Ucluelet. The pace seems unbearably slow as is took nearly 1.5 hours to finish the last 5 miles. Finally at 02:04 we get the finish horn and are escorted in to safety by the local coastguard crew.
Now after getting some sleep we’ve learned that Dragon Fly finished at 23:59. The results are not yet final, but looking at the basic handicap math it seems we were close enough to beat them by a few minutes on handicap. Most of the remaining fleet struggled with light winds and finished just after sunrise, and now we’re all enjoying a wonderful day off in Ucluelet, before racing to Victoria tomorrow night.