It is the day before Leg 9 - Shane has succumbed to the pressures of the other life and asked if he could head back to the mainland. With five of us on board, two legs to go and reasonable conditions, we will miss Shane but (donít take it personally) he isnít indispensable. Shane heads out on the afternoon bus back to the big city and we review the weather charts and forecast models for the next 72 hours. Things are looking good for a fast race this leg.
We reviewed the equipment, gear and sail plan for the next leg, factored in one less crew person and got the boat in final race condition. The plan is to meet at 0730 for breakfast and Smileyís Family Restaurant (also the local bowling alley), we roll in the next morning and the place is full of hungry sailors and only one service person. This should have tipped us off for the events that would unfold during the race. We placed our order at 0735 and were finally served at 0825, the start is scheduled for 1000 so it is not a problem to be a little over Ĺ an hour behind our schedule. We are down on the dock at 0850 and ready to cast off by 0910 and heading out to the line for the start. Now, before we left the hotel to head out for breakfast, we took one last look at the weather models and decided which sails we could leave behind. The forecast still looked like NW 15-20 all the way to Victoria, off go the light wind sails and we keep the heavy weather gear on board, maybe we can get to victoria ahead of the girls and the grand kids. Lynda, Tracy and her kids are coming over on the 5PM ferry to meet us in Victoria and follow us up to Nanaimo for the grand finale.
We motor out to the start line and wonder out loud ďwhere is the north westerly?Ē, we have a light south easterly with the remnants of a large north westerly swell left over from the last few days. Well.......does this change our plan? Light wind sails would be more useful on the boat instead of in the trailer. No, I declare that we have decided that we are going to sail out to sea on a southerly route and pick up the NW wind at Cape Flattery, sail down the US side to Pillar Point and then head over towards Sooke and Race Passage. Thatís our plan and I donít want to get sucked into sailing down the beach on the Canadian side.
We get an excellent position for the start but are unable to capitalize on it. We are unable to get the screecher unfurled and pulling in time, I am sure that I waited too long to give the command to unfurl and get the sails drawing and up to speed as we crossed the line and we were boxed in and slow to get moving forward, as a result we got pinned on Starboard tack for longer than I wanted to be. None the less, the tacked as soon as we were able and set out on Port tack to sail offshore. We watched others tack back in and make apparent gains on us in better pressure playing the lifts and the headers. At one point, we figured even the Oriole was ahead of us as we slogged out in less and less pressure. Doubt and fear clouded our minds and we succumbed a couple of times to a short tack back but I recalled that we needed to play our hand and not chase the fleet up the coast no matter how promising it looked. We sailed close hauled on Port tack for several hours heading south of Cape Flattery, in hind sight, we could have sailed deeper and faster as the wind backed and lifted us up into the strait of Juan de Fuca. In fact, about 15 miles of the Cape, we were able to hoist the spinnaker and still maintain our heading to the Cape. As we got closer, we saw dark water and whitecaps. Hoping that it was wind, we sheeted in and sailed high to the whitecaps. We got there and discovered a local rip current thrashing up the surface, unfortunately no additional wind. This positioned us much higher into the strait than I wanted but here we were and as we progressed forwards, it looked much like we had sailed around the entire fleet. We still had not been able to locate Dragonfly since near the start when she made a play up the shore.
The wind slowly developed, 5 -6 knots first from the north and then backed around to the north west, we followed our plan and then as we worked our way down the US side we spot the Dragon on the Canadian side in the mist, looking close hauled. They were still in the low pressure system and sailing upwind, we on the other hand had been sailing down wind for the last 40 miles, we watched as they made a move to the US side and then suddenly, the spinnaker was up and they had a great angle. Shortly thereafter we lost sight of them and didnít see them again until we hit the dock at the Empress Hotel.
We worked our way down to the last position we saw the Dragon at and the wind veered southerly, we were now headed down the straight with more pressure, we were now sailing at 9 - 11 knots and had lost sight of every boat behind us save one that occasionally appeared in the far distance on the Canadian shore as we worked our way down the strait. By the time we hit Pillar point, the Cheekee Monkee was clipping along at a solid 15 knots and working the foil and the swells.
Time to head to Canada, we shift gears and sail towards Sooke in the twilight. As we are charging across the strait we are blessed with an incredible moon rise in the southern sky. The wind is building, the moon is up, the boat is moving quickly towards Race Passage, as we near the passage, the wind builds and we overscan slightly and we have to stall the boat in the passage to clear the rocks with a comfortable margin, once clear the pressure is on, we know that the Dragon finished just before 2300 actually as far as we could tell, at about 2245 hours, we have to finish within 1 hour and 41.85 minutes to beat them on corrected time, we need to finish by 0021.85 - The heat is on, we are pulling out all the stops, all the sails are up, we are sailing in at 20+ knots in big gusts of wind and a reasonably flat sea. We are sailing low, I canít take the time to conform our heading on the chart, Jason letís me know we are too low, I am calculating our heading based on the lights on shore and I make the mistake of thinking Ogden point is further to the west than it is consequently we douse the chute too soon and jib reach up high and then discover are still too high and have to set the screecher to sail lower, the heading is still too high, Jason re rigs the chute and up it goes. Lower but not enough, we are forced to gybe at the line and then gybe back in to cross the line. We finish at 00:26:27 - we think they got us! Well done Dragon!!!! It was a tough leg, tactical challenges, navigational challenges and boat speed challenges. There is nothing finer than screaming across flat water at night at speeds in excess of 20 knots!
GPS track of the finish in Victoria.
My hats off to all the crews on boat all the boats in the Cadillac Van Isle 360.
Kim Alfreds, Skipper
PS. The girls waited up for us, but they beat us to the finish as well.