Date: June 22 – 24 2003
Course: Winter Harbour to Ucluelet
Distance: 138.10 nautical miles
Welcome to the Pacific
By Shane AlfredsSaturday night dinner was at Dick’s place. That’s Dick’s Last Resort http://www.dlastresort.com where we were staying. It’s a small B&B in Winter Harbour and somehow thirty some odd sailors were going to be eating at his table that seats ten. Unfortunately in the afternoon Dick got a call that there was a fire in his family home and off he rushed. Dick is a great guy and a fantastic host; we all hope that everything is well. So after the three sittings of dinner we are sitting around in Dick’s living room looking over weather faxes downloaded off the net and listening to Kevin (onboard Redshift) who was predicting 15 to 20 knot Northwesterly winds, just what the fleet wants to hear. We go to bed, having packed enough gear in case it will be a long overnighter but hoping that Kevin’s prediction turns out true.
5:30 AM, Kim sticks his head in the door and says “It’s 5:30.” Great, he woke me up before my 5:45 alarm setting. Colin gets up but Jason and I continue to snooze. My alarm goes off, I get up. Jason gets up after I’m done and head down stairs for breakfast. I eat fruit, cereal and juice; nothing too heavy for me on race day. I made that mistake once at Swiftsure, now I have a rep for getting seasick. Down onto the boat by 6:30, everything is ready. I threw on my foul weather gear and I’m all ready to go. It’s a grey cloudy morning, no wind in the harbour. It’s not looking like we’re going to start with those forecasted winds. We motor down to the start line which is down the channel that doglegs from west to south as you leave Winter Harbour.
The start line is between the lighthouse and a rock that you can sometimes see when a wave crashes over it! Oh goody! Well the race committee positioned a small aluminum boat at the rock end to mark the line. We scout around a bit and decide that the rock end is where we want to be, it’s closer to Ucluelet anyways. We can see wind out there, but there is very little at the line. The countdown starts and we pull out the screecher and go no where fast. We seemed to have found our own little hole right at the line. Dragonfly is less than a hundred meters away and somehow they get some wind. Well the skipper didn’t take too kindly to this hole opening up to disrupt our well planned start. After several loudly exclaimed explicatives, that I won’t repeat here, the wind seemed to listen and off we went.
Over to the right we can see Flip, Flop & Fly had a great start with a few of the mono hulls. Dragonfly is out in front of us and going a little higher. Bad Kitty is in the middle with a decent start. Redshift and the rest of the mono hulls seemed to have also found a nice wind hole that wasn’t as considerate as ours was. Off we charge as the wind builds its time to pull up the spinnaker and bear off to round Brookes Peninsula. Up our spinnaker goes, a nice clean set. 3F, Bad Kitty and then Redshift all get theirs up. Dragonfly heads to windward and sends someone out on their broken bowsprit to deal with a rigging problem. We charge past them and we’re further South than 3F, we’re leading the fleet. As we head out the fleet eventually all gets the breeze and gets their spinnakers up. We’re starting to move now; 3F seems to be going as fast but are sailing higher than us. Redshift is slowly gaining on them and they seem to be on the same course. Dragonfly is sailing way lower than us, looks like they’re trying to pass close by Brookes. Bad Kitty has Big Blue out and is heading lower than us too. We get out far enough that we can see down the coast past Brookes. The wind has built steadily and all we can see is dark water with the occasional white caps. Looks like the predictions are turning out to be true.
We decide that we need to watch the fleet behind us. We can’t let any of the multi-hull’s behind us get out of our site and into some stronger wind. Dragonfly continues on the same tack heading further out and getting smaller and smaller. Bad Kitty seems to have the same idea and big blue seems to disappear in the clouds to the West and behind us. Redshift and 3F seem to be following us, staying within a few miles of the coast. Their spinnakers are getting pretty small on the horizon behind us though.
We are really starting to move now and the waves are steadily building with the wind. We’re sustaining 14+ knots and hitting 17+ while surfing down the waves. I should explain our positions and responsibilities on the boat for sailing in these conditions going downwind. Kim is out on the windward ama, driving the boat. He’s concentrating on getting speed out of the sails and using the waves to keep the boat going fast and heading as far downwind as possible. Jason is responsible for jibing and trimming the spinnaker. He also has to blow it off if we get into serious trouble. He sits at the front of the cockpit. Colin tacks the jib across, sets the mast rotator and is responsible for the radio. When we’re going fast he is usually at the back of the cockpit with me. I am responsible for the mainsail trim. I also have the mainsheet in my hands at all times, ready to blow the sail off if there is any problem. I spend most of the time standing at the very back of the cockpit because I’m the heaviest and we need my weight at the back to help keep the bows up….. Fortunately there is a metal arch back there that is perfect to lean against while standing back there. Since there is nothing else keeping you on the boat, Colin and I always clipped on our safety harnesses when we were back there.
12:00pm comes around and its time for the scheduled roll call and Colin heads below. This is a safety procedure where the Canadian Coast Guard in Tofino does a radio check in with every boat in the fleet. Each boat will report its position based on a grid set up by the race committee. As Colin comes up from below I glance something out of the corner of my eye, directly to starboard. I turn and see a dark shape entering the water. At first my mind thinks it’s a sea bird diving to catch a fish. But the massive splash that follows tells me that it’s a large whale breaching probably half a kilometer from the boat. Wow, is that ever cool!
The waves are building with the winds sustaining at 20+ knots. We’re starting to see waves getting up towards 10′ now, some of them quite steep. Waves are constantly blasting off the stern leeward aka, sending huge spray into the cockpit. Sometimes this spray goes 20′ in the air. Usually it lands right where I’m standing. It’s like taking a cold salt water shower where I’m standing. We’re flying along at over 17 knots when suddenly we fly off one of these steep waves and right into the back of the next wave. We suddenly go from very fast to almost not moving. The leeward ama is buried up to the aka, the pulpit on the bow is fully submerged and the main hull is in this wave up to hatch on the fore deck. I’m feeling very high in the air now as the boat is pointed down at about 30 degrees. Jason and I both blow our sails and the bows finally lift up through the wave and we start move again. We sheet in to get some speed back and I look around at everyone else, we all have the same big wide grin on our faces.
Jason goes below and notices that the furnace is out because water has been pouring down the chimney when we hit these waves. He starts to bail, I see him lift up a full bucket of water. Usually we just sponge out the water that happens to splash into the main cabin. Seven bucketfuls later and Jason is done. About 2:00pm we see Dragonfly coming back in towards the island as we’re heading out. We manage to keep them in view for over an hour until the gybe back out away from the island and disappear over to the south-west of us. During this time we’ve stuffed the bow a few more times, but none as bad as the first time.
Colin heads below to take a turn at bailing out. Shortly after we hit another one of those steep, nasty waves. We’re going close to 20 this time and we hit hard. Somehow I manage to un-cleat the mainsail in the fraction of a second before I get launched forward. Luckily my safety line catches and stops me from flying through the plexiglass and into the cabin. I’m just lying across the tiller and main traveler. I scramble up off the tiller so Kim can steer the boat. Jason and Kim are both fine, but Colin took a nasty fall in the cabin. He was just about to lift out a bucket of water and fell backwards into the heater and twisted his knee. His ribs were hurting and he could barely move his knee, he’d have to stay below the rest of this leg we didn’t want him risking further injury.
We can no longer see any boat in any direction. Over the next couple hours we had several interesting incidents. At one point we passed a deadhead about 2′ in diameter under the windward ama. It appeared out of nowhere, Jason and Kim saw it just before we would’ve hit it and fortunately it was on course to pass under the ama. For those of you that don’t know, a deadhead is a log that doesn’t float on the surface. One end of it has sunk, so just an end of it bobs up and down on the surface. These can be extremely dangerous and have been known to pop up into the bottom of boats. I also remember hitting one particularly short trough, the bow of the leeward ama was about 3′ under water and I looked over to Kim and the wave behind us was just picking up the stern of the windward ama. I thought if we turned parallel to the waves we could be sailing on two amas with the main hull out of the water, hanging in the trough between these two waves.
All this time I’m standing at the stern of the boat with both hands on the mainsheet. I start to get into the groove and anticipate the troublesome waves. As soon as I feel it hit, I hear the rudder starting to cavitate, I start to release the mainsheet, the boat bears off and steerage returns. Then I’m reeling the mainsail back in to keep our speed up. Jason said it sounded like I was fishing; when the mainsheet is being pulled in, it sounds like a big fishing reel.
We’re getting close to the 6:00pm check in. We’re getting close to shore, its time to gybe but the lazy spinnaker sheet is under the boat. We have to let it go into the water and try to run it around the outside of the screecher. Its too late, Kim gives the order to drop the spinnaker. Jason takes it down and its getting pounded by the waves on the leeward side. We quickly get it in the bag and make our gybe. Colin does the radio check in, sounds like Redshift is just one grid behind us. That’s closer than we’d like. Kim says pull out the screecher; we need to keep our speed up. Out it goes and we’re back up to 17 – 18 knots. Jason has to go out on the bowsprit in these pounding waves to get the spinnaker sheet run again. We get it set and its time to gybe and set the spinnaker again. This it not the fastest set, my hands are aching from working the mainsheet all day long. The halyard is a small rope that gets pretty slippery when it’s wet too. Jason is lifting the heavy wet sail with each pull I give to halyard, and then he runs over to pull on the foreguy. We get the spinnaker up and we’re flying again.
We can now see where the entrance to Tofino is, we know we’re getting close. We’ll be in before dark for sure. We start keeping an eye out for Dragonfly, maybe they got less wind outside? Maybe we’ve been speeding down the coast inside them? Colin radios in that we’re about an hour from finishing. Getting so close now, we’ve probably covered 130 miles by now. Just a few more gybes and we are there. We can see the white water breaking on the rocky shore now. There is the lighthouse that marks the finish line. We’re still too high, two more gybes and we can make it. We make the final gybe and we’re crossing the line at 17 knots around 8:40 pm. We can see flashes of cameras up on the hill by the light house; it must have made one hell of a shot. Hopefully someone will send us one of those pictures.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary comes out to escort each Van Isle 360 vessel in to Ucluelet. It would be a nasty entrance to make during the night and its fantastic that they come out to help the weary fleet in. They tell us that Dragonfly finished about an hour before us. Good news, they needed to beat us by over 3 hours. When will the rest of the multi-hulls finish? We need to beat Redshift by 38 minutes by rough calculation in my head. While we’re motoring in to our moorage we hear Redshift notifying the race committee they’ll be finishing within the hour. Its going to be close. We get to the dock and the VILand TV camera is in my face, I do a quick interview and she says I’ll be on the 11 pm news as she rushes off. The documentary guys are there, they interview Kim. Then they get a shot of me pouring the water out of my boots. That water got there from running down the color of my jacket. Our road crew isn’t anywhere to be seen, have we beaten them here? Kim calls them, and they’ll be here within the hour with our dry clothes. We get to our room and I try calling the only pizza place in town and they just closed. After only eating power bars during the day I’m just famished. Rhonda comes to our rescue though and makes Jason and I bagels with tuna, celery, lettuce and tomato, just what we needed after that long day.
Monday morning Colin went up to the hospital in Tofino. Unfortunately he broke three ribs, bruised a kidney, tore a lung and twisted his knee. He won’t be on the boat, but he is going to continue on to Victoria in the truck while Rhonda comes aboard for the leg to Victoria. We’re going to miss him on the boat and we all hope he heals up quickly.
PS – sorry there are no photos, the new camera Kim picked up in Campbell River was water resistant, it was not designed for underwater submarining and therefore it is no longer part of us.
BTW – Jason saw the official race results last night and we finished approximately 1.5 hours before Redshift and we arrived approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes behind Dragon Fly! Another Silver Bullet for the Cheekee Monkee!
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