Written Nov 16, 2023, by Nige
After some 50 kt winds blew through as forecast on Friday night, Nov 10, we left Friday Harbor for the 10 mile sail to Lydia Shoal in Rosario strait as it was just starting to get light at 6.45 am Saturday. We had a perfect SW breeze to get there, which was useful as we hadn’t sailed together on the boat before. (interesting side bar if you’re bored, the guys I usually sail RTC with found and resurrected the Santa Cruz 52, Rosebud and brought it up to Anacortes a couple of weeks ago https://www.latitude38.com/issues/december-2022/#70). On Makika were Todd T, Ryan E, (both help coach the kids at the San Juan Island sailing foundation with me, Nige) and my 16 year old son Oliver, who’s been racing a fair bit the last year and a half.
Immediately leaving Friday Harbor we had the main and screecher up and rocketed off East at 15kts. Seemed like a good sign for the day
It was pretty gusty around the start area, we don’t have any electronics (other than a Vakaros Atlas GPS) but I’ve heard some reports of gusts up to 30kts. Given the downwind start, our plan was to screecher reach on starboard to the pin end of the line before setting the kite, unfortunately a large lull 1 min before the start caught us out and it wasn’t quite the rock star start I was envisioning . Masthead kite set and off we went, obviously sailing deep angles as the breeze built back up. The downside of our average start was that after passing a couple of the 40 footers, we were effectively stuck under Westerly, the beautiful Santa Cruz 70. It was too windy for us to heat it up and go above them and jibing away would have put us on port, crossing a ton of stbd boats, which didn’t seem prudent given the breeze and how little the guys had sailed the boat). This left us stuck at a deep angle going 10-12kts for a long first Gybe. The downside of being a tiny but fast boat, we were not going to be passing anyone to leeward. Gaps started to open though and after a couple of jibes and some clear air we were getting to the pointy end of the fleet.
I probably should have started with this, but the course was counterclockwise this year so heading north up Rosario strait and then turning left/heading up round each island to the Patos half way point.
In these conditions that is a hard course to sail, in any boat as it was too breezy to take a rhumb line course and power reach through the gradual turn up around each island. The only safe/fast way to do it is hold the kite longer, sail a bit further north before dropping and coming back in above a beam reach. This is the point at most of the fun pictures were taken there where broaches and kites everywhere, it’s a bit of a blur in my head but we managed it and were quickly on a cracked off reach with the full main and jib. That was a bit much but with the leeches open, as much Cunningham as we could muster, mast rotation limited and lots of playing with the track it was manageable and pretty quickly we were sailing faster than any other boat as we headed west.
A couple of issues that could have been big but we got away with in the space of 5 mins at that point. First the jib halyard cover failed in the clutch, and we lost luff tension, we put it round one winch and would have to cross sheet the jib and do everything else on the other one (only two winches). Once that was sorted out and it was clear that the screecher wasn’t going to be needed for a while, we started to drop it, unfortunately as the sheets were pulled to bring the furled sail down to the deck, the furler line came out of the cleat the screecher unfurled halfway before Ryan could get it back in the cleat. This was incredibly inconvenient as we were already well overpowered, now had a flogging sail whose halyard had been eased 2’ bouncing around off the pole. There would be no way to get the tack off the pole while sailing in those conditions, so it had to be furled back up, the problem was with the eased halyard and that much wind, it’s almost impossible to furl. Getting the halyard back up would require a winch we did not have due to the failed jib halyard, so Ryan and Todd got on with the herculean job of muscling through the furler line before we could get it down. (Maybe with hindsight we should have released the jib sheet, let the jib flog for 20 seconds while getting tension back on the screecher halyard, but that’s a tough call)
Once that was done, we’d lost some time to a couple of fast boats who had cleaner transitions, but we were back on our way chasing them down. Cheekee Monkee had gone a little further north with the kite and was now a little to leeward and had pulled ahead through our issues, both going about the same speed, chasing down the big monos.
The next 8 miles sailing on a tight reach under Matia, Sucia and Patos wasfull on but at least we were above the power zone so could feather and trim to get a good fast/safe mode. The wind funneled between the islands, so it was windy between them and a little lighter underneath, but shifty and gusty the whole time. Although I would have ideally wanted to stay further away from the islands for more consistent wind, the idea of getting stuck in the lee of one of the TP52’s was less attractive, so we went above them (I don’t think Monkee cared so much with their 65’ rig). The speed difference was not huge, but it was consistent. Over that leg we went past two or three of the TP52’s and slowly passed Monkee, who were doing the same thing but from leeward. We probably needed another mile or two to have caught Glory and Zvi by the Patos halfway point. Cheekee Monkey really closed up the gap again to the halfway line as they came in with more breeze from further offshore and I think they crossed the half way point about a minute behind us.
Rounding up 15 degrees into Boundary pass was the easiest Patos rounding I’ve ever done! Normally it’s a hell hole of no wind and strong current or some other nasty concoction of conditions! The wind stayed consistent and there was just a little current swirl going on but Monkee and us carried on Port, lifting just above Sucia. Couple of tacks to avoid ships and trying to stay in decent breeze and we were making good way down Boundary Passage. Monkee was consistently a tiny bit faster than us (probably right around that rating difference) upwind, other than the gusts, when we’d seem to accelerate a little more. We fell into some lighter wind on the North side of the channel than Monkee, Westerly, Smoke and Shadow and fell a couple of hundred yards behind. A huge gap had opened behind us to Dark Star (distinctive rig) a few miles back. I assume there must have been a little less wind behind us. Glory and Zvi had stayed ahead of our pack of TP52s, SC70, Monkee and us but things closed up as we got toward turn point. The wind died a little for the leading pack and we got back into some more breeze. A couple of tacks into a nice lift and we had pulled back into the pack as we all came into turn point together and it had to have been one of the most beautiful and fun 20 mins of sailing I can remember.
The sun was relatively low, there was a solid 15-18kts rippling the water and the sun was lighting up the green manicured yard of that building at Turn Point. Westerly and the bright white TP52, Shadow were crossing tacks in front of us, through the sun, in front of the bright grass and cliff of turn point and we were all in by the shore, it was stunning. Had to remember to focus . The big monos were a little faster than Makika and Monkee through the short tacks to get around Turn Point and we were just behind the pack crossing tacks in front and behind each other, with a few very close port/stbd crossings. At one point, on our second to last tack out of one of the small points just south of turn point, we were about 3 boat lengths above Monkee, both on stbd with the shoreline 75ft to leeward, neither of us quite making the next point and we seemed to have opposite ideas on how to get out of there. I had expected them to tack and take our stern so went into a bit more of a speed than height mode, they evidently planned the opposite and started pinching. It lead to a slightly risky situation of them coming up underneath us, going high and slow, getting their bows as close as about 10ft from our transom, in our bad wind (bad wind from a small rig, admittedly!). They tacked out from there but without much speed so fell into irons. It felt like a bit of a moment with the rocks so close to leeward and I’m not really clear if they felt like we put them in that situation. I haven’t spoken to them to find out, but I had expected them to tack out earlier.
It was great to have some boat-to-boat racing that deep into the race, with 5 boats together rounding Turn point. Once we were clear and heading off for the last 5 miles it was Zvi (Rp55) and Glory (Tp52) then a small gap to the gaggle of Westerly (SC70), Smoke (TP52), The Shadow (TP52), then hundred yards or to so Makika then Monkee. It was a 5 mile dog leg to the finish with the breeze building and freeing just few degrees so it was back to flattening everything out, seeing how much energy was left in Ryan’s (mainsheet trimmer) shoulders and how much more salt water firehose I could take to my face to see who we could get in front of. It was a long slow roll; Westerly, Smoke and The Shadow all seemed to be going the same speed, with us and Monkey slowly catching and staying above. Monkey was very slowly catching us too but it felt manageable. We passed Westerly first then finally got past the two TP52’s with a few hundred yards before the finish. I think Monkee finished between them, all of us within a few minutes.
It was an epic first day to finish 3rd boat over the line, 5 mins behind Glory and 10 mins behind Zvi. Great racing with Cheekee Monkee too who we then had a 6-minute corrected time buffer on with a big gap then to anyone else.
(I must use less words for day two )
Sunday started with a light northerly, which was not remotely forecast but the wind readings further south showed the forecasted SE breeze so we knew there would be a transition zone not far away. We had the same starting strategy for the downwind start, reach in on stbd, bear away into a gap and hoist. Unfortunately, I need to refine our starting plans when we are by far the smallest boat/rig in a fast fleet – on a downwind start, we could not find clear air to get along the line as any boat not right on the start line (there were many) was taking our wind. We were on the line on time at the boat end but in bad breeze so immediately gybed around the committee boat and did a windward kite launch. Didn’t go as well in practice as it had looked in my head givennwe’d never sailed together as a crew but the kite was up and we were finding the breeze to get out of there.
The transition to the SE breeze came up pretty quickly so we went to the screecher to be ready for it, for us it came in with one big gust so we had to furl the screecher immediately and go bare headed for a minute while we got the jib up. From there it was a mix of on the wind or cracked off and when there were gusts, we’d surge through the fleet then look for power in the lulls. As we went south the course took us more onto the wind and it was now a mostly one sided beat up the coast. Monkee was behind us through the transition but once things settled down, they were in a low/fast mode and heading further offshore. It felt like they had a slight VMG edge but we were staying in touch going higher and a little slower, but definitely struggling more each time the wind speed dropped. For us it was a frustrating wind strength, underpowered with just the jib but too much to use the screecher upwind.
We (I) made a really dumb decision at the south end of Lopez and tacked back inshore to what I thought was a lift and decent breeze, it was neither and we suddenly lost a huge chunk of distance to Monkee who had stayed offshore. Given they were the only practical competition and we had 6 minutes in hand after day 1, there was zero justification for taking that risk and we knew we’d lost the race there.
Zvi rounded Davidson Rock first followed by the string of TP52s, Westerly and Monkee. Then there was a gap to Rosebud (SC52), Dark Star and then us. We must have been 20 minutes behind them at that point and knew we would have to finish within about 11 mins of them to keep the lead (6 mins in hand from day 1 plus the 5 mins they owed us from day 2).
Bearing away round Davidson Rock and heading north got pretty sporty, a solid Easterly at 15-20kts, we spent the first 10 mins or so staying fairly high to improve the wind angle then we launched the screecher and took off. We were sailing double slotted (Jib and screecher) which seemed to work out ok and looked good in the pics, but the only reason we did that was to avoid someone going forward and dealing with the jib. This leg was pretty on edge, sailing most of the time between 14 and 20kts and the guys did such a great job trimming, it took everyone’s full focus and we only had one bow stuffing moment. We passed Dark Star and Rosebud and could see we were catching the TP52’s and Monkee but they were still a long way off. Racing around the islands is never done until its done through and getting through the last couple of miles to the finish is ALWAYS a challenge. Zvi, who had originally had a huge lead, was stuck off the eastern point of Blakely island going nowhere and the rest of the pack where getting as far away from them as possible, trying to navigate the light spots. We could see there was a chance and kept pressing, taking the wind as far north as we could before launching the kite, gybing and ending up sailing tight up to the finish. We figured we would not have done enough to catch up as Monkee finished day 2 third on the water and we hadn’t got a time for their finish, but we’d caught up enough to give us the slimmest of hopes that it was possible.
As the results were posted a few hours later, they had beaten us by 33 seconds on corrected time. Great race but losing first by that much is tough! Cheekee Monkee is a fast boat and sailed really well, we were proud to be racing all these boats that are so much bigger. I can absolutely guarantee we were colder, wetter, hungrier and more fatigued than any of them!
I’ve been waiting for a race like that since the 2011 race where we absolutely smashed the race record on Blue Steel (F32R) and had a TOTAL elapsed time of 6 hours and 14 minutes on that boat’s second ever race (see pics). The right thing to do is mention that unfortunately a TP52 beat us by 4 mins on elapsed time so we never got that record On that same race, Makika, sailed by Jude S, its original owner/builder only finished 15 mins behind. Facebook reminded me yesterday that I picked up Makika 8 years ago to the day and brought her up to Friday Harbor. I think it’s the longest I’ve ever owned a boat its races like this that make me SO impressed. She’s so stiff and as long as you’re on it (and get your weight back) you can push her pretty hard. So impressive that a 26’ boat can battle it out with the 45-70 footers! (She could do with more sail area when its light though!).
I keep hoping I’ll have more time to come and race more with all of you further south, fingers crossed for 2024!