And We’re off -
We had canons blowing, horns honking, flags flying, spectator boats surrounding us - it was quite the event. We put the sails up, started trimming for speed, took a final look at the current and wind predictions, and before we knew it we were off. Irritatingly, despite the massive start-line I somehow managed to be late… Kicking myself that my timing was off, we focused on getting the boat moving and to catching up with the competitors that had a better start. We did just that - we battled tack for tack with many boats, trying to figure out where the currents and the winds were the strongest. As we sailed on the wind became stronger and stronger, but then so did the current. At times we could see boats, completely powered up, with all crew hiking that appeared to be standing still. Our goal was to not be that boat!
In order to stay out of the current we needed to stay as close to shore as was possible. We tacked and tacked and tacked and tacked some more. As we approached the ever notorious Race Passage, the width of water with favorable current narrowed. At one point it was likely less than 100’ wide. As we got closer to the shore the wind would shift wildly which forced the driver and main trimmer to work hard to keep the boat under control. Our plan was to run up the shore until the current changed to a favorable direction, and then cross to our mark in Callalum Bay.
As we were heading up the shore we were in good company, trading tacks with SC27s and and Olson 30, both very quick boats in a strong breeze. We would tack and make a mistake and the competing boats would sneak ahead, then they would make a mistake during a tack and we would edge ahead. This continued for hours, and for most of the way up the course. After one particularly quick tack we were looking for the Olson 30 as we were unsure as to whether we would cross ahead of them, or would have to duck their transom. As we looked we realized they were way behind and having trouble. Stephen brought up the binoculars and we realized that they had deployed their man overboard equipment.
We all race to be competitive, we all race to have fun, and what better a way to have fun than to do well? We play games with other boats, we strategize about how we can put ourselves in their way so they will have to slow down or go behind us, in effect we villainize them, make them out to be the enemy. If someone is in trouble the game changes - there is no question as to how to react. Without skipping a beat the crew eased the sails and we turned Thursday’s Child around to go see if there was anything we could do to assist the boat that looked to be in trouble. Every sailor knows that if a person was in the water, finding them can be near impossible, keeping track of them is incredibly difficult, and getting them back on board can be a serious challenge. The more boats and eyes on scene the better.
As we approached the boat we could see that the crew were struggling to retrieve their equipment, and to untangle it from their rudder and keel. If there had been a person in the water, the person had been retrieved. The skipper waved us off and, after a big sigh of relief, we continued back to the point at which we turned around and continued racing.
Crossing the Strait
As soon as we stepped away from the shore, and headed to Callalum Bay we started to step in to the wind. We were watching much heavier boats than us reduce their sail area to keep the boats under control. We were taking waves over the bow, and the crew were all getting wet so we opted to go to the smallest jib we had, and to reduce the sail area further by reefing the mainsail. As soon as we did this the boat came to life, she was controllable and sailing beautifully. In the heavier conditions Thursday’s Child lacks weight which means that waves can really slow us down. We struggled to keep up with the heavier boats in our division. As we continued across the wind and wave direction shifted, and we were no longer pounding every wave, instead we were gently rising over them. We weren’t catching up to the boats ahead of us, but we weren’t falling any further behind either.
As we approached the turning mark, which was in a sheltered bay, we shook out the reef on the main sail, set the spinnaker, stepped back out in to the wind and set our sights on catching up with some of our competitors.
Thursday’s Child was fully powered-up, surfing at points. Benoit and I took turns driving focusing on one boat - A J32. They were miles ahead.
A requirement of the race is that boats check in with the Race Committee as they cross the US/CAN border. We made a point of listening to the radio for our competitors to call in, and then calculating how far ahead of us they were. We knew we had a great deal of catching up to do. As we approached Race Passage it became evident we had been successful. We were neck and neck with the J32, and only a few feet apart from each other. We were overjoyed. We then turned our attention to getting through Race Rocks.
Race Rocks - Take Two
Race Passage is notorious for it’s almost un-navigable currents, and rocky shores. Skippers have to make the decision to either sail the shortest course, which takes the boat directly through the passage, or take the longer more conservative course around the cluster of rocks. To the locals, and during the day it’s not such a daunting task, but as a newbie to the passage in the middle of the night, in a good breeze, with our spinnaker up was pretty frightening. We knew if we went around the passage we were going to lose any ground we’d made up on the downwind leg, so we made the call to go through the passage. The traditional jovial conversation ceased and Benoit and Stephen were both glued to the GPS, Stephen on his handheld, and Benoit on the onboard unit. Adding to the tension was our speed; we were surfing downwind, had just set our speed through the water record of 11.84kts, and the current was coming from behind us - we were likely doing 13kts over the ground. If we were to make a mistake and find a rock, we would be in serious trouble and undoubtedly in the water without a boat.
The last few hours of the race were the longest - as soon as we turned the corner to head to the finish line at Ogden Point the wind turned off completely. Being from Vancouver, and being used to sailing in no wind we were truly in our element. We moved people around and trimmed and trimmed and trimmed and got the boat going. With great elation we crossed the finish line, fired the engine up prepared for the mandatory safety inspection, and then the inevitable party on the dock!
It was 1:45 in the morning and the ever-classy Royal Victoria Yacht Club volunteers greeted us on the dock with hot soup and cheers. We flew through our safety inspection. I headed off to the race office to request our finish time be altered for the man overboard we responded to, and the crew took the boat back to the slip in front of the Empress.
Once the redress was finished I waddled over to the dock, ready for a party and tales of the race course, but there was nobody there… With the exception of Ultraman II and a few other unfamiliar boats the docks were still empty. I started to realize that we may have actually had a pretty good race. How Exciting!
We swapped stories with Jason and his crew from Ultraman II until the alcohol ran out, and it was time to go to bed. As we all shuffled in to the boat it became evident that we had a problem. We were a victim of our own success. We had thought we would likely finish mid afternoon on Saturday, some of the crew had planned hotel rooms, whilst others had made arrangements to go to family houses. It was 2 in the morning, there were 8 of us, and we all had to figure out how we were going to sleep on a 30’ boat… after many straws were drawn, and coins flipped the sleeping arrangements were worked out and we all crashed for a well deserved sleep. The next day we awoke to find out that the wind had died after we finished and that many of the boats in the longer courses were still out drifting around. As we were delivering the boat home I checked the race results only to discover that we had won FIRST PLACE in Division Two - Light Class!
September 11, 2014
I had just arrived home from work and noticed a package on my front step. In it was a battle flag, a trophy, and a congratulatory letter for our 1st place. The letter advised us that we had won the Canadian Coast Guard Perpetual Trophy. How exciting, and what a class act Royal Victoria yacht club is!
Will we do it again?
After winning the 2012 Southern Straits medium course, An old-salt friend of mine offered me the advice that I should never re-enter a race I’d already won. I didn’t listen to his advice then, and I very much doubt I’ll do it this time.