June has come to the Pacific Northwest, and even though it’s only in its second year, everything in the world of sailing seems to be centered around the Race to Alaska, the second leg of which is just under 48 hours old. Please forgive the tardiness of this post, and believe me that it’s not for lack of interest. Travel to a national championship regatta in Canada kind of swallowed me up for a couple of days, but we’re back, baby! I have some catching up to do, and will post more from Port Townsend and Leg 1, but I wanted to go up with the most current information about R2AK we can give you.
So, we should really focus on Team MAD Dog while we have the chance, at this rate, they’re going to be in Ketchikan before long. It’s no forgone conclusion, to be sure, there’s a lot of potentially rough and cold water out there, and if night two was anything like night one, they didn’t sleep much. Fatigue on a boat like that is a major concern, because the Marstrom 32 is so powered up, you really don’t want to be asleep at the tiller when a big puff hits…
I got to talk to Randy Miller, owner of this lightning bolt of a catamaran yesterday morning. They were all in good spirits, though it’s probably hard not to be when you’ve built an Elsie Piddock-sized lead in the R2AK! Like Elsie last year, MAD Dog made it through Seymour Narrows in their very own tide gate, but unlike Elsie, they didn’t stop to rest. The incredible push continues, and they’re clear of Johnstone Strait and are just passing Cape Caution. Randy said they’re having fun and that they’d had a very good night one. The breeze came up a bit, and he said they were “chopping wood” upwind in 18-20 knots and 3-4 wind waves through much of the early morning hours. Sleep was hard to come by, with Colin getting 90 minutes, Ian getting about two hours, and Randy only getting about a half hour. Nonetheless, he described himself as “hopped up on adrenaline” and said, “we got enough rest to power through.” And power through they have.
The Marstrom 32 is really an amazing machine. I knew it was fast, but frankly I’m surprised by how fast. These are very good sailors, and their 1,100 pound cat has been fast in all the conditions they’ve seen so far. Colin, who works at Ballard Sails, built them a big jib for light air, a sail not normally used on the Marstrom 32. It tacks down to the end of the sprit and has a ton of material that can be sheeted to the center of the boat. With this sail, they can fly a hull in 5 or 6 knots of breeze. And on the flip side, these guys have sailed this in many races in the San Francisco Bay. They know it to be fast and reasonably under control in bigger breeze, thanks in part to the horizontal T-foils they have on their rudders, which keep the bows from digging in and risking a pitch pole. I asked Randy if he thought they would be this much faster, and he said, “I’m not surprised, this seems to happen more often than not. It’s an unbelievably fast boat. And, everybody sees it race windward-leeward, you never get to see what it can do when it can stretch it’s legs.
I’ve said all along I think they’re going to need to stop at some point. The boat has no shelter, they’re sleeping in a bivy sack strapped to the windward rack. It’s a very wet boat anyway, and if a hull is in the water, they called it a “firehose.” With the lead they have they could stop. But they haven’t yet. Randy told me, “the boat is taking care of us, we’ve had no significant breakage, only a gennaker halyard issue that was a quick fix.” They commented on the beautiful scenery and the fierce looking jelly-fish. They’re not looking away from their sails much, though. Randy said, “we’re fully in race mode.”
The next grouping of three is now charging up Johnstone Strait. Jungle Kitty (currently 2nd), Madrona (currently 3rd), and Broderna (currently 4th) made it through Seymour narrows in the middle of the night – Jungle Kitty just before midnight, and the other two just after. They had to wait for the gate, and Jungle Kitty couldn’t avoid the consolidation of the boats behind while they waited. Jungle Kitty had put some distance on the crew with a clever move through John’s Passage next to Stuart Island. They said they were monitoring what Madrona was doing behind them, but thought it looked like no breeze where they were, so they went for it and “popped out in good breeze and put some distance on the others inside.” They continued, “It was a tense few minutes on board, we had a freighter pinning us down, and we had to reach down to stay clear. We hoisted the kite at one point to keep the boat moving.” In the hours that followed, Jungle Kitty put a fairly wide delta on the others through the northern part of the Strait of Georgia.
Another aspect of their success has been their dual-tandem bike pedal power solution. Every boat I’ve talked to has been astounded at their speed under pedal power. Who would have guessed that a heavy (compared to all these carbon multihulls) monohull would be the fastest boat under human power? Not me! With four people pedaling, they’ve been sustaining speeds above 4 knots. They’ve been nicknamed, “the Peloton.”
The next group through Seymour Narrows was led by Bad Kitty, who transited about 4:30am. They led in the very early morning procession that also included Un-Cruise, Turn Point Design, Pure & Wild, and Mail Order Bride. MOB had come close to making it with the group ahead, but pulled into the bay just southwest of Seymour Narrows to rest up and wait for the next window.
I was able to have a brief phone call with Phil Wampold of Team Bad Kitty last night. You may remember Phil as one of the members of type-two fun Team Mau in last year’s race. He shared a bunch of great info about their experience, and was one of the many surprised by the speed of the Marstrom under sail and the Jungle Kitty’s amazing pedal power speed (his exact words were, “Jungle Kitty... What a Tour de Young. Holy shit. That peloton, man!” He was actually on Bad Kitty’s pedal station when we talked. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you know it was hot last night; and when I asked how he was doing, his response was, “sweaty.”
When we talked, they were just approaching the north end of Honrby Island. Phil said they had done best earlier in the day when it had been a bit breezier. He said they were going well in the 15-18 knots they had, and that the boat was great in the wind-against-tide waves. He said, “it’s still a pretty wet boat, but it’s way more comfortable than the Nacra!” They have cabins in the hulls, one for cooking, one for sleeping. And Phil noted that it was a good thing that they didn’t put a weight restriction on gear, because he brought a bunch of extra pairs of socks… a good thing since he already dropped one overboard! He is impressed with the boat and his team, but R2AK 2015 fans won’t be surprised when he said, “I miss Joanna in the light stuff. I could use a joke!”
It looks like Golden Oldies Ghost Rider, Ain’t Brain Surgery, Fly, and Hot Mess all have a good shot to make the next Seymour tide gate. But for them, and everyone else, it’s a good time to remember that there are really two races in race to Alaska, the one to win and the one to finish. And the group racing to finish are making progress, dispersed fairly evenly between the north and the south parts of the Gulf Islands. We’ll be looking forward to hearing from them more soon!