We obviously have to start with this: we are over the moon for Team MAD Dog. What an incredible showing, what grit and spirit and focus and skill. To all of us, myself included, who wondered if the boat would hold up, who doubted their ability to get sleep, and who postulated that the would eventually have to stop… Randy, Colin, and Ian have shown all of us what’s what. I never doubted they could finish, and I definitely thought they had a good chance to win. But I didn’t think it would be like this – faster than Elsie by more than a day and every bit as convincing. And unlike their predecessors, they just never stopped. Hats way, way off to Team MAD Dog.
There’s tons of interesting stuff happening up and down the course, and I’m really excited about the progress that many of the teams are making. That said, I’ve had two phone calls in the last day from Team Jungle Kitty, one from Mike Karas last night and one from Jen Glass today. So, today’s late-in-the-day report will just be the update from the boat currently leading Broderna, Madrona, and Mail Order Bride in the race for the steak knives.
At the time of this writing, the Kitties are making better than 10 knots with a fairly direct course to Ketchikan. Broderna is charging behind them making almost four knots more boat speed and better VMG at this moment. A lot can happen from here.
When Mike Karas called last night, it was warm and light. They were sailing, but barely, and dealing with light and oscillating breeze. But, they said their heading was within about 5° of Ketchikan, so they weren’t complaining.
The had cruised through Bella Bella after spending the morning on what Mike called, “a truly wonderful morning sail, downwind under the A1 spinnaker.” They carried the kite all the way to Lama Pass where the breeze ran out in the lee of an island. Mike said, “we did four sail changes and pedaled a lot. A pair of humpback whales came by, and that was awesome and tranquil, but it was torture not making progress.”
Indeed, over the course of the morning, and even more so yesterday afternoon, Jungle Kitty dealt with a consolidation with the boats that trailed them. They had chosen to go inside of Calvert Island, a more protected route. Broderna and Madrona took the outside route. This, of course, is one of the dangers of leading other boats – your competitors have the chance to split once you’re committed. Mike told me that “the choice to go inside was because we thought it was a fairly direct route. Also, we were being fairly conservative in our decision making, we don’t know these waters well, and we were worried about navigating the rocks in the entrance to Bella Bella from the outside.”
Though they weren’t sure exactly of the other boats’ position, once they parked inside, Mike said they “were pretty sure the gap was being closed.” They were right. By the time they got to Bella Bella, they had Madrona and Broderna fully on their heels. They had pondered a stop in Bella Bella, but considering their hot pursuers, they pushed on. In fact, they found out just how close the others were from John Buchan, well-known Seattle sailor and owner of the TP 52, Glory. John, also the uncle of Madrona’s owner, Carl Buchan, cruised by in the power boat he’s been following the race on and indicated to the Kitties that his nephew was right behind them.
It hadn’t been light all day. Coming out into Queen Charlotte, Jungle Kitty had seen breeze in the low 20s. Much of the Jungle Kitty crew has little or no offshore experience, despite very significant accomplishments in smaller boats. Mike said that being out there with the breeze up “didn’t feel huge, but it felt like some pretty big water.”
The Jungle Kitty crew have been rotating through all the roles on the boats. They have two primary navigators, Jen Glass and Mike, and two primary watch captains, Ben Glass and Anthony Boscolo. Even with those assigned responsibilities, the talented team of eight shares all the duties. They’re staggering their watches, so everybody gets to sail with a variety of the others. They’re keeping four people on watch at all times, being on for three hours during the day, and six hours through the night.
I asked Mike about the dynamic on board, and he said, “We’re pretty race focused. I mean, we’ve got people right on our heels. We’re serious about making good decisions, but we’re in good spirits, and we joke around too.” The jokes come easier when people are on the pedals, especially when Matt Walker is wearing his tight, hot pink shorts. They’re having some issues with one of their pedal drives, but they’re dialing the system in. It takes some time to deploy the bikes, but they’ve learned that they will benefit from the pedaling if it looks like it’s going to be light for at least 15 minutes.
The weather shifted overnight in a big way. When Jen called this afternoon, the breeze had turned to the south and a serious rain system had finally stopped. They were drying out a bit, and were elated to be doing some fast downwind sailing – making 12 knots of essentially pure VMG on their port jibe. She said it was good the rain had stopped, because it was getting pretty “moist and dank below deck, and it doesn’t smell very good.” She noted that people were happy to be drying out, but noted that the cold hadn’t been as bad as she had anticipated. “I haven’t had to wear gloves at night,” she said. A healthy ration of Gummy Bears also keeps abates the cold.
Jen told me that it had “been an interesting day.” She elaborated, “I think we’ve seen every wind direction, and we’ve used every sail except the storm trysail. At one point, we actually did a full circle chasing the breeze.” The crew work is impressive, though, on such a big boat. They don’t have to wake anybody up to do a sail change, they’re getting through them with the four that are on deck. She said that since their rough night in Johnstone Strait, everyone is getting their rest, and people are happy, healthy, and come on watch ready to roll.
They’re closing in on their destination, and since they’re now in a downwind mode, they decided they could jettison some of their extra water to save weight. They calculated that they could empty three of their seven-gallon jugs, which by my calculations is just over 175 pounds – not an insignificant weight reduction. They’re expecting to sail most of the day, and Jen told me they’ve “lashed the pedal drives down with the hope not to use them for a while.”
As I mentioned earlier, Jen is one of the designated navigators on the boat. She told me, “the hardest part has been navigational – do we go inside or outside of these islands? And how do we position ourselves for the coming breeze? For example, our boat is awesome upwind and downwind, but is less good on a reach. There’s some easterly breeze in the forecast later on, so we’ll see how that goes. Right now we’re trying to decide when to jibe back in. We don’t like being near land. We’ve found that it’s lighter breeze and we have to worry about rocks. That’s just bad news.”
But they’re chugging along. Jen used the word “cruising” to describe what they were doing several times, so I think she’s pleased with how they’re moving. She did note that there was a lot of kelp, and that Matt Walker’s insanely long arms were essential to clearing it off the rudder.
Finally, like so many in R2AK, Jen couldn’t help but note the beauty of where they’re sailing – especially the wildlife. She said they’ve seen several pods of orcas and gray whales to compliment the humpbacks Mike talked about. She described a pod of at least 15 dolphins playing in their wake as they were entering Johnstone Strait. She said, “they were off the bow on both sides of the boat like they were helping us along. It was magical.” Jen also talked about the bioluminescence in the water at night. She said not only is it beautiful, but “it really helps you see the waves” and steer the boat accordingly.
The bottom line is that they’re having a ton of fun, and they’re ready to enjoy what they think will be the final push into Ketchikan. As long as the breeze is with them, they’re making good speed, and Matt Walker keeps waking people up with swirlies (as he has been), I think they’re going to have a LOT of fun in the next 24 hours as they try to hold off some very good sailors and very fast boats in hope of claiming the steak knives! Go Kitties, go!
Joe Cline is the Editor of 48° North.