The southerly indeed held through Bella Bella where we learned that we are not, in fact, the only ones passing through this far corner of the earth, but in fact are surrounded by buzzing menaces. A ceaseless parade of cruisers motored alongside us as we sailed down Llama Passage. If you’re not going to hoist your sails with 10 knots at your back, I’m not sure why you’d bother to buy a sailboat, but they looked like they were having fun anyway.
The literal buzzing menace waiting for us in Bella Bella was bees. A swarm descended upon Madrona and the merits of active versus passive defense were debated. Dalton apparently has a secret superpower for spotting them, and David killed three with his hat.
The paparazzi caught up with us as we hoisted the jib for some three-sail close reaching. “How did you guys catch up to Jungle Kitty so much during the night?” We caught up to them? “Umm, we don’t really get to check the tracker that often.” We are excellent interviewees.
Southerly gave way to westerly as we exited to Hecate Strait and managed to cut a tiny corner through the Milbanke Islands. R2AK: it’s a game of inches. Maybe that speck on the horizon is getting a little taller.
An evening radio check from Anthony aboard Ocelot revealed that they had indeed spotted our red and white spinnaker coming up behind them. This leads us to believe that they have difficulty seeing Madrona’s gray sails from far away. Stealth Mode. We like it. I complained that they hadn’t waited for us in Bella Bella, they mentioned that they’d had a pretty rough time in Johnstone Strait. That’s weird, we had a smooth night, good food, lots of rest. Huh.
The light westerly gave way to a light nothingerly and SUP paddles were deployed to stave off boredom and keep up morale among the crew (rations had already been recently distributed). Dennis: “You know, I see these people on their stand up paddle boards, and it doesn’t really make sense to me. But then again, sailing doesn’t make sense to some people.”
A cloudy night and 8 knots from the SW greeted the A team as they came on for the midnight watch (10 PM-2AM). With no moonlight or stars keeping the boat on a steady course proved to be a challenge. Only the reflection of the bow lights on the spinnaker and the phosphorescence of Madrona’s wake were visible. It was like snowboarding in a foot of new snow with your eyes closed.
The weather data received at Bella Bella indicated that there would be more wind and at a more favorable angle on the west side of Hecate Strait, so course was plotted westward. Unfortunately, the navigator underestimated just how HUGE this part of the race course is. To reach the far side would have taken a whole day, and with several major wind shifts, and a few hours bobbing around completely becalmed, it was decided that keeping Madrona pointed at Ketchikan as best we could was the best course.
Skies started to clear around noon on Thursday, and rations of scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese were prepared. Crew morale hit a new all time high.
The Bella Bella weather update has indicated a big storm for Thursday evening in Hecate Strait. The breeze shifted SE and Madrona sailed NW under her red striped spinnaker. The breeze and waves started to build and Madrona surfed ahead on the waves. The knot meter spun up in to the teens regularly. The wind and waves continued to build. One particular wave spat Madrona out and a huge spray shot over the bow. 17.4 knots. With the building forecast in mind the call went out to drop the spinnaker and hoist the heavy weather jib. Sailing mainly on the power of her mainsail, Madrona continued to drop down the faces of waves at 15 knots. The wind built to 25 with gusts well into the thirties and seas were estimated at 6-8 feet. Dixon Entrance lay ahead, where underwater shelves and strong currents compress and steepen waves. It is guarded by rocks named “Breakers” and “West Devil Rocks”. The crew reefed the mainsail. Any pretense of following the watch system was abandoned. This was too much fun to remain belowdecks. “Dennis, can I spell you on that grind?” Dennis: “G-R-I-N-D”.
Eventually, as we approached Dixon Entrance, the winds began to abate and waves rolled past, as Madrona no longer had the horsepower to hitch a ride. The antsy crew started to think about when they could start to power the boat back up. When wind speeds dropped back in to the teens, Carl permitted them the smaller A3 kite with reefed main. Madrona resumed her surfing on the large waves that remained as reminders of the wind’s earlier strength. Dalton took the helm and both Dennis and Kurt noticed how aggressively he steered the boat and how quickly his bee-spotting eyes scanned the waves as his years of skiff sailing experience took over.
The A team went below to get some rest before their sunrise shift, and the D team sailed Madrona past Dixon Entrance and over the border in total darkness.
The water flattened and the wind was up and down coming in to Nichols Passage. Around 3 AM, the early morning twilight just started to illuminate the sky, and wind shifted abeam. With 10 miles to go, the tracker showed Broderna in the barn, and MOB pretty safely behind. Just cruise it right on in, right? Kite up, heavy weather jib down, kite down, gray jib up, kite up, jib down, kite down, jib up, kite up, emergency kite drop, jib down, main down, crash landing and ring the bell!
Arrived to congratulations from our friends on Jungle Kitty, who sailed a great race to take home the steak knives. The local fish house had its doors open and a fire on to warm race finishers. Crew morale was high.
Total time: 4 days, 18 hours
Extra days of rations: 2
Whales, spotted: 100+ (in Hecate Strait, ask Kurt for the story)
Accidental PLB deployments: 1
Time delta to Ocelot: 4 hours
Headsail changes: 87 (approx)
iPad chargers killed by corrosion: 3
Quote of the race – Dalton, to Carl and Dennis on the qualifying leg: “Not even ten minutes in to the race and you guys already have the hacksaw out, huh?”