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 June 14, 2017   Joe Cline

This is the second of our Race to Alaska updates. Don’t miss our first report, with some great stories of teams caught out in a Juan de Fuca gale.

As we come to a close on the third day since the R2AK restarted in Victoria, we have a much better picture of how the race is shaping up. Three race favorites – Team Freeburd/Pure & Wild, Bad Kitty, and Big Broderna – are many miles ahead, with the Burd brothers presently maintaining the lead they’ve held since the first day. They’re making quick work of Johnstone Strait in what has been a comparatively mellow transit of notoriously windy waters, and are approaching Port Hardy at the time of this writing.

I’ll take a moment here to take my hat off to Team Pear Shaped Racing, who have retired from the race. A confluence of factors including a collision with a log and a hypothermic captain made this the right call. They were, however, leading at the time they had to turn for port. Good on you for pushing hard and making good decisions, Pear Shaped. I hope we see you in the R2AK in the future!

Back to those still on the course, two other boats are through Seymour Narrows, 3 1/2 Aussies made it through against several knots of building adverse current on an F-31R trimaran, while Team Ketch Me If You Can flew through on the next tide gate doing 10 knots with the spinnaker up on their Nacra 20.

Further down the course, seven boats are in the vicinity of Campbell River, it now looks like Discovery and West Coast Wild Ones will make it interesting by pushing to get through Seymour Narrows this evening. Another eleven boats are still underway in the middle of Georgia Strait between Texada Island and Comox, while nine others are flanking the Vancouver Island shoreline between Nanaimo and Qualicum Bay.

We’ve had the good fortune to hear directly from two teams today, Team Global and Team KELP, and we’ll share an update from the race leaders that you may or may not have seen.

Team Global off of Lasqueti Island today.

Team Global

The gregarious quartet that make up Team Global had checked in with me a couple of times since the race got restarted in Victoria, and this afternoon we got to have a lengthy phone call. A look at the tracker indicates that things haven’t gone 100% to plan, but they’re still in good spirits and are definitely good-humored R2AKers.

The first update I got was from Emily, who among other things noted this, “we celebrated my ‘oatmeal-burn-iversary’ this morning with instant oatmeal…served cold.” For those that might not remember, Emily suffered severe burns on the first day of the race last year as a part of Team Onism, but still finished the race and is back for another go in 2017. She told me, “I actually began to cook the oatmeal to commemorate the occasion, then it started getting rough and I was like, ‘WHAT AM I DOING?!'”

As far as the sailing, they had generally chosen to spend more time out in the Georgia Strait than some of their competition, a choice that Katy said, “may or may not have been a very good one.” They didn’t go into the Gulf Islands at all, after seeing predictions for more wind in Georgia Strait. It didn’t turn out that way. “Go out in to Georgia Strait they said… there’ll be wind out there they said…” It seems they’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, a situation any sailor, certainly any racer, has experienced before.

When I spoke to them today, they were just off the west side of Lasqueti Island, sailing at about 2 knots in 5-8 knots of breeze. Captain Katy had just woken up and offered in a good-natured tone, “Every time I go to sleep we don’t make any progress. I mean come on!” Elan retorted that she has a special ability to pick the no wind times to go off watch. It was just on the border line of pedaling vs sailing, but they were relying on sail power at that moment.

I noted what looked like a frustrating night after a good day of making miles yesterday. Emily responded, “Frustrated? I don’t know what you’re talking about… we were just scoping out real estate on the north side of Nanaimo. I mean it IS a lovely town. And, you can’t just check out a neighborhood one time, you need to see it at 3pm and 8pm, and 3am!”

So it was very light? Well… sort of. It was very light, except when the breeze came up so strongly that they had to tuck in a double reef and go back and forth in adverse current over the same ground they’d bobbed up and down over in the light stuff. Sounds frustrating to me.

They’re on a different boat than last year, the vanishingly narrow Columbia Sabre 32, and they’re learning a lot about it in these first few days of the race. They were pretty candid with me that it’s not quite as quick as they were hoping, and some of the characteristics they liked about it are also contributing to some of their challenges. With such a narrow platform and no lifelines, it is tough to change sails. I don’t know what’s worse, feeling nervous going through the change or suffering through a sail configuration that’s not right for the conditions. On the bright side, they don’t have all that many sails to choose from. Not like Team West Coast Wild Ones, who Emily says “have more sails than a five-year-old girl has party dresses.”

They’re also making the most out of some difficult downwind sailing, whether it’s light and lumpy or windy and lumpy. When I talked to them, they were flying a symmetrical spinnaker off the bowsprit, trying to go wing on wing. They had struggled to go wing on wing with the jib, which they attributed to the narrowness of the boat. They don’t have a spinnaker pole, and they chafed through their fractional halyard for the asymmetrical spinnaker yesterday while, “squirreling around in the Strait of Georgia.” They have to be careful with the chute if it gets too windy, since they’re now flying it off of a masthead halyard; the shrouds are fractional, and above a certain wind level, according to Elan, “it tweaks the mast above the shrouds.”

Ultimately, I think they’re feeling that the weight of the boat is affecting them more than they had anticipated. Katy said, “To see everybody shoot up with the southerlies, that’s not good for morale or ego.” It hasn’t been easy to stomach the sight of lighter boats ghosting past them, which has happened on more than one occasion.

So they’re learning about the downwind stuff, and they learned a lot about heavy air beating during leg one. Simply put, “We just had too much sail up in leg one. We didn’t damage any sails, but we needed to find a sailmaker to put in a 3rd reef point in Victoria, which guarantees no wind for the rest of the race, of course.” In that situation, they fell behind Discovery Island because they had a cockpit full of water. This was partly from waves coming in over the rails of a boat that loves to heel, but they also had water coming in through the outboard well. They “lashed a cushion over the outboard well, anchored for ninety minutes to get it sorted, and got into Victoria around 10:00pm.” Emily said, “I’m not sure I’ve ever been in that much wind before, or a boat that felt like it was actually going to lay down.” Katy elaborated, “we got into a routine and were rolling with it, but we needed to stop filling up with water before we could think about anything else.”

I told them I was sorry it wasn’t all roses. They said it has been, just some really smelly roses!

Some things are working well on Global, and I’ll reiterate that morale was still high. Katy said, “I was super happy with our pedals. We passed a couple of boats under pedal power just after the start.” They have had some issues with kelp clogging up their propeller, and when that happens Emily likened it to, “tying to move a boat by swishing a mop back and forth.”

The other thing that’s working well on Global is having a second watch captain with Elan joining the team this year. Either Elan or Katy is on deck at all times, mostly Elan with Emily and Katy with her sister Caroline. Everybody take turns napping all day. Last year, there were a couple of nights Katy was up all night, and Emily was down with the burn, so pretty much everybody is better rested. Essentially, they are trying to “keep people on reserve for when we need them.”

Don’t sleep on this savvy team, though. As they get to know their boat better and better, things may look different. And, once they get through Seymour Narrows, it’s fair to expect a big chunk of upwind sailing in Johnstone Strait, which is exactly the conditions they chose the boat for. Go Global, go!

Team KELP in Victoria before the start of the leg to Ketchikan.

Team KELP

“Hi! We’re off Hornby Island, trying to get to Campbell River tonight.  85 miles is the goal today! Can you believe it?”

If you think they’re doing well, you’re right. For a team that downplayed the “race” part of Race to Alaska, they seem to be pushing hard and sailing fast. Even they’re surprised, saying, “We did NOT think we’d be aiming for Campbell River on the third day. We thought 50 miles would be our top for any day.” They’re hoping to get into Campbell River sometime between midnight and 3:00am.

Last night, they stayed in Silva Bay on Gabriola Island after a 65 mile day. In true R2AK fashion (where dirt-baggery is held in highest regard), Elena laughingly said, “It was great, we borrowed somebody’s private dock for the night! Freya came in a couple hours after us and went to the real dock where you have to pay and there are showers and stuff. After a while, a liveaboard named Quill rowed over in kind of a sketchy wooden rowboat. He was super excited to meet us. Quill invited us to the main dock, noting that the wharf master was out of town for the night and we were welcome to come over there for showers and whatnot. But we were settled in for the night.”

Despite their overall success, yesterday was not without its challenges for the vivacious pair on Team KELP. They had a couple of hours going nowhere near the entrance to Active Pass. They were in that position because they had arrived early, before the tide changed. Kristin described it as follows: “There were two or three hours yesterday when we were stuck, and that sucked. We got to the entrance to Active Pass before we thought we would and we couldn’t make any headway in the current near Portlock Point, or the more aptly named Stupid Dumb Idiot Point, as it was being referred to on our boat instead.”

After those difficult few hours, though, things brightened up. Elena, who was at the helm when they sailed through Active Pass, called that passage the highlight of the race thus far. They made the trip through Active Pass at the same time as two “beefy” ferries and Kristin said, “Some ferry captains really got to know us.” They tried to short tack on one side, but they didn’t like that, so they wound up doing donuts while the ferries passed. Elena elaborated on this moment that she so enjoyed, “It was a good headline moment that this race requires you to do that never thought you were going to do. Sailing through Active Pass at the same time as a couple of ferries – that doesn’t sound like a good idea. But I did it, and it was really cool!”

Kristin is most proud of how well the navigation and planning has gone, saying, “I’m pretty stoked about how many miles we’re putting on and how well we’ve been able to navigate. We’ve been looking closely at the current tables and charts and it seems to be working. We’ve been putting all the tools we bought at Captain’s Nautical to use – it’s awesome!”

In addition to some great navigational choices, the reason KELP might nearly double their expected mileage max-out is because of breeze and seas from behind. That doesn’t mean that it’s all be awesome and comfortable, however. They described the motion of the boat as, “really rolly polly – torquing like the waves were wringing out a washcloth (us).” In fact, when I noted that morale must be very high, Elena said, “It is, but I did barf this morning.”  The breeze was heavier earlier in the day, and the rollers were there right away, making the stout little Santana 20 yaw and pitch. “I was really tired and Kristin handed me an egg, and my body was like, ‘NO!'” She had to admit, though, that she felt a lot better after she’d gotten seasick.

The breeze got lighter in the middle of the day, and they got to sail under spinnaker for much of the day. When they called around 4:30pm this afternoon, it was building again and they had just took spinnaker down.

We’re starting to see some consolidations into groups, and Kristin and Elena are enjoying sailing in and around a group of other R2AKers. “We passed Rush Aweigh about an hour ago. We’re really surprised by how fast Grace B is, and we’re excited by how close we are to Team Global, considering that they’re sailing 24 hours per day.”

At the time I spoke to them on Tuesday afternoon, KELP had sight of Rush Aweigh, Grace B, Global, and Freya. I asked whether having all the boats around them made them feel some competitive spirit. Elena was unequivocal, “I don’t feel competitive at all, I just want to make it to Campbell River tonight, and I want everybody else to have a fun time!”

They might spend a whole day in Campbell River to “eat a cheeseburger.” In addition to a shower and a hot meal, they may replace the only two things (knock on wood) that have broken thus far – two shackles, one for the boom vang and another for a spinnaker sheet. Additionally they’ll be watching the weather. Kristin said, “There’s supposed to be a very strong southerly creeping up on Thursday, we’ll have to look at that. We’re really highly motivated to not sail in another gale after our experience on leg one.”

Team Freeburd/Pure & Wild in Johnstone Strait.

Team Freeburd/Pure & Wild

There have been a couple of direct posts from R2AK teams that are very worth reading. Most notably from earlier today is a post from Tripp Burd, captain of the race leaders on Team Freeburd/Pure & Wild. I loved this story about their nighttime transit of Seymour Narrows:

We can see the end of Johnstone Straits about 10 miles ahead. We are still making good speed, but the breeze has died to about 4-5 knots. We are being chased by BAD KITTY and BRODERNA who both made it through Seymour last night.

We had an extremely exciting and memorable passage through Seymour Narrows last night in the darkest of dark you can imagine and nearly max current. About Campbell River the current started building in a fading breeze. The current was so strong we were tacking through only 30 degrees. As we approached the Narrows, Chris and I remembered our passage two years ago and we began to get fully prepared- hatch boards in, Ocean Rodeo suits, Deckvests, Headlamps and safety gear all on. We hoped we were prepared for whatever might come. Soon the only wind was the apparent wind caused by the current moving us at a peak speed of 12 knots! We barely had any steerage and we were being pushed and pulled around by the current and eddys. As we entered the gut of the Narrows we could hear but not see breaking waves all around us. Here we go, we thought! We were most amazed to find it was not waves at all, but a huge school of 30-40 porpoises travelling with us. Our passage proved to be thankfully uneventful other than this incredible experience. The porpoises followed us and frolicked in our bow waves for the next 10 miles, tacking with us. It was so incredible. We were sad to see them go.

We had a couple close passes with a cruise ship and a barge and were thankful to have such good headlamps, a handheld torch and AIS. Thank you PrincetonTec.

Sailing through most of Johnstone Strait was generally upwind, with 15-20 knots. It was pleasant sail with a reefed main and J1.

We have a long way left to race, the boat is all good and we are having an amazing time. Trevor’s eyes are wide open!

 

Joe Cline is the Editor of 48° North.