VanIsle 360: Last Legs

Off Uclulet

Day 12: Wednesday, June 12, Uclulet To Victoria

Finally! Our Kind of Day (Mostly)

10 am start, which was rather nice. We got out to the start line to find no wind, but as we waited a breeze came up, and we were able to get going slowly. The wind built in behind us, and soon we were moving better, staying just behind the TP 52s and moving away from the rest of the fleet.

We spend a rollicking time in a building breeze, but it never got up to the point where we could surf, so we had to be satisfied with inching ahead, hour after hour. Jam, 65 Red Roses, Freya and a couple of J 120s were keeping up pretty well.

And then the wind faded. We were still moving, but the boats behind were still in the old wind and catching up. The weather report had told us that when we entered Juan de Fuca Strait there would be up to 4 knots tide against us and no relief on the Canadian shore. The wise advice was to stay on port gybe all the way across the mouth of the strait and come in on the American side, where there were some back eddies.

We were ahead of the competition, and when they gybed in, we gybed as well to “cover” them in order to stay in the same wind and current conditions. However, they were farther out and farther downwind from us, and we gybed when they did, which was too soon, and we caught too much of the outgoing current, while they were past it. By the time we realized this and went over to their line, they were all ahead. Simple things like this lose races.

However, now the wind was building into our range (15 – 30 knots) and we began to surf down those big rollers that had been coming in off the Pacific for days. 11 knots. 12 knots. 14.2. 16 knots! We caught up and took the lead. Briefly.

Then we had to gybe, and the spinnaker got twisted around the forestay. It was an incredible tangle, and the only thing to do was pull it down, repack it in its bag while we ran on mainsail alone, and put it up again while the opposition passed us and pulled ahead.

However, we put up our “night kite,” a black spinnaker that is heavier nylon and not quite as big, and away we went again as the wind continued to build, along with our boat speed. 17 knots. 18.5!

But once again the gybe went wrong, we have no idea why, and once again we were bareheaded for 10 minutes while we fixed it in the gathering dark. Once again we popped it up and played catch-up. Just as we passed Freya for the second time we hit 19.2 knots, the fastest we’ve ever had the boat going.

But our luck was against us, and we had a third disaster, this time with a tangled halyard, and the three lead boats pulled away again.

We fought on through the dark, rounding up occasionally. This happens when the boat gets heeled over too far for the rudder to catch the water, and the spinnaker slews us sideways, our mast coming close to the water. (We never had a full broach, where water pours over the coaming into the cockpit.)

Finally, after a pretty rough couple of hours, we squeezed around the point through Race Passage and turned for Victoria. The wind eased off a bit, the waves were less in the shelter of the point, and we were making pretty good time.

Then The Good News

All three leading boats had decided not to risk Race Passage, and had gone around the outside of Race Rocks! Once again we were in the lead.

Our last bit of luck happened a mile from the finish line. Our wind was dropping, and Jam was riding the last of the old wind and catching up to us when we got a call from the Harbour Authority that a freighter was leaving port and headed our way. It was going to pass a safe distance behind us, but Jam was going to be only 0.3 miles from it. The pilot on board suggested that 0.3 miles was a very small margin for error when you’re dealing with a 40,000 ton freighter, and it would be too bad if someone got hurt. Jam pulled aside to let them past, and we zoomed over the finish line first in our class at around 1 am.

Of course at least 4 boats finished over us on corrected time, but line honours on at least one race was vindication of our boat’s abilities. Statistics: Distance; 98 Nautical Miles. Elapsed time; 15 hours. Average speed; 6.5 knots. Maximum speed; 19.2 knots.

Day 13: Thursday, June 13, Layover in Victoria

There are no campsites near the Inner Harbour, and the Empress Hotel frowns on tents on its front lawn, so the roadies had to camp miles away. Thus most of us slept on the boat. However, Will and Ang had a friend to stay with, so I kept my bunk this time J

We got up late and did some boat repairs, and then my friend Morgan came and picked me up and took me back to his apartment in Langford, where Nell served me a wonderful pasta lunch. They had just come back from a trip to China and were jet-lagged, so we all had a delicious afternoon nap. Then tea and soup and conversation, and they took me back to the boat. Exactly the break I needed.

Day 14: Friday, June 14, Victoria to Nanaimo: Not with a Bang but a Whimper.

The final run back to Nanaimo from Victoria is a bit of a turkey shoot. There are 4 potential passages through the islands to get into Georgia Strait, and you can take any one. The reliable way is the longest: out around all the islands. Active Pass is the next longest and next most reliable. Then Porlier Pass, and finally the “straight line” up the coast through Dodd’s Narrows, which takes the shortest route, but creates the longest, narrowest course if the winds and tides are wrong. Complicating this is the fact that we had to make it through Active Pass by 2 pm when the tide changed against us. The tide changed 1 hour later at Porlier Pass, but it was 10 miles further. You can see the quandary.

We started out going great guns. There are numerous islands just east of Victoria, and you can go inside them or outside them. After getting a great start we went through the middle and beat everyone, only to find a parking lot on the far side, with no wind and many of our competitors catching up. We fought our way in light and variable winds up to Active pass by 1 pm, giving us a whole hour to get through only two nautical miles. We decided to take the safe route, and in we plunged, followed closely by Jam.

Only to run out of wind. As the graphic above shows, we tacked back and forth, raising and lowering various spinnakers, changing course minute by minute. At one point we were drifting so close to the rocks that Ang had the boathook out, ready to fend off, and Greg was ordering the engine started.

But the moment the engine fired a gust of wind picked us up, and away we went.

The frustrating part was that we were just passing 65 Red Roses at one point when they put up their spinnaker for a new wind. We put ours up two minutes later, but they ghosted away and we stayed stuck for another half hour. By the time we got moving, they were 5 miles away, headed for home and a win.

And then the boats started coming out of Porlier Pass, 10 miles ahead! They had made it before the tide change. Oh, well, that’s sailing. We gybed back and forth up Georgia Strait, battling it out with Jam and Riva for what we thought was about fifth place.

And then, on the radio, boats started calling the Race Committee at the “Five miles from the finish” point! It was a group of Division 3 boats, the slowest of the fleet, which had risked Dodd’s Narrows, swooping in on a favourable tide and being dumped out right at the finish line. Payback for all those extra nights they spent on the water while we sat at the dock, our race long over.

Summing Up

So we ended the race rather far back in the fleet (5th overall out of 8 boats in our division), but quite satisfied that we had accomplished a difficult task and acquitted ourselves well. It is by far the most gruelling race any of us had ever been in, and we had kept up our spirits and stayed in full race mode the whole way. My hat is off to those on the smaller boats, who were out at least 12 hours longer than we were on several of the races. They certainly earned their kudos.

I’m glad I went, and I’m proud of how well I stood up to the grind, but the next race is two years away, and at my age I don’t think I’ll be applying for another position. I’d like to thank Greg Johnson, owner, skipper and super helmsman of Surfrider for giving me the opportunity to go. I’d also like to thank Will Schwenger and Angela McLaughlin, the heart and soul of the crew, for keeping an eye out for me. While it galls me to think that someone felt it necessary to worry about my welfare, it heartens me to know that this lovely couple would take the time out from their many duties to be concerned. Also thanks to Peter and Paula McLaughlin and Michelle and Bill Schwenger for being such a resourceful and loyal road crew.

Happy sailing to the rest of the crew and all the crews on all the boats. We have been through an experience together.

“The Pit” (My post) 4 winches, 12 line-stoppers, 15 lines to handle

VanIsle 360 Final Results


1 comment for “VanIsle 360: Last Legs

  1. Michael Gilgan
    June 18, 2019 at 9:00 am

    Amazing Gordon. I’ve followed IMOCA open 60′ races for years including the Vendee Globe and have recently added a transiting motor for the first time. We’ve done Dodds narrows and Gabriola pass under sail and just two weeks ago spent about 4 hours tacking in light airs in a channel waiting for the tide to change (our motor had a problem the day before) and then we entered Smugglers Cove by Sechelt under sail…and bounced the bow sprit off a cliff in slow motion before ghosting in to anchor. It’s very heartening and inspiring to hear that people really do the passes under sail only and absolutely amazing to read your account. My current atlas shows the currents around Victoria in the Strait. Crazy! Need a 60′ for that under sail or loss of spare time. Thanks for sharing your blog. Very very cool.

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