The Nerve to Stay High
After a horrific start, Slacker tacked to port to avoid the island light air & get offshore as fast as possible to stay in the wind. My nerve was tested as all the other boats except Runaway cracked off and passed Slacker to leeward, but took comfort in seeing Runaway up with Slacker & stubbornly stuck to my strategy. Stressed and exhausted from business responsibilities and race preparations, depressed as I was sure the fleet had left Slacker behind, I hit the bunk early & often the first night. Then in the morning the position reports came in & I was sure there was a mistake. How could Slacker be 13-30 miles ahead of the other smaller boats? It turns out my strategy had been right, and Slacker had good winds all that first night while the other smaller boats had fallen into light air off West End. That’s right boys, just try to catch the Slacker…
Light Air Down
I set my old Hood symmetrical that first morning and kept it up until a severe broach off Guadalupe Island about 50 hours later. Saturday I continued to do well in the slightly stronger winds farther offshore, then Sunday the winds died off, and Slacker was seeing 1-2 knots most of the day while the other boats gained much ground. Towards the end of Sunday Runaway caught up to Slacker, making for a fun Sunday evening with a little company as we approached Guadalupe Island in the light conditions. Sunday evening was as lovely as it gets with a great sunset, moonrise, and lovely, peaceful sailing conditions.
The light conditions persisted until Slacker was off the West Coast of Guadalupe Island when the wind piped up very quickly. The spinnaker became severely wrapped not once, but twice! The second time after the spinnaker unwound, Slacker promptly rounded up out of control and lay on her side, probably 70 degress over, and not moving. The pole downhaul cables snapped so there was no way to reach the tack. “Now what?” I asked myself in an oddly calm manner. “Oh, the autopilot must not know what it’s doing, I’ll just take the tiller and bear off.” There was no effect whatsoever as there was so little rudder in the water and so little forward movement. “Now what?” I asked myself again. Finally, I figured to let the guy run out, and Slacker promptly righted herself. Then I was able to douse the spinnaker, grateful I was not on a larger boat.
With stronger winds behind them, Rubicon & Thriller ran up behind Runaway & Slacker & caught us in the lee of the island. A restart! We literally were all lined up awaiting wind in the turbulent water. I decided to round wide, thinking I could shorten the amount of time I would be in the lee. It didn’t work. While in no wind and standing at the mast, I gazed at the short, breaking waves, amazed that it looked like there was 25 knots of wind when there was none. Then I looked over at Rubicon & noticed he was putting in a reef. “How odd.” I thought. “Why is Rubicon putting in a reef?” 30 seconds later I had the answer. 25 knots of wind hit Slacker and we were off on the long climb back.
In the wee hours of the next morning, I heard a bang from my bunk, then Slacker slowed down. On deck I found the jib down on deck, with a shredded 1 foot piece of halyard attached. No problem, I have a spare – but would the same thing happen to the other halyard? I raised the sail but didn’t tension it as much as I’d like, nervous about the longevity of the halyard. 3 hours later, I hear a thud at the stern, & Slacker promptly started doing donuts. The two 1/4-20 bolts holding the tiller bracket on sheared off. Pipe clamps to the rescue! 20 minutes later we were off again, until they snapped 2 more times on the beat back. 1 hour later, I heard another bang and Slacker started drifting. This time the tack fitting had snapped & was gone. I jury rigged a Dyneema line around the bow to attach the tack to, which held to rest of the way back.
Meanwhile, with spray regularly coming over the boat, Slacker’s deck leaks made the tough conditions considerably worse. Nothing down below was dry. Nothing. I was soon unable to light the stove and therefore unable to have warm food & drink. This became the most difficult aspect of the trip. The only way to try to get warm was to crawl in the bunk fully dressed in foulies & cover myself with a wet sleeping bag. Now this is a vacation! And to think they only charge $100 entry fee for the race!
The third day the wind moderated enough to raise a double reefed main for a while as I approach San Clemente Island. My strategy was to go inside San Clemente as it appeared the W – NW winds would hold up through the last night. Alas, it was not to be. Slacker fell into a large wind hole off San Clemente and banged around for hours. Exhausted & cold, I hove to for a few hours to sleep. 2 knots of wind returned, but they air oscillated through at least 60 degress, making it impossible for the autopilot. I was forced to stay up and drive and tack through the last 10 hours to the finish at Cat harbor.
Stay warm & dry. This really saps energy.
Carry spares. Everything you can think of.
Perseverance pays in the end. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment just to finish.