Nine shorthanded boats gathered off the MDR Breakwater on Friday afternoon, March 18, to race 71 miles upwind around Begg Rock, just north of San Nicholas Island and back 60 miles to Cat Harbor.
Conditions were forecast to be moderate Friday night and Saturday, but a storm was looming for Sunday. Onboard my Slacker, I was enjoying the 10 knot conditions on Friday afternoon as the fleet tacked upwind, playing the shifts. Then a distress call alert on my VHF fired off, displaying the lat/long of the vessel in distress. Surely this must be a hoax. A more lovely afternoon was rarely seen. Then Santiago Reyero onboard Koh Samia came up on Channel 16, reporting water was coming in faster through his keelbox than he could manage.
The reactions were swift and impressive. Two PSSA boats, Tenacity and Voice of Reason, diverted course and were on scene in minutes. Slacker, Thriller, and Team Open Sailing also stopped racing and diverted course. First boat on-scene, James McCone onboard Voice of Reason hailed Los Angeles Coast Guard to assist Santi with status updates. Gil McGuire aboard Tenacity recovered some of Koh Samia’s supplies. Within 15 minutes there was a helicopter buzzing past Slacker enroute. The Harbor Patrol and Coast Guard on scene within 30 minutes of the distress call, had Santi off Koh Samia, and were towing the vessel back to MDR. Santi had only gotten his feet wet.
Realizing that Slacker would be late to the event and be superfluous, I headed back upwind towards Begg Rock with my #3 and full main. The wind became quite shifty, causing the autopilot alarms to fire off every 20 minutes. At one point near Santa Barbara Island I was on Port Tack heading straight for Begg Rock, and a minute later I was on Starboard tack heading straight for Begg Rock. By the midnight check-in, 3 boats remained in the race: Runaway, Voice of Reason, and Slacker. The events of the afternoon with Koh Samia and the daunting forecast for Sunday had exercised Skipper discretion. Thriller and Tenacity had decided to seek safe harbor at Catalina to ride out the coming storm, but that is another story.
Daybreak brought light conditions off San Nicholas Island with the three racers in sight of one another. After breakfast & coffee, looking astern I noted several long trails of kelp off Slacker’s rudder, so I backed down twice to no effect. Plan B was stepping down on the transom and pulling. Kelp had wedged between the hull and rudder, but I pulled out what I could. A wonderful morning of sailing ensued. Rounding Begg Rock in light air as the long swells crashed over the reef was mesmerizing.
After rounding the Rock it was an idyllic sail back, close reaching in maybe 10 knots of breeze all day in flat water. Watched probably 100 dolphin on and off, 10 under the bow at a time. The day was only marred by NOAA Weather Radio broadcasting “frequent gusts to 55 knots” on Sunday, and “seek safe harbor.” Runaway as usual was ahead and planned to finish. At the noon check-in, Voice of Reason, a few miles behind Slacker, decided to not finish the course, but to head straight for King Harbor. It was one of those lovely sailing days not soon forgotten as Slacker slipped past Cat Head and the finish line around 8:30pm.
Not wanting to get ride out the storm in Cat Harbor, I decided to return to MDR that night despite my lack of sleep. The last third of the crossing ended up being incredible sailing as Slacker was doing steady 8s and 9s under full main & No. 3 in the increasing rain. A little too much drama after so little sleep. Voice of Reason had made a judicious call. Slacker was safely in her slip by 3am, only 36 hours after the start. I fell asleep listening to the rain patter on deck.