An after action interview with R2AK racer George Corbett from Team Sea Wolf sailing a Windrider Rave.
June 8th began quietly for Team Sea Wolf as they worked up Haro Strait—often under pedal power—and cut through Boundary Pass in search of more wind.
George says the forecast was calling for 10-15 knots, but things were dead calm and race partner Mike McCormack lay down to try for a nap. The sailors hadn’t been able to get any real sleep in a couple of days.
Before long the breeze began to build, and by about 9:30 that night it was really starting to blow up. Mike came back up to join George and the two decided they’d better head for shore, aiming at Gabriola Island. But as conditions continued to deteriorate, wind, waves and current pushed them back and they were never able to reach shore, and once they came about on a port tack, they were never able to tack again.
“The boat wouldn’t come around in that wind and sea state. We basically side-slipped across the entire Strait.” Winds he says had built to 40 knots and seas were 15 feet and breaking.
“We were getting the sh*t beat out of us,” he said. “We started to try a jibe but it was obvious the boat was going to pitchpole.”
The nearly delirious, sleep-deprived sailors worked out a sort of system for managing the boat in the maelstrom. They kept jib trimmed to a close reach and with Mike calling out waves in the dark, George would ease the main and fall off down in the troughs to get enough speed to power up and through the waves hammering their port bow. This went on for five hours.
When asked if it was a wet ride, George said it was like having a swimming pool’s worth of water dumped on you once every minute. The boat was swamped repeatedly and they were manning the hand-operated bilge pump non-stop.
George estimates they had seven near-capsizes—most because of especially big waves.
“Believe it or not it was maybe the best sailing I’ve ever done. Ninja sailing. If I made a mistake we would have been in really serious trouble. Conditions were fu*king horrendous.”
Although Team Sea Wolf was somehow managing to hold it together, their Windrider was being driven back toward the muddy shallows of Sand Heads, at the mouth of the Fraser River. Both sailors were familiar with the area and knew that’s not where they wanted to end up. With northwesterly fetch coming down all the way from the top of the Strait, the huge waves would be crashing down on the debris strewn lee shore.
“At that point we were forced to contemplate getting smashed apart on logs,” he says. “So we decided to call the coast guard.”
Their handheld VHF’s antenna had been ripped off during the melee, but fortunately their 911 cell phone call was answered and they were patched through to the coast guard. George estimates it was about an hour later that the coast guard arrived on scene. They told the sailors they’d never had the hovercraft out in water like that. He and Mike were able to grab one bag with passports before being forced to ditch the boat.
“It was hard to do, but it was better the boat was smashed up than us with it. I’m actually proud we made the correct decision to call the Coast Guard in enough time that they were able to recover us instead of just a couple of bodies.”