Tagged: r2ak

11 Jun

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Strait Up Windy

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Debra Photo by Debra Colvin

Well, we can say this much—the weather in Haro and Johnstone Strait has been anything but fickle. Each and every day has offered up another gale warning. Yesterday the Fanny Island buoy in Johnstone Strait was showing gusts to 35 knots, and it’s blowing 20 now.

What does that mean for racers? Big, nasty waves and a malevolent wind trying to break their boat. As a result they are forced to bite off small chunks of distance or sit tight and wait for saner conditions.

Of the few restless teams who did venture out, several were punished for their insolence. Broderna had their mast snapped in two, and the Team Superfriends San Juan 21 had its bow opened up. Both teams are safe but have withdrawn.

Of course nothing, it would seem, can stop leaders Team Elsie Piddock, who continue to claw their way up the coast closing in on the finish line.

Team Hexagram, who’ve been valiantly pressing on in their thrice-repaired Hobie 20 beach cat, managed to make it through Seymour Narrows yesterday, but nearly capsized with one of the team ending up in the water. They were also forced to battle an onboard stove fire at another point. The supposedly reliable maxim that, “your boat can take more weather than you can,” might need to be retired once and for all, as many of the R2AK crews are literally dragging their reluctant, broken boats toward the finish.

There has been a lot of talk about the conditions in the Straits. We asked a couple of experienced sailors and paddlers whether they were surprised.

Adventurer Colin Angus wrote: “Conditions this year are not typical. While the Johnstone Strait often has stiff northerlies, generally the Georgia Strait is much calmer.  During my training three years ago for my Vancouver Island circumnavigation I was out in the open waters of the Georgia Strait (out from Comox) three days a week through the months of May and June, and not once did I experience northerlies as strong as what the racers are currently experiencing.

“During my oar-powered circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, conditions were glassy, without a breath of wind, from Victoria to Comox (not too far from Seymour narrows), and I covered the distance easily with 20 hours of rowing. When Russell Henry broke my human powered speed record of Vancouver Island, he covered this same stretch at an even faster speed. I don’t know exactly how long it has taken Russell Henry’s six man crew to cover the same distance this time, but I believe it is has been more than 50 hours at the paddle.”

Small-boat cruiser and designer Scot Domergue was less surprised by the wind, but impressed by its unrelenting consistency.

“From everything I’ve seen, pictures, videos, reports, etc., the wind has been strong and conditions rough, but not beyond what I would consider well within the range of possible expectation.  These are definitely challenging conditions, especially lasting as long as they have and for small boats in a very long race! Still, Roger Mann in his little Hobie Adventure Island has managed it quite well,” he wrote.

“I don’t know that conditions in the Strait of Georgia have been much, if any, worse than I experienced and managed fine a couple of summers ago on the Marsh Duck. And even today I think they’re only a little worse in Johnstone Strait than what was happening at times when I was there.  The big difference is that these conditions may be more continuous, not getting significantly worse in the afternoon and then being far more reasonable the next morning. And that makes it tough.”

Yacht designer Tad Roberts says this kind of weather could be anticipated.

“The actual weather should come as no surprise; it’s pretty typical. Most were betting on lighter wind, and we’ll see some of that yet. But the heavy windward work in the Johnstone Straits is entirely expected. Around the time the race was announced I predicted the Johnstone Strait would be the most difficult gate. I still believe that,” he says. “Elsie Piddock played it perfectly, some of her followers are having a tougher time.”

On the R2AK in general, Tad said it reminds him another race.

“So far the R2AK reminds me of the early OSTAR days, when all sorts of crazy looking contraptions would show up. Tuesday we had 4-5 of the smallest/slowest boats sheltering here in Silva Bay. Super Friends, Dick Smiley, Boatyard Boys, Excellent Adventure, and Coastal Express were all here. You could not find any more disparate group in any marina. With few rules or requirements the R2AK offers considerable room for individual expression, which for me is the most interesting aspect of the race.”

11 Jun

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The Sea Wolf Story

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Seawolfaftermath

An after action interview with R2AK racer George Corbett from Team Sea Wolf sailing a Windrider Rave.
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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.”

09 Jun

20 Comments

Another Window Opens

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PorFavor
Team Por Favor (Hobie 33), the fastest monohull so far. Photo Debra Colvin

Update from R2AK high noon on June 9th

The remarkable Team Elsie Piddock continues to stretch their lead, bounding into the teeth of the Johnstone Strait nor’westerly and leaving what’s left of their competition and visible civilization behind.

Team Broderna is the next closest competitor, having made some nice moves and presently pushing through Seymour Narrows with the big cat Nice Pair and Team Golden Oldies just astern.

This present tidal window at the Narrows will potentially be a decisive one, further separating the race fleet when the door closes once more. Teams Por Favor, Kohara, MOB and Mau all look to be within theoretical striking distance.

Some twenty-five miles behind that group, Team Soggy Beavers has paddled to the front of the middle pack of racers that includes Teams Freeburd, Blackfish, UnCruise and Discovery.

A number of teams have spent the day moored or beached waiting out the weather and catching up on sleep, but the forecast suggests R2Akers will see at least 15-knot headwinds for the foreseeable future.

Team Sea Wolf’s off-the-shelf foiling Windrider Rave sustained major damage at 0300. The crew is safe, but they’ve withdrawn from the R2AK.

By The Numbers

40= Number of miles second place Team Broderna needs to make-up to catch race leading Team Elsie Piddock.

28= Wind speed gusts in knots middle of Johnstone Strait today.

35= Highest wind forecast for today and Wednesday

40= Highest wind forecast for Thursday

15= Racers who’ve dropped out of full race

3= Solo sailors still in the race

3= Crew aboard leader Elsie Piddock

3= Number of hulls preferred by current first and second place boats.

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09 Jun

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And the Game Changes

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June 8th proved more challenging than most anyone expected and there’s no relief on the horizon. Winds were unexpectedly strong throughout the day, with racers reporting more than 20 knots out of the northwest and six-foot seas, and now forecasts are calling for gale warnings off and on through the week in Johnstone Strait.

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Conditions were challenging enough today that several teams (see previous post) facing mechanical difficulties dropped from the race completely, and many others like Soggy Beavers in their OC-6 and Team Barefoot Boats in their open monohull tucked into harbor for extended rest.

Team Hexagram 59, Piper and Norton’s Hobie 20, up near the front of the pack all day, struck a rock in the boisterous seas, damaging a hull, but made it safely to shore. After some repair work they tried to launch but discovered the boat was still leaking and have decided to stop for another attempt at repairs—probably staying overnight at Schooner Cove Marina north of Nanaimo.

Meanwhile Team Elsie Piddock managed to stretch their lead and eventually to make the biggest move in Race to Alaska’s young history, blasting through the tidal rip at Seymour Narrows with moments to spare. The next nearest competitors—all of whom are still down below Comox—will need to wait for the next fair tide conditions.

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Team Elsie Piddock going through Seymour Narrows. Photo Debra Colvin

Now the interesting part is see whether team Piddock pushes through another hard night against possibly gale force winds to take advantage of their tidal gate advantage. Should they decide to (or be forced to)stop and rest,their lead could evaporate quickly.