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 Both teams are safe but have withdrawn.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.”