When John & I decided to race Swiftsure double handed we figured we would be questioned as to our sanity. When asked, we said that we have both been so busy in opposite directions that this would be the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time together. Little did we know just how Much time ( officially 1 day, 14 hours, 40 minutes, and 19 seconds).
Truth be told, we always enjoy sailing and racing together. We feel comfortable and work quite efficiently as a team. It’s interesting that when cruising we choose to sail in all conditions. John especially works hard to sail in our light summer airs and sailing is his passion. It’s these skills he’s developed which saw us persevere and stay the course until we crossed the finish line. At no time did we consider quitting. After all it was a race and one has to deal with the conditions you have.
We set our sights on getting to Neah Bay to round the mark for home before dark but soon realized that wasn’t likely to happen what with the light wind. Instead we concentrated on keeping the boat moving in the right direction. This was our mantra for the whole race and that’s what we did.
We lost sight of our competition by Clallam Bay. This happens during a distance race which leaves you questioning: ” Who’s ahead? Are we ahead? What are we doing wrong? Where is everyone?” You start having doubts and really just need to concentrate on doing what you need to do. We were surprised to see Dragonfly motoring back to Victoria (hint: means they had withdrawn). Then we speculated why? Equipment failure? Human problem? But, hey, now we knew we at least could get third finish which gave us renewed energy. We entertained each other with this thought until it was time for a hot supper. I took over the helm while John had his meal & a brief rest. Then it was my turn but I can’t really sleep during the daylight so got up to watch the sunset. I stayed up to mostly consult with strategy, look for other boats and see what they were doing, and take over briefly for John to have a break. He keeps the boat always moving, tweaking sail trim and has a knack for sensing the wind . When I’m on the helm I really concentrate so as not to break the momentum. We rounded the mark just before midnight. Once we were onto a course across the straits I had a 2 hour sleep, waking once to tell him it sounded like kelp or something was stuck around the daggerboard. He pulled it up to clear it and back down (but not all the way as we found out later). John woke me to take over. He slept for an hour or so, but can’t sleep longer once he hears the sound of me tacking. Once he was up we looked at our track on the GPS and saw, although constantly moving, we kept covering the same ground. (Clued in to the fact the daggerboard wasn’t all the way down.) Once that was rectified we were able to make a little more headway. Little. It was 4 a.m and quite bright and there weren’t many boats close by and certainly not any of our competition.
This was the last time either of us had sleep as we never really anticipated how much longer it would take. We kept looking for our competition and trying to gauge what other boats around us were doing, especially if they seemed to be moving better than us. We discussed many things: new sails (no!), more equipment (no!), summer cruising locally (yes!), when and where, and a trip to Australia to see our son. We had a hot breakfast and coffee, and then snacked throughout the day on muffins, nuts, and nutritional Edge bars. By the time we made it through Race Rocks with the tide we knew the finish was just around the corner. Each moment after that involved all our concentration to pick up and use every little puff of wind. Because we were only two we switched between using the jib and screecher. The spinnaker would only mean a lot of work putting it up and down and doesn’t give much of an advantage in such fickle light conditions.
Poor John…I wouldn’t let him leave the helm. I was counting on him getting us across the finish line. I really wasn’t sure how much longer we could keep it up since we kept having our hopes go up and down with the slight breezes and contrary tide. I kept giving him muffins, tea, chocolate, Edge bars, anything I could to keep him focused and on track while also constantly changing sails hoping for that magical combination. By this time we heard over the radio as one more in our division withdrew. This gave us a brief surge of hope that maybe we could place second, followed by disappointment for our friends. Fatigue wasn’t an option as we were determined to get this done. It is so difficult to distinguish the confusing lights as you approach Victoria. You are also looking for other boats, trying to distinguish what and where they are in proximity to you.
We had the radio on channel 26 and could hear as boat after boat withdrew from the race. It was sad to hear knowing just how hard everyone, sailors and organizers alike, had worked to put on this amazing event. All did it with grace and often a big “Thanks . See you next year”. One skipper called in to “Race Committee, Race Committee. This is Ridiculous, I mean this is …. ” This was such a nice touch of levity. I wish I could remember the boat’s name to recognize him for his humour.
We did finally make an exciting finish at 2350, squeaking ahead of two other boats by mere seconds.
It was such a treat to be greeted at the dock by the Inspection crew, Chair Vern Burkhardt and a bowl of hot soup. It was then that we heard we were the first and only finishers of our division. We were happy to be first and proud of ourselves for persevering.
We arrived back with a little extra food and water which would have been sufficient had we needed to stay out until Monday morning finish time of 0600. Would we have stayed out there until then? Probably.
Will we do it again? Ask me later. It’s like child birth….as time goes on you forget the really bad parts!