Sunny Side Up(Wind)
With the forecast predicting light winds and a chance of rain for Leg 1 of the Jay Ginter Memorial Day Regatta, you could describe the general mood amongst skippers as ‘subdued’ when they left the harbors that morning. Surprise, Thalia, Loa’a Nalu, Lyric (WR), Cetus, and new skipper & SEAS member Antares, made the starting line between the Committee Boat, Optiminium, and Mayflower Island, 15 minutes after making way for the 500 passenger luxury liner Seven Seas Navigator. The line was not as crowded as a result, and boats spread out along the width of the Channel, pulled south by a consistent 10-12 knot headwind. Surprise quickly pulled ahead to an early lead that she would not relinquish the rest of the day.
The remainder of the fleet made tactical moves once they left the Channel with hopes of chasing down Surprise. Loa’a Nalu and Thalia would join up near Pt. Salisbury and play follow the leader along the north banks of Taku Inlet, with Optiminium splitting off after a close encounter to Pt. Arden on Admiralty Island. Cetus and Antares would be the last to exit Gastineau Channel, getting stuck in the “Marmion Triangle” of whirly, swirly winds, missing the big breeze that the rest of the fleet would see, and eventually decide to call the race & motor in as the wind died into the evening.
Meanwhile Thalia, Loa’a Nalu, Optiminium, and Lyric (WR) all reefed their mains as winds shifted out of Taku Inlet increasing to 15 knots, with gusts to 20, and three ft. seas. Optiminium was the only boat in the group that managed to avoid reducing headsail. As the winds calmed down enough to shake out the reefs, Optiminium was ahead of the main pack, with Loa’a Nalu & Thalia within one tack, and Lyric (WR) within two tacks. They would cross the finish line in that order behind Surprise. High Noon and Lyric (JG) motored in an hour later to join the others in a quiet evening around the fire, while Optiminium motored back to town.
Sunday morning saw blue skies and a strong wind that had swung around to the north overnight, as High Noon, Surprise, Thalia, and Loa’a Nalu lined up for the start of Leg 2. Thalia experienced trouble with her head sails, and found herself well off the line, pointing the wrong way, with only a mainsail flying as the race started. While the rest of the fleet headed quickly across towards Admiralty Island ahead of an oncoming cruise ship, the late-started Thalia ran wing-on-wing dead downwind, opting to cross behind the floating city. This ultimately set them up for a long reach that would carry them directly to the turnaround at Twin Points without a single jibe, allowing them to catch back up to the fleet, all of whom needed to jibe once or twice to make the mark.
As the boats all neared the turnaround, Loa’a Nalu called out a reminder for everyone to stay well clear of Twin Points’ northern side, where Haiku had run hard aground on a rock at the end of last season. High Noon was the first out of Twin Points, followed shortly by Surprise, Loa’a Nalu, and Thalia, all now running upwind on the same tack, within several boat lengths of each other.
High Noon quickly dropped the rest of the fleet and would take line honors for the day. Soon after coming out of Twin Points Surprise was in second, followed by Loa’a Nalu and Thalia. Loa’a Nalu flew her staysail up the baby stay to point closer to the wind and improve speed, but the wind wasn’t fresh enough to afford her the tactical advantage. Thalia soon passed Loa’a Nalu and began to close on Surprise’s heels. In a classic tack-for-tack battle of sailing strategy, the two boats would close on the finish at Graves Point. Meanwhile Loa’a Nalu, made up some time as she was lifted by a header along the mainland shoreline. Surprise would narrowly finish ahead of Thalia, followed by Loa’a Nalu. Thalia then continued north, joining Antares en route to Juneau. While the rest of the fleet gathered on the Taku Harbor docks to share stories of their day’s experiences, on shore and on the sea.
Monday morning’s forecast for the final leg of the Jay Ginter Memorial Day Regatta was winds above 10 knots out of the north, with continued sunny weather. Like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery game, each boat would get knocked over 15 degrees from invisible downdraft gusts coming off Grave Point. If the coffee hadn’t sunk in yet, then this worked to wake up the rest of the bleary-eyed crew. Sails were furled, reefed, or shortened until Loa’a Nalu, Lyric (WR), Surprise, Cetus, and Optiminium, who motored out from town that morning, were tacking across the start line in a fresh 15-16 knot northerly breeze between High Noon, the Committee boat, and the Day Mark on shore. All but Optiminium and High Noon chose to take the shorter port tack towards the mainland shore. Several boats on the port tack were able to weave between commercial crab pots and point higher along the shoreline as the land mass bent the breeze in their favor. By the time boats had crossed on opposite tacks, Surprise and High Noon were in the lead followed closely by the rest of the fleet.
By Slocum Inlet, High Noon and Surprise were turning into new breeze that was shifting out of the east from Taku Inlet. One can make out the Taku Glacier from this point, admiring her advancing frozen beauty as backdrop to the towering cliffs above Jaw Point. Due to the wind shift, the boats were able to point much higher above their trajectory home and clear Point Arden with one long tack. The leaders were approximately a mile ahead of the pack of Optiminium, Loa’a Nalu, Lyric, and Cetus when they sailed into a dreaded wind hole near Arden. As Optiminium approached the boats tacking east, a faint wind line appeared on the backside of Douglas. Maintaining enough momentum to slowly drift, and aided by small puffs of air, Optiminium managed to get into fresh 10-12 knot breeze. High Noon had just enough steerage to turn the boat around and made a ghost maneuver to break free of the wind hole into the good stuff, followed by Lyric, who’d been steadily making up ground with the rest of the fleet.
As boats neared the entrance to the Channel they entered a wind shadow that would end their upwind sailing for the time being. Drifting for minutes that seemed like hours, Optiminium and High Noon felt a 90-degree wind shift behind them. Along with Lyric, these three would head down the channel with asymmetrical spinnakers flying their brilliant colors, running out of wind shortly after passing by Lucky Me. In a typical southeast Alaska sailing scenario, as the leaders were waiting for wind and the rest of the fleet were bearing down on them, an anonymous sailor was heading towards them from town going the opposite direction with their downwind sails flying. The boats realized that a 180-degree wind shift was coming their way and that they’d better get the upwind Genoas ready.
High Noon managed to find the breeze first along the Douglas shoreline, getting two full tacks ahead of Optiminium before she caught the breeze in the middle of the Channel. From there it was only a four tack race to the finish, and High Noon had her ticket punched for line honors. Optiminium followed, with Lyric two tacks behind her, Loa’a Nalu and Cetus following. Surprise was never able to break free of the wind hole near Arden and ended up firing up the ‘iron sails’ to get the family home for supper time.
Those fortunate enough to get out and sail this weekend may seem at loss for words about the fantastic weather they experienced. Or it may just be that mariners, being a superstitious breed, don’t want to jinx any possibilities for a recurrence of such conditions the rest of the summer. Another great turnout by the SEAS fleet with many enjoyable moments too numerous to list here.