All Good Things . . .
Winds were very light early Saturday morning, and those at the pre-race Skippers Meeting discussed options for moving the start line up to Sheep Creek or Marmion in case it didn’t pick up enough to get the fleet out of Gastineau Channel. Optiminium served as Committee Boat and, finding around eight knots of breeze on the water, set the start line off Mayflower Island. Lyric-WR, Surprise, Thalia, and Tango all crossed over the line upwind on a starboard tack, favoring the Douglas Island, while Optiminium took a port tack towards the mainland and nabbed an early lead. As the boats neared Sheep Creek, Surprise crossed in front and would stay ahead out of the Channel, followed closely by Optiminium, Thalia, Lyric-WR, and then Tango.
All five boats were moving steadily upwind in eight to ten knots of breeze coming out of Gastineau Channel. Lyric-WR got caught in dying winds just past Marmion Island where they would drift for over an hour before turning on the motor. Optiminium and Thalia were able to slowly make ground in very light breeze, narrowly avoiding the wind hole that had snuck up on Surprise just north of Point Arden. Optiminium was first to clear Point Arden into freshening winds, just ahead of Surprise and their windseeker headsail who were finally able to overcome the current that was pulling them backwards. Tango would find herself caught in the same hole and falling tide at Point Arden, eventually calling it a day and motoring to harbor. Optiminium, Surprise, and Thalia continued tacking down Stephens Passage, with Surprise reefing her main and retaking the lead near Grand Island as the wind continued to build, now gusting up to 18 knots. Surprise would take line honors, with Optiminium close enough on her heels to correct over into first place. The wind died down behind them as Thalia crossed in third. Click here for Leg One results.
All five boats tied up for the night at Taku Harbor under clearing skies. The crew of Surprise had rented the cabin, joined by some friends arriving via skiff. After peeling off wet gear, hanging it up to dry, stoking the heaters, and grabbing some food, all the sailors wandered out to the bonfire. Under a starry sky they swapped tales of the day’s adventure, made plans for the remaining races, and enjoyed some chocolate pie shared by the Thalia’s crew.
Surprise served as Committee Boat, setting the start line off Graves Point on Sunday morning. Thalia and Optiminium were the only other boats to join, with Lyric-WR and Tango’s crew opting to stay close to the harbor and get in some fishing, hiking, and boat projects. Tacking across the start in light, southeasterly winds, Optiminium cut in as close to the Committee boat as possible, while Thalia stayed out near the middle of the line. Surprise and Optiminium soon found themselves out of wind, while Thalia managed to continue moving forward in the lightening breeze.
Surprise was able to get some forward momentum with her windseeker while Optiminium lay motionless, except for the drifting of the tide, for an hour. As the breeze filled back in and steadied around nine knots, all three boats were again moving forward toward Twin Points, seemingly spread out evenly from Thalia to Surprise to Optiminium. Surprise, now back to her jib, passed Thalia about one mile from the turnaround at Twin Points as the fog began to set in.
All three boats had caught up with each other when Surprise was able to make the turnaround between Twin Points, but with the wind dying again she would need the windseeker to make it back out. Setting her spinnaker, Surprise would inch along towards the finish for the next eight hours, eventually giving up within less than two miles from the finish, when the tide changed and currents overcame her. Thalia and Optiminium drifted in the rain and fog, never quite gaining enough forward momentum. The two would call it a day around 3pm. The crews would enjoy the afternoon performance the humpback whales put on, with breaching and bubble net feeding all around the three sailboats, making up for a day of mostly drifting in the rain. Click here for Leg Two results.
Back at Taku Harbor, the crew of Surprise shared their bountiful harvest after pulling up a crab pot full of 21 Dungeness crabs. With one escapee and two that weren’t legal size to keep, there was still enough to feed the fleet for supper, with this time Tango providing dessert for all.
Having missed the rest of the weekend, and sitting in second place overall for the season, Haiku’s crew left town at 4:30am to motor out and join the fleet for the last race of the year. In the cold fog and early morning light, she passed Thalia heading in the opposite direction, motoring home so her crew could make afternoon work obligations.
Lyric-WR acted as Committee Boat for the Monday start, setting the line off of Graves Point, which proved challenging as winds gusted up to fifteen knots with one to two foot seas. The first of what would be four large cruise ships passed by as Surprise, Optiminium, Haiku, and Tango set their sails. All four boats reached across the start in the southeast winds, with Haiku quickly setting her symmetrical spinnaker and Optiminium her asymmetrical spinnaker, while Surprise and Tango stuck with their jibs, and Lyric-WR only under mainsail, intending not to race. Surprise and Haiku both running towards the mainland, Optiminium on their preferred course around the backside of Grand Island, and Tango and Lyric-WR somewhere in between, the cruise ship Westerdam began hailing the sailing vessels north of Graves Point, making sure everyone knew she was coming, followed closely by the Zuiderdam, as a dense fog crept in. Haiku jibed across Stephens Passage, gaining ground on Surprise who found the wind turn northerly for them as the cruise ships appeared out of the fog and somehow decided the best course was to zigzag between Tango and Surprise, cutting close to the mainland.
Haiku was seeing speeds upwards of eight knots as she continued running downwind toward Point Arden, opening up a large lead. Optiminium was near the halfway point rounding Grand Island, having been able to avoid most of the cruise ship drama and wakes, when her crew noticed Haiku, at first not expecting any of the fleet to be so far up. It was the day for chatting with other boats on the radio as Haiku was hailed by a gill-netter who had a set out just off of Arden, which she was able to give a wide berth to as the lightening wind came up, now pointing her right at Gastineau Channel. At the same time, Surprise was reaching across towards Point Arden.
Optiminium was able to avoid a wind hole in the lee of Grand Island and, once clear, picked up a building breeze that had now shifted from the southwest, over Admiralty. Lyric-WR, still running just under her mainsail, saw Optiminium pop out from behind Grand Island and decided to make a go of it, throwing up her jib. Surprise, Optiminium, and Lyric-WR, now all headed for the Channel where Haiku was chasing the waning breeze, but not losing all forward momentum. After reassuring the crew of the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice that they would stay out of the way, Haiku was able to run almost dead downwind along the mainland with her symmetrical spinnaker. Surprise, Optiminium, and Lyric-WR would close the gap to within about a mile of Haiku as they hit Gastineau Channel’s ever-lightening winds.
Surprise and Lyric-WR set their asymmetrical spinnakers, and Surprise was able to maintain the lead, keeping some momentum following Haiku’s lead up the mainland coast. Tango caught back up at the mouth of the Channel, and joined in the drifting party. Some wind started to fill in and Optiminium was able to make progress up the Channel, dropping in behind Surprise. Haiku was less than a quarter mile from the finish when the wind died completely, and the crew would eventually drop the headsail altogether as the current at least kept her moving in the right direction, and she did the slow drift across the Sheep Creek finish line in first place.
About a mile from the finish as the wind died, both Surprise and Optiminium were unable to make forward progress for at least an hour. Surprise managed to head upwind in the light puffs with her windseeker as the wind shifted north, and were able to cross in second. Optiminium was not far behind, able to tack out and then reach up the Channel under her asymmetrical to cross in third place. Lyric-WR and Tango were not far behind, battling it out for fourth and fifth place, respectively, finishing only a half hour behind. Click here for Leg Three results.
While Surprise, Optiminium, and Lyric-WR motored back to the harbor (and Haiku’s crew finished up their lunch at the Hangar) a north breeze picked up about a mile past the finish, blowing 10-12 knots. Tango enjoyed a great ride tacking back and forth across the channel all the way to the mouth of Douglas Harbor. Poor timing for the rest of the fleet, but then that’s sailing in Southeast Alaska . . .