I joined the crew of Ultraman II for another edition of the Swiftsure Yacht Race. The 2016 race took place on May 28, 2016. There’s actually four races within the race, an inshore short course and three long courses of varying distance. Onboard the Ross 930, we raced the short course, from Victoria across the Juan de Fuca strait to Clallum Bay on the Olympic Peninsula and back. This “Juan de Fuca” course is 78.8 nautical miles long. The race is always a challenge, dealing with large currents, light to strong winds, and variable weather. On top of that, there’s a huge fleet with some very well sailed boats. I look forward to this race every spring.
Flying in Victoria harbour. You can see all the boats tied and rafted up in front of the Legislature buildings.
Crew party down at the docks with Pimm’s in a kettle.
We kept the Friday night party a bit more low-key this year. The complaint last year onboard the boat was that everybody was too tired and boring for a conversation on the rail during those long beats to weather. An early start had us motoring out to Ogden Point for the start, a 40 minute motor outside of Victoria harbour.
The fleet lining up. We were the fourth start. At the pre-start, there is a lot of time spent lining up the start line, watching the wind, watching the starts of the fleets ahead to pick out the most advantageous side of the start line.
Choppy conditions in the morning with a moderate breeze, 13-17 knots. The breeze had us sailing with our smaller #3 headsail, but we would switch back to the larger #1 headsail as the wind lightened shortly after the start.
Boats sailing past the iconic Race Rocks lighthouse. There was a large ebb current, pushing all the boats out into Juan de Fuca strait. You have to pay attention sailing through Race Passage at any time, but especially during a large ebb current. It’s fine if you’re in the main ebb current, but go too far right or left, into a back eddy, and you can find yourself parked while nearby boats walk right away from you. Unfortunately this happened to us and we let a few boats make large gains on us.
Sean driving in the light conditions.
Cloudy skies threatening rain, but it mostly held off that afternoon as we drifted out in the Juan de Fuca strait under the spinnaker.
Interim, another Ross 930, except this one is deck stepped and has a self-tacking jib. If you recall from my writeup of the 2015 Vanisle 360 race, Interim lost their mast while sailing hard through Race Passage at night.
Issa, mastman. This was his first Swiftsure race and first time sailing outside of English Bay and the Gulf Islands.
Callum and Jason trimming.
Sandwich station down below. Crew bags stacked on the starboard side, and sails stacked on the port side.
Conditions were painfully slow at times, and it took us over half an hour just to pass this boat.
The shipping traffic doesn’t care if there’s a sailing race taking place. The busy Juan de Fuca strait sees container ship traffic and cruise ship traffic. For the race, the Coast Guard radios the position of all outgoing and incoming vessels, and it’s up to the sailboats to monitor and track those vessels. Many of the sailboats also have AIS, which is an electronic method of tracking vessel locations using a computer.
Sailing along the Olympic peninsula.
Crossing tacks, so close to Clallum Bay yet so far. While we enjoyed the ebb tide for most of the day, it was now turning and against us. Combined with the light wind, it was a uphill struggle to the rounding mark.
The J-109 boat on the right has already rounded the mark. As is often the case, the rich just get richer. While the slower boats struggle against the tide to reach the turning point, the faster boats have already rounded and are sailing downwind with the current. Unless the wind dies for the boats in front and the wind builds from behind, it’s quite hard for the boats to catch up even under handicap times.
Crew morale was a little low at this point, dealing with a rounding mark that never came, light rain falling and watching some similarly rated boats sail past us on the way back.
Note to self, don’t try to sail too close to this point. We went inside searching for wind or tide relief, but found the opposite. There was a strong backeddy near the point pushing us sideways and backwards. Meanwhile, the boats that sailed further out, nearly 90 degrees from the rhumbline, found more wind. With full sails, they were able to power through the tide.
The light is always special along the coastline
The boats further ahead were in the Cape Flattery Race, sailing out to Neah Bay on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula.
We barely rounded the mark before sunset. Every time we sail into Clallum Bay, the rounding mark is further in than we expect. The mark boat can only anchor in a certain depth of water, forcing all the boats to go closer to shore where there is no wind.
As we sailed home, the other boats were still racing out into the western Juan de Fuca strait. The sunset was beautiful that evening.
Flying the asymmetrical sail under light winds. The weather models were calling for stronger winds in the centre of the Strait, so we crossed back into the centre as soon as we could. The weather models were also forecasting for a building westerly, potentially up to 20-30 knots later in the evening. The forecast was true and we were soon gearing down to the smaller spinnaker, with the sail home turning into quite a nice spinnaker run.
Reaching into Victoria harbour with the genoa up. As it seems to usually happen, we sailed into the strongest winds through Race Passage, in the upper twenties. We had the spinnaker down before that, after a messy gybe that went poorly. I was lying down below, not really sleeping but taking my designated off-shift rest. We had to gybe the boat, so I got called up on deck. I “sleep” with all my foul weather gear on for this reason, except for my pfd. Gybing the spinnaker in the dark, in rolling choppy waves, with the breeze up is always a challenge. We managed to botch it. Issa got the full experience on his first offshore overnight race, experiencing a crash gybe and some wipeouts. The spinnaker came down and we flew the #3 headsail instead. Just moments before, I was telling Issa while sitting on the rail how things were “not very exciting.” We were sailing too far into Sooke Basin. On port tack, it was tempting to just keep sailing, just above the rhumbline as we approached Race Rock. But in hindsight, we should have gybed earlier, sailed further out, staying south and right of the rhumbline going into Race Passage.
We finished at 3:46am Sunday morning. Fortunately there was enough wind that we never slowed down sailing into the finish line off the Victoria breakwater. We dropped the sails and motored back into Victoria harbour, where we tied up at this dock for the mandatory post-race safety check. Hot soup provided by the volunteers was always a welcomed treat in the early hours of the morning.
Ultraman II crew for the Swiftsure 2016 race. Issa (Mast), Callum (Jib Trim), Dave (Bow), Jason (Jib Trim), Rich (Bow), Sean (Main) and Jason (Skipper).
There’s always something special about enjoying a morning beverage in front of the Legislature building. This time was no different. The post-race is a brief moment of calm between rushing to drop all the sails, and loading up the boat for the delivery back home. As much as possible goes off the boat and into the truck when racing to minimize unnecessary weight.
Delivery back through the Gulf Islands with Sean and Jason. With only a few hours of sleep between Friday and Sunday, I was quite tired. We took turns driving the boat. two hours on deck and four hours of sleeping below. The motor back from Victoria to Vancouver is roughly eight hours, which we broke up with a short lunch stop on Mayne Island.
Despite putting in a hard effort, we didn’t do as well as we hoped to. Ultraman II finished 10th/12 in Light Division 1, 15th/19 in the Light Class, and 31st/46 overall for the Juan de Fuca Race. Time to try again next year!