Southern Straits Race Report 2017

The forecast was looking quite favourable for the fast and light boats in the 49th annual Southern Straits race. If the race had started a week earlier, the fleet would have either been sailing into a very strong April storm, or sitting at the dock listening to the VHF radio, drinking rum. The weather was fairly benign on race day, with a low sitting off Vancouver Island. Leading up to race day, the models were generally in agreement from run to run, if somewhat different depending on the forecast model.

We will probably end up rounding after the southeasterlies die down, so we’ll be sailing into a dying breeze is my guess if we’re not rounding before 7pm. After 7pm, the wind will likely drop into the 5-8 knot range. I think we’ll see a band of heavy precipitation early tomorrow morning as the cold front passes (expect cold rain), but it should dry out through the day as we head north. Another band of precipitation is likely sometime in the middle of the night.

Working the Vancouver Island shore seems like a less effective strategy this time around. The wind is forecasted to be lighter closer to shore due to the wind shadow, without the usual benefits of the Qualicum outflow winds due to the cold rainy weather. Staying in the middle won’t be too adverse tide-wise given the weak flood. It will probably pay off to seek more wind than a little bit of tide relief for that flood between 3:15am-8am (only 2ft). It’ll be interesting to see how the overnight winds pan out, as one of the models (the ECMWF) is still showing decent (8-10 knot easterly) through the night, whereas two other models are showing pretty light winds (GFS and NAM) until they pick up again in the morning.

In the end, the ECMWF model was bang on, showing a drying trend on Friday, as we sailed north through some squalls, but also plenty of sunshine. The breeze was best in the middle of the strait overnight, while boats that sailed north of Halibut Bank (including us) ending up in some wind holes and a dying easterly, and boats that stayed south of Halibut Bank caught the post-frontal southwesterly first and sailed past those stuck above.

Looking into my crystal ball, I figured the race weather would go something like this in an email I sent out to the Ultraman II crew the night before the race:
Pre-Race Safety Meeting
Light air, downwind start with an ebbing tide.
With the light winds in English Bay to start, everybody was looking for the best winds to get out of the bay.
Finally out of the bay, and sailing into the stronger breeze.
Andrew driving on the long 50 mile spinnaker run out to Sisters Islet. We all took turns driving, even the bowman who’s not used to being at the back end of this boat.
Fortissimo sailing behind us
Skipper Jason looking back at one of our competitors, Scoundrel, an Olson 30, in Division 6. We almost let them pass us on the upwind going home, but managed to hold onto our lead.
Andrew down below for a rest. Even rockstars need to nap.
Looking back at our competitors with the Vancouver skyline

The wind picked up into the steady 18-20 knots, which was the upper end of our 2S spinnaker. The foredeck team did an awesome job with a very fast bare-head change to the 4S spinnaker. Not bad for a crew that hasn’t sailed all winter. We were all more comfortable sailing with that one in the bigger breeze, and the skipper more comfortable with the possibility of blowing that one up.

Going downwind at 11-12 knots, with top speeds in the 15s.
We caught up to back half of the J/109 fleet. This is Mojo, sailing to our left.
Once the Ross 930 was up and surfing, we were able to extend our lead over the other boats in our division, and we were up at the front of the fleet in the medium course.
Vibrant rainbows on the race course.

Rainbows were a common sight. The weather was perfect for sailing during the day and night. There were only some light rain showers as the squalls blew through. The daytime and nighttime temperatures were fairly comfortable, especially given the light overnight winds. We sailed under the sails, and caught a glimpse of a near-full moon rising through the clouds.

“What do you guys rate?”- Legacy

“100.” – Ultraman II

“Oh, you guys are doing really well!” – Legacy

Sangster Island and Mojo
The scenery was pretty awesome. A day earlier, and the race would have been much different.

A photo op of the photographer before getting ready to take down the spinnaker for the rounding around Sisters Islet. I don’t get a chance to take a photo of the interesting moments like the roundings. Onboard Ultraman II, chances are that if I pull out my camera, it probably means there’s a maneuver that’s just about to happen, whether that be a sail change or a gybe.

Sailing conditions were quite pleasant at Sisters Islet. The wind diminished to SE 10-12 knots and flat water.
Nobody lives here anymore, and the buildings are all boarded up.

Sailing back in 8-10 knots towards Parksville. We were way ahead of our division at this point, and we were following the four J-109’s in front of us. We lost some ground here, sailing into some lighter breeze on the north side of Ballenas Island. In hindsight, we went too far right when the wind was still good in the middle. We watched the fleet behind us sail close to the rhumbline off Lasqueti Island, so we tacked out converge back with the fleet. I’m glad we didn’t try to go to the other side of Ballenas, where the boats sat in a wind hole before sailing back out into the middle.

Enjoying a sunset over the Salish Sea, somewhere off Parksville. A nice sunset here, but too far from our competition.
Looking back at where we sailed from
Freeze-dried dinner on the rail
Boat speed, 1.5 knot. We sailed too far south off Ballenas Island and lost a large portion of our lead by this point.
Floating along with the A1 sail, hoping to get back into the better breeze.

The rest of the fleet was also going left at this point. We converged with the front and right side of the fleet. We crossed tacks with Beats Per Minute (Olson 30) at midnight. We lost them after a few tacks, when they went right to sail a course south of Halibut Bank, while we sailed closer and closer to the shore. This move would not pay off, as the boats ahead sailed into wind holes off Roberts Creek and Gibsons. There was a light outflow from Howe Sound that curved up along the Sunshine Coast, meeting up with the post-frontal southeasterly south of Halibut Bank. At 23:00, the wind was E 8 to 12,  and an hour later it was SE 6 to 8. Beats Per Minute and Diva sailed the south course and were lifted to the finish, while we struggled with a weak breeze. As Peter Salusbury said during the Straits tactics talk, the race is won or lost at night, with the focused and determined crews being able to make up ground overnight.

 At 2:30am, we decided to go back out into the middle, but it was too late by this point. We crossed in front of another competitor, not knowing at first it was our sistership, the Ross 930 Dilligaf. We sailed another five-minute out, and then tacked back for the fast starboard reach across the south side of Bowen Island. We owe them 17 minutes, and we weren’t quite able to make up that time by this point. They were also sailing double-handed too and pulled off an awesome race.

The finish line is off Point Atkinson, but the fastest route is rarely to sail straight towards the finish. In the early morning, it usually pays to sail further south, way further outside than you expect before heading back to the finish line. As per usual, we were tricked into sailing closer, but the wind shifted from a southwesterly to light eastery off Point Aktinson. It turned into a tacking battle with the other Ross 930, who would eventually fall back. But they covered us from behind, ensuring they wouldn’t get more than 17 minutes behind us if they sailed into a hole.

We had a fantastic race, enjoying some really nice sailing conditions. It was all smiles as we cracked open the morning finish line beers. We crossed at 6:04am, after sailing for 19 hrs, 28 min, 16s. We would end up with line honours for Div 6, 2nd/9 in Div 6, and 4th/41 boats overall in the medium course.

Breakfast rums back at the dock with the Ultraman II crew. From left to right: Jason (Skipper/Main), Andrew (helm/secret weapon), Jason (trim/ chicken soup miester), Gavin (mast), Callum (trim), Richie (bow/tactics/sandwich guy).

The finish line is a beautiful spot, even if there’s not much wind here sometimes. After catching up on some much needed sleep, I went out for a run and caught the last boat in our division, Bedlam II, crossing the finish line just before sunset. There were still two other medium course boats left out there in a very light breeze, and only one of them would finish before the midnight cutoff.

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