… in the 25 KNOT wind.
Single-handed race Vancouver to Nanaimo Saturday June 4th 2016
Wind Strength: Estimated 15-25 ec.gc.ca – 25 knots steady in Georgia strait
Sea State: 2.5 metre seas
Total Distance: 45-50 NM
Sp upwind 5 – 6 knots
Sp downwind 6.5-8 knots
Time on the water 15 hours
Time on the helm 13 hours
There is a time to persevere and soldier on and there is a time to call it quits. I went through both of these options many times during the first 6 hours of race day. There were times as the wind piped up and I was forced to leave the cockpit and put a reef in the main, which involved losing up to 30 minutes of preciously fought ground as we drifted hove to, downwind. There were times when the mighty Ooviloo would careen down the backside of a wave with a tremendous crash and the whole boat would shudder. There were times when the boat would sail smoothly and powerfully over the highest of seas and I felt the thrill and excitement and whooped with joy. Some of the deciding factors to negotiate the decision to leave, were getting pooped twice and having waves breaking over my bow so often as to completely drench me in the safety of the cockpit. The decision to call it quits came as I considered the increasing wind strength, the punishment I was giving the boat and the fact that another 3-4 hours lay ahead. Maybe its my age or my wisdom – but something nudged me and said “If you don’t need to be out here, then don’t be.”
Also, the support boat was not being supportive as I couldn’t see it anywhere. When I tried to raise them on channel 68, my VHF chose to take a holiday and went off. Literally. With that last factor rearing its head, I turned the boat away from the west and headed toward Gibsons, an altogether more amenable sail.
Although competition brings out the best in some people, it tends to bring out the worst in me. The times that day when I felt fantastic and excited to be out there was when I didn’t feel that I was competing. A little friendly competition can be fun, but the longer I stayed out on that particular course of beating my brains to windward and punishing the boat – which is what it felt like more than anything, the only competition was with nature.
I know that competition all too well and I have great respect for my competitor. So much respect that I prefer to take second place or just sit it out.
I did have some wonderful fun that day and I learnt a whole lot about my capability and my boat.
• I learned about the different sail configurations that best suit stronger wind conditions.
• I learned about how long / short a tether needs to be so I don’t trip over the blasted thing all the time.
• Some healthy lessons on wearing foul weather gear even on blisteringly hot days such as that one, can reduce the moisture content of my sweater and my trousers.
• I learned that no matter how many times I washed the salt water off my glasses, they still got splashed to the extent that I had to take them off.
• I learned that even if my VHF radio is working when I leave the dock, there is no reason why it should not utterly fail halfway across the Strait of Georgia – I have a backup handheld, but still.
• I learned that even with polarized sunglasses, there is no way to read any electronic device that begins with the letter “i” : iPad, iPhone, iWishicouldseetheblastedscreen
• I also learned that it is better to have some kind of autopilot before leaving shore than trying to fanangle one in 20+ knots with ropes found in a cockpit locker
• Lastly I learned that I don’t like single-handing on race day because when things go wrong, which they invariably do, I have to do EVERYTHING MYSELF – though when I mentioned this last point to my partner, she finished my sentence saying “…when things go wrong, I HAVE NO ONE TO YELL AT” ~ Good point!
There were factors that I could have prepared for –
• Unload all and any unnecessary weight
• Prepare below decks for a heavier ride
• Make all my sandwiches in advance
• Wear my foul weather gear
• Empty my water tank – which sits under the v-berth
• Anticipate that the radio will spontaneously fail
• Determine that I am not drawn to racing particularly
It is interesting that the reasons I didn’t turn back earlier, had little to do with wisdom and much more to do with not wanting to give up or not wanting to give up because of what others might think of me if I did. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Although I did soldier on at first and had some good lessons from it, I am glad I turned away when I did as the boat was taking a beating and it had ceased to be challenging and fun and had become increasingly annoying. I was beginning to consider changing the boat’s name to dolphin as I felt I was riding on the back of one.
The upside of single-handing with no functioning electronic instruments that I can speak into or read is that I am forced to focus and to focus on the matters at hand: balance, balancing the boat, balancing the sails, the wind direction, the wave direction and the number of floating logs and deadheads around me and how badly it could damage or sink my boat if I hit one. Beyond the immediate concerns of navigating and sailing and being the lookout, there is the wonderful release from all land-based concerns. The filters are removed and the big picture comes into view.
When I sailed through Shoal Channel and found myself abeam of Gibsons, I sat in the sun on the cockpit cushion. All around me people were on their boats: fishing, sailing, kayaking. I relaxed for the first time that day. It felt wonderful. An hour later when I ventured out into the strait again, this time with the wind at my back, I felt more experienced and almost spiritual in a good way. I had braved the worst of the weather and now I was going to enjoy it.