This weekend was the Doublehanded Farallones race, and for the two of us on “US 101” it was one of the greatest days of sailing either of us have ever had. It didn’t hurt that we caught a couple breaks and placed 1st in class and 1st overall! The Moore continues to impress as I prepare for Singlehanded Transpac, but the real key to the day was my crew Ruben Gabriel. Ruben is a close friend of mine, and will be competing against me in this year’s Singlehanded Transpac, also sailing a Moore 24. With very severe weather at the start and lumpy conditions offshore, getting to the Farallones and back made for a long, wet and challenging day, but we sailed hard the entire time and came away with a result and experience that has already become very special to both of us. An absolutely amazing day on the water on “US 101”!!!!
With a very severe forecast, most of the fleet stayed home with just 14 boats taking the start and 8 boats finishing, out of 58 entrants. The forecast called for 20-30 knots of Southwesterly breeze with gusts over 40 in the early morning and up to 20 foot breaking seas in the evening. The gusts in the morning definitely materialized
but the sea state didn’t come as predicted until after the race had ended. Motoring out of the slip in Sausalito in a strong southerly, we motored towards the Bay. When the motor crapped out and Tiburon quickly became a lee shore, we hoisted the #3 jib and tried to get the main up. I say tried because we had a LOT of difficulty getting the bolt rope into the mast groove and actually hoisting the sail. It started nuking at exactly this point and we just couldn’t manage to control the boat with only a jib up, constantly becoming tacked or pushed down when trying to head upwind to hoist the main. It was really hard! I almost quit right there!
Finally hoisting a reefed main, //we were way over-powered and immediately sunk the #3 jib and went up with the #4. This was more like it. Beating our way out of Sausalito the city front, it literally took us an hour to make it to the starting line at Golden Gate Yacht Club. The strongest puff that Ruben or I have ever experienced in San Francisco hit at about 8 am. It was said to have blown up to 53 knots at about that time. It was really really hard to get the boat upwind across the Bay in that much breeze.
The massive southerly switched to about a 30 knot westerly near the start, making it very slow and difficult to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. Getting rolled by the Santa Cruz 40, Olson 911S and big Beneteau, we finally made it out the gate and worked our way offshore. I decided that I wanted to get north as quick as possible, as the forecast called for a strong Northwesterly after the big storm had passed. To get north, we had to be the first boat to get south to Mile Rock and tack over so that we could clear Point Bonita. The 50-knot gusts knocked the top off of all the waves and we sailed right over the Potato Patch in a relatively mild sea state. Ruben and I were shocked because we were several miles offshore and crossing in front of all of the 30 and 40 footers that had passed us an hour before. This good early progress to windward was definitely a key to our result. The little Moore rocked. Driving the boat over the waves and not killing momentum, we managed decent boat speeds but the real surprise was how well we pointed in those conditions when compared to other boats. The big boats just couldn’t pass us and had to duck us twice.
After a great start, we made a little tactical blunder as we were so fixated on driving and boat speed that we forgot about navigation. Spending a bit of time on the wrong tack, we were headed pretty south as an un-forecasted Southerly shift occurred. After a few minutes, we caught our error and flopped over onto port on a layline for the islands. I was pretty upset at missing the shift, thinking that we had lost our chance to correct out, but in the end it was perhaps a blessing in disguise. Because we had gotten so far south in Southerly breeze, we were overstood for the Farallones and had to crack off the sails to a close reach. This generated a lot more boat speed and helped power through swells pretty well, as opposed to going upwind and up and over the swells. Still carrying the reefed main and J4, we rounded the islands in beautiful warm sunshine, with 3 whales spouting off our bow. Rounding pretty tight, we shook the reef out of the main and pointed the boat towards the Golden Gate. Evaluating our apparent wind angle, we decided to set Ruben’s chicken chute instead of my AP kite. The breeze wasn’t very strong, but we were on an apparent beam reach, so there was no way we were going to be able to carry the AP kite.
Once fully hoisted and settled into a groove, 101 immediately began making tracks. First it was a 35’ Beneteau and then an Olson 911S. They were both jib-reaching and we caught and passed them from miles behind like they were standing still, putting several minutes on them by the time we finished. The other bigger, faster boats (remember, we were the smallest and slowest boat in the race...) had completely checked out and were out of sight. Still reaching back to the Golden Gate, the swells funneled more westerly and we started hauling ass a few miles before Point Bonita. In only 20 knots of breeze, we managed to hit a flood-assisted high of 15.8 knots (speed over ground), so probably an actual boat speed of 14 something. Not bad for a 24-foot boat on a reach with disorganized swells.
Ruben did a FANTASTIC job of trimming in difficult conditions. Once we got to the nice, surfing conditions near Bonita, I decided to share the fun and Ruben did a great job driving as well. During a minor round-up, the spin sheet shackle opened and came off of the sail! This sucked! I handed Ruben the halyard and jumped on the bow to douse in a very unorganized fashion. Getting the sail down in in my lap and laying on it, it was too messed up to re-hoist, so I had to sink it into the forward hatch and run the tapes, re-pack and re-hook up all the gear. After about 2 minutes, we were re-hoisted and once again moving nicely towards the Gate. Just before the Gate, the breeze went forward even further and strengthened. Aiming just south of center bridge, we had the main completely eased and flogging with the pole on 3 inches off the headstay. Over-powered and trying like hell to lay the finish with a chute up, we crossed under the Gate and hoped to see lighter breeze near the beach. It didn’t happen. The breeze stayed forward and actually puffed up. We were done flying the kite.
Having switched from J4 to J3 just outside the Gate, we hoisted the jib and the sheet came off! Completely my fault! I was trying to do the jib change as fast as possible while laying on the foredeck and surfing big swells and I tied a bad bowline knot! Ruben still driving, I had to cleat the lazy sheet, re-run the proper sheet and tie a bowline. Jib hoisted fully, now it’s time to douse the chute. I instructed Ruben to not drive down for the douse, instead to continue barreling towards the line at 7.5 knots. I again handed Ruben the halyard and then blew the guy and pulled on the sheet. Ruben was feeding out the halyard but I just couldn’t manage to get the kite in. It was flogging to leeward and with my energy and strength non-existent, I struggled more than I ever have with a Moore kite. Ruben reached in behind me and gave one good tug that brought several feet in and slammed the rest behind the main. Working together, we had secured the kite and switched positions quickly. With him navigating and trimming, we laid the mark and the breeze freed in the last 10 seconds so that we were downwind with a jib. It made for a fairly lame finish-line photo (going downwind with J3 and no kite...), but a very fast finish.
We took the bullet in class, thanked the race committee and marched upwind back towards Sausalito. Both completely wiped of all energy, we drank a couple beers and celebrated a euphoric feeling of accomplishment. Getting the little green boat around the course was quite a challenge but such an amazing day of sailing that words can’t even describe it. It wasn’t until after my shower that I learned via Facebook that we had won the overall. This is my first overall win in an ocean race and with the day and conditions surrounding the race, it will be a day that I will truly cherish forever. Winning DH Farallones overall is something that is VERY meaningful to me.
In the end, I learned a lot about the boat and about doublehanded sailing. The biggest lesson that I learned was that in Doublehanded races, the strength of the crew wins the race. Ruben Gabriel is a close friend of mine and I was honored to share the race with him. Ruben did such a good job I can’t even explain it. He never bitched once, did nothing but work his ass off, and trimmed the kite to perfection. In difficult, lumpy conditions, he kept the thing full the whole time. That was one of the reasons we won. Another reason was pure luck of timing. We came in on a building flood, whereas Truth and some other bigger, faster boats came in on less flood, or maybe even a slight ebb.
I am incredibly happy, motivated and excited about Singlehanded Transpac right now. It’s the true motivation that comes from passion held deep within. Ruben is also doing the Singlehanded Transpac in a Moore 24 and I am honored to be racing against him. We’re good friends, but we’ll fight like hell to beat each other. It’s on, buddy.
Next race is SSS Corinthian Race on next Saturday. I’m doing the race Singlehanded. After SSS Corinthian, it’s the Oakland Boat Show. I’ll be speaking Saturday April 14 at 11:45 AM on behalf of Quantum and Hope for the Warriors. After that, we’re working on the first of our wounded-vet sailing clinics to be held April 18-20 at South Beach Harbor, San Francisco. My autopilot components and other boat supplies are being delivered and i’m pulling 101’s rig very soon for full re-rig and installation of masthead wind instruments, mast light and VHF antenna. New boom should be here soon, and i’m going to work on installing the B&G Hydra 3000 below-deck Hydraulic autopilot and instruments. Also going to complete my battery installation, solar install and SSB install, as well as installing pretty much all of the electronics. My new Quantums should be here end of April. The goal is to have the boat totally dialed by Singlehanded Farallones on May 12 and then do my qualifier just after.
Less than 3 months to go until Singlehanded Transpac. It’s a tough but incredibly rewarding adventure, and I can’t wait to go out there and try to sail a good race to Hawaii.