Round The Island

My write-up from the Round The Island Race went up on the front page of Sailing Anarchy earlier this week.

With a start time of 0500, we would have to leave the dock in Hamble at around 0315 to make it over to Cowes in time. We’d debated whether or not to sleep on the boat the night before, but ended up just crashing out at home. So the alarms went off at 0200, I rolled over and went back to sleep while Dan got up and made breakfast sandwiches.

Half an hour later, and we were driving down the deserted streets of Hamble- only they weren’t deserted at all. There were sleepy-looking people wearing foulies slouching along in the shadows everywhere we looked. Kind of like one of those weird zombie movies, with the most expensive wardrobe budget EVER.

By 0320 we were motoring down the Hamble River, first off the dock at HYS, but passed up pretty soon by just about everyone. I’m pretty sure we have the smallest prop ever made… The sky was already brightening up, spring time up north is so awesome.

We’ve done a few starts off of Cowes in the past few months, so have a pretty good routine now. Short-handed racing is all about preparation, and we’ve got a pretty long checklist to go through before we even start putting sails up. Given the wind direction (North for a change- not normal, but certainly welcome for this race course!), we knew we’d be either starting with the code zero, or rolling into it pretty soon after the start, so we put that up before we even hoisted the main.

With over 1300 boats participating, we were VERY happy to be in the first start at 0500. That meant we could get out of there before things got too hectic. It also meant our fleet flag was a weird coppery brownish color, explained in the SIs as fleet “golden brown” -someone on the race committee must have a sense of humor, and I’m sure you can guess what song we were humming all day.

There were 6 Class 40s in total, most of whom we’ve raced against at least once already this season. The only new Akilaria RC3 in the area, Al Bucq (FRA124) was out again. Just last weekend we had a pretty epic struggle against them in the 230 mile Myth of Malham race to Eddystone light and back. In the end, they beat us across the line by just 30-something seconds. We were really hoping to get the better of them this time, but we had our doubts looking at their 6-man crew. Maybe if the breeze stayed light, like it was forecast to do, we’d have a chance.

The 6 Class 40s weren’t the only ones on our 5AM start line. I’d guess there were close to 70 boats lined up with us- the two Open 60s, all the local little weapons, TP52s, not to mention ICAP Leopard. With a lot of positive current in the middle of the Solent, our options were limited to starting at a bad place on the line, with clear air, or sucking it up and starting where we wanted, with loads of traffic. We went for option two, and actually had a pretty good start.

Neither of us are used to being one of the fast boats yet. On a traditional windward-leeward, Class40s don’t really shine. But here, on a cracked off jib reach, we were actually rolling past boats- and as soon as we got our zero out, we were laughing. The breeze was really up and down, so we’d get stuck in a lull, below someone, in their bad air, and we’d be feeling dismal, and then a puff would come through and off we’d go, feeling like rock stars. We were doing well on the other 40s too. Al Bucq was down below and a bit ahead of us, but then they started creeping high, up over our line and into a group of other boats which included a TP52 and some other biggies, and next thing we knew we’d rolled under them. Well, OK, we’ll take it.

As we approached Lymington, we started cracking off, and Dan set to work rigging up the big kite. Al Bucq hoisted while we were only halfway set up, and started stomping down on us. Just as they arrived, we got ours up, and off we went, side by side towards the needles.

With a gybe coming up, Dan was running around with his hands full trying to get the zero down on the bow, while looking at the chart-plotter down below to make sure I wasn’t going to try to put us straight onto the wreck, while I was trying to roll under Al Bucq and trim and set up the cockpit for the gybe- while we both looked ahead and realized we wouldn’t be holding the kite long at all, as the boats in front were all struggling! Al Bucq gybed and crossed just behind us, and then we gybed over, and went straight into getting the zero back up. It was gusting into the 20s now (who said it was supposed to be light??) and we were making quick work of the South West side of the Island. Al Bucq had their zero up straight after their gybe (what we wouldn’t do for another 4 hands!) and we got out aft ballast tank filling to buy us some more time while we worked at changing to our zero. In the end we did a bare-headed change- socked the kite and then got the zero up straight afterwards. It was definitely the right choice for us with only two, and it went smoothly- but Al Bucq legged out on us in the process.

Dan sat down to drive for a bit, and to take a much needed break, and as we smashed down the coast, doing high teens, I realized it was only 0650. Not bad. Dan was still in his shorts and hoodie, getting soaked by every wave over the deck, and I was in tights- changing into more gear had just never happened, there hadn’t been any time. We’d joked about being home for lunch, but now it was starting to look like it actually might happen.

Our delay in changing from kite to zero meant we’d sailed a lower angle for longer, and this ended up helping us as Al Bucq started running out of breeze in closer to land. We started to catch up, but then they put their kite up again, sailed back out away from land, and went back to their zero. Yeah, we were getting out sail-changed, and there wasn’t anything we were going to do about it.

At the South corner, we went back to jib, and set off for a fairly uncomfortable leg- with massive puffs coming off the cliffs, we were taking turns driving and trimming, having to dump the main and then wind it back on a few times a minute. I had managed to give my elbow a good crack on a winch about 10 seconds after the start, and it was still pretty cramped up. We had a Clipper Yacht just behind us, and I was grinding while looking at 10 people sitting on the rail, 8 people in the cockpit on the coffee grinders, a few extras standing around… Not fair.

It was about this time that the little multihulls started to catch up with us too. They went screaming past, powering through the lulls, going forward instead of tipping over like us in the puffs… We were both a little bit jealous!

Al Bucq was really and truly gone at this point- weight on the rail, plus fresh arms to trim won the day here. We were trying not to feel too disappointed- but I’ll admit to having a few dark moments.

At the next corner, we hardened up and started the upwind slog to the finish. Remember how I said Class 40s don’t really shine on windward-leewards? Well, it’s the upwind part that really kills us… we just don’t go upwind like a Ker 40 with 10 guys on the rail. And that’s the way life is.

It was still blowing mid to high teens, so we were all ballasted up with the full main and jib. We had a bit of a debate about whether we could go inside the No Man’s Land Fort- we watched as a few boats ahead of us did, including maybe Al Bucq (we really need some binoculars..), but at 3 meters, we draw a bit more than most of the other boats we race against, and the chart plotter was inconclusive- a big “DANGER ZONE” in red was the most detail we could get… so we opted out, which cost us a few more boats.

At 10:58 we crossed the finish, just behind a Ker 40, and just ahead of a Clipper Yacht- both of which had been on our start line. Al Bucq got us by 20 minutes- a bit more than Dan’s guess of 15, and a lot less than my overly cynical 40. In the end, second feels pretty good when we were double-handed, and all the other 40s were fully crewed. We had a fair bit on with just the two of us!

Given that Sir Ben rolled past us on his AC45 about 12 minutes into our race, and only 2 minutes after he’d started, we weren’t terribly surprised to hear that he’d finished in slightly less than 3 hours. And, given that we’d had a fair bit of breeze, we weren’t surprised at all to hear that ICAP Leopard had broken the monohull record- they were all tucked away and tidy, moored out in front of Cowes when we finished.

We drained our ballast tanks, tacked over and inhaled some sandwiches as we headed back in towards Hamble. We don’t often go and tick off 80-something miles in a morning and then go home for a shower, but I think I could get used to it.

The Myth of Malham

This past weekend, Dan and I had our second RORC race of the season- the 230 nm Myth of Malham from Cowes to Eddystone Light and back again.    One of the things we’ve been most excited about with the Class40 is that we have enough room to bring friends with us.  We finally had the chance to do just that, and our friend Bjorn Freels flew in from Germany for the weekend.    Bjorn also did the Mini Transat in 2011, but we’ve not seen him at all since the finish- so it was a great chance to catch up.

The forecast was for a nice 10-15 knots, and after weeks of rain, the sun was out.   Amazing!

The AIS is working!

With 3 Class 40s in our division, this race was perfect training for the upcoming Fastnet.    The last time we sailed along the coast was during the Normandy Channel Race, and there was enough wind that we just sort of bashed along without having to pay very much attention to the tides.    This time, with the light forecast, we knew that the current was going to play a much larger role, and it sure did!

We started at the Island end of the line, close to Swish, while Al Bucq started closer to the mainland.   Off we all went, and it was clear pretty soon that Al Bucq had made a good call- sailing a lower angle they were able to hold their spinnaker, while we and Swish were sailing with our code Zeros…   We had a bit of a debate about whether to go out to main channel, or tuck in through the small boat channel at Hurst Castle, and decided to go with the small one.    So did Al Bucq, and we headed out a mile or so behind them, while Swish went down the main channel.

Everyone else heading out the main channel by the needles

Pretty soon, the breeze started to lighten up everywhere, but then it started to fill back in from on shore, which meant it came to us first, and off we went- quite happy with our decision.

The rest of the afternoon was upwind, playing the currents.   We gained back on Al Bucq, and by 6PM, after 8 hours of racing, they crossed us on Starboard and we had to duck them.   A bit after that, and we managed to sail up under them and make them tack away.   All fun stuff that you don’t usually anticipate happening in an ocean race!

Coming past Portland Bill

We were really lucky in our timing on the way West- we managed to hit every headland with positive tidal current- which meant we just kept extending on the boats behind that weren’t as fortunate.

Saturday night was a full moon- and it came up absolutely huge and orange on our left, while fireworks started going off in Salcombe on our right!  Nice of them to time it with us coming past…

We got to Eddystone Light at about 3:30 AM, and the sun was already starting to rise.   We rounded just behind Al Bucq, and started chasing them down.    When I woke up from a nap, Dan and Bjorn had passed them, but the breeze was dying.    We slatted along with our code zero up for awhile, managing to extend our lead, and the breeze finally filled enough to put up our big spinnaker.

We got back to Salcombe as many of the boats behind were still struggling to get around it against the negative (for them) current.   We were ripping along with 4 knots of current with us!   At one point, the breeze shut down, and it was absolutely glassy everywhere, but we were still doing 4 knots over the ground, passing fishing buoys that were entirely submerged, as if in a river.   It’s really impressive how much water moves along this coast line!

Light air weight placement…

Just after Salcombe, we decided to stay offshore in the main current flow, while Al Bucq went inshore- our wind shut off entirely, while they managed to keep their kite full, marching along the entire time.   We sat there, helpless, watching them pass us.   Not a good feeling.

Eventually though, the breeze came back, and we had a few hours of absolutely beautiful sailing- 14 knots of breeze, the big kite, flat water.   Dan and Bjorn slept on beanbags in the cockpit, while I listened to music and drove.   We made a few good calls on gybe angles and regained most of the ground that we’d lost on Al Bucq.

The last hour was pretty high stress.   We were chasing Al Bucq with all we had, gaining slowly on them.   In the last mile we managed to really make them sweat, and got within a few boat lengths.   With nothing to lose at that point, we tried just about everything to catch them- sailing high in an attempt to roll them, and then holding on our last gybe hoping to be able to come in at a hot angle and shoot down through the line.    Unfortunately, we ran out of race track and finished at 21:41, just 32 seconds behind them.

Discussing our options…

Though frustrated that we didn’t win, overall we’re extremely happy with how the race went.  It was great training for Fastnet, really fun to have Bjorn along, and it’s good to know that we can keep up with the newer generation Akilaria RC3.

This weekend we have the Around The Island Race, with hundreds and hundreds of boats racing (and at least 6 Class 40s), it should be exciting!

2013 Normandy Channel Race

When Dan and I were planning our 2013 season in the Class 40, we were sitting in San Francisco.   It was warm, sunny, and we were very excited about the idea of racing all season in Europe.   The April 14th start date of the Normandy Channel Race was a bit worrying, as we already had obligations in the Caribbean in March, so arriving in England before the start of April would be difficult.  But we knew that our new boat Concise 2 has been excellently prepared, and we did as much advance logistical groundwork as possible, so what could possibly go wrong?  It’s just a sailboat race, and we’ve done a few of them between the two of us.

Then we got here. We were still very excited, and the boat was as awesome as we’d thought it would be, but it was snowing.   And then we only got out sailing once before it was time to leave to go to Caen, France and the start of the race.    But that was ok, cause we could train during the delivery.     But then it was upwind in 25 knots the whole way across the Channel, and did I mention it was cold?  So we got the autopilot working, which is important, and we tested out our new Gill gear, which is amazing, and then we were there, up the canal from Ouistreham, through 3 bridges, in the basin in Caen.

The pre-race process for Class 40 races is quite similar to that in the Mini-  You’re obliged to be in the port a number of days before the start and then complete a series of security and equipment checks.   Unfortunately for us, there have been a few rules changes since last season, and so we had a bit of scrambling to do to meet the new standards.  And, as with most things in sailing, that basically just meant shelling out a few hundred more euros here and there.

In addition to the normal security checks, Dan and I had some other tasks, including putting on some new stickers.   After a half-day of carefully measuring and applying them in between rain showers, I think it’s safe to say that if a relationship can withstand that, it’ll get through just about anything else.   In the end, they look fantastic, and it really made the boat feel like it was ours.

Between all the normal pre-race stuff, we managed to get in some socializing with the other skippers, who are all such an interesting group.  I’d already met some from my Class 40 sailing last season, a lot of the others had done the Mini the same year as me and Dan.    In fact, I think at least half the fleet had done the Mini at one point in their career- it feels pretty nice to be part of that club.

The day before the start we had the final skippers’ and weather briefing.   Not surprisingly for April, there were a few low pressure systems on their way towards Ireland.   One in particular looked as though it would be getting to Tuskar and Fastnet right about the same time as us- and the race committee made sure we were aware of the procedures for potentially changing the course.   We were all to check our email 30 miles before Land’s End, 30 miles before Tuskar, and 30 miles before Fastnet, and they would notify us of a course change as soon as they had decided on it.   They’d written in the options of sending us first to Fastnet, then to Tuskar, from Tuskar straight to Guernsey, to Fastnet without Tuskar, etc.    It’s amazing how having a satellite phone and downloadable weather on board eliminates a large amount of the pre-race stress that we had during our Mini seasons.    For Mini races, the last hours before the start would be spent downloading the most current weather, printing it out, and then fingers-crossed it wouldn’t change too much in the days it would take to get around the course.   No more!   And if the race committee wants to change the course?  They just call you on your sat phone.   Amazing.

On the morning of the start, we were at the boat by 10:30.   At 12 we cast off from the dock one by one and went out the first bridge into the New Basin.   As we were one of the first boats off the dock, we tied up in the New Basin and watched the chaos as 19 other Class 40s motored around, waiting for the big Navy ship that was our Committee boat and some spectator boats.   Once we were all assembled, we fell in line and paraded down the canal, through the 3 other bridges (including Pegasus Bridge, the first bridge and house liberated on the night of June 6th, 1944), and into the lock.

By the time we were out in the ocean, it was nearly 3PM, and it was feeling like a long day already!   With the breeze up around 20 knots, we decided to go into the start with a reef.   Of course it wasn’t as simple as starting and heading to the Isle of Wight- we had a start, upwind buoy to starboard, downwind leg to a cardinal buoy to starboard, reach to another cardinal to starboard, and then leave the pin end of the line to starboard and head off to a cluster of islands which we would leave to starboard and finally head north across the Channel.

In hindsight, with our recent acquasition of the boat and limited training, I think we did well in the triangle course, but at the time, it was hectic, we second-guessed our sail choices, and ended up doing the whole thing with just main and jib.   All around us boats were doing sail changes, some well, some not so well- and there were a few boats well behind us once we finally left the pin to starboard and started off towards the islands.   They did that to us in the Mini a lot- making us sail little courses as a bit of a show for spectators… NOT one of my favorite things.   Sailing an offshore boat short-handed around a small course is not easy!  But, by the next time we have to do that (probably Les-Sables Azores in July), we’ll have had the hours in the boat to make it easy for us.

Once we finally got going, it was a beautiful evening, and we jib reached along, somewhere in the middle of the fleet.  After we rounded the islands, we went to the code zero to stay a bit high and in close to shore to avoid the bad current.  Sure enough, that theory started to pay off, and we watched as the early leaders (Mare and Campagne de France) slowed to almost nothing as our pack along the shore made quick progress north.   Eventually we peeled to the big kite, and were doing really well until I managed to sail us into a complete and utter hole with no wind, and we slatted around while many of our competitors’ nav lights disappeared over the horizon.

In the early morning, we all converged on the eastern end of the Isle of Wight, the entire fleet was visable as we went up the Solent, against the tide.   Dan was excited to be going through his home waters, and was a bit disappointed when so many of the other boats knew where to go to avoid the worst of the current!  There were a few though that stayed out on the Island side too long, and we left them far behind as we snuck past Hurst Castle, inside the waves breaking on the sand bar and headed down the coast.

From there to Land’s End it was all upwind.  We were starting to emerge as part of a group including Phoenix, Picoty, Al Bucq (which was being co-skippered by Ned Collier-Wakefield, who’s been sailing our boat since its launch and who won the Normandy Channel Race on it last year), Partouche, Earwin, and Red.   Though we could still see Mare, GDF Suez, Roaring Forty and Campagne de France, it was clear that they were just that much faster- we’ll be keeping up with them by the end of the season but couldn’t make it happen yet.    But in our smaller group, it was amazing how much faster we were at times, and since we could all see eachother, it was really fantastic speed testing.   Dan and I learned so much about the boat in that day.

Unfortunately, we had a few little problems.   Three of the jib lead adjuster lines broke, as well as the jib halyard.   The breeze built, so we were able to hold with everyone else using our staysail, but we wasted a bit of time with each incident.

Over the night, we started to be aware that some of the other boats were dropping out.  I was downloading position reports from the race committee, and there were fewer and fewer with every update.    We were also watching the weather, with that low looking worse and worse.   We breifly talked about what we would do if the race committe didn’t shorten the course, but didn’t want to dwell on it too much.    Sure enough, when we arrived at Land’s End the next morning, we received an email and then phone call from the RC.  They wanted to make sure we would be OK with it if they shortened the course- sending us to an imaginary point 50 miles north of Land’s End and then straight back to Guernsey.   Fine with us!  So we went around Land’s End, put up the big kite and started to chase down Red.

It was sunny and beautiful and we were just in front of Picoty, Al Bucq and Phoenix, and by the time we got to the mark we’d passed Red and then been passed back again.   The breeze had gone light, and we headed in towards the shore just in front of Picoty, trading tacks with our little group of 5 the whole way to Land’s End.   From then to Guernsey it was fairly icky- 20 ish knots upwind or just cracked off.   We ddn’t want to use the solent too much- we could hoist it on the fracitional halyard, but that comes out of the rig a bit higher than the headstay, which means the halyard loads up across the headstay.   In hindsight, it probably would have been fine, but we didn’t want to risk breaking that halyard and then being really stuck if we wanted to use the fractional kite later on!    It was pretty frustrating to have to stick with the staysail when the others all put up their bigger solents and slowly advanced on us.  By the time we got to Guernsey, Picoty was well ahead, Red was behind them, Al Bucq and Phoenix had almost caught us.

We had a serious moment of brillance rounding the islands as we went first to the code zero and then did a perfect peel to the big kite.   We’d obviously learned a thing or two about the boat in the last 48 hours.  Heading past Sark the breeze built up to 20, and we held on with the big kite thinking maybe it was just an acceleration zone.  By the time it was gusting over 30 we realised there was a bit of a cloud line behind us so it was probably a little front…    We were going really quickly, but things were a bit unsustainable.   In the takedown, everything was going so well, Dan was bringing the kite on to the deck, everything was fine, and then one tiny bit of sail went into the water and….   About 10 minutes later we were back on our way, a bit bruised and battered but all in all, in better shape than we should have been!   Dan’s a genius on the bow so it’s very rare that anything goes wrong on that end of the boat.   But when something does go badly, he’s able to see a way out of it quickly enough to greatly reduce the impact.

We threw in a reef, up went the fracitional kite and we were off- right behind Al Bucq and Phoenix.   Tide against wind meant we had a really nasty sea state, and Dan did a great job of driving while I talked to a really nice captain of a ship who kept being right where we wanted to be- or vice versa.   Either way, he does some sailing himself, and wanted to know all about where we’d been, where we were going, who we were racing against, which was a very chilled out conversation to be having while Dan was doing his best to keep the boat under the kite!

Eventually we had to harden up around Cherborg, and went to the code zero.   The sea-state mellowed out, and things got a lot more civilized.   With the code zero up and some water in the aft ballast tank, the boat is so balanced, it’s amazing- we hit 18 knots while I was down below making dinner.

Over the next few hours we hunted down and passed Phoenix, managed to avoid a very wide variety of fishing boats, dredgers, nets with strobe lights, and just about every other imaginable obstacle, and finally crossed the finish line at about 4AM French time.

Exhausted and happy, we came in 8th out of the 20 boats who had origially started the race.   Once in the lock, we were told that only 11 boats would finish- which made 8th sound a little less impressive, but we’re still very positive about our result.

The next few days were spent sleeping and eating and chatting with the other competitors and race organizers.   Everyone had very nice things to say about how we’d done after such a short training period, and I think we’re in a really good place to build on for next time.   By finishing the race, we’ve qualified for the Transat Jacques Vabre- which is a great step.

On Sunday, we went to the market and got some bits for a picnic, and then headed North back across the Channel to Hamble.

Now we’re in England for a week before we head to Douarnenez for the Grand Prix- a very cool event with IMOCA 60s, Class 40s, MOD 70s, kite surfers, Dragons, windsurfers and lots of others.   Douarnenez is one of Dan and my favorite places from our Mini days, and we’re looking forward to having a fun weekend of sailing.   There will be coastal races as well as timed speed runs, and we’ve got a bit of a rockstar coming to join us so I think we’ll learn a lot!

Hit the ground running

Dan and I have now been in the UK for 10 days. 4 days of that was the Easter weekend, which was less than ideal because we couldn’t get anything done. But all things considered, we’re doing pretty well. We’ve picked up the boat, gone sailing, bought a car, been to France and back again to empty my storage locker in Lorient, got cell phones working, and spent 3 days getting the boat ready for the Normandy Channel Race.

There are a few bits and pieces left to do, like find a place to live, but they can wait until we get back from France. We leave from Hamble this afternoon to head to Caen. All 22 boats will be in the basin until the start on the 14th.

It’s all very exciting to feel like our project is finally starting!

California

Dan and I have been in California for about 6 weeks now. It was a great little pause for us to focus on spending time outside, getting fit, hanging out with friends, etc. We were fortunate to be able to get out sailing and race 4 weekends, with different people each time. But even that was just a tiny bit of time on the water compared with how our lives are spent normally!

We made a few trips up and down the coast. Dan had always wanted to go see Mavericks, so we went down there one afternoon. The waves were small, which meant we had a chance to wander out on to the rocks and check out all the tidepools.

Mavericks on a quite afternoon

On another day we went up to Point Reyes, and our car was well worked-over by some locals when we stopped for a picnic…

Getting checked out at Point Reyes

40 knots of breeze made for a bracing walk down to the lighthouse…

Point Reyes lighthouse

On another day we headed down to Monterey, and the most amazing aquarium I’ve been to. The whole thing was great, but the jellyfish exhibit was especially beautiful.

Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

More jellyfish

More beautiful California coastline south of Monterey.

California is one of my favorite places in the whole world, and it’s been great to spend some time back here. But now we’ve got to head off on our next adventure. Dan’s been in St Maarten for the past few days racing in the Heineken Regatta on Lupa. They won their class overall, and now he’s on a plane to Boston. I’ll be meeting him there tomorrow and then we’ve got a few weeks before we head to the UK for the start of the sailing season!

Goodbye San Francisco….

Back in Sunny San Francisco!

Well, sorry- I know it’s been awhile, but we’re back up and running! (Though the rest of the website is still under construction…)

This past weekend Dan and I had the pleasure of racing with our friends Skip and Jody on their Mumm 30 Trunk Monkey in the CYC Midwinters. Given that we were in Utah where it was -15 degrees F just a week ago, “Midwinters” is a slight misnomer, as it was sunny and in the 60s all weekend. But such is the way of life here in California.

This coming weekend, we’ll have the chance to take part in one of those races that I think everyone should do at least once- The 3 Bridge Fiasco. This race happens every January, you start right in front of the St Francis Yacht Club, and have to round marks just under each of the 3 bridges around the bay- The Golden Gate, The Bay Bridge, and The Richmond- San Rafael Bridge, before finishing back in front of St Francis.

Simple, right? Well- here’s the hitch. You can round those 3 marks in any order, or direction. You can start going either way off of the line. And everyone is racing either double-handed, or single-handed.

SO- thanks to the generosity of Mark Howe, we will be sailing his Farr 36 War Pony, which should be a blast, and a bit of a challenge. As of right now, there are 314 boats entered , but registration doesn’t close until after the skippers meeting tomorrow night.

We’ll try to get as many photos and videos as possible, and report back afterwards!

On to the next one….

Now I’ve done two transatlantic crossings in the past year, one East-West, and one West-East.   One singlehanded, one crewed.  One Mini, one Class40.

Despite the obvious differences, the comparison has helped me get to the real reason why I want to be doing this whole- go be wet and tired and cold for weeks on end thing.

First of all, the ocean is an amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, sometimes intimidating place.   I am so lucky to be able to spend the majority of my life out there.   The phosphorescence.  The stars.   The lack of light pollution.   No cars.   No phones or email (unless you want it).  No appointments (aside from watch and sail changes).   The birds, dolphins, whales, fish.

And the weather.   On land, aside from really big storms, weather is something that happens and you just get on with your life.   On the ocean, you are reminded that we live here, on this earth, because we are lucky.    And because we’ve been clever enough to adapt to the conditions presented to us.   Something that’s really easy to forget in our air-conditioned, central-heated lives on shore.  And when you’re racing on the ocean- well then you have to take the forecasts and use the knowledge to position yourself in the best possible spot in a weather system, to get where you’re going as fast as possible.   Halvard and Miranda (on race-winning Campagne de France) gave us all a bit of a schooling in just how to do that- give me 30 more transats and maybe I’ll be able to do it half as well.

The second big reason why I love ocean racing so much is the intensity and duration of the competition.   I’ve always participated in sports- and I love playing soccer, or lacrosse, but there’s something about competing CONSTANTLY for days, weeks on end, that is pretty spectacular.   Like most other sports, the training and preparation that goes into a transatlantic race lasts months, sometimes years.   Yet unlike going to the Olympics, the culmination of all that time isn’t just one match, or a series of matches.   It’s days and days, never turning your brain off, never letting up, 24 hours a day.  It’s pretty cool to push yourself that hard, and the sense of accomplishment at the finish is that much sweeter.   And it’s one of the reasons why winning is awesome, but even just crossing the finish line is great.

The funny thing about this transat was that the most challenging part of the race wasn’t the weather, or the competition.  For me, the hardest part was the personal dynamic on the boat.   Dave and Matt have sailed Bodacious Dream together before.   Mark and Matt have sailed multihulls together before.   I’d never sailed with any of them prior to the start.    And I can assure you that I will never go offshore again with people that I haven’t had the chance to sail with before!    Not because any of them are terrible people (on the contrary, they’re all really accomplished sailors, and we all had our moments of enjoying each other’s company), but all of that ‘getting to know you’ stuff is unnecessary baggage when mixed in with the above-mentioned 24/7 physical and mental competition.

All of that aside, when we arrived in St Malo, I think it’s safe to say that we all walked away from the boat feeling like we had our ups and downs, had things to improve on (another reason why I love sailing- I’m convinced you can learn something new every single day for the rest of your life on a sailboat), but overall we did a good job.   Especially when you remember that the main goal of this race was to help Dave’s dream of racing around the world alone next year.    We pushed the boat harder than you can on your own (hand-steering almost the entire race, rather than using the auto-pilot), learned some new limits (evident by the slightly diminished sail inventory…), learned some really fast and easy points of sail (I’ve never sailed on a boat that likes jib reaching as much as this one), and added LOTS of items to the job list.    In addition, simply participating in the race strengthened relationships/ friendships with other Class40 sailors, which will help Dave no end in the future.    If I learned one thing in the Mini, it’s that knowing the right people makes your preparation a hundred times easier, and a thousand times more fun.

I’m currently sitting in the Admirals club in CDG airport in Paris.   I arrived to the airport this morning to find that my flight had been delayed by 2 hours, which meant I’d been bumped off my connection to SFO, and will have 5 hours in Chicago and won’t arrive until 11PM tonight.  So I put up a fuss.  I don’t usually do that, but I’m glad I did, because now I’m flying buisness class the whole way (minus some frequent flier miles, but that’s ok), and have access to the lounge here.  Which means access to the food, the coffee, the free wifi and the comfy chairs.   Unfortunately, it also means that I’m being reminded once again that flying in economy is probably the worst way to spend your day, ever…  so if anyone would like to donate all of their frequent flier miles to my never having to settle for less than buisness class, ever, for the rest of my life, I’d be eternally grateful.

I am so excited about the next few weeks, I can’t wait to be back in San Francisco, to catch up with friends, and to go race with Argyle Campbell and his team again!

The next step…

First of all- I’m really sorry for being so bad about writing this summer.   I’ve really no excuse… things have just been busy and I haven’t had much time around a computer- or on land for that matter!

Suddenly it’s July, and a year ago I was drifting around in the Celtic Sea, waiting for the wind to fill so that I could finish my 1,000nm qualifier for the Mini.   A year doesn’t sound like that long ago, but I think I’ve accomplished a fair bit..    In the past 12 months I’ve logged about 10,000nm offshore, plus about 2 weeks of inshore racing.  Oh, plus some non-sailing life.   But not much.

I also managed to make the all-important step up from the Mini to the Class 40- my goal throughout my years of bobbing around in a bathtub toy.   And at the same time, I’ve been able to stick with smaller, one-design boats, including a win at the Sonar ACCs with Dave Curtis just last week.    If you’d asked me a year ago where I’d be career-wise right now, I’m pretty sure my best guess wouldn’t have been even close!

So I’m happy with how things have gone, and I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am for what’s to come!

Right now I’m in Halifax, Canada.   I just brought Tanguy’s Class40 (which I’ve been sailing for the summer) up from Maine with the help of my dad, one of his friends, and my little brother.   These boats are so cool.  I already knew that, but to be able to bring people like my 13 year old brother offshore without worry is awesome.   Add to that the fact that we had the code 5 up most of the way, averaging speeds of 10-12 knots, totally chilled out with the auto pilot driving.   Well, the auto pilot drove some of the way, but not when my dad was awake.   Class 40s are safe, fun, fast, big enough to comfortably have 4 people on board, yet simple enough for me to feel confident that I could do all the necessary sail changes without help if need be.   So there.  Get your hands on one.  Right now.

So I’m in Halifax, and this afternoon the new delivery crew arrive- that’s Dan Dytch, and Aurelien Ducroz.   Aurelien has chartered the boat for the Quebec-St Malo race in a few weeks, so will use this delivery as his qualifier, and some time to get to know what’s going on.   The three of us all raced in the Mini last year, but haven’t spent much time together.  I’m really looking forward to getting to know Aurelien better- for an idea of what he does with most of his time, check out these videos: here, and here.   Yeah….

We’ll leave for Quebec tomorrow morning- I’m looking forward to heading up the St Lawrence, even though I imagine most of the trip will be motoring.   I guess I was too spoilt by the run up here from Maine to expect the same conditions now!

And then Dan and I do something completely different and fly to Hawaii!!!    Two of my good friends from Tufts are finally getting married.   Jeff and Katie were both on the sailing team, and Katie is from Kaneohe.  After graduation they moved out there, and were on the finish line of the Pacific Cup singing “Jumbos Jumbos Jumbos Jumbos!” when Andy and I arrived in 2010.  I’m really excited to get to go back to Oahu and do some more exploring, and there will be so many Tufts sailing team alums there, it’s not even funny.   Well, it is actually, and it’s going to be so much fun!   Of course there’s a wedding regatta planned for Friday, and the wedding itself will be at Kaneohe Yacht Club, and I’m hoping to be able to leave a few little presents for friends that will be arriving there in a few more weeks after the 2012 Pacific Cup…

AND THEN!   Guess what!   Of the 20-something Class 40s racing in the 2012 Quebec- St Malo, there is one American entry, and I’m going to be on board!!    Remember Bodacious Dream, the awesome new Farr designed 40 that kicked some serious butt in The Atlantic Cup?   Well Dave has asked me to join the team for the transat, and I am SOOOOOOOO excited!!!    I don’t know Dave or Matt (his coskipper from The Atlantic Cup) that well, but what I do know, I like a lot.   The 4th team member is one of their friends who I’ve never met, and it sounds like a great combo of ages, experiences, goals, backgrounds, all tied together by the fact that we like spending time in the middle of the ocean, and we like going fast.   Awesome!   I’m so proud and grateful that Dave thought of me when he was putting his team together.  For so long, I felt like no one would ever ask me to go sailing, and then to have Tanguy give me his boat, and Dave to invite me for this race all in one year- it’s incredible.       I’m really looking forward to be in the position to give others these kinds of opportunities, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying being on the receiving end!

So July 22, I’ll be doing my second Transatlantic in one year, check out the website- there’s not much info yet up on the English side, better to go to the French version and get Google to translate it for you.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the rest of 2012 is shaping up nicely too-  I arrive in France, have about a week to clean up, drink cider, and visit friends before I fly to San Francisco for Melges 24 North Americans.    Last month I went out to Seattle to sail with Argyle Campbell’s team Rock and Roll for the Nationals.   Apparently I didn’t suck too badly, because they’ve asked me to come back for the next big event- I’m thrilled.   Not only do I love San Francisco, but Melges 24s are awesome little boats, and I think that one-design buoy racing is a lot of fun.

And then, for something completely different, I’ll head to Porto Cervo for some Maxi racing on the Wally Dark Shadow.   Dan runs the boat, and I was in Spain earlier this year helping with a refit.  I’ve never raced on an island before, and it should be fun.   From Sardinia we’ll head to St Tropez, I’ll turn 28 in there some where, and try to fit in with all the fabulous people (and probably fail, which is fine), and then it’s October and I’ve no more plans.

Which feels fine.  I’m sure something else will come up.  I feel like I’m on a bit of a roll right now, and I wouldn’t want to try to stop.

“Like” my Emma’s Sailing Exploits page on Facebook to follow along with all of these adventures- we’ll have a Spot tracker on board for the rest of the delivery, so you can keep up with our progress.   I’m also on Twitter now- not that I know how to use it…  @EmmasSailing    Oh boy, another social media thingy to learn about!

Mid Atlantic Cup

The past few weeks have been hectic! and I’ve been doing lots of moving around and not much computer time.

Briefly- the first leg from Charleston to NYC was tough, and we finished in 10th, pretty disappointed. We’d decided to go inshore after Hatteras, while boats behind decided to stay offshore, and they made big gains while we sort of fizzled out. Given the info we had available to us at the time, I still believe we made the right choice- sadly the reality was far from the predictions!

The second leg from NYC to Newport was much more successful- Skip had told us that if we had 10+ knots of breeze at the turning mark off NJ that there would be more wind offshore. There was 9.6, so we crossed our fingers and sent it! He was right, there was much more breeze out there (well, a respectable 16-20 knots) and when we converged with the fleet just south of Montauk we crossed Mare and Campagne de France. Here were had to decide whether we would go inside/west of Block Island, or outside. From the tide charts, it looked like going inside would give us a serious favorable push up the coast as the ebb started flowing out of LI Sound. Mare and CDF both went outside, and once we were totally committed to go in there, the breeze started to die.

We didn’t know for sure if the breeze had just died everywhere until we got out the other side, and discovered that it must not have, as they were both already headed up into Newport. With Bodacious Dream already long gone, and Icarus right in front of us, we ended up 5th. Respectable, yet after flirting with 2nd and 3rd place for so long, a tad lower than we’d hoped.

Now we’re in Newport, and it’s so great to be back. I’ve spent a fair bit of time here, and am running into friends from all over the world everywhere I go. The Shipyard is fantastic, and after being in locations with extremely less than ideal facilities, it’s wonderful to be at such a well set-up spot.

Rob and I are joined by Dan Dytch, Gretchen Curtis and Skip McCormack for the inshore racing this weekend. Dan, Rob, Skip and I have gone out practicing two days now and it is a huge pleasure to sail with such competent people. The dynamic on the boat is fantastic, maneuvers are fast and smooth, and things will only get better when Gretchen arrives tomorrow.

We’ve also had the chance to take advantage of having Skip here and really get the B&G calibrated properly. I’m pretty sure I’ve never sailed on a boat before where the true wind direction was the same on both tacks. Amazing.

Between the 5 of us we have a wealth of experience in both shorthanded ocean racing AND inshore crewed buoy racing. Combined with the fact that this boat is super quick, and that we all really enjoy being out on the water, I think this weekend is going to be fantastic.

Please check out atlanticcup.org for more info about the event, and I believe you can still vote for us if you go to the “Teams” link. If you’re in the area, stop by the Shipyard and say hello or just check out the boats. And as always, like “Emma’s Sailing Exploits” and “The Atlantic Cup” on Facebook for up to the minute results, photos and news.