After much anticipation and preparation — by both organizers and competitors — the 20th Pacific Cup yacht race officially gets underway today, with the first four starts off the San Francisco Cityfront, including three racing divisions and one cruising. After a fun-filled weekend in Richmond that finally got the fleet together for the first time, roughly half the boats in Pacific Cup 20 will get underway today.
As with any staggered-start race, there is always a weather lottery to be played. Early indicators show that the large batch of Monday starters will benefit from the best conditions, as they should encounter typical solid northwesterly pressure, generally forecast at 15-25 knots. Later in the week, however, the scenario looks much more complex as the trend shows a major soft spot in the breeze on the race course (please see the story following this one for the full picture). Motorcycle Irene co-skipper Will Paxton described the forthcoming navigational dilemma: “We’re going to hit a stop sign a few days in, and then have to decide whether to go right or left.”
For today, however, it should be glamor sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific for the 31 boats spread across four divisions. The first fleet out the Gate will be the Kolea Cruising Division, which is by far the largest fleet in the entire race at 14 boats.
Not scored officially or racing for overall honors, the majority of the cruisers are taking a laid-back approach at racing to Hawaii, and revel in the camaraderie and support network of the Pacific Cup. In many ways, it’s like a semi-competitive bluewater Baja Ha-Ha complete with great stories of past and future cruises. Running deep throughout this fleet are sailors with longtime Hawaii dreams finally being fulfilled, as well as first-timers who are on the adventure of a lifetime — we look forward to profiling a few of these interesting sailors in upcoming articles.
On the racing side, there are many highly-anticipated battles. An astounding seven Express 27s have come to participate in the race, with the highlight being a six-boat doublehanded division. While ratings vary slightly due to different rudders and modifications to some boats, the fleet is very close to a true one-design division. The other Express 27 is sailing three-up as part of a small handicap division that includes four diverse designs. The other doublehanded division, DH2, includes a number of ultralights and interesting designs including the much-anticipated debut of A Fond le Girafon, a new Beneteau Figaro 3 equipped with hydrofoils that will help it sail into the record books as the first boat equipped with lifting foils to participate in the Pacific Cup.
As noted in the story above, the day you start a race can have a big impact on how you finish. You ready the factors that you can control. You prepare your boat, crew, meals, and strategy, and fine-tune everything for the 2070-mile race to Hawaii. But then you look at your starting window, which is spread across four days — Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. It’s time to see what the weather gods have decided to deal you. That’s when you get philosophical, as in, ‘You have to play the hand you’re dealt,’ or some other maxim for looking on the bright side of the single-digit cards in your hand.
The cool wind tool, windy.com, shows a projected offshore wind forecast for the week:
As we sit at our computer, those ‘blue holes’ on the wind charts remind us of the times the ‘spinning wheel of death’ shows up on your computer screen. Neither is easy to deal with.
Like all weather, these images are subject to change. But, for now, we’d be happiest starting today, which is the lucky draw for the first four divisions. For the rest of the week we’d be having philosophical thoughts like, ‘It’s only a yacht race,’ and, ‘Patience is a virtue.’ And then, ‘Damn, this sucks.’
The Big Day started in the wee-est of hours with Charlie Casey on the Cal 40 Riff Rider coming into Hanalei Bay shortly after 1 a.m. A couple of hours later, the Cal 40, which had lost engine and battery-charging power, was snug in the anchorage, thanks to the assistance of race committee volunteers pulling an all-nighter.
After dawn and a brief nap, the shore crew mobilized again to welcome the third Olson 30, Dark Horse, and her cowboy-from-Montana skipper, Shad Lemke. It’s so much easier to accomplish the last leg of the passage — the journey from finish line to beach — in the daylight. Oh, wait, until the gray-out squalls come through. Tom Boussie on the Capo 30 JouJou endured a frustrating and frightening aftermath to his finish, as he struggled to enter the bay in poor visibility, fluky breeze and big sea swell. Tom had an engine but it was disabled when a line wrapped around his prop.
The Freedom 30 Jacqueline and Pacific Seacraft 37 Dolfin, both second-timers, were self-sufficient and required no assistance to enter and anchor. Their skippers, Mike Cunningham and Bill Meanley, later reported having been within 10 miles of each other for the whole race.
The last two finishers of the Big Day, a Hylas 42, Iris, and a Santa Cruz 27, Crazy Rhythm, were an unlikely duo for a to-the-wire drag race, but their arrival was particularly entertaining for spectators. Both have masthead rigs, and one was close in while the other was farther out to sea, so it was hard to tell which was which, until the near boat rose on a wave and we saw her navy blue hull — it was John Colby on Iris who won that race within a race.
Finishing on Friday evening through Saturday evening were Crinan II, Rainbow and Fugu — all nighttime arrivals. Still on the ocean are Kyntanna, Owl and Morning Star. By our next post on Wednesday, all should be safely nestled in beautiful Hanalei Bay. Follow their progress and check the race standings here.
The best part about Fourth of July this year was taking off the 5th, making for a weekend within the week . . . right before the weekend! What better way to enjoy the post-fireworks extravaganza we witnessed in East Oakland (a citywide show like no other) than with a mid-week sail?
Since getting my boat last October, I’ve never crossed under the Richmond Bridge. With the tide perfect for an (mostly) ebb to Angel Island and a flood back to San Rafael, it was the ideal time to take a small step in my Bay cruising career.
Is it just me, or can bridges be a little spooky? I’m not sure what it is exactly; sometimes I half expect to see a car crashing through the rail and falling toward the water. I’m still getting used to the massive currents here, as well, which are most tangible (and swirling and gurgling) around the pylons.
But after slipping through the shadow of the bridge, I checked off that little step, then laughed that I’d considered it a ‘step’ at all. As we worked our way upwind, the horizon started to fill with whitecaps, and it had every indication of being a typical breezy summer day. But as we got closer to Marin, the wind stopped building, and stopped blowing altogether. At first I wondered if it was the lee of Angel Island, but the smattering of sailboats all around us had hardly any heel to them. As the wind petered out, the tide started to turn, and we had to fire up the motor to punch through Raccoon Strait and into Ayala Cove.
Bay Area weather will get you every time. Anticipating breeze, I had a good jacket, and even a fleece vest if things got frisky. But all we got was still, blazing sun. As we sat at a mooring, we were roasting like Fourth of July chicken wings on the BBQ. We caked ourselves with sunscreen so that we all looked like geishas, but still we fried (note to self, always keep a light-weight, long-sleeve shirt on board for such rare occasions. And a canopy for shade). The water in Ayala was . . . refreshing . . . or as refreshing as ice-cold water is on the body. Still, it was a hot, lazy afternoon, and we what we lacked in shade and sleeves, we made up for in ice-cold provisions. It was the first time we’d ever been to Angel Island during the week, and we found the whole scene refreshingly quiet and empty. It was absolutely perfect. We were hardcore summering.
We dropped one of the crew off at Tiburon to catch a ferry and caught the flood back. The Bay was teeming with sea life — there were always seals or porpoise somewhere in view. We had about five knots of breeze as we reached past Paradise Cay, before the wind died completely. Stuck between two shipping lanes (complete with oncoming ships), we were reluctant to start the motor. There was a wind line to the west that had promise, and in moments it was whitecapping around us, making for a sporty reach back under the bridge.
The Bay giveth, and the Bay taketh away. But then it giveth again.
How was your holiday week/weekend? How’s your summer? We’d like to know.