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Iris Comes Down the Coast

"I’ve been intrigued with singlehanded distance races since reading about Chichester winning the first modern-day Transatlantic race in 1960," says John Colby of Portland, Oregon. "Then several years ago my crew and I mutually parted ways on Cocos Keeling Island in the Indian Ocean — no place to recruit new crew. So I sailed the next 2,000-mile leg alone and enjoyed the challenge after spending a week getting my head around the idea."

John Colby, age 70, is one of two Oregonians in the 2018 Singlehanded TransPac fleet.

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John has tons of offshore experience. "We sailed our 27-ft Vega to Hawaii in 1982; my youngest daughter Carol had her fourth birthday in Hanalei Bay. We made coastal trips since then until 2006-2013, when we circumnavigated." The circumnavigation was in the Hylas 42, Iris, not the Vega.

Iris can carry lots of friends, but they won’t be aboard when the 1987 Hylas 42 departs San Francisco Bay on Saturday.

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In the past two years, he did two Oregon Offshore races, which start at the mouth of the Columbia River and finish at Victoria, and one Swiftsure. Now he’s signed up for the Singlehanded TransPac, which will start this Saturday off the deck of Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon. The race will finish in Hanalei Bay, on the north shore of the Garden Isle of Kauai.

John’s strategy for the race is simple: Get offshore the first night before the coastal wind dies, leave the Pacific High to starboard, and keep moving.

He’s trying not to over-provision. "We always seemed to have a ton of extra food while cruising. Then it didn’t matter. I’ll take Starbucks coffee for my French press and Costco prunes. I’d like to make a couple of meals of spaghetti before we start and refrigerate them for the first couple of dinners. I lightened the boat by taking off my wife’s books, collectible rocks and shells, some of her clothing, 238 feet of 12-mm chain and a couple of doors — I left the head doors intact.

"It is said, ‘You dance with the one who brought you.’ And Iris has safely taken me 45,000 miles. This race is noted for participants using the boats they own and not going out and spending tons on the latest race boat. Iris is fast to weather, average speed off the wind, is pretty and paid for. Unfortunately, this race is off the wind." John bets Iris is the only boat in the fleet with keel coolers protruding for refrigeration.

But before he could make the startline in San Francisco Bay, John had to bring Iris down the coast from Portland. With a crew of three, he left the dock of Portland YC on the evening of June 5, motored two hours, and docked at the club’s Outstation for the night, then really got under way the next morning at first light. 

Portland YC’s ‘Outstation’ is two hours down the Columbia River from the yacht club.

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"The trip down from Portland was routine until the engine quit," John reports. "And there was no wind and none in sight. One expects a nice northwesterly going south. But the forecasters were right. We had a forecast of light southwesterlies with a threat of strong southerlies until Cape Blanco on the Southern Oregon Coast. So we hurried on, not stopping in Astoria for fuel.

"The tank went dry just across the border. The second tank lasted until we were past Cape Mendocino. Now for the jerry cans. We decided to go into Noyo River by Fort Bragg. There the entrance seemed to be so narrow one could navigate by stretching one’s arms out to either side, and if your fingers touched you were too close to shore. Of course we entered after dark." This was at 11 p.m. on Friday, June 8.

On a fog-shrouded morning, a local Coast Guard crew assists a sailboat into the Noyo River in Fort Bragg. (This is not Iris.)

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In the morning they learned that there was no fuel on the river, but the harbor is just on the southern edge of Fort Bragg. "Some fishermen were going to town and took one of us on the first trip with the jerry cans. Hitchhiking with jerry cans was easy, especially with our woman crew along. We were out of there by 11 a.m. and sailed all the way to the shore side of the Potato Patch. We had more than 30 knots of wind rounding Point Reyes." They passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 4 a.m. on Sunday, June 10, and docked in Brisbane at 6 a.m.

To read about the rest of the 21 Singlehanded TransPac skippers, see our profiles in the June issue of Latitude 38. To learn more about the race, go to

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