One of the best offshore race reports we’ve read in a long time from IshmaelHatesThatDamnWhale
It’s months after the finish of the 2010 Pacific Cup, but I’m just getting around to writing about my experiences during the race. For over a year before the start of the race, my college roommate Cody and I had been preparing my 1979 Santa Cruz 27 to sail double-handed in the Pacific Cup. Our goal was to set a record as the youngest crew to ever race the Pacific Cup, with an average age of 21. Here are some highlights from Pac Cup.
I woke around 9:00 a.m. on July 5, 2010 in a blind panic. Cody and I had been working on Furthur until 5 a.m. the morning of our start and a one hour nap at a friend’s house became a two and a half hour nap. Now we were seriously at risk of being late to the start. Luckily, we were mostly packed up and ready to go. After crazy drive from Sausalito to Richmond Yacht Club, Cody and I said goodbye to our friends and family, hoisted our new Ullman main for the first time, and set off for the starting line. In true Team Furthur style, we were about 30 minutes late to our start, but with 2070 nautical miles of race course ahead of us we took on the attitude of "better late than never" and charged under the Gate in the wake of our fleet.
As we headed out, the breeze continued to die and we changed from the #4 jib to #1 genoa. After the Farallon Islands, it started looking like a very long race. With a huge low sitting over the California coast, the wind evaporated and we began drifting for Hawaii. The wind got so light at times that the #1 would just collapse and it was faster to tie the clew of the #3 to the mast step and let the boat paddle forward in the huge, long period swells than try to sail. The SC27 has a very heavy, beefy mast, and each set of waves would make the boat rock so badly any flow over the sails and foils would be lost. As I figured out the weather fax program, it became obvious that the usual "go south for more breeze" route would lead to doom and unmitigated failure. Instead, we would have to head west to pick up a wind band that we would eventually ride all the way to Hawaii. While I was trying to get my head around this and forget everything I had learned about navigating the Pacific Cup, an albatross came out of the no where, circled Furthur three times, then flew west. That sealed the deal about which way we would go.
By day 5, we were reaching with the #3 and a reefed main and on day 6 we finally had breeze at the correct angle for Hawaii and set the "Max Runner" spinnaker. The clouds parted for a few hours, Santa Cruz 27 was sliding down the wave faces in true West Coast style, and we had finally begun our sleigh ride to Hawaii. Our goal was to catch our friends on Moonshine, who we nicknamed the Gypsies (think Borat) for the duration of the race. Even though we owed them time, Moonshine had just launched off the start and was leading the Doublehanded 1 fleet. The first night of surfing with the kite up was just a taste of what was to come: constant cloud cover and no moon. It would prove to be a very dark race.
The upside was everything on board was working except for the battery charger, but with such a small electrical load and large batteries we could make it to Hawaii without running out of juice. Our instruments consisted of 2 handheld GPS’s, a compass that was almost impossible to read at night, and the Windex which was perfectly illuminated by the LED masthead tricolor. Around 9 knots, the boat suddenly feels like it is on rails. The helm is lightly loaded and precise, almost like it has power steering. The faster she goes, the better she feels, but the steering groove gets more and more narrow. As our top speed records climbed into the high teens, Furthur stayed true to her roots and felt just like a mini-sled. Linking surfs between multiple waves became common, though it was very physically tiring. Before the race, I installed two clutches and cheek blocks for the spinnaker sheets, allowing the guy to be clutched off and the spinnaker sheet cross-sheeted to the weather cockpit winch. As the boat came over the top of a swell, the driver would pump the vang to initiate the surf, then steer down the face while "banjoing" the spinnaker sheet to keep the kite full and give a little more power from a pump (if it wasn’t too highly loaded). Steering up to stop the bow from burying into the back of the next wave and keep some some heat on to climb over it, you would have to ease the vang to unload the rudder and help keep the bow up while also easing any banjoed spin sheet as the apparent wind shifts aft. Let the boat climb over the back of the next wave and repeat the cycle. Wave after wave, mile after mile, 2 hours on watch, 2 hours off watch.
Our max speed during the race (the fastest I’ve ever gone on a sailboat) was 20.5 knots and I was driving in total darkness. Furthur no longer felt like a sled, instead she was bow up and flat out planning like a sport boat. The waves were about 12 feet and the only warning of their presence was the glow bioluminescene and the sound as their crests broke. Then the bow would drop like the start of a roller coaster ride, the bow wake breaking well aft of the shrouds and as high as the boom on both sides, creating a bioluminescent tunnel. Approaching the trough, the bow wake would slide all the way forward to the headstay fitting, spray still flying away from the boat in a giant white-green V. The groove became so narrow there was no way to drive for two hours straight without the risk of a serious wipe out and carnage, so Cody and I decided to downshift to the #3 poled out. We were still surfing in the mid teens and headed DDW straight for the finish. At dawn we reset the spinnaker, knowing we may have lost some ground but succeeded in keeping the boat in one piece.
The only really bad crash we had was between two squalls at twilight. I had been on watch for about 15 minutes when I felt the tale-tale cold air of a squall. Right as the pressure came on, I dropped in on the steepest wave of my life. It honestly lifted my stomach like going over a bump in a car at speed. The SC27 has really low freeboard and a rather narrow bow compared to other ULDB’s; we were used to the foredeck occasionally being covered in green water. On this wave we just augered straight into the bottom of the trough. Completely blowing the vang usually unloaded the boat enough for the bow to pop up. This time it had no effect whatsoever. Immediately blowing the spin sheet completely off the winch as I started standing more on the aft bulkhead of the cabin than sitting in the cockpit, I felt the helm go light as a foot of water rushed over the cabin top. The foredeck was 6-8 feet underwater and I assume the rudder came completely out of the water. Furthur stood on her nose, then fell over sideways in an epic, masthead-hitting-the-water round up. Everything was eased and I tried pumping the rudder to get the boat back under the mast, but I’m pretty sure the rudder was still out of the water. Between me yelling "Fuck fuck fuck this is not good!" and the water pouring over the cabin top, Cody popped out of the companionway right as the rudder caught a wave and we were whipped into a round down. The boom and mainsheet block missed Cody’s head by an inch as the boom gybed. Everything was cluster-fucked on the port side of the boat (we were running on port pole), but we gybed back and tried to get the kite under control. This proved futile in the middle of a squall, so we ran under main only and cleaned up the mess. Amazingly, nothing broke during this almost pitch-pole wipe out. This is truly a testament to the design and build quality of the old Santa Cruz Yachts. As newer boats broke and retired or had to limp to Hawaii, this a 30 year old, structurally stock SC27 just took a beating and kept on hauling ass.
Our only real breakage happened in one night when the wiring for the masthead tricolor at the mast base got corroded and the tricolor went out. This is the only way to see the windex at night, so Cody had to drive through a squall in total darkness while I tapped a flashlight to the backstay. Then the wire bridle on our spare aluminum pole broke (the carbon pole’s center lashed D-ring was slipping and I was in the process of making it a new bridle), so I just attached the foreguy and topping lift to the pole end. Lastly, the tiller headstock had started slipping on rudder post and it took all my strength to torque down on the bolt with a set of channel locks.