Stuart Johnstone takes you inside the new Dr. L owned J/88 Crazy Eights on their aborted Newport to Ensenada Race…
The weather forecast for this year’s N2E had a lot of promise, but with a few wrinkles thrown into the mix. For several days, many models showed an unusual micro-low ( a mini-me of a cyclone) circulating just offshore of Los Angeles, producing breezes in the southerly quadrant. The big question was how long would it last on Friday morning before the start, how strong the wind would be from the SSE and how quickly would it dissipate when the huge depression from the NW rolled in with the promised gales offshore and 15-25 kts winds along the coast.
As one might imagine, whatever was forecast was going to be completely wrong. Indeed it was off by at least 50%. The basic scenario played out but not like what many experienced navigators on SoCal races expected. With the wx report models all over the place, it was creating a certain amount of anxiety for many of the top boats as well as ourselves on the debut offshore race for the J/88 CRAZY EIGHTS- Dr Laura Schlessinger’s latest wild ride for West Coast racing.
What happened. On the way to the starting area, the weather was spectacular, southerly breezes with sunny, clear skies and puffy white clouds scudding across the horizon. At our start around noon-time, the breeze continued to pick up from the SSE (125-130 degrees or so). The micro low just offshore produced 10-17 kt SSE winds for the first 5 hrs of the race.
Most of the fleet (95% of them) took off on port tack, anticipating the new frontal shift moving into the WNW quadrants in the mid-afternoon. As the fleet pounded to windward in a huge swell with wind-driven chop on top, it was clear that many boats were anxious to get onto starboard tack and head down the coast. By mid-afternoon, many boats were tacking when the breeze was still around 145-150, still left of the “closest tack angle” to the finish line (we never saw those boats again).
The forecasted gradual shift never happened, the wind died completely early evening with huge NW swell generated by the incoming front with an overlay of southerly chop making for a “washing machine” effect. The whole fleet stopped, particularly inshore boats.
It seems the smart money was to go offshore until the wind direction hit 150-155 degrees, going from port tack favored VMC to the finish at Ensenada (bearing about 148 degrees) over to the newly favored starboard tack. While most of the fleet tacked far too early, we waited until TWD was around 155. After we tacked CRAZY EIGHTS, it was very clear inshore boats had much less wind. In the 88, we were rolling fast 35-40 footers inshore of us. For the next 3-4 hours, we simply sailed higher and faster than the majority of the fleet, the outside boats were getting the new, veering breeze much earlier and far longer than boats inside. On the inside boats we could identify we were gaining 5-10 deg per hour. The new breeze line coming in from 230-240 didn’t appear to migrate inshore.
After 5-6 hours of sailing hard on wind, the wind died on the whole fleet late afternoon (at least those boats we could see on the horizon). For the next hour or more, it was sailing zephyr to zephyr and we were going back and forth with a well sailed FT10 and a Sydney 38. Soon, we could see the new WNW breeze line filling under a long band of clouds (aligned SSW/NNE) as the front moved ever so agonizingly slowly onto the course area– we were about 15nm offshore at the time. We were easily one of the first dozen or so boats to get into the long awaited, very long delayed shift into the 260-280 deg quadrant. It started blowing 10-15 kts and only increased into the 12-20 kts range under certain cells moving through the course. After the frontal edge moved in for us, we could see boats only a mile or so to leeward bobbing with no wind. Taking off under barber hauled jib and later the A4, we were sailing down track at 130-145 deg to slowly sink down in front of the fleet going 8-13 kts constantly in the fairly steady breezes. The breeze was remarkably still filled with huge holes in the 8-12 kts range, puffs maxed around 18-21 kts and never lasted very long. The fleet simply disappeared behind us.
Then, we were dealing with one of our crew’s deteriorating medical/ health condition (bad reaction to a sea sick patch) – so we dropped out and sailed into San Diego. A bummer for sure since we had such an amazing race going. To give you and idea how far down track we were, we got to the Pt Loma bell #3 green flasher around 9:30pm. There was only about 50nm of sailing left for us- roughly 6-7 hrs or a finish time of around 5am or so, all things considered. In short, given where we were at the time, an easy class win and possibly an overall win. In the end, we all had a great ride on Dr Laura’s new ride, a beautiful dark blue hulled boat– it has enormous potential offshore and one of these days it will get onto the winner’s podium. Dr Laura herself sailed remarkably well considering it was her first offshore race on the J/88– quite a talented and determined skipper!