The 300 Club
19 July 2014
The race is now entering, but my count, it's third drag race phase. The first was blast reaching days 2 and 3 towards the transition, the second when we all made our decisions as to where and when to cross North of the rhumb line and have to sweat the merits of our choices for several days.
The GPS now reads 311 miles to go to Kaneohe, and looking at the tracker data I was just able to download it looks like this third drag race will be a spin reach to the finish. Here on blade runner we don't have the bandwidth to look at the tracker website, but can use some internet short cuts to grab position and speed data and plot these in relation to our position and the finish line on our laptop.
Months ago each boat chose the sails it would take for these sorts of conditions, days ago we each made a decision about what we thought the wind would do and how to time our last jibe into Kaneohe. Now there's nothing to do by try and push the boat as hard as possible without breaking anything, concentrate carefully when driving, and not make any mistakes. Bear in mind that nobody on any of these double handed boats has slept more than 2 hours continuously since the start, and you start to understand how complex the decision making becomes.
We've been neck and neck with Snafu and Green Buffalo since early days, always trailing just a little, I'm sure to them seeming like some sort of annoying little sibling tagging along. But now we're managed to reposition ourselves from annoyance to genuine threat. They have proven very worthy adversaries, I genuinely look forward to hearing their side of the race and what 'they thought we were thinking when we thought they were thinking what we were thinking, etc. etc". I just hope we're the ones saving them a seat at the bar when the pull in behind us!
Three ways to burn your skin: rope, sun, and coffee
18 July 2014
Day 11 of Pacific Cup has us pointed within 15 degrees of Kaneohe and moving nicely downwind. It's gorgeous sunshine today, puffy white clouds, and the kind of blue sea that you just have to be out here to appreciate. The wind is only in the 10-12 range today, so a little anemic for the trades and not enough to get us up surfing, let's hope we get to do some more of that as we close in on our last 500 miles of Pacific Cup.
So as you might be able to tell from title each of us has taken a skin hit or two over the last couple of days.
Two nights ago we had what can only be considered an epic. We had been happily running downwind for about 36 hours and were really making some miles, wind in the 18-22 range, deep reaching kite up. I was off watch in my bunk at about 0130 when I heard Andy pound his foot on the floor of the cockpit and yell "I need up up here" in a voice that was, for those of you who know him, decidedly NOT the usual happy go lucky Andy. I was up in the cockpit a couple seconds later but by then we were doing 14 or 15 kts of boatspeed running before the breeze which had within moments built to 30. Clearly we needed to get the kite down, but just as I started to move forward for a letterbox drop behind the main we rounded down HARD, pole and kite in the water, main stuck halfway across by the preventer strap, a cheesy piece of sail tie material that apparently was made of kryptonite or something! We cut the preventer, the boom came across (and thankfully didn't break itself or the gooseneck) and the boat stood up. Only problem is that now the kite was flogging in 35+ kts of wind and so within seconds it was aggressively 'reconfigured' in to a series of sad tendrils of Airex fabric. We got the remnants on board with a few minutes of struggling, and by then the wind had calmed, so up went a back-up class kite after some quick re-organization. Only problem was that I had failed, in my haste to jump up on deck with the original crisis, to put on gloves, so when the spare halyard jumped it's cleat while hoisting a solid 20 feet of heavily loaded line whet 'zzzeeeeee' through my left palm, leaving some impressive blisters but nothing too bad.
Within 10 minutes the scenario had repeated itself, another crash, this time a significantly safer broach rather than the pole-threatening round down variety the first time. We were pinned by the kite this time, but when we tried to blow the afterguy and recover the line jammed, so we ended up using the knife again. Got THAT kite back with some more struggle and we put up the code 0, a much sail, while we again licked our wounds and reorganized. Within an our we had the kite back up and things were back under control. We had a series of squalls all that night until about 2pm the following day, frequently gusting up into the 30 kt range, which kept us on our toes and not sleeping much. During one of these rather hair raising squalls our GPS recorded a peak boat speed of 25.8. To be honest we were WAY TOO BUSY to look at the readouts during those moments, so we're not really sure which squall created this record, but we're pretty sure it's a top Blade Runner speed record that we will only exceed if we drop her out of a tall building somewhere. The more moderate conditions today have allowed us to get up a bigger kite and start catching up on some sleep.
In the middle of a sail change this morning Andy's fresh mug of hot coffee managed to dump down his backside, which produced quite a yelp of alarm and protest form the sailing master. A comparison of blisters is pending later this afternoon.
Every time time I drag my wet body into my wet bunk for a few minutes of rest I say another little thank you to Bill Lee for designing this amazing little machine 30+ years ago: Truly 27 feet of ocean racing fury! And a big shout out to our competitors on Snafu, who were apparently seeing 25 foot waves the other night. As hard as we've had our foot down hard on the pedal the whole time, those guys in a 24 footer just keep pulling away. Impressive performance, genglemen, Bravo and looking forward to swapping stories in Kaneohe.
All aboard the Aloha Express
16 July 2014
The little red boat has found herself firmly planted in the warm trade winds she has been so long promised!
The last two nights have found winds picking up into the low 20 kt range in the evening and staying there all night. Yesterday we had a lull back down into the low teens in the morning but the wind surged back in the early afternoon . Today: no such lull. We've had 18-22 all day, and the swells are slowly but surely organizing themselves into big ocean rollers.
After a couple days of pleasant but not terribly difficult sailing we've once again been transformed into a salty wet sleigh ride. The gear that had been all dried out by our little intermission of sun and light wind is slowly but surely accumulating moisture again, and if you leave something out 'to dry' in the cockpit the usual pattern is it gets about 85% of the way there and then a fresh wave soaks everything and everyone, starting the whole process again.
The ride at night is once again rough enough that we've again taking to sleeping on pads on the cabin floor. The quarterberth bunks are too far from the center of gravity, and about the time you start to drift off the boat takes off one one of it's more spectacular 13 or 14 kt surfs and you're about bounced out of bed.
The degree of difficulty in driving at night has also escalated significantly. Last night just near the end of one of my two hour watches on the helm a big, dark squall moved ominously in over our R shoulder. I shouted down to Andy that things might get interesting, and sure enough within a couple minutes we went from 20 to 35 kts of breeze and a truly torrential downpour. Trying to keep the boat going downwind, not broach or jibe, and not flog the spinnaker to death while peering through glasses covered in salt and instruments obscured by pelting rain meant my cognitive workload was pushed to about 125% of poor brains capacity. We made it though with everything intact but I was DONE driving for a couple hours.
For the first time we're starting to wake one another for early watch changes if the driving has proved particularly hairy. The way the cockpit is configured, one really has to be seated to drive and be able to reach the main sheet, spin sheet, spin guy and tiller. This means we spend a LOT of time with salty wet shorts, and after several days the effects on the skin in those areas is, shall we say, pronounces. Sailing master Schwenk requested some salve from the ship's physician to relive his discomfort. When he applied the hydrocortisone which had been prescribed, he noted that "well that just makes it sting worse." The somewhat sleep deprived medico replied that "it's medicine, it doesn't necessarily feel good, it just makes you better."
Final note: every now and then the helmsman will notice that things JDFR (just don't feel right). We've taken several brief stops to back the boat down to clear and small debris of the keep and rudder. In addition the boat is very sensitive to weight balance, and so sometimes we'll find that moving a couple of the heavy gear bags around will help rectify the situation.
That's all for today, time for a nap to store up some sleep in anticipation of another busy night. It's very true that in this race 'sleep is a weapon.'
Things that go bump in the night...
14 July 2014
So you loyal blog followers (yes, all three of you plus my Mom) will recall our post about the amount of small trash and plastic bits that have been floating by. These have actually become less visible as our speed and the sea state have increased. Of greater concern are the larger bits of debris that exist out here.
Deep in the psychie of every small boat sailor is the knowledge that things like shipping containers fall off the back of boats with shocking frequency, along with things like floating piers, 50 gallon drums, and even reports of whole derelict vessels floating about. The Japanese Tsunami of 2012 (?) washed literally millions of tons of debris into the ocean, further increasing anxiety.
Fortunately, these events remain in the 'needle in a haystack' category, and the vast majority of debris from the Japanese Tsunami seems to have either sunk or settled into the mythical Great Pacific Gyre well north of our intended course.
But on two separate occasions we've gone bump into something significant that made both of us sit up and pay attention. The first was two nights ago when Andy was on watch and I was crashed out, the second last night when roles were reverse when I was driving at about 3am and Andy was in his bunk down below. In both cases there was no bang or crash, just a sudden, profound slowing of the boat and pitching forward, last night it felt like hitting a curb with your car in the parking lot. I knew we'd hit something with the keel and my left hand on the tiller felt nervously for a second impact against the rudder which fortunately never came. The keel is 1500# of lead and fiberglass, a very stout structural element bolted and glassed to the hull. In fact the boat largely rests on it when it's out of the water. But the rudder is a much thinner fin which pivots around a stout post. Bending the post would take a huge amount of force, but damage to the rudder bearing or the fiberglass structure which supports them is a very real possibility, potentially leaving us without a way to steer. For this reason we design, built, and tested an entirely independent emergency rudder which is aboard and could be deployed in case of some major damage to the primary rudder. But using this would mean we were out of the race, and instead would focus on moving the boat slowly and deliberately to Hawaii.
To further set the scene: Last night was one of the wildest nights of my sailing career. We had from 16-20 kts of wind coming in right directly behind us, with gusts as high as 25. We had the spinnaker up and were absolutely flying: sustained 8-9 kts of boat speed, surfing as high as 14-15 kts when we caught a wave. It was pitch black though most of the night, making it impossible to see the waves ahead, let alone any potential debris in our path. Sitting in the cockpit the on watch crew had to carefully monitor the windvane at the top of the mast (helpfully lit by a small LED bulb), the compass and the wind angle to keep the boat moving fast and not 'wipe out'. I was deep in concentration when the sudden lurch hit, and I have to admit my heart did kind of leap up into my throat at that moment. But the boat just bounced off whatever it was and kept on trucking like nothing had happened. Given the glancing nature of the blow I would wonder if we grazed some sort of marine mammal (sincere apologies to Mr Whale if you have a bit of crick on your back this morning!), or some partially submerged fishing gear.
At any rate, all's well that ends well! After a bit of a lull this morning we had blowout of a halfway party in the cockpit (details to follow), and now the trades are picking up again. so looks like another night of rockin and rolling south on the good ship Blade Runner.
Yes, Virginia, there really is a 'fun race to Hawaii'
14 July 2014
Things aboard the mighty Blade Runner continue to go well. If you click on the google earth link on the blog (at least I think I set that up before we left) you will notice that we are just about half way there: WhooHooo! Just in case the google earth function isn't working go to pacificup.org and click on the tracker. If you haven't already been doing this it's a fun way to track our progress. We have a small device called a 'yellowbrick' mounted on the back of the boat and it pings a satellite with our position and speed about every 15 minutes or so. This data is the correlated with that from all the other boats into a pretty nifty graphic interface. Try it, pretty addictive. And you'll notice, we note with a great deal of pride, that little old Blade Runner in all of her 27 feet of ocean racing fury are right near the front of the pack! Okay, disclaimer: A LOT of very fast boats started days behind us and so our position in front is likely quite ephemeral, but we sure do look good for now!
As the title of this post suggests, Andy and I were starting to wonder about the intellectual honesty of the race's slogan as the 'fun race to Hawaii.' Two and a half days of cold, soaking wet blast reaching followed by slating around in light air for a couple days. "Jeez", we thought, "can you imagine what the other races might be like if this is the fun one?!?"
But alas all our fears have been laid to rest. Since yesterday afternoon we've had progressively building breeze, puffy white clouds, and warm sunshine. A person could really get used to this sort of thing! And thanks to our new found wind we are making rapid progress to the halfway point in our trip. Looking at the weather forecast it is likely that today is actually the halfway point in terms of time, as we anticipate right now an arrival in Kaneohe this coming weekend. The milage halfway point should tick through the GPS sometime tomorrow afternoon.
We are in a state of feverish preparation for our halfway party: lawn furniture is arriving, the champagne and caviar are cooling on ice, and final arrangements with the florist and valet have been made. Well, not quite, more like a bottle of rum and some Crystal light mix is sitting somewhat damply in a corner of the cabin. Most importantly our stalwart friends and supporters and our ever-loving families have prepared not one but TWO mystery 'halfway boxes' for us to enjoy. In case you haven't noticed from some overwrought prose are current interest in clicking off this halfway boxes is beginning to border on obsession.
Update from the wildlife desk: flying fish have become common as the little jellyfish have disappeared, clearly we have transitioned form one biosphere to another as we progress south and east.
That is all from Blade Runner for today, Aloha to all!
1/4 there or so, part two....
12 July 2014
Anyone checking this blog post in real time instead of watching the (I think) Argentina vs Germany FIFA game must be true fans of the Blade Runner!
So, things have slowed down considerably since since my last entry. After three days of blast reaching we had one day of warm sunny wind, then since early yesterday nothing but warm sun. Wind speeds 1-4 kts, though from a maddeningly variable series of directions as if in some maniacal attempt to compensate for it's lack of amplitude. The only good news is that as far we can tell everybody else seems similarly parked. Listening in on the SSB net yesterday evening 'slatting sails' seemed to be the one constant across the fleet. One bright report from relfected skipper Paul's eternal optimism on Valis: "Well, we're moving...of course it's at 90 degress to our destination, but at least we're moving." The weather map shows a large, messy mass of high pressure air that has settled over the fleet. To our sun addled brains is looks a lot like Jabba the Hut in the form of high pressure air is squatting on our little race to Hawaii. Andy is insisting that I play Leah, as he's always wanted to play Han Solo.
We've been really struck by the amount of small trash and derelict fishing gear strewn about the ocean. How they manage to actually catch any fish remains a mystery, as most of the gear seems to have gone walkabout. Interestingly, and fortunately for us, most of the pieces are very small, really dinner plate size and less. One wonders what happened to the bigger chunks? We've picked up a couple pieces for inspection, and each has a fascinating little micro habitat associated with the bottom side. Long neck clams seem to predominate, but each has had at least once, sometimes multiple, little crabs. Presumably these little guys are holding for dear life, though Andy did spot one free swimming this morning, I guess on a mission "homestead" his only little slice of plastic heaven. One imagines the teenage crab bidding farewell to Mom and Dad in a fit of youthful vigor and independence. Then again perhaps this was Mom and Dad's decision that he strike out on is own, beware youngsters one and all!
As yet we've not wrapped anything of significance around the keel or rudder. We did develop a pretty big vibration in the rudder on day two that felt like we'd hooked something, but that went away immediately when we backed the boat down briefly. I did bring a snorkel and mask, but my enthusiasm for breaking them out remains limited. I've always been of two minds when it comes to swim call in the open ocean. On the one hand it can be wonderfully refreshing and a welcome rinse of the grime and smells that are a part of living in a small boat with limited fresh water. But on the other hand looking down into the abyss I usually become acutely aware that in this environment swimming freely I am nowhere near the top of the food chain. My brain can't stop wondering about what might be down there looking up at my legs kicking thinking "Hmm, I wonder what those taste like."
Mele Kaliki Maka is Hawaiin for Merry Chistmas, and judging from the ETA on our every reliable GPS perhaps a phrase that will appropriate for our arrival party. So a request from the humble crew of Blade Runner that everyone will a more seasonable alignment of the Eastern Pacific milibars and allow us to make our way more expeditiously to Kaneohe!
P.S. We've taken to naming our evening cocktail taken as we listen to the single side band radio net after our High School girl friends, a full list of recipes will be posted on the blog at the close of our journey ;-)
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