Sailing is an exquisite way to enjoy the treasures of our world. Camaraderie, tranquillity and adventure all abound as one gets underway. Many of us are first inspired by racing our boats. Racing fuels the desire to sail further. Racing taught me how to handle most weather conditions without fear. For the fearsome conditions, racing taught me to do everything possible to avoid them. Racing forced me to learn how to deal with emergencies and react quickly and decisively under pressure. Spending a few years racing your boat is excellent preparation for offshore sailing.
After returning from offshore sailing, racing seemed so flash in the pan and hardly worth the bother. Even so, I understand how round-the-buoy races fit so nicely into the modern busy lifestyle and can be tons of fun. The longer races offer a bit more adventure – and remembering the camaraderie and great parties, I can sometimes be enticed!
Sailing the 75th Anniversary Swiftsure Regatta this year was very exciting. I had sailed in the 50th Anniversary, a short – ahem – time ago, so it seemed a good idea. We sailed in this year’s 80-mile Juan de Fuca / Ian Farrier memorial race. Mustang Sally is an offshore cruising catamaran, not particularly fast, but she can handle most conditions and is a lot of fun to sail. Swiftsure camaraderie is a big factor and the pre- and post-race activities were delightful.
I mustered a strong crew, consisting of Cathy and Rick Greenen, Stuart Kerr, Dennis Pickard, and Jamie Mckerrow. They did all the hard work and made the regatta fun for everyone aboard. Sharon – my sweet wife – helped with the prep work, and I beavered away for a couple of weeks prior, getting the boat systems tuned up and ready for racing.
Sub-gale (20-30 knots) winds were predicted, but we soon found more wind than that. There were about 180 boats registered, including a record multihull contingent with 16 boats. You can imagine the start was organized chaos. I was late to the start, but my crew worked hard getting the boat to Race Passage and we bashed our way through. The big winds gave us enough power and boat speed to push through the contrary currents.
Tacking up the Canadian side of the Strait was tough. When the 1st reefing line chaffed through, the boom dropped and cracked Cathy on the head. Just bruised thank goodness. The second reef was the quick solution and it proved no speed hindrance with wind speeds gusting in the high 30s. Mustang Sally was bucking and bouncing like a wild stallion as we bashed through the wind and waves. After an hour or so of tacking, with poor westerly progress, I decided conditions looked better on the south side.
As we sailed across Juan de Fuca Strait, the winds lifted us nicely and eased a bit, allowing better westerly progress. But the seas were building, and a tidal change was creating rough wind over tide conditions. Onward! Approaching the turning mark at Callum Bay, we found the committee boat tucked in tight to the shore to avoid the wind and waves. The wind dropped as we rounded with barely enough breeze to move the boat.
It was all sweet relief as we headed downwind back to Victoria. After launching the stallion (a big asymmetrical spinnaker), and shaking out the reefs, we were soon sailing comfortably north east and back across the Strait toward the bigger winds. The boat settled down to a steady rhythm. Only the helmsmen and trimmers worked to keep the boat moving and on course. Hot soup for supper warmed the crew as we prepared for the dark downwind reach back to Victoria.
As the sun set in the west, sailing in the gloaming was breathtaking. The moon lit up the mountains and seascapes in a soft ghostly glow. The sea was streaked with a broad beam of shining silver from the light of the moon. Only a few of the brightest stars were visible in the over powering near-full moon light.
As we sailed rushing through the sea, the two hulls made sweet sounds like two gushing waterfalls. There was a surreal feeling as some of the other boats appeared out of the the night. Passing us close by then disappearing into the night, marked only by their navigation lights and the residual eerie outline of their sails.
With Stuart on the helm, a following sea and wind, we thread the needle through Race Passage and swing north towards Victoria. With the wind going aft and failing, I consider changing to the big, light downwind spinnaker, but we are only a few miles out and the crew is tired and stiff in the cool Pacific air. We are moving, and it won’t make any difference if we are quicker, so we just hang in there and ride with the less efficient sail. Finished at 2:10 AM.
It was tough, but an excellent day and night of sailing. A good ride and a good time with good friends in an awesome setting. Thanks to the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and the City of Victoria for hosting.
After the race, the Kracken was released – but that is just another sailor’s rum story.