Saturday, July 19, 2008

2008 MAC, what a race!

The 2008 BYC Port Huron to Mac race is in the books. Anyone who told me that we could leave Port Huron at 1:00pm on Saturday and get to the Island before it got dark on Sunday would have been laughed off the dock. IMPOSSIBLE.... a 35 foot boat simply can't go that fast! Well.....

TIME MACHINE: 2nd place in the J/35 & T/35 class. Elapsed time: 31:32:06 Average speed: ~8.0 knots

North Cape Yacht Club: 1st place in the Doyle Yacht Club Challenge. LYNX (26), TIME MACHINE (28), VIVA LAS VEGAS (14) for a total of 68 points.

So what was it like.....

The race started out with the usual chaos. A quick trip to the top of the mast confirmed that spiders had been busy making a web around the wind instruments. All the webs were cleared from the rigging and all the fittings were checked. The crew did a great job of stowing and organizing the gear down below and as we drifted down the Black River the last of the new blocks were installed (no minute like the last minute). The skippers sea-sickness patch was attached and the boat rigged. The XM weather showed a large complex of storms that were going to move right through the starting area. Sure enough, at about noon, hard rain and a couple of 35-40 knot blasts of wind rolled through. A one point the visibility was so poor that the starting boats could not see the orange markers on the committee boats. It was not a time to push up close to the line.

Just as we were getting ready to hoist sails, the wind calmed to about 10 knots and the rain stopped. We set a full main and #3, anticipating a spinnaker start on port tack. The start was a combined fleet of J/120 and J/35 and T/35. As usual, there was a great deal of jockeying for position and some close racing. BANG! All clear! We were off.

BIG RED (0.6 oz chute) rockets to the masthead, the #3 is down on the deck in seconds and the boatspeed is over 7 knots. What a great feeling! The next 3 hours saw a steady breeze from a TWA of 140 with occasional 10 degree shifts. Just as things seemed to be getting boring.... WOW, look at those boats close to shore... they are parked. Where should we go? The brain trust figured we might sneak around the hole by going out further into the lake... At first it seemed to work in our favor, but soon we too were in the soft stuff and then we watched the wind fill back in from in-shore. Those boats inside of us simply took off and it was another 10 minutes before our sails filled too. So much for leading MR. BILL'S WILD RIDE and FALCON.

The new breeze was from South West and over the next 6 hours it built in strength and shifted to the West. Before sundown we peeled from BIG RED to BIG BLUE (1.5 oz chute). It was a good move as the wind was starting to blow harder. Boat speeds were now regularly in the 9 and spiking into the 10 knot range. The watch system was now in full force and crew was rotating below for rest. The sound of the water surging past the hull was almost enough to drown out the almost continuous rasp of the spinnaker-sheet winch as the trimmers worked to keep the kite at full power.

In the late evening the wind had shifted more on the nose and increased even more, we changed to the #3.

At 12:30AM..... MAYDAY! See the post at July 17th for details. We suspended racing to rush to the aid of a fellow competitor. However, we were soon released by them to resume racing.

Still on port tack... the wind was up, the seas were large and quartering. The boat was simply flying. Other boats were all around us. The clouds had dissipated and we could sail using the stars as guides. If I stood in just the right spot, the end of the big dipper would line up with the tip of the first spreader. How Cool!

Still on port tack.... Wind has gone a bit left and the pressure is down, but only slightly. Time to put the kite back up! Seas are now getting really big. Steering in them takes great concentration. If you don't start a turn down at just the right time, the weather helm will spin the boat right up and the kite deflates. Pull the tiller at just the right instant and you are rewarded with a mini-surf at 11 knots followed by a 10 foot elevator ride UP and OVER.

Still on port tack.... The sun is up and a quick check of the GPS shows that we will arrive a the turning mark before 8:00am. Looks like it will be a close reach after the turn. Wind is out of the WSW and trying to turn to the W. It feels like about 20-25 knots. As we approach the turn we put a reef in the mainsail and then hoist the #1. The kite comes down and around we go. TWA is 52-55 degrees. Boat speed is great. We are even making ground on PENDRAGON (a 43 footer) who is just ahead.

Still on port tack.... The plan to stay at the 52-55 degree wind angle and let the boat run. This takes a lot of patience, especially since we expect and soon find that the wind is clocking to the right. We are getting pushed further and further to the North side of the rumbline. But the boat speed is great and who knows what will happen ahead. The wind continues to clock and build. Soon it's time to peel to the #3. We see boats all around us that seem to be struggling. The boats with full mains are flogging badly, the boats with large headsails are getting pushed sideways and are not really that fast, we even see a few #4 and storm jibs deployed.

Still on port tack.... Conditions are getting pretty wild. It's too lumpy for some of the crew to go down below. The combination of high speed and the big waves means that we are getting soaked. Boat speeds are still in 7.5-8.0 knot range and TIME MACHINE is handling the seas well. We are now about 50 miles away from the finish. It doesn't look like we will have time to get another shift in the wind, so we crank things in and go close-hauled.

Still on port tack... These are the conditions that try the crew the most. Seas are 3-4 feet with sets of big waves that are running 8-10 feet. The big sets are three waves together. They are large enough and the wavelength is long enough that we can sail up the front, down the back and not slam.... most of the time. About every 4th set, the waves are really steep. TIME MACHINE comes up off the first wave, pivots on the top, the bow then slams down into the face of the second wave with a bone crunching WHAM. And then there are deck washers.... about every 10th wave set is huge. We climb the first wave, glide down the back and up the face of the second wave, we then power down the back and... there is a 5 footer at the bottom of the trough. There is nothing to do but go right through the wave.... the crew on the rail is up to their shoulders in solid water and the boat is washed stem to stern.

Still on port tack.... It has been about 4 hours of this and everyone is getting tired and COLD. However, the wind has slackened a bit, but not enough to come off the #3. We are able to see the markers for Spectacle Reef and soon the top of the Island pokes up over the horizon. It's time to plan the end game.

Still on port tack.... we are getting lifted toward the island! Pressure is still really good. Still on the #3, but now a full Main. Not a lot of boats in the area. We are closing in on a reef that is just North East of the Island. It looks like there is great pressure and possible a huge lift to be had along Bois Blanc Island. We have to tack anyway, so over we go. As expected, we pick up a huge knock on Starboard and when we flop over to Port again, we are headed right towards the island. But then things change....

A nasty little rain shower comes along and changes the wind patterns all over the place. What looked like a great plan is not in the toilet (head). We are out of phase with the shifts. The wind has dropped and we are under canvased. Up comes the #1 and we do a tacking change. I think we are now is synch with the shifts. We are coming in along the island and then we see ROWDY flying in on Starboard tack from the north. They are close to the island. We need to make a tack out on Port and make it too long. It puts us in the teeth of the current, while ROWDY slices along in the slacker water. BANG.... BANG.... BANG..... 3 boats finish within 20 seconds of each other. A Beneteau, ROWDY and TIME MACHINE.

The headsail comes down..... The Mainsail comes down.... The skipper tries to start the engine and NOTHING.... In the meantime BURDEN IV has finished down by the pin and they come over to provide us with a tow. We coast into the harbor and are soon moored in slip right next to our team-mates LYNX.

The crew gets busy cleaning up the boat and getting stuff up on deck to dry. The skipper and Dennis head to Mission Point to turn in our finish card and to file for redress. There is a time limit on the filing of the form, and with the engine trouble we are under some pressure. The form is accepted within the time limit and we head back to the dock with a fist full of drink tickets and party stickers.

WOW.... it's only Sunday. Someone thought to call the hotels and we got 2 rooms at the WINDEMERE (probably the last 2 rooms on the island). At least we will have a dry place to sleep. Good thing that we had the de-humidifier brought to the island. It was run a full blast and made a huge difference down below.

TIME MACHINE has made it to the island in record time. Her crew is safe. Nothing was broken. The results are great. On Tuesday when we are up on stage acknowledging the cheers of the crowd, the cold and the wet and discomforts are a memory and it all seems worth it.

Skipper, TIME MACHINE Sailing Team.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How would you react when you hear...MAYDAY

The TIME MACHINE Sailing Team was faced with a particularly difficult challenge during this year's Port Huron to Mackinac race. As you read this post, please think about how you would react under similar conditions.

It's 12:30 in the morning, the skipper is half asleep down below. The VHF radio in the cockpit comes alive with calls from a vessel to the Coast Guard. It's really hard to hear on deck as the wind has piped up into the low 20 knot range and the boat is flying through water at 9 - 10 knots. Down below, the crew recognizes the voice on the radio... it's our friends on NIGHT TRAIN.

The skipper moves up on deck and turns the radio volume all the way up. Crouching down over the radio, he hears... "We have a man in the water"...."He is attached the boat".... "He's in the spinnaker"..."We have no engine".... USCG asks for the position. The skipper yells... write it down! The navigator, who was asleep was rousted and told to enter the waypoint, but he's too sleepy...the backup comes in off the rail and enters the point. The LAT LON has been changing during this time, as NIGHT TRAIN is still moving at a pretty good pace.

The DSC all stations alarm is triggered by the USCG. They send a MAYDAY relay and request assistance from all boats in the vicinity.

Within minutes we hear..."We are firing a flare" and all the crew on deck are told to watch all around the boat. We soon see, low on the horizon a flare, it's dead down wind of us. The GPS entry is made and for the first time we are pretty sure we know where NIGHT TRAIN is.... 2 miles downwind, we can get there in about 15 minutes.

So what's a skipper to do.....

The order is issued.... WRITE DOWN THE TIME.... STEER TO THE WAYPOINT... WE ARE SUSPENDING RACING! The helmsman pulls the tiller over and the boat surges through a heavy air gybe. We settle onto the new course. During a break in the radio transmissions, the skipper transmits..."NIGHT TRAIN, NIGHT TRAIN this is TIME MACHINE, we are 2 miles upwind and have diverted, we are coming!".... The transmissions from NIGHT TRAIN continue... "We have recovered the man"...."He is down below and we are trying to warm him"..."We have no engine"...."The MOB is conscious"... "We need a tow"....

So now what.... in these conditions, a J/35 under power struggles to make progress into the wind. the prop and engine are simply too small to consider towing the T/35. The USCG has scrambled a helicopter and the cutter BISCAYNE BAY. The ETA for the cutter is under an hour.

Skipper radios to NIGHT TRAIN...."NIGHT TRAIN, we are still coming. We don't think that we can assist you with a tow. We will keep coming unless you release us to continue racing". There is a short pause in the radio traffic as the NIGHT TRAIN crew considers the situation and then...."TIME MACHINE, resume racing... THANK YOU THANK YOU".

TIME MACHINE executes a "Chicken Gybe" and settles down on the course to the mark. The time is noted. We continue to monitor the radio traffic as the helicopter tries and fails to get a swimmer on-board NIGHT TRAIN. The cutter BISCAYNE BAY arrives and gets an EMT aboard. The MOB is transferred to the cutter and then lifted to the helicopter and transferred to the hospital. The initial medical evaluation is good. There are no serious injuries.

Upon finishing the race, TIME MACHINE files for redress. The international judges at the hearing ask to hear the facts of the situation. They then ask, "How much time are you asking for".... I am stunned! There is only one correct response..."I have provided you with the facts of the situation as accurately as I can. It's up to you the jury to determine the appropriate redress". The skipper is dismissed as the jury deliberates and the called back. The redress is granted and we are awarded 11:00 minutes. The jury also makes another comment which still rings in my head....

'What TIME MACHINE did should serve as an example to the whole sailing community. You are to be commended".

So what would you do????

RG, Skipper of the TIME MACHINE Sailing Team.