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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pinch Me...

The 2012 running of Swiftsure looked like it was going to be a very atypical race -- possibly downwind both ways! As things progressed it turned out to be relatively typical, perhaps even a little on the winder side -- light winds at the start, building through the day, and lightening the following morning.

We entered the race with 13 crew (5 less than our normal complement of 18), with an attempt to replicate what we would be doing in the upcoming Pacific Cup race to Hawaii in July. Being short on crew would mean that the sail changes would take a little longer, plus we could be down on power upwind.

After a great start we led the fleet towards Race Rocks when a south-westerly wind filled in and enabled Neptune's Car, Westerly and Braveheart to get to the Race before us. As the breeze built we were able to fully power up and soon we were back in the lead. By the time we crossed over to the US side we had consolidated a nice lead knowing full well things could change at night!

After making landfall midway between Pillar Point and Clallum Bay we beat up the US shore, at times sailing through thick fog banks which completely blotted out the shore and our competition.  By the time we neared Neah Bay the wind had backed sufficiently for us to reach out to Swiftsure Bank, knowing full well that it would lighten and that we would get headed.

Icon's Track for the 2012 Swiftsure

We rounded the anchored warship (not a nice assignment from what we could see) and immediately headed back to Neah Bay under our spinnaker.  As the winds built we added our spinnaker stay-sail to the mix.  When we neared Neah Bay we could see behind us that the wind was backing off and it looked like it was going to be a long night for the boats behind.

As we neared Neah Bay we were headed and we wisely stayed mid-strait until we were lifted back to the US side when we jibed across back to the Canadian shore.  Along the way the radio was very busy with a man-overboard on Wasabi (every skipper's nightmare situation), a grounding near Beachey Head, and so on.

The winds increased with every mile we got closer to Race Rocks, which was seeing 34 knots with gusts to 40 knots as we approached -- very windy!  We downshifted to our A4 kite and tried to minimize jibes in the heavy air -- all the while trucking along close to 20 knots.

Just before Race Rocks we decided to take the kite down and jib reach until safely through.  This proved to be a wise and conservative approach as we could see carnage ahead and behind with broaches and wrapped spinnakers.

After safely transiting Race Passage we launched the A3 and pressed for the finish at 16-18 knots.  Fortunately for us the wind held right to the finish and we completed the race with an elapsed time of approximately 18 hours -- not a record by any means, but certainly faster than the year before!

Much to our surprise when finishing we were told that we were the first boat home and that Braveheart was about an hour behind -- a big switch up as they can be very fast downwind!  After completing our post-race inspection (with some delicious hot soup -- thanks RVYC) we headed back home with our fingers crossed.

Icon chasing down Braveheart near Race Rocks

Later that morning after breakfast in Anacortes it became clear that we had likely won 1st overall at Swiftsure, with many boats struggling to make it back to Victoria under light winds.  A skippers and owners dream finally realized...pinch me!

PS - a special mention needs to be made of our crew member Eric (last one on the rail in the picture).  He was awarded the highly coveted "Pink Pillow" award for sleeping all the way from Cape Flattery to Race Passage and then asking how we got there so quickly!  Go figure...