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  1. Trip: Ocean Racing - Pacific Cup 2008 Date: 7/19/2008 Trip Report: I’m not a rock star, I’m just a guy who happens to sail. I haven’t really been active in a year or two, but when the stars aligned and an opportunity arose to sail Pacific Cup with the Portland-based 70-footer Rage, I didn’t hesitate. Well, ok, I did. The last thing you want to do is get on a boat with folks you haven’t sailed with before, and it just doesn’t click. Especially on the ocean! So I signed up with the provision to sail Swiftsure first as a tryout. The forecast leading up to this year’s Swiftsure certainly predicted what might happen. Driftsure. There weren’t any storm systems coming in. Swiftsure always seems like Groundhog Day for Seattle-based sailors: the logistics mean only one or two options to get to Victoria, so depending on your needs you either hop the Clipper or hop the Blackball on Friday. My need was “fast” so I found myself on the Clipper in good company with shady characters Leslie Snodgrass, Ian Beswick, and Mark Bunker. (Yeah, for those of you who don't know, Mark sails!) In short order we landed in Victoria and I made my way to the hotel where Rage’s skipper, Steve Rander, and crew were congregating, and finally introduced myself in person. The race? Well, like the logistics the options are usually only fast and slow, and for those of you who sailed it this year, it was the same for us as it was for you: slow. We escaped through Race Passage, but Saturday was extremely light, with the wind filling in only around sunset from the Southwest near shore. But it was a beautiful day, and we toughed it out on Rage with lots of sunblock. (One can never complain if it’s not raining.) When the wind filled in we finally started having some fun! Coming back from the Bank, we power reached along at 15 knots with the Moon out, the tiller was handed to me for the first time, and I got a chance to get a feel for the boat that I would become intimately familiar with over the coming months. It was …balanced. Driving Rage was like driving a well-behaved Olson 30. There was a little more warning if you were doing something wrong, a feeling I latched onto immediately as critical for night sailing on the ocean. After passing Neah Bay, the wind clocked aft and we hoisted the “Big Doyle”, Rage’s largest spinnaker, at 4,500 sq feet of cloth. (You read that correctly!) With enough sail up to supply a small African nation with .75 oz nylon, we burned down the course and finished in time for breakfast. I was in! Rage during Swiftsure. The strange sail is a jibtop drifter, which is what we had for light sailing before we bought the Code 0 for Pacific Cup. For Pacific Cup, Steve delivered the boat to Alameda right after Swiftsure. It was mostly motor-sailing. The crew started congregating in Alameda a week before the race, to help prepare the boat for the race. This year Rage sailed with 8 folks, including some familiar faces that Steve has sailed with for over 25 years now: his cousin George Gade and his friends Jim Cullison and John Rea. They made jokes about being called “The Geritol Crew” but nothing about any of these guys is remotely old. The other four members of the crew were Portland-based sailors Brian Barnett, Denny Damore, and Joe Bauschelt, and myself. I can still remember how much work and planning we did when I sailed Vic-Maui in 2002, but provisioning for Rage, where the boat and crew that have done the race many times, was far easier: everything already has its tried-and-true place, the menu is the same menu as last time, and everyone knows what to bring. One still has to agonize over spare parts, dive the boat, and finally strip any weight, but that can go quickly the last few days. Before we knew it, we were motoring out to the start on Saturday morning. As we motored up the shipping channel and under the Bay Bridge, the wind built as we’d expected it to. The start was a 3:50 start off Saint Francis YC, just shy of the Golden Gate. It was a typical San Francisco day on the bay, with winds to 25 and foggy conditions. We had left the dock late and only had a short time to get the things in gear, but we got to the starting area with double-reefed main and #4 up, and started on-time with the rest of our fleet. Tacking out under the Golden Gate, as this was my first time, was everything it was hyped to be: on your ear, going out under this huge span, in the fog. Coupled with trading tacks with other 70-footers, it was pretty exciting! But soon the wind eased significantly, we shook out a reef, put up the #3, and started the long reach that characterizes the first several days of a Pacific Cup. Only a few hours from San Francisco, and the fleet parted ways. Rage trading tacks with Flash, a TP52, heading out the Golden Gate. The first two days were uneventful, though very fast, sailing. We settled into our watch routine. Most of the time we plugged away at around 16 knots, trying to figure out how to get the leach cords just right so that our leaches and luffs wouldn’t flap so much. Sea state was rough but typical. Only one member of our crew had a brief bout of seasickness. Eventually we shook out the second reef and then finally on the second evening, when the sailing angles were moving but not quite to spinnaker territory, switching out the #3 jib, the largest upwind sail Rage carries, for a Code 0. The angles on a big boat are different than those of smaller boats because the boat moves so fast through the water that your apparent wind is always forward. Even when true wind is at 160 degrees, Rage is moving so fast that your apparent might only be 120 or even 100 degrees, depending on wind strength. George Gade driving Rage hella fast on the second day. On the third day out of San Francisco, the wind had moved aft enough that the Code 0 was no longer cutting it; time for the Big Doyle. We brought the bag up on deck and hoisted the chute, and presto change-o, we were on our way. Except something looked a little funny with the ‘chute. Hmmm? Oh! We had mistakenly hoisted our smaller, fractional Doyle 2.1oz spinnaker on the masthead halyard. The spinnakers both have the same color scheme, so it wasn’t that easy to tell right away. So we brought up the right spinnaker bag, and did a bareheaded douse and hoist to change to the Big Doyle. Except, on the hoist, the Big Doyle caught on something and we put a huge tear in the foot of the sail. So down came the sail again, we hoisted the spare masthead ‘chute, and we took the Big Doyle down below and started sewing it back together for the rest of the day. During the night, the weather pattern that would remain for the rest of the race materialized: large-scale, squally, stormy weather. Sometime during the night, the masthead halyard block decided to leave this Earth, and our spare masthead spinnaker came down in pieces. In what would become an unfortunately nightly “All-Hands” exercise, we recovered all the soaked pieces of the destroyed kite, and hoisted the 2.1oz Doyle for the remainder of the night. Under spinnaker early in the race. In the morning Steve went up the mast to replace the destroyed masthead block. Later that morning, to our horror, the webbing lashing on the active fractional halyard block failed, and the 2.1oz Doyle came down as well, this time thankfully in one piece. The Big Doyle was ready to go, though, so we hoisted it with great care, and later Steve once again went up the mast, this time to re-lash the fractional halyard block and reinforce the other blocks as needed. With the Big Doyle, Rage was once again doing max-VMG down the course, gaining at least 2 knots of boat speed on average with the larger sail up. Steve Rander up the mast. It was not to last. In the middle of the night once again, Steve rounded Rage up while driving through one of these frequent storm cells, and the Big Doyle’s head ripped clean off, shearing both luff tapes from stem to stern. Each of these tapes is 89 feet long - that’s a lot of luff tape!! We called “All Hands”, recovered the pieces of the sail, and got the boat sailing under the 2.1oz Doyle again. The next day we started sewing. And sewing, and sewing. During the day, as our compass heading crept further and further towards North, we chose to gybe the boat onto port pole and head South. It was the favored gybe and we had to make some Southing eventually. So we gambled. We decided to see what happened and make a call the next day to gybe back if needed. Now, without a sewing machine, 89 feet of luff tape does not get sewn quickly even with 4-5 guys on it, so on this day we only finished sewing about 50% of the tapes. In the afternoon, we saw a sail on the horizon, the first since we’d started! Was it a big boat, or were we starting to pass the slow boats ahead of us? It turned out this was the Cal 20 “Black Feather”, single-handing in a (different) race to Hawaii, sailing wing-on-wing! The boat disappeared astern as quickly as it arrived, and evening came, then night. Sewing. Even before I got up for midnight watch, the boat was overtaken by another storm cell, Rage moved to the next quantum of speed, and Jim Cullison started talking to Steve about a fishing boat on the horizon. Then, when closer, the on-watch spotted the strobes that marked the nets, and Rage apparently narrowly missed becoming entangled in these. The motion of the boat indicated we were going faster than usual and the on-watch was nervous for some reason. I geared up and got on deck. It was pitch black. One couldn’t see anything past the instruments, not even the front of the boat! Brian responded to my concern with “Yeah, it’s been kind of a sketchy ride...” While my driver’s responsibility was rapidly approaching with the watch change, I had never sailed a boat this big in these conditions, so gratefully gave the first turn driving to Steve. Driving Rage like this, at sustained 18 knots with no horizon and only the feel of the boat and a globe compass - the digital compass didn’t update fast enough - felt like driving a missile. A guided missile, and you were the guidance. It was difficult and required complete concentration. A mistake here was unthinkable. My turn came and it was tricky to keep the boat going the right direction. On the horizon, again, we found a very dim but unmistakable masthead light, which we soon passed to starboard and astern. This boat turned out to be Buzz Off, having their own ordeal of a race. After another hour the insanely dark conditions yielded, the wind eased a bit, and we returned to normal. Dawn broke and another full day of sewing ensued, where we finished up sewing the luff tapes. Otherwise, this was uneventful sailing on an empty ocean. We gybed onto starboard again, having made as much Southing as we wanted. We hadn’t seen any animal life (or trash!) to speak of, and aside from the Cal 20, Buzz Off, and the fishing boat no sign of anyone else out here. Another dark, stormy night of sailing was ordered up, and we sailed through Guided Missile mode ‘til dawn still with the trusty 2.1oz Doyle. At dawn we crossed ahead of another big boat on port pole by only a half a mile. Who was it? By now our fleet knew we had gone South, and we had wondered if anyone would follow us. Well someone did: it was Criminal Mischief! We finished patching up the Big Doyle by taping the head, then sewing through the tape, and in the afternoon we launched the sail again. The repair held! I finally felt some positive emotions again, after being depressed for days that we were unable to make any time on our competitors with the trusty-yet-underpowered 2.1oz Doyle flying. That Criminal Mischief was hanging with us (they would go on to finish the race first in our class) seemed just wrong. In the evening, trying to make the big sail last and completely uncharacteristic of Steve in general, we made the call to take the Big Doyle down for the night. We had no sewing thread left, and we wanted to get to Hawaii! It was perhaps a good thing: that night we wrapped the 2.1oz almost hopelessly around the forestay during a period of light air, and it took a good two hours of “All Hands” and strong pulling to get it down the forestay, painstakingly unwrap it, and re-launch it. Rage, moments after losing the top of its mast. In the morning, at watch change, we hoisted the Big Doyle again. I drove for an hour then handed the tiller to George. Perhaps 30 minutes later and 350 miles from Hawaii, we were overtaken by an intense squall, and, this being the first time all race where we got hit by a squall such as this and had the big sail up, the boat started driving forward really fast. Now normally on Rage fast is 16,17, and even 18 knots. But George got the boat to 19.5 knots, when suddenly a large noise from up-top, followed by a funny-looking everything, happened. We looked up. At first we thought a masthead halyard block had been destroyed again, as the sails were still kind-of up but something weird….wait…there was no masthead! The top six feet of the carbon fiber mast had sheared off! The Big Doyle came down, slowly, the mainsail came down, slowly and of its own accord, and we scrambled to bring the sails back on board in one piece. The Big Doyle filled with water, though, and eventually had to be cut away to reduce the rapidly building loads on the boat. That was painful. Everyone took a second to regroup. No one was seriously hurt, but Brian had some rope burns. After a short break, we got to business. We still had fractional halyards, so I went up the mast and jury rigged a new main halyard under Steve’s instruction. We then double reefed the main, and hoisted it, to get under way. Finally we launched the fractional spinnaker, and only 2 hours after we lost the top of the mast we were again sailing at 14 knots towards Hawaii. Steve spent a good part of the day aloft ensuring the mast section, tangled in the rigging, wouldn’t come down and hurt anyone and wouldn’t tear up the remaining sails. We also had to figure out new systems to support various sails and sail controls. Tradewinds. This was on day 8, the day we broke our mast section, and it was the first nice day of the whole race for us. The remaining night and next day to Hawaii were not without additional trials. The wind lightened considerably at times, and our ETA got longer and longer. We got slammed by some more monster squalls, and dodged some of them too. At one point, on starboard pole, I was driving a compass heading of 320 degrees due to these crazy squally winds! This close to the islands, we finally started seeing other boats. We saw Cirrus and the J120 JWorld, and others throughout the day. Then, 100 miles from the finish, while we were having our evening wine and cheese on an otherwise sparkling and fantastic evening, the head ring on the 2.1oz gave out and the trusty sail dropped on deck, still in one piece. We hoisted a reserve fractional spinnaker in no time, determined to make the finish any way possible. Close enough to Hawaii that nothing was going to stop us. After dark we approached Oahu and sailed for what seemed a long time up its windward coast, to the finish line. Somewhere out there over the last miles was a Moore 24 (that had started this race nearly a week before us), and we strained to find them in the murk and confusing lights, to avoid running them down. The finish line was completely confusing, and we only realized we had finished when the Race Committee called us and informed us we had just finished, and asked for our time! Despite being tired, we navigated the unlit channel into Kaneohe Bay and anchored out efficiently, to speed our way to shore where family and friends were waiting for us! So at about 2am local time we all sat down for sushi and Mai Thais, after what anyone would describe as an eventful sail to Hawaii, and told our story. Alex driving with Joe trimming, on the last morning, 200 miles from Hawaii. The squall line behind us would soon overtake us, but we were on the correct side of this one and for 2 hours launched doing steady 16-17 knots. Rage anchored out. Part of the reason we do this: empty beach on the North shore of Oahu.