by Jim Antrim, 3/22/2001
Erin's owner, Dan Buhler, was out of the country at the time of this year's Doublehanded Farallones and was kind enough to offer the boat to me for the race. Seemed like a good opportunity to do the trip again with my old sailing mate Peter Hogg. We've had an adventure or two in this race in the past.
The weather map the day before showed a high centered offshore with a ridge extending inland right over the Bay Area. Hmmm. Not sure what that will mean. The jet stream was looping south with a nice south bound path just off the coast. Interesting. The weather buoy reports the morning of the race went something like this: Pt Reyes - no report. Lightbucket - no report. Farallones - no report. Hmmm. Lots of solid data there. Better stick to my usual style of get out there and see what it's doing. So I grabbed my sea bag and the traditional jar of peanuts and headed down to the boat.
One weather prediction you can count on is there won't be much wind if you start at 8:00AM. The multihull fleet struggled to stay east of the line and not get pushed over by the ebb. It looked like a long trip back if you were over early. I got stuck circling behind a couple other boats, all of us barely making headway, and made a terrible late start. The good news is that most of the fleet had stayed on starboard heading up the beach. Yippee! A chance to recover from a poor start. We took what seemed like a much more promising port tack out toward the center of the bay and the stronger ebb.
Some of the boats waiting to start were kind enough to hover just outside and upwind form the start. Sailing is supposed to be fun; and it is all the more fun when you've got an obstacle course to tack through. Once in the clear the ebb did its magic and pushed us into a small lead. Pegasus was right on our tail, Mindbender coming on strong with her reacher flying; and Wingit is never far enough back. Light air is not Erin's forte. Being the prototype, she's a bit overweight; the rig's a bit short. Although she can't point with it we need the area of the screecher in light air; and that poor sail was blown out five years ago.
But pointing was not so important now. I was happy to be footing off and gaining the most northerly position in the fleet as we approached the Gate. Then cruel fate gave us lead boats a giant lift, with us on the low side of it. Don't you hate it when you are always brilliant and the rest of the fleet lucky? The lift allowed Pegasus and Mindbender to steal our lead and lead the way under the bridge.
The leg from the bridge to Bonita was a game of staying in the ebb stream, finding decent wind (which was building a bit; but still spotty), and playing some pretty significant wind shifts. Some of the monohulls were starting to catch up. Wingit gained by heading into the north shore out of the strongest ebb; but catching a nice breeze and a lift. We chased Pegasus more toward the center of the ebb stream.
More often than not, a tack into the rock at Bonita is a gainer. You get some nice ebb rolling around the point; and the wind usually bends around the point, giving a boat near the rock the inside position on a starboard tack lift. It worked for us, and we finally took the multihull lead back from Pegasus.
If there is one geographic area where I consistently prefer monohulls it is the Potato Patch. Multiple waterplanes are not an asset when you're sailing in a washing machine. The game is usually to stay just south of the worst chop, where the Bonita channel current crashes into the Bay ebb, grit your teeth and let the ebb carry you out toward the shipping channel and smoother water.
Peter and I discussed when to tack north. The westerly wind usually clocks in the ocean and it pays to be right. The game is to be the rightmost boat, but guess the degree of lift correctly so that you don't end up overstanding the island. The Sydney 38, leading the monohull fleet, tacked right into the Potato Patch. A good move for him; but multihulls are usually better off hanging longer in the "smoother" water and tacking north when the water gets deeper outside the bar. Besides, I had a feeling we were in for a BIG lift. Something about that jet stream and that high pressure ridge.
As we approached the channel the wind started to build. Andrew Pitcairn once said about Erin, "It's almost like she has two gears." He's right. She loves the windy stuff. Erin dropped it into high gear and the fleet started to fall rapidly astern. We sailed right up the line of green channel buoys, looking at maybe two knots of ebb on the buoys and doing 10-12 knots on the speedo. Sure enough, we had been lifted about 25 degrees and were almost laying the Farallones.
A little side note on Erin's speedo. It has always read low. Calibrating is one of those things we never got around to and Dan never remembers to look at the manual to figure out how. We knew it was reading at least 15% low though, so we have it set on MPH, which is still low but at least in the ballpark if you pretend it is knots.
Our rule of thumb with the screecher, or "The Beast" as we prefer to call it, is never take it down until it's too late. So about the time most boats are starting to think about a reef we decide to roll up the screecher. Ugly as usual. It doesn't roll up all the way. Flog city. Have to get it down. It unrolls completely as the halyard is lowered and Peter struggles with it on the trampoline. I manage to get a hand on a corner of it from the cockpit and try to keep The Beast out of the water as it flaps wildly. I hang on with one hand while steering with the other hand upwind at 12 knots. The boat is leaping over the waves. Peter by this time is hanging over the bow pulpit trying to get the damn tack hook undone from the bowsprit. Like all marginally controlled maneuvers at sea, it seems to take minutes. I have to think of a better system.
We don't have an anemometer; but the wind continued to build and seemed to be cycling between maybe 19-25 knots. We ease the traveler down in the windy spells but Erin does not need a reef in that wind range.
By the time we were close to the island we could only see one racer, the Sydney 38, and she was way back there. We came in on a line just south of the island; and came in close enough to get into the somewhat flatter seas behind the island. We had a short port tack; and then the starboard tack along the face of the island. The weather side of the Farallones is almost always a bit scary. Big waves and the nastiest looking lee shore I ever want to see. The islands were pretty this year though, in a desolate sort of way, and covered with a light Irish green. Maybe one day all that guano will have built into a rich topsoil and the Farallones will be a lush paradise. Not in my lifetime.
As we rounded the weather side, the wind was at the top end of its range so we decided to play it conservative and set the small chute on the lee side of the island. Erin's small chute is not much bigger than the screecher and the wind had died by the time we set, so we felt underpowered. So after maybe 20 minutes we switched to the full size spinnaker. That's when the fun began.
Early in the ride in, the waves had not built all that much and we were overtaking a lot of them. The wind started to increase again and with it the seas; and pretty soon we were surfing on good sized waves and doing 16-18 knots. I sat to leeward trimming the chute and laughing out loud from the fun of it all, as Peter drove us down the waves. This is well worth the price of admission!
We ran into the ebb again somewhere around the Lightbucket, which made the wave crests closer together and the waves steeper. With the increasing wind and having to continuously bear away in the steep seas we got carried south of the channel. Then, over the south bar the seas were building and starting to feel a bit dangerous. We had not seen a spinnaker behind us all day so we knew we had a good lead. Considering the lead and the risk we decided to play it conservative and dropped the chute.
We then jib reached up to Point Bonita and reset. Once inside the Gate, the wind built as usual and Erin ripped to the finish line in the flat water at a steady 20 on the speedo. If I may borrow a phrase from my teenage daughter: Wooooo Hooooooooo! We crossed the line at 2:37 followed next by the Sydney 38 at 4:04 and Pegasus at 4:05.
Once in awhile, the others may be brilliant but you get lucky. This year we certainly got our conditions. Erin is Irish, of course, and must have known it was St. Patrick's Day.