Subject: BAMA: Seawind to the Farallones (long version)
Date: Fri, 07 May 1999 19:35:28 -0800
From: Joe Siudzinski <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "BAMA," <email@example.com>
The Farallones Islands are located about 30 miles west of San Francisco, their wind swept rocky shores providing a sanctuary for birds, seals, and, among other critters in the water, great white sharks.
Since I've been quite interested in the Seawind 1000, I had asked Gary Helms, the local Seawind dealer, if we could try the boat out on the Doublehanded Farallones Race so I could experience just how it handles in the ocean conditions - Gary agreed, and partnered me with an Olympic-class monohull racer, Wolfgang Hocke. My own background is a 30-year mix of racing catamarans (Shark, Tornado, C-Class) and cruising on both monohulls and multihulls, my latest being a three-month singlehanded cruise to Alaska last year on my Telstar trimaran. I've done about a half-dozen Singlehanded and Doublehanded Farallones Races, always in multihulls, and twice broke a rudder out by the island in interesting conditions, returning safely steering with sails alone.
THE BOAT AND PREPARATION
The Seawind 1000 is a 33'x19' cruising catamaran weighing about 8500# with a solid bridgedeck enclosure which is fully open to the cockpit. It has fixed fins and underslung rudders, with two linked steering wheels and the protected helm stations allowing one to see forward through the large bridgedeck windows. The only modification I made to the boat for the race was to add jacklines running from the the cockpit to the base of the mast. We left the short cockpit fabric cover in place (thankfully!). This particular boat has only one reefing line installed (more can be easily added), and it was rigged to run to the second reef point on the mainsail (it has three) - normally a good compromise. It's my understanding that this mainsail is the largest one available for the boat and it sure carries a huge roach.
In preparation for this traditionally heavy-weather race, in addition to the usual flares, strobelights, and additional handheld VHF radios (we didn't have a 406 EPIRB) in a couple of disaster bags, I brought along a parachute anchor with lots of spare line, and a thick neoprene survival suit.
For navigation it's nowadays a no-brainer, with a couple of handheld GPS and a chart for plotting our position on the hour throughout the race, and a handbearing compass for backup.
For personal gear I always wear a comfortable and warm water-ski lifejacket with attached strobe, whistle, and flares, and had bright-red full-body insulated floatable coveralls from my Alaska trip, which I eventually put on and wore for most of the race. Underneath I wore expedition-grade polypro longjohns and socks. I have a variety of headgear, ranging from my bright orange wool cap to a well-sealing full-head cover to, at worst, a skin-divers neoprene hood. On the outside I wear a harness with a tether detachable at both ends. I also took along a ski mask but never used it.
With the multihulls starting last in the 114-boat fleet, the race began with a light northwesterly breeze, and we gradually beat out the Gate - the Seawind has pleasantly surprised me by pointing just as well as everyone else in these conditions. Once outside, the wind started picking up and the fun began as we were tightly closehauled heading for the island. The wind and the waves just kept increasing so that by the Lightbucket (the shipping channel entrance marker about ten miles out) we had a steady 20-knots and seas of maybe eight feet. The boat was doing marvelously in these conditions - since, after all, it is a cruising boat, it had enough weight to punch over the waves and keep going and not be stopped like I'm used to in the lighter boats.
Wofgang's and my own upwind steering methodology differed enormously: he, unlike most monohullers, preferred to bear off and keep the speed around 11 knots whereas I was content with keeping the boat in tighter and around 6 knots - unfortunately, I forgot to use the VMG capability of the GPS, and so we don't know who was right.
Out of habit, I kept the mainsheet in my hand throughout this race, and popped it occasionally. With the wind and waves steadily increasing, about seven miles from the Farallones I decided to put the reef in - not because the boat needed it then, but in anticipation of jibing in the heavy swells around the island. It wasn't the racing-performance 20-second reefing exercise I'm normally used to, but we got the reef in by conventionally lowering the halyard while I stuck the new tack ring around the reefing hook at the boom gooseneck, and then we tensioned the halyard and clew outhaul which lead to the cockpit. Despite significantly tensioning the halyard, the luff of the sail was very floppity - I now realize that the roach was being compressed by the clew outhaul and causing this. I wasn't thinking too swiftly and completely forgot about rigging the Cunningham, which would have solved the problem. So, with my failure to properly shape the reefed main, we were no longer pointing as well as before, and, combined with the increased adverse current by the island, it took us a couple of tacks to round it.
Even though I was trying to be conservative, we still rounded the Southeast Farallones island closer than I would have liked. Once past the first tip of the island and in the largest of the swells so far, bearing off slightly brought our speed way up but the boat was still very very stable and happy. When it came time to jibe, I was most conservative, bringing in the traveler and the main, thus choking off the sail, and picking a nice smooth patch of water to execute the maneuver very uneventfully. As I'm used to tiller steering, I haven't quite got the hang of the wheel steering's lack of feedback regarding the helm of the boat and couldn't tell from that what the boat was thinking - it just goes where steered like its on rails.
After the jibe, it's initially a very broad reach to finish rounding the island and, once clear, it became a screaming beam reach back to the Golden Gate. By now, the wind was around 30 knots (some claim 35 - which the gusts certainly were) with my crew revelling in the fantastic surfing conditions: we'd head up to catch a wave and then bear off and ride its face with exhilarating performance ending with a big whoosh and then up again to catch the next one. In these conditions our speeds were around 15 knots, with a few peaks over 20 - the highest we saw on the knotmeter was 22.1!
The seas very noticeably increased by the Lightbucket - an empty beverage can we had sitting on the saloon table, which had only slid around slightly until this point, finally toppled over! Throughout all this, I popped the mainsheet a few times "just in case", and had to route it to a winch in order to crank it back in because of the heavy loading (I ALWAYS like to have some mainsheet available to release on a multihull!!) - the mainsheet cleat is a conventional camcleat and works instantaneously. Coming back from the Farallones, the travelers were all the way out on both the main and jib. We kept up a full jib throughout the race.
Whereas we were sailing amongst just a few of the monohulls going out, coming back in we started picking off the fleet in large numbers. No question, looking at the huddled cold and wet crews, we were the most comfortable boat out there! On this reach coming back in, everyone was playing the waves, with exhilarating surfing conditions for boats like the Moore 24 - you could see the grins on their faces! Not surprisingly, we didn't see any spinnakers out there.
Regarding visibility on the Seawind: the helm stations are very protected, and one is looking forward through the huge picture windows - whereas spray had little effect on visibility, we would occasionally whoooooosh with water coming up over the whole boat and pouring over the awning and into the cockpit behind us - in those cases, all one saw was a wall of water forward, and even windshield wipers wouldn't have helped! Happily, these conditions lasted only for a few seconds at a time, and the visibility returned very quickly. The saloon stayed dry the whole time!
The area of the Lightbucket and entrance channel was perhaps the roughest part of the race, with fairly high breaking seas caused by the nearby shoaling. The apprehension of being darn sure we weren't close to the channel markers made me just a little nervous. The boat handled it all with aplomb, despite our continuous 15-knot boatspeeds, which later calculations showed as being an average of 11.5 knots over the ground.
Back in the Gate, we finished the race and brought the boat back to its dock by dusk, tired but very pleased with the boat's performance. Nothing broke, nothing went wrong, everything worked. I was also surprised by how quiet down below the boat had been in those conditions. Here's a giggle: the only banging we heard I eventually traced to the toilet seat cover jumping up and down!
Unfortunately, throughout the race there were events which had a disquieting effect: first, the VHF calls by a monohull needing a tow following a dismasting, then one of the tris returning with significant structural damage, then the announcement that there was a trimaran over at the island, and then the repeated calls by the Race Committee seeking information about both the crew of the trimaran (turns out they were picked up and were ok) as well as a monohull whose EPIRB had been set off (turns out, inadvertently). While rounding the island I kept looking, but saw no sign of the overturned tri. Unfortunately, unknown to us there was indeed a tragedy on the race course that day: the very experienced crew of a J-29 were thrown into the water (attached to the boat with their harnesses) by one of the waves at the Lightbucket, and one of them perished, despite the Coast Guard being on the scene within minutes.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOAT
Regarding the Seawind's heavy-weather capability: I certainly got to test it! There is a big big difference between racing and cruising - here, we were racing and thus driving the boat quite hard. Had we been cruising, I'd have simply reduced sail and sat back and read a book while the boat sailed itself with the autopilot. In the heavy beam-reach conditions coming back, had I been cruising I would have probably dropped the main completely and sailed on the jib alone. Yes, during this race I occasionally wished that I had had the third reef in, as I pinned the sail against the shrouds a few times. At no time did the stern of the Seawind get airborne and I am now quite content with the weight of the aft railing structure and its solar cells and barbeque being where it is. The boat performed marvelously, and that huge flare on the inside of the hulls really works at keeping the boat from nosediving! I have to stress this - its behavior is so unlike other multihulls I've sailed - when driven hard, the Seawind's bows just seemed to go squish instead of penetrating downward into the water. At no time was there ever a sense of pitchpoling or turning over the leeward hull - this cruiser remained stable in those conditions.
As I reflected back on the race a few days later, it all of a sudden dawned on me that, unlike previous races, the thought of turning back had never even occurred to me! This to me is perhaps the most telling praise for the boat's heavy weather ability.