The breeze Friday off Malibu pier was gentle and there was a nice little bump of swell in the water. As the rabbit came about and the start line opened, Aloha hardened up and the trimming began. The breeze was close to perfect for arch nemesis Velocity, but somehow Aloha managed to keep ahead and make a little distance. Throughout the afternoon and close to evening, Aloha actually managed to keep the entire fleet behind. The air was just heavy enough and the constant trimming and tweaking paid off. And then came the first sail change . . .
As the wind picked up in the afternoon, the skipper, in his infinite wisdom, listened to the forecast and decided that a sail change, from the 1 to the 3, was warranted. The forecast showed light air until evening, when it would then build to 18 to 20 and continue through to Begg Rock.
As the apparent wind hit 16 knots, Aloha punched up, the headsail came down and the 3 went up. Once trimmed for speed, the wind dropped to 7 knots, Aloha was headed by 20 degrees, and the whole fleet caught up…
The skipper was not deterred. He stuck it out for nearly a half hour, but the sea state revealed that there was no wind coming. The 1 went back up, and Aloha resumed her progress and kept most of the fleet at bay. Free Byrd had made it past, and Velocity and Katin had closed in. About an hour later, with Free Byrd ahead, the skipper could see her heeling and the big breeze was coming. The 3 went up, and within 10 minutes the first reef was in. About 10 minutes after, the second reef was in and the wind was gusting to 24 knots. Aloha was heeling about 25 to 30 degrees, and the wild ride continued through the streams of heavy air that pushed through the channels between the islands.
At the 0000 check in, Free Byrd was at Begg Rock and Katin and Aloha were still about 9 miles away. It was the roughest condition of the race for this skipper, but Free Byrd indicated lighter air to the west, and the skipper was ever optimistic.The first attempt at sleep was approximately 2300 hours, but sleep was elusive with the boat heeled over so hard.
Up on deck it appeared the port side lifelines were broken and the stanchions were trailing in the water. It took a minute for the skipper to realize that stanchions and lifelines were intact, just hard to see before the moon rise. What was trailing in the water was the #1 headsail, washed off the deck by the seas. It was a few harrowing minutes of pulling the shrimped sail back in, and cramming it into the forward hatch, and trying unsuccessfully to disconnect the bow shackle, which had jammed into the headstay pin. This required a trip below to get the proper tools in order to force it free. All while the forward hatch was propped open with a sail in it, and waves breaking over the bow. This particular situation says a lot for the purchase of a roller fuller. .
Aloha and Katin traded places a few miles before Begg Rock, and Aloha followed Katin’s line as the two boats rounded the mark to port. This is the first time Aloha might have ever actually made it around Begg Rock!!
After rounding the mark, the wind went aft, the boat accelerated, and Aloha became hospitable again.
The skipper ate. Cleaned up. Slept all night.
By morning check-in, 0600 hours, Free Byrd was nearing Tanner Bank buoy, Aloha was about 18 miles North, and Katin was in between, closer to Aloha. Aloha opted not to fly a spinnaker so its skipper could sleep, and in the morning, as the wind lightened and turned farther aft, the skipper just didn’t feel like it. Tom on Velocity had lost his rudder around San Nicholas (he recovered it, thankfully), and the competition was off. The morning was enjoyable, drinking coffee and cruising to the mark, which, so far as the skipper could see, is no longer there.
With the turn in direction to west end Catalina, Aloha heated right back up with boat speeds in the mid sevens, but she slowed after a couple hours as the wind lightened, and the #1 headsail went back up. Wind increased again mid-afternoon, and Aloha enjoyed a spirited sail back through the finish at the island. In fact, she enjoyed a spirited sail all the way back to R10, and the skipper was once again reminded of one of his favorite things: Sailing alone through the channel in the middle of a winter night after a west end finish.
Back in port the cleanup was extensive: saltwater had made its way into virtually every part of the boat. The skipper’s better half and his accomplice in rolling sails, Carolyn, came down and the two spent the afternoon putting away the sails and giving Aloha some TLC.
When the skipper communicated with the PRO, he was pleasantly surprised to hear that Runaway had finished! They had lost contact during the check-ins, but they stuck it out and completed a challenging race.
And I’d like to add one more thought:
My experiences around San Nicholas Island over the last 2 years have been mixed, and honestly the place is spooky. This trip around, despite the heavy air, was nothing short of magical. I am a huge fan of the Begg Rock 200 race now, and I’m looking forward to the next meeting and hearing the stories.