by Tom Wilson, S/V Velocity

My race started, as it always does, by sailing my boat from Ventura down to Marina del Rey. On this day it was mostly a motor boat ride, but I did get two hours of spinnaker time at the end. This is always followed by the skippers meeting, club meeting, and a special guest speaker (thanks Jeff!).

For twenty hours before the start of our race, we had 35-40 knot winds out in the channel; this created some monster wind waves that did not settle down in time for our race. So we had 22 knots of wind, eight foot swells, and some huge, unpredictable waves to contend with. What a challenging day! I heard things on the radio like: “My autopilot just went out,” “A wave just broke into my cabin and flooded down below,” “All my electronics just went out,” “I jammed my finger,” “My main sail just blew out,” and “I think I picked the wrong crew.” And I’m sure there was a lot of, “I am wet, I am cold, I feel seasick. This just isn’t fun anymore!” Considering the conditions, it’s not too surprising that although we started out with twelve boats, before the day was over we were down to four.

I had my own share of problems, too. Just past the west end of Catalina, I did a battery check and saw that it was down to 11.7 volts — only 38% of the capacity. I almost dropped out right then and there, because you know what that means: no autopilot. I turned off everything except the wind instruments to conserve power and considered my options. I had really been looking forward to this race, so I chose to stay on.

The wind backed to my stern quarter just after dark, so I decided to put up my spinnaker, despite the still very confused sea state. I left my jib up to keep it from wrapping around the fore stay like I know it would have. I don’t think my autopilot would have kept up with the wild sea state and a spinnaker, so I guess it was a good thing I was hand steering all night.

Around 2AM, I was sailing along at a pretty good pace and starting to feel a little drowsy. But then, for no good reason, the snapshakle on my spinnaker guy decided to open, and there goes my sail flying off the front of the boat. After wrestling with it for a while, I managed to get

the sail down on the fore deck. Naturally, the guy was trailing the boat in the water, so I went back and dragged it out, then brought it to the sail and hooked it up before pulling the sail back up. Unfortunately, in the process of all this, it wrapped into a very pretty figure-8, which took some time to unravel. Finally, I was able to go back and pull in the guy and the sheet. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that I had run the guy behind the shrouds. So, another ten minutes straightening out that mess, and after 45 minutes of struggling, I finally sat down in the cockpit, covered with sweat and no longer drowsy.

I arrived at Bishop Rock at 7AM, and what a sight that was. It was spectacular to see the swells rise up over the reef for no apparent reason, and then to see them breaking over the rock just past where I was rounding the bellbuoy. I was so relieved I didn’t have to do this in the dark. After that, it was a straightforward sale back to Catalina on a very beautiful day. I finally warmed up, and was able to track down the problem in my charging system, so Auto came back into my life. And you know what a joy that is!

I finished my race at 9:40PM, dog tired and ready to for some rest. I tied up the boat at the isthmus, and before going to bed at 11pm, I checked the weather for my return to Ventura. I saw I would have a good east wind from 4AM through till early afternoon, but after that it would turn to 20 knots on the nose. So, like a good sailor, I set my alarm for 4AM and got out of there as quickly as I could. I did have a good sail home, except for the last 15 miles when the wind turned north, right on my nose at 20 knots, just like forecast said it would. All in all, this was a grand adventure that will not be soon forgotten.