Gig Harbor Yacht Club Islands Race 2017

Team Stay Gold competed in the Gig Harbor Yacht Club Islands Race this past weekend. I’ll save the suspense: we didn’t win. In fact, we placed last in our class. This won’t be a harrowing story of how we whipped our competitors or even a proper recap of the race.

Rather, I think what is important, is how the team handled what the race threw our way.

Photo by Jan's Marine PixTo kick off the day, I mixed up our start time. It was a simple mistake of misreading the Sailing Instructions that cost us precious time. A few minutes behind our class across the starting line, we worked to make up for lost time by keeping the #1 headsail up along with the 1.5 oz spinnaker –  we were flying three sails vice everyone else’s two. Our best speed over ground (SOG) as recorded by GPS was 9.2 knots which was helped by the always persistent Northerly current in Colvos Passage. That, along with a LIGHTENING quick bowline made to the genoa clew, as performed by our own Dean Lee, were the highlights of the first few hours of the day. The run north to Blake Island was fast, fun and furious.

The beat back…our track upwind South through Colvos Passage

Conversely, the beat back was brutal with gusts up around 30 knots and the wind directly on the nose. The image to the left shows our track south – we had to tack around 20 times over 15 miles. We kept the boat on her feet by reefing and using a smaller headsail. Stay Gold loves to go to weather and handled the wind and waves with grace. She’s easy to balance and takes waves on the bow in stride. The boat was charging along, riding the fine line between a close haul and pinching, under a reefed main and 110% dacron headsail just fine until BOOOM! the headsail popped out of the luff track and started flying like a massive pennant from the masthead. Quite embarrassing, even non-sailors know that’s not right.

As I sat there for a second, not really believing what happened, I said outloud “How the $#@k are we going to get that down?. Very calmly, Thomas answered back – “Let’s winch it down…” With a plan in place we executed. I winched, Thomas and Dean pulled and after what felt like an hour (in reality about five minutes), we had the beast stuffed down the companionway. Quickly, we pulled up another jib and got it set – we were back in the race! Never say die…

After inspecting the tack of the jib, it turns out the pennant, which connects to the tack of thePhoto by Jan's Marine Pix sail and the boat parted due to chafing from the higher winds. When it parted, the sail pulled, just like a zipper, out of the luff track.

I was a proud Skipper – no one panicked, we just took a second to breathe, think and then act deliberately. Everyone displayed outstanding teamwork, cool heads under pressure and some solid problem solving skills. For that, I say we won the day and you can have the race.

Photo by Jan's Marine PixThis wasn’t the only issue we experienced throughout the day, but it illustrates the point: teamwork is only made successful by a strong leader and a strong leader is only made successful by solid teamwork.

One of the crew tried to give me credit for solving a different problem but the hard truth of the matter is any leader, no matter what organization they are in, is only as good as their team. All successes are a credit to the team and failures to the leader. It is easy to tell a poor Skipper by those that scream at their crews. If that’s you, take a look in the mirror; if someone isn’t doing something the way you want – it’s your fault as the Skipper for not training them. Stop yelling, start teaching.

After a long day fighting the ship, running up and then beating back south through Colvos Passage we finished dead last in class and dead tired but, nevertheless victorious in our own right. Sometimes victories aren’t marked by where you place in a race.

With the ultimate goal being the Oregon Offshore Race, Swiftsure and then a Trans-Pacific crossing in July, we decided to take the weekend to prep by doing an overnight trip right after the race.

Saturday evening, directly following the race, we headed back out by moonlight to continue the test until Sunday.

Keeping watch and sailing through the night we dodged tugs towing, massive merchant ships outbound to the open Pacific and picked constellations out of the inky night-time sky. Again, we learned valuable lessons and gained more confidence in not only ourselves, as sailors, but the boat and, more importantly, each other.

We even learned, during our practice for the Oregon Offshore, that we can steer a rudderless sailboat with a drogue. Who knew.

Help us get to Hawaii by checking out this sweet postcard deal we are running. All photos by Jan’s Marine Photography.

Duwamish Head Race 2017

We were promised snow. Instead all we got was fine day for the Duwamish Head Race 2017 out on the Puget Sound filled with teamwork, friends, exciting maneuvers, near collisions, plenty of insight and a thimble or two of Gig Harbor’s best Batch No 12 Bourbon (Heritage Distilling Company). But snow would have been nice. 

Team Stay Gold met at the Des Moines Marina on a cold, January 7 morning for the Duwamish Head Race 2017.

For several team members it was their first time meeting each other, and indeed for one, his first time sailing. This is part of the fun of sailing with Captain Brian on Stay Gold, however; sailors bound by their interest and passion for the sport, rather than experience and reputation alone. 

The team was able to get some hands-on experience pretty soon though, as we raised sail for a few practice tacks and to position ourselves for a timely start. The early morning wind was good and gave us hope for a speedy passage at race-time, but alas, this was not to be. Although we passed the 10am starting markers almost ideally, soon the wind died down to a few knots and plagued all but a few of the entire race fleet. Jibs came down, spinnakers went up (some upside-down, some twisted…) and every puff of air was exploited whilst trying to observe right-of-way within the clusters of sailboats. As the wind began to shift more frequently, spinnakers were exchanged for lighter and larger jibs and Genoa’s. Stay Gold opted for a light-air #1 Genoa (130%), which stayed aloft the remainder of the northward journey. 

Slowly, but steadily, with an average of 3-4kts (SOG) Stay Gold team made its way up the Sound, past Three-Tree Point and Fauntleroy towards the Alki Point Light. We managed to hold a fine course throughout, not veering too far out into the western Sound or coming too close to shore. This was only made possible by constant vigilance and attention to point of sail…the whole team was up to the challenge of making every small correction possible. While we had sailed at the tail-end of the pack up to now, suddenly we caught up to middle of the fleet, who had to lay in long tacks from the west to get back over to the next marker. As exciting as this was, the wind practically came to a stand-still and we had to inch our way towards the marker. Luckily we had nice (and lengthy) views of downtown Seattle and the Space Needle as a backdrop to the many deeply philosophical discussions that ensue on a windless passage (“Put the chips away before I end up eating them all”). 

Finally the turn around the Duwamish Head Light was made and the wind fell into our good graces again, driving us WSW on a fun 7kts spinnaker run towards the next mark, Blakely Rock. After reaching our top speed of the day of 7.7kts on the reach across the Sound, plans were made for dousing the spinnaker and exchanging foresails for the turn around the marker towards the south. Although the course was held tightly, we had difficulties getting the foresail up smoothly and ultimately we had to come to the quick conclusion that we had opted for the wrong sail, the aforementioned Genoa instead of the #3 jib. In the somewhat stronger SSE winds, our maneuverability suffered as we got onto a starboard close haul tack.  

To add to our self-caused stress, Wind Wizard, a fellow competitor, was approaching our port side head on from the East at a dangerous pace! Efforts were made to steer away from a pending collision.

As the Wind Wizard swooped past Stay Gold a crew member from the vessel loudly announced the root cause of their unpredictable course…”We’ve lost our steering!”. Tight on a close haul and still fighting to reconfigure our headsail, the out-of-control sailboat remained a very real threat to our vessel. Once again Wind Wizard appeared, this time in front of us. Almost driving right up onto their stern Stay Gold was able to fall off at the last minute and get on a decent powered tack to get some distance from the other boat. Support was offered per radio to the sailors, but fortunately their team managed to find some interim solution and avoid further mishap. 

In the meantime, Stay Gold had lost some valuable speed and therefore time. We had to watch any lead we had on fellow racers dwindle and disappear, but spirits remained high as we found a steady course and sped south towards our goal, the Des Moines marina. As night started to fall (around 17:30-18:00) we all worked to stay warm and kept a firm lookout for other vessels in the Sound. Headlamps were a luxury on board (only one, to be exact)…hence, mental and verbal notes were made to be better prepared for future night sails. After all, not a day goes by we don’t all learn how to further optimize our infinite path. 

Sailing southwards on a close haul in the dead of night, we were able to maintain a fairly steady SOG (speed over ground) between 4-5kts, sometimes holding at 6kts for lengthy periods. The crew had become much more proficient at laying in a quick tack after a good 7hrs of hands-on practice. Snacks and thimbles ensured enduring high spirits and warmth as we approached the final stretch.

To our wonder, there were other racers still underway and (behold!) behind us…good job team.

Tactical plans were made to lay in a final tack or two to get Stay Gold across the Sound and into the finish zone without losing precious wind or sailing past the actual finish line. We picked up some speed and changed to a starboard tack. Ben, standing at the pulpit with binoculars, searching the night for the markers caught sight of the unlit floating buoy and we had our confirmation…we’re right on target for a final maneuver. “Helms-a-lee!” and we’re there! We did it! Crossing the finish line to a horn-blast from the committee team at 20:06:37 we had been underway for 34.62NM and over 10 hours. But there were no complaints…on the contrary, we agreed it had been a mighty fine day of sailing and camaraderie. 

Stay Gold came in last in our class for the race, but you’d never have known it from the smiles plastered on the team’s faces…then again, the cold wind may have frozen them in place earlier.

Race Track (including return trip to Gig Harbor)