Swiftsure 2016

This has definitively been the highlight as far as our racing adventures on Image go so far. We participated in the 101-mile-long Cape Flattery race.


Act 1 – The prep

This was probably the hardest part of the race. I just looked through the list I kept for prep work and counted more than one hundred individual items. The big buckets were – in a nutshell

  • Do what’s needed in order to comply with the safety regulationsThis meant setting up clip in point and jacklines, emergency steering (we had both a spinnaker pole system and a drogue available), doing some NMEA 2000 installation so that our radio received GPS coordinates for DSC) and many other things. Especially complying with the regulations for securing the companionway turned out to be tricky. The rules call for a way to tie the washboards, keep them in place with the hatch open or closed and for a way to secure the hatch from the inside and outside.
  • Setting up the boat for a shift system and overnight racingWe added lee cloths, stocked the galley with sufficient freeze dried food, installed a thermos for hot water (best thing since sliced bread) and made sure we had a way to store all our gear while still having 3 berths open for off watch crew.
  • Doing the stuff you feel like doing ‘before the big race’For us this meant pulling unused hardware off the deck, replacing the old horn and jam cleats for the sheets with new cam cleats, putting on a new main halyard and getting new jib sheets as well as spin sheets and guys. We also tried to replace the old genoa foot blocks, but since we had trouble putting the new ones on (they need some wood in order for the line to clear the winches and we were not 100% satisfied with the pieces we made) we settled for just putting a pair of blocks on the toe rail. Needless to say, pulling off old hardware meant epoxying a bunch of old holes.

Act 2 – The delivery

We started our delivery Thursday evening out of Elliott Bay Marina. We left about 30 mins late since I forgot to buy fuel and the fuel dock had closed, so we got to put 10 gals of diesel into the boat using a jerry can. No fun at all.


Leaving Elliott Bay Marina
Leaving Elliott Bay Marina

We picked up some gear at Shilshole Bay Marina and off we went, heading for Victoria. The first couple of hours were calm but as soon as we entered the Strait or Juan de Fuca we were in for some nasty conditions with big chop and rain all during a nighttime delivery (I believe getting the snot kicked out of us is the technical term).

As it turns out, someone had forgotten to lock the forward hatch after one of the previous races and taped the fittings in order to protect kites coming down. As soon as we took the first wave over the bow, a got a couple gallons water over my feet and sleeping bag and the entire V-Berth was soaked. At that point in time I actually started wondering why we were doing all of this.

Trying to clean up a soaked cabin after the delivery
Trying to clean up a soaked cabin after the delivery
All hatches are open in order to dry the boat after a wet delivery
All hatches are open in order to dry the boat after a wet delivery

The conditions finally got better as we approached Victoria harbor Friday morning. We checked in with customs over the phone and an officer got sent down to inspect the boat. Before the trip we made fun that ‘two Germans, a Turk and an American sail a boat to Canada’ sound like the beginning of a great joke – and it turned out to become one. The officer checked our passports, stamped them but could not give us our confirmation number for the check in. He promised to call or bring the number to our dock at the Victoria inner harbor. Since we did not hear back in the late afternoon, I had the pleasure of doing the check in again via phone in a 40-min conversation with the Canadian authorities. Suffice it to say I got pretty decent at spelling using the phonetic alphabet after 3 rounds of going through the passports.

We met with our remaining crew, attended the skippers meeting, had dinner and fell asleep.

Victoria Inner Habor - packed with Swiftsure boats
Victoria Inner Habor – packed with Swiftsure boats

Act 3 – The race

The actual race day started with a little drama when the fleet decided it was go-time. Moored next to us in the second row was the Olson 30 ‘Beats per Minute’ without crew aboard. The boat inside of them decided to leave and we found ourselves with another boat tied to us temporarily. Luckily, with a lot of helping hands, we were able to figure this situation out quickly. Check out YouTube for a video of the fleet leaving inner harbor. The entire marina emptied out in less than half an hour. Super impressive considering the size of the fleet – about 200 boats. This video has some cool footage of the fleet leaving as well.


We had some breeze and significant chop on our way  to the start line.


The start was daunting but actually went well for us. Daunting because starting with 100 boats in the same start means you have to be on top of your game, especially when a port tack start is heavily favored. We stayed on starboard as long as possible and swung over to port as one of the last boats in the fleet, catching a decent line on the leeward side of the line. You can see us in this YouTube video at about 1:39. I admit, in retrospect the start was probably a bit on the conservative side, but considering that our crew had never raced together it seemed better to be safe than sorry.

After the start, we were able to hang with Peregine, another Catalina 38 for a while, even once they peeled from their #2 to #1 genoa, however, after about 30 mins they started walking away once the breeze got lighter. The breeze eventually shut off and we hoisted the windseeker which allowed us to make some ground on the fleet. After that, the asym went up and we were on a reach through race passage.

The rest of the day turned into light air upwind racing. We tried to play the currents, however, looking at the tracker I believe we sailed too much distance.

Our track for the 2016 Swiftsure
Our track for the 2016 Swiftsure

We rounded the Neah Bay mark at night. Identifying the mark boat was not trivial, but we managed it pretty well after looking at a parade of boats leaving the bay. We only had one boat rounding with us. I set up the asym for a bear away set, however, we decided we needed to jibe around the mark and then jibed back a couple minutes later and hoisted. I decided not to move gear since we were only 3 on deck at the time and the conditions allowed us to hoist without waking up more crew.

The run went well with the asym tacked to the bow and after sunrise on Sunday we decided to project the asym to windward using the spinnaker pole. Even though this was a first for us, it went really well and gave us more than 1kt of boat speed on the deep angles we were running. If only we had done this earlier :).

Later, we peeled to our symmetric kite in order to match the deeper angles of our competitors when the wind picked up. Going through race passage ended up being interesting. My guesstimate is that we had about 18kts of breeze and were running so deep that it looked like the main was by the lee and the spinnaker pole to leeward and incredibly high – 7ft off the deck. Since the kite got set up when we took the asymmetric down, we were also running with sheets only. I called for a jibe before race rocks in order to give us some more room. This did not quite work as expected, the kite started oscillating and we had to take it down. We managed to avoid a broach, rolled out the genoa and went through race passage. After race passage the kite went up again (sheets and guys this time). The wind picked up and we had a heck of a time getting it back down when we approached the finish line at the harbor entrance.

All in all I am super satisfied with the sailing we did. I’d say we probably have the biggest potential for improvement when it comes to navigation and tactics. However, considering that we raced with paper charts, mostly hand held GPS’es due to battery concerns and without wind instruments I think we did OK.

Act 4 – Going home

The delivery home was probably the best sailing of the entire trip. We left Victoria at 5am. After about an hour of motoring we hoisted the asym and crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca with 6-7 knots of boat speed. My personal highlight of the trip was a hail on VHF from the mark boat of the Juan de Fuca race whose skipper ‘just wanted to call us and let us know we are looking good’. Needless to say we loved hearing that.


Later that day we hoisted our 1.5 oz symmetric for the first time and christened it ‘the mighty kite’ since it is a bit bigger than our regular .75 oz symmetric. It carried us all the way down to Shilshole Bay Marina where we checked in with US CBP. I did not know that before, but for the Swiftsure race allows you to check in in Seattle which is super convenient since it saved us from diverting to Port Angeles.

Delivering Image back to Seattle under S4 kite after Swiftsure 2016.
Delivering Image back to Seattle under S4 kite after Swiftsure 2016.

After the customs check in, the asym went back up and we sailed home to Elliott Bay Marina. Unfortunately we discovered a coolant leak when we tried to dock (the exhaust flange had come lose from the manifold) but we were able to dock the boat safely and the crew was glad to be home.

Thanks again to the awesome Image crew for making this an incredibly fun adventure. Also, thanks to the amazing folks at Ballard Sails who made us number boards and lee cloths on short notice. Also, thanks to Wayne and Patrick at J/World for training John and me in their Offshore Racing seminar last year and giving lots of advice in during the Swiftsure prep.

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