Racing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is unique. The wind is funneled between the Olympic Mountains on the American side and the mountains of Vancouver Island. As the land inland heats up during the day, the wind can be "sucked" off the ocean, often at high velocity. The waters are really quite large and the seas can be quite nasty. In addition, the currents always need to be considered and can really add to the size and shape of the waves.
On Carene(X119) there were eight of us on board to race the longest race to Swiftsure Bank and back: Bob(owner/skipper), Kevin, James, Frank, Gary, Peg, Cindy and myself. I raced with Bob on this race in 2002, so I was the relative newcomer.
We were away from the dock at about 0830 and motored to the starting area. The line is marked at one end by the HMCS Whithorse, a canadian navy vessel. The starting signal is the deck gun on the ship. Even though we warned them, a few people on the boat were surprised when the gun was fired. The winds were light and SW at about 5 -7 knots. We had a good start right with the largest boats. We were really fast and stayed in touch with the rest of our competitors. The wind stayed light until we got close to Race Rocks where it picked up to 10-12knots westerly. The current was flooding, so we shortacked the right side of the pass. When we could, we set out for the American shore. The fleet split with most staying on the Canadian shore, probably the better move. We had great winds toward the American shore and at one point, the fog rolled in and reduced visibility to about 1/2 mile. It blew clear after about an hour. The wind built some and when we should of been thinking of changing headsails, the No. 1 tore at the foot. So we changed to the heavy No.2. Soon the wind increased until we reefed the main. The wind built to 20-25 and built up very square, steep seas. Our speed was good, but we were pounding heavily. Near Pillar Pt, we hit "the wave". Near as I remember we went thru a large wave, soaking everyone on the rail and filling the cockpit. The box of pretzels was the main casualty and Bob was soaked as he had not put on his gear yet. We had a few people feel ill, but nobody got totally sea sick. I struggled a little when I had to go down to radio our position report. Trying to focus on the chart with the tiny grid numbers was a chore.
The wind lightened some after Pillar Pt. We continued beating out the Strait and after dark Kevin and I shook out the reef. I drove for a while and the boat felt really fast and the seas were smoother. As the wind lightened, we started missing the No.1. At one point about 0200 sunday morning, the wind dropped to virtually nothing and with the swells from the ocean, we were slatting around. Classic Swiftsure. I went below for a nap and when I got up at around 0430 for the next position report, the wind was very light from the SW. After giving our position report, I drove for a while again. We were close reaching at about 2 knots straight into the swells. It was hard to keep any speed up when we slammed down the other side of the swell. Eventually we could see the ship on the horizon and with the current helping, we closed pretty quickly.
We rounded the ship at about 0821 and headed back toward the Strait. The current was still ebbing slowing our progress, but the wind was increasing. I went down for another short nap, and when Cindy woke me to give another position report, the spinaker was up and we were flying down the straits at 6 knots. The wind kept building and we saw speeds up to 11knots. Faster over the ground with the now flooding current.
Soon we started seeing boats in our class. Differant Drummer(Wauqiez Centurion 40) and Korina Korina(J/N 42) actually rounded about 5 hours ahead of us and parked in a hole until we caught up with them. We worked toward the Canadian shore and had a great race with Differant Drummer. We edged out a slight lead and split some near Race Passage. They hugged the left shore and we stayed more out in the middle and had a better angle and more wind through Race Passge. We stayed to the east after the pass. DD and KK stayed left and had less wind and more running. They were putting on a fashion show changing spinakers multiple times as the wind changed for them. Near the finish we were able to reach up and keep our speed up, another classic Swiftsure move. We finished about 1728. DD was close enough that they should have corrected on us by 90seconds. At the inspection dock, we were listed as first to finish. That confused us as we thought that Night Runner(Perry 42) should have finished hours ahead of us. They lost a pin on one of there shrouds and retired. It was a shame as they were one of our better competitors. Fortunatly they did not lose the mast and sailed safely back to Victoria.
More info and results: http://www.swiftsure.org/
This was a very "Classic" Swiftsure: beat out in strong winds, wind drops at night on the bank leaving you slatting around in the swells and then builds during the day for the great run back to Victoria. The weather was warm and sunny the whole race and even at night I was not cold. At night, a look up at the masthead was mesmerizing, the stars were extremly intense and the sky dark with no moon. I was tired as I only got about 4 hours of sleep during the race, but that is fairly normal for me.
Bob, James and I brought the boat home on Monday leaving Victoria at 0600 and arrived back to Port Madison by 1730. This was the first test of my NEXUS card for "Trusted Travellers". Bob called Customs and cleared into the United States without having to stop. The NEXUS is a great program for people who boat across the border frequently.
Peg, one of our trimmer "dudettes"
HMCS Whitehorse. The Canadian naval vessel anchored on Switsure Bank as our turning mark.
The friendly Canadian crew of HMCS Whitehorse.
What we all live for on this race, the fast spinnaker run down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Kevin and James holding up the backstays and Skipper Bob driving.