2017 Southern Straits Race

2017 was the 49th running of the Southern Straits Race, and the 3rd year in a row for the current Long Course route to Sister’s Island, TA buoy, Halibut Bank, and home.  About 130 nm in total.

For Occam’s this race was our first big test in our lead up to Van Isle 360.  We sailed with a crew of 12, the same number we will have on Van Isle, with a full roster of Van Isle people, with Cam stepping in a the last moment to fill in for one person who couldn’t make it.

The weather was predicted to be similar to what we had 2 years ago, with a decent south-easterly for most of the day Saturday, fading off in the late evening, particularly in the northern section of the course.  The forecast was actually pretty spot on, so there was an advantage to the faster boats who were able to get south before the wind shut off around Ballenas.
Pre-start Manoeuvring (photo from WVYC)

Our plan for the start of the race was to try to get south of the start line, to hook up into the ebb river leading out from First Narrows.  Unfortunately for us, we were pinned by a few boats who were determined to head to the West van shore, and we were unable to get into the river.  To make matters worse, we were forced to sail into a hole, and were getting ready to raise the drifter while the rest of our fleet sped off in the wind and the current.
Oh, how I wish we had gybed right then!  (photo from WVYC)

Eventually, we made our way into the breeze, and we were on our way for the sleigh ride to Sister’s.  Even though the wind was not quite as strong as two years ago, it held on longer, and we rounded sisters shortly after 6pm, ahead of our time from 2015. 
Vancouver in the reaview mirror

Rainbows are pretty, but they do come with rain.

Rounding Sister’s, we started upwind (South) with the #3 and full main.  The new #3 is amazing, and we were able to sail significantly higher than the boats we rounded with.  We soon had climbed ½ mile to weather of them, which kept us in better breeze.  As we neared Ballenas, the wind softened, as expected, and we shifted to the #2 and then the #1.  With the height we built with the #3, we were very close to laying Ballenas, but ended up doing a short clearing tack to stay out of the wind shadow to weather of the island.  About this time, the boats who had rounded with us had to make the decision to sail through the lee of Ballenas, or tack and come out to where we were (but well behind us).
On our way South from Sister's

South of Ballenas, the wind continued to soften, leading into the big transition for the race.  Like two years ago, our strategy was to stay out towards the center of the Strait, and not get sucked in to sailing near Nanaimo and the north end of Gabriola.  We kept to that strategy for the most part, but even so, ran out of wind for a little while, and had to hoist the drifter.  However, the wind soon filled, and we were back on our way.  We did do one short tack in towards Entrance Island, which in retrospect was likely extra distance, as after that we were a few degrees cracked off all the way to TA, sailing fully powered up with the #2.

We rounded TA around 2am, at about the same time the TP52’s were rounding Halibut Bank, pour next mark on the course, 30 miles away.  The first stretch north from TA was a tight reach, but it quickly freed up to the point that we were able to hoist the S3 reaching kite.  An hour or two later, we peeled to the S2 runner.

The great thing about the crew that we have lined up for Van Isle is that all of the manoeuvres that we did through the night were done without drama or fuss.  We elected to do the peel from the S3 to S2 bareheaded in order to reduce the possibility of a fouled halyard, and so that we could do it without waking the off-watch.  The switch went perfectly, and we were without a kite for a grand to total of perhaps 90 seconds, with no drama!

We carried the S2 all the way to Halibut Bank, making one gybe on the layline to the mark, from about 2 miles away.  We rounded the mark just before 6am, and headed for home under the #2 and full main.  Our planned route home was the typical one from HB, going well south, and giving the mouth of Collingwood Channel, and the south side of Bowen Island a wide berth.  It is always temping to head into the Bowen shore, in order to be on the inside of the lift.  But doing that can often lift you right into a massive hole on the south-east corner of the island.  And unfortunately, there is no way to know until you get there if the hole will be there.  So the smart money is to sail a little extra distance to stay out of harm’s way.  This year, there was no hole, so we did take a couple of hitches in towards Bowen to get inside on the lift, but we played it conservative, wary of the potential hole south of Passage Island.  We were able to split the difference between staying in the pressure, and taking the lift, and sailed a quick final leg, finishing right at 7:30 Saturday morning.  18 1/5 hours faster than last year!
The final leg home

Overall, our tactics were sound, except that we were not able to execute them as planned at the start.  And our crew work was excellent, and team chemistry was great.

The Occam’s Razor Golden Pillow Perpetual Award goes to Nick for this race, for managing to sleep through the finish of the race.

The Player of Game award goes to the new guy, Sebastian, for spending the better part of 2 hours at the top of the mast Thursday evening before the race (in the rain), installing the new windex.  Honourable mention goes to Karen for buying and preparing the food for the crew!

Next up, Collingwood Channel on April 29, the Swiftsure!