Swiftsure 2013

May 29, 2013


Victoria, the Swiftsure Committee, and the Royal Victoria Yacht Club really know how to stage an event!  I didn’t place in my division (finished after deadline), but it was a lot of fun and I learned so much that I don’t really care.

It began with a night delivery.  I rounded Point Wilson at about 1:00 am Friday, set a course for Victoria, and settled in.  The moon was full, so it was a lot brighter on the water than you’d think.  There wasn’t much wind, but I was riding the ebb so the miles passed quickly.

I’d guess it was around 3:30 a.m. when I began seeing lights from the general vicinity of Victoria.  It didn’t seem odd that they were getting closer because, after all, that was the direction I was headed.  As the lights and I closed the distance I realized it was a ship, though not one like any I’d ever seen.  This thing was enormous–larger than the bulk, car, or container carriers you normally see–and it was lighted up like Clark Griswold’s holiday house.  It was probably three or four miles away when I realized it was a cruise ship. Did I say it was enormous?  This thing was so long and so tall that it looked like a floating casino.  I was on a cruise ship once, and I know they’re big, but to see one pass within a mile of you, in the middle of the night, lit up like that one was, from the deck of a 25′ sailboat, well, it was like the UFO landing scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I had been watching the cruise ship, slack-jawed, for so long that after it passed I was surprised to see the first band of light poking over the horizon.  Side note:  I’m a photographer, and I still can’t believe all I had on me was my iPhone camera. Anyway, I hope this conveys at least a sense of the coolness of seeing the sun come up on the Salish Sea (you can click on these pics to see them larger):

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The rest of the delivery was uneventful, and Backbeat and I were rafted up in front of the Empress Hotel and napping by 7:30 a.m.

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I spent the day hanging out in Victoria and working on the boat.  Victoria is a beautiful city.  The Swiftsure Yacht Race is a big deal in this community, and they bring their best to the party.  The buskers and street performers were really, really good.  Note to Spokane buskers:  you can just set up on a street corner, fire up your amp and hope for spare change, but people will throw money at you if you’re really good and if you have a polished act.  It seems people want to be entertained and amazed, and that they’ll reward you if you can pull it off.  Also, no one used amps.  It didn’t seem to matter.  Volume was good for people who wanted to hear, and not a problem for people who didn’t.  I’m now anti-amplification for busking unless you need it for an effect.

These guys sang sea shanties, told stories, and were very good:

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These guys were good too.  I’d been digging their show for a while before it occurred to me to record it.  After I caught this bit they packed up and left, so I’m sorry there’s not more to share, but enjoy what I did get:


I also caught a street show.  Sharon Mahoney is a trained actor and professional street performer.  Her show is hilarious!  I got roped into participating, which was a five-star blast, so I don’t have any video, but check out her website:  http://www.sharonmahoney.com/  Sharon is worth hiring if you need an act for your event.  Here’s a little stock video:


I was one of the four guys in the Tallulah part of her act.  She stood on my arms and juggled flaming torches over our heads!  Woohoo!

Victoria Harbor is dotted with cute tour boats.  A couple of them are water taxis, which is cool if you have to anchor out and don’t have a tender.

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I think the final count for the race was 190 boats.  The harbor was a busy place!

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The Empress.

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The skipper’s meeting was at four.  The race committee brought in a scientist from the University of Victoria to discuss tidal currents.  I recorded it on my phone; it was so interesting I listened to it two more times.  They also brought in a meteorologist to talk about weather patterns.  He went way beyond the weekend forecast, though, and his talk was so informative that I’ve since listened to it again too.  After a safety briefing and the sailing instructions briefing the meeting was over.  I went back to the boat to do some rig-tuning.  There was a party at 8:00 p.m., but I was pretty beat.  I’m sure I was asleep by 9:00.

I was up Saturday by 6:30 and headed out of the harbor by 7:00.  The boat I was rafted to was doing the Cape Flattery Race, which started an hour earlier than mine, and they needed to get out.  The trip to the starting area was an easy 45 minute cruise.  As I waited for my sequence I got to watch the big boats prepare for their start for the long race out to Swiftsure Bank and back.  My start was at 9:40, and I got a good one in clear air.  Here’s a map of the Inshore Classic course:

Swiftsure Inshore

It was pretty clear from the start that there were two groups competing: the hard-core racers with the marine equivalent of Formula One cars, and everyone else.  Backbeat and I were in the “everyone else” group.  In a boat race you tend to race with the people who are right around you, and I did pretty well.  After a mistake at the first rounding I caught up and passed about two-thirds of my competitors by the time I got to Discovery Island, which in the map is the furthest to the right.

That’s when things got tricky.  The wind died and the current changed.  The hard-core folks had already rounded the last mark–the one furthest on the right–and were headed to the finish line.  My group hadn’t, and it was a struggle for everyone to round that last buoy.  On the map, the route between Discovery Island and the mark looks like a straight line.  On the GPS, my track looks like a huge loop to the north.  The flood pushed us way out of the way, and it took hours to round that mark.  Most people just quit and went in.  I rounded it at about 4:30.  To put that in perspective, I was at Discovery Island at about noon.  That’s a lot of time spent drifting around, inching my way back up to the mark.  The black line on this map is roughly how it much it sucked:

Swiftsure Inshore

Well, at least everyone else was in the same pickle, and at least I didn’t bail out.  By the time I got to the end of the black line, the race deadline had passed, so I motored in.  In this race skippers took their times at each mark, though, so I was able to compare how I did with the other boats that didn’t withdraw.  I didn’t place, but I was in the top quarter of the boats in my group, so I was pretty stoked.

Racing is a lot different from other kinds of sailing.  You think you’re a pretty good skipper, then you get beat up pretty badly in the racing fleets.  Every time I go, though, I learn more and get a little better.  It’s not something you can learn in a book.  Time on the water is what counts.  Getting beaten in races, and then comparing what you did with what the winners did is what counts.  It will take a while, but I’ll get there.

The race ended at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Cadboro Bay.  I rafted up, put the boat away, rested a bit, and headed up to the clubhouse for the barbecue.  It was fun hobnobbing with the other teams.  I learned I was one of only two singlehanders in the flying sails division.  I was pretty beat, so by 9:30 or so I was back on the boat reading.  I’m sure that lasted only a few minutes before Sunday morning showed up.

Except for seeing the nuclear sub (see the entry about my new outboard), the trip back to Port Townsend was uneventful.  I will say, though, that on a drizzly grey day in the Pacific Northwest, when you can’t see the mountains on the horizon, heading into the Strait of Juan de Fuca feels like heading off to China.  There’s nothing to see except blank horizon.  This is when you hope your compass is accurate, and you thank the government for GPS satellites.

I was back in Port Townsend by 2:30, spent some time with kids and my new granddaughter, and headed back to Spokane Monday morning.  The next race for me is the Summer Vashon, June 22nd.  More later . . .

Backbeat came to me with a mid-80s 4.5 hp Johnson Seahorse.  It was well-suited to the previous owner’s purpose, which was to leave and re-enter his marina for races and daysailing.  I used it for a season around Puget Sound, but the mighty Seahorse wasn’t up to  pushing a 3,000 pound boat through stiff currents and steep chop on 30 to 60 mile deliveries for races.  Yes, I know I could have sailed those deliveries, and a lot of them I did.  Still, when you have to be somewhere by a deadline, and the wind, waves and tide aren’t cooperating, you fire up the outboard and settle in.  Max speed at full throttle with this motor was about 4.5 knots.

I sold the Seahorse and bought a 90s vintage 8 hp Evinrude. It did the trick for a few years, but eventually started showing its age.  I had seized it once when the impeller failed, and though my son–a real-life marine tech–worked it over with new parts and mechanic tricks, it was never the same.  Then the throttle grip broke.  Replacements are about $125, so we used a pick through the end of the cable. Then the carb got fussy.  Then the starter rope broke.  The motor was great while it was, but there was no escaping the fact that it was old and tired.  It was time to stop throwing time and money at it, and time for a new outboard.  Max speed at full throttle with this motor was about 5.25 knots.

I had wanted a nice new Yamaha or Honda 9.9 before I noticed that quite a few boats my size were using the 6 hp Tohatsu Sail Pro.  Everyone seemed to love their motor, so I did some research.  The Tohatsu is a single-cylinder four stroke.  It’s a version that comes with a 25″ shaft, a high-thrust prop, and a 5 amp alternator.  After shopping around and reading reviews I bought one from Ed at Ballard Inflatable Boats  http://www.ballardinflatables.com/  It weighs less than 60 pounds and is about half the price of a new Honda or Yamaha, both of which are over 100 pounds. Half the price?  Half the weight?  It was an easy decision. Anyway, once you get close to hull speed in a sailboat, all the extra 3.9 hp does is spin the prop and waste gas.


You can buy this motor online for $1,530 with no taxes or shipping charges.  I bought it from Ed for $1,530 and paid about $145 in sales tax.  Buying local from someone who had one in stock and immediately available, and who is able to provide warranty service if I need it, was worth the extra money.  Also, it turns out Ed is an avid sailor, a Thunderbird owner, and quite a character in general.  FWIW, I urge readers to look locally before you order one online.  There’s value in supporting small business.

Back to the motor.  I hung it on Thursday afternoon and left Friday at 12:30 am for Victoria.  That’s a 36 nautical mile, middle-of the night Strait of Juan de Fuca crossing.  I followed the break-in procedure, then settled in at about 5.3 knots.  The motor was at about one quarter to one-third throttle.  I opened it up to full power and saw hull speed, which is about 6 knots, but my best cruise turned out to be one quarter to one third throttle and about 5.3 knots.  I got to Victoria on about two gallons of gas.  I’m not kidding!  It comes with a 3 gallon tank, which I was sure would be too small, so I took a 5 gallon can along just in case.  This motor really sips fuel.  The return trip used even less than the delivery!

Except for the two times I forgot to attach the safety lanyard (don’t judge me!), the new motor started on the first or second pull, hot or cold, every time.  It is a lot quieter at cruising speed than either of the previous two-strokes.  Being a musician, I have a sound meter on my phone.  For those of you who care, the interior volume at cruising speed in light chop was 75-80 decibels.  That’s pretty quiet for an outboard.  If you rev it up to full power it gets louder, but I can’t imagine why you’d want to use that much more fuel just to get less than one more knot of boat speed.

I couldn’t see a way to lock the steering straight ahead, but the steering friction lock held the motor straight the entire trip.  The 25″ shaft kept the prop submerged, even with my 280 pounds on the foredeck.  There was little wind on the return trip until I was a few miles off Point Wilson.  It picked up then to about 11 knots true and a little too close to maintain my course under sail alone, so I set the sails and motorsailed.  The sails bumped my boatspeed to about 6 knots, but more than that they kept the boat settled when the Point Wilson rip developed.  If you’re unfamiliar with the area, the Point Wilson rip is the 800 pound gorilla of tide rips.  This one was not as bad as I’ve seen, but the waves were still five or six feet tall, steep, and breaking.  I lowered the outboard bracket to keep the prop wet and settled in.

Just then a USCG RIB came out of nowhere.  I could see I was going to get boarded, so I went forward to drop the headsail.  Here’s the point of all this:  In the steep waves of the Point Wilson rip, with my fat arse on the bow, the extra-long shaft kept the new Tohatsu biting solid water the whole time!  It turns out the USCG just wanted me to alter course to stay out of the path of a nuclear sub–which seemed perfectly reasonable to me–so I bore off about 30 degrees until the little armada passed.

I’m really happy with my new outboard.  I now have about 80 nautical miles on it.  I’d guess that’s about 15 hours. It’s quiet, reliable, sips fuel, stays in the water when it’s supposed to, steers straight, and pushes my boat comfortably at about 5.3 knots at about one-third throttle. The gear lever is on the front, which is nice.  Reverse thrust isn’t spectacular, but it’s more than enough for maneuvering in really tight spaces.  The 12v alternator also charges the battery, though I probably won’t get the full 5 amps at one-third throttle.  There is no way either the Yamaha or Honda 9.9s will do anything for my particular boat that justifies the hefty price and weight premiums.  The Tohatsu came with a five-year warranty.  Ed set up the motor, did a pre-delivery inspection, and activated the warranty.

I give this motor 4.5 Captain Kev stars.  I held back a half star because you need to buy an extra fitting to flush the motor, and because I’m still in that brand-new love phase. If nothing at all changes in the next year of use, I’d give it a 100% thumbs up rating.  If you have a relatively slippery boat in the same weight range as my Capri 25 , you can’t go wrong with this motor.

UPDATE 6/25/13:  Check out these bad pics.  Boat speed at 5.4 knots, throttle at about 30%!  Another 70 miles this weekend and still used less than four gallons.  I love this motor!

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UPDATE 7/14/14:  Okay, by now I have hundreds of miles on this motor. Yes, hundreds.  I still love it.  I recently sailed from Port Townsend to San Francisco.  At one point after leaving Newport, Oregon, there was no wind at all. I had a full five gallon jug in addition to the full three gallon regular tank, so I ran the motor at about 25% throttle until the three gallon tank was empty.  The mighty Sail Pro ran for 11.5 hours before it sputtered to a stop, pushing my boat at 5.2 knots the whole time.

Yep, that’s right, 11.5 hours!  There was a slight current, but there was no wind pushing me along.  I have a fast, light boat, and I had just put on some magic, go-fast bottom paint, but still . . . 11.5 hours!  At one point the oil light came on.  I checked the dipstick and found the oil pretty low, so I topped it up.  To tell the truth, after 11.5 hours I was ready to enjoy a little quiet, so I drifted around until the wind came in.  That gave me time to think about what I’d write if I ever updated this review.  Here’s the long-term user scoop.  I have one complaint and one observation to offer anyone considering this motor.

My one complaint is that the steering friction lock doesn’t provide enough grip to keep the motor straight in waves over a long period of time.  In these conditions it will wander.  I tie mine off to keep it straight.  Yes, you can buy a bracket that will fix it straight ahead, but I like steering with both the rudder and the motor when I’m in tight spaces.  Using the two together, I can pirouette my boat.  My wish list for the next model is for some kind of handy latch that will fix the motor straight ahead, but which could be easily disengaged for precision steering when you want it.  Okay Tohatsu, make it happen.  Until then I’ll keep tying it off. It’s not a big deal for me, but I figured I had to find something to complain about or people won’t consider this a fair review.

The one observation is that I don’t get much more than about .75 charging amps from my motor when I run it at the speeds that suit me.  That’s not a big deal for me because I have 120 watts of solar and 300 amp hours of deep cycle juice storage.  If you’re looking for the full rated output from this motor, I don’t know what to tell you.  Maybe check with other users to see whether they’ve had better results. Again, this is not a big deal for me.

All in all, I love this motor and would buy it again in a heartbeat.  Tohatsu engineers, please get to work on that latch.




May 18, 2013

Registered for the Inshore Race as a singlehander, flying sails. Looks like only two other souls chose to go this route, and one of those is non-flying (no spinnaker). Does everyone else know something we don’t? Honestly, it usually seems like they do. Nevertheless . . .

I’m comfortable with the spinny and my trusty tiller pilot. If a downwind leg is too windy for the kite I can usually do better than hull speed just with my heavy genoa anyway.

So, the adventure is on!


DFL in our division Saturday.  Ugh . . .   DNS Sunday due to outboard problems.  Ugh . . .

Still, STYC put on a great race, and the party in Port Townsend was fun.

Friday’s delivery to Shilshole was an easy 30 mile run.  Saturday’s leg of the race was a beat into stiff winds all the way back to Port Townsend.  The weather was nice, but in my small-ish boat we really took a pounding.  Sunday’s leg–the one we DNS–was probably the best Seattle sailing day ever.  80 degrees, sunny skies, and a 15-20 knot breeze behind the fleet all the way back to Shilshole.  I watched the fleet approach Edmonds from the deck of a Washington State ferry.  It was all I could do not to pluck out my own eyes.

Oh well, the 70 miles or so we did get in were fun, and there’s always next year.