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 . . .

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