Foulweather Bluff 2013

November 7, 2013

79 boats started the 2013 Foulweather Bluff race in light winds.  Super light, as in fighting for two knots of boatspeed.  25 boats eventually gave up and abandoned the race.  We could hear them on the VHF, one after another:  “Race committee, race committee, this is so and so.  There’s no wind and the beer’s gone so we’re packing it in.”  The CYCE shortened the course to finish at Scatchet Head, near the South end of Whidbey Island.  We placed 13th overall among the 54 boats that finished, and second in our division.  Woohoo!  The best I’d ever done before was a third in division when I singlehanded the Sunday leg of the 2012 Race to the Straits.  This was also the first ever race for my wife, Julie, and I think she really dug it, so double points for enthusiasm and success!  Jim Jones, my partner for the Northern Century in August, did most of the steering, which is good because he’s probably a little better at it than I am.

The Port of Edmonds can squeeze in a lot of boats.  I talked to a few fishermen who weren't too happy about it.  Oh well, they have their fishing derbies and take up the whole marina too.

The Port of Edmonds can squeeze in a lot of boats. I talked to a few fishermen who weren’t too happy about it. Oh well, they have their fishing derbies and take up the whole marina too.

Julie and I spent a nice evening in Edmonds after delivering the boat from Port Townsend.  We stayed on the boat, which was nice, but trains seem to go by every hour or so.  They’re commuter trains, and they blow their whistles every time they stop.  Really loud.  Oh well.  Between the trains and some late night revelers it was a restless night.  At any rate, the Port of Edmonds marina is attractive and clean.  The people who work there have always been great to us, and it’s within walking distance of the parts of town you’ll probably want to visit.

I don’t recall whether it was the evening before or the morning of the race, but a familiar face approached me on the dock with some hot tips.  I didn’t remember his name (it’s David Odendahl), but we’d met during the Northern Century, which is a really tough race, so I was all ears.  The first thing he told me was to put the marks into my GPS and sail to that, because it’s tough to see them from a distance.  He was right.  If we hadn’t done that we’d have been chasing the general direction of the mark, just reacting to wind shifts and hoping for the best.  The other thing he told us is that there always seems to be a wind hole South of Whidbey Island, and not to get stuck in it.

Before the start, hobnobbing, planning strategy, getting psyched, etc.

Before the start, hobnobbing, planning strategy, getting psyched, etc.

We went West after the start to keep clear of the hole.  Sometimes it seemed like we were too far West, and I wondered if we’d ever get back in the light winds.  A few times the wind totally died and Jim had no steerage at all.  It was really frustrating, but we didn’t seriously think about quitting because it was a pretty nice day and we had plenty of time.  After a few hours a good breeze filled in from North.  We had a nice beat almost to the mark with boatspeed in the high fives.  Woohoo!  That part of the race was perfect, and I think we all forgot about those first painful hours.  The wind lightened up again and shifted as we approached the finish line, and the current was trying to keep us from crossing altogether.  It was like trying to climb back up the down escalator.  Everyone was having trouble getting around.  We made a couple good tacks, crossed our fingers, and inched across a few minutes after Bingo, who took first in our division.  We rounded the committee boat and headed back to Edmonds with the wind and current behind us.  Others weren’t so lucky.  We watched boats that were within 100 meters of the line struggle and drift away.  That sucks.

With Jim Jones, ace helmsman, on the way back to Edmonds.

With Jim Jones, ace helmsman, on the way back to Edmonds.

The weird thing about handicap boat racing is that you don’t know how you did until the race committee applies your handicap and corrects your time, and you don’t even get to see that until you get back to the clubhouse.  We’d been happy just to finish, but when we got back and looked at the results we were really thrilled.  Those light-air hours seemed a lot less frustrating looking back from a second place finish, and it was fun replaying the whole race over pizza and beer.

Eventually Jim left to meet his daughter in Gig Harbor, and Julie and I decided to leave Edmonds with the tide and get back to Port Townsend later that night.  There was a little wind coming from the North, but not enough to be worth sailing all night, so we fired up the outboard, left at about 1900, and set a course for Foulweather Bluff.

Sunset on the way back to Port Townsend Saturday night.

Sunset on the way back to Port Townsend Saturday night.

The sunset was beautiful.  There wasn’t much traffic, so I let the autopilot steer and kept watch.  Julie hung out below and read.  It was really nice, and I expected an uneventful trip of about 25 miles.  So, this is where I should back up a bit and mention that I use reading glasses.  A few weeks earlier I’d gone to the eye doctor and got set up with a single contact lens for my left eye.  The idea is that one eye has good close vision and the other has normal distance vision.  It takes a while to get used to, but your brain is supposed to eventually work things out so you enjoy the great all-around vision you had in your youth.  Well, I was tired.  That contact had been in all day, and my brain still hadn’t figured out how to process the two different signals.  This wasn’t a problem during daylight, but at night every light I saw looked like a star burst and my depth perception was way off.  Again, there wasn’t much traffic and the night was clear, so I maintained my course and just kept watching.  It was dark, so I kept track of the beacons and watched the GPS.

When you get up near Point No Point you have to cut across the shipping lanes to get over to the channel on the West side of Marrowstone Island, which takes you to Port Townsend.  Imagine my surprise when what I thought was a beacon on Marrowstone turned out to be the port light of a container ship.  It was about 100 meters away, which is insanely close anytime, but at night, when you’ve just realized that the island you thought you were looking at is moving right at you, it was terrifying.  After a quick heart attack I jumped back to remove the autopilot and steer hard to starboard.  As soon as we were safe and I could breath again I woke Julie up to watch it pass.  We were so close the wake was about like the swells you get off Cape Flattery.  After it was terrifying, it was pretty impressive.  Funny, the VHF was on and I never heard a thing.  I have all the correct lights, but I wonder if anyone even saw me.  One thing I knew for sure was that the mono-vision contact lens scheme was not safe at night.  I’d had that lens in for more than twelve hours by then, so getting it out on a rolling boat was like trying to pick a scab off my dry eyeball.  It had to go, though, and I eventually got it.  Lesson learned.  No contacts at night, ever.

The rest of the trip was pleasant.  We were tied up and cozy in PT by about 2300, and that was the end of that adventure.  I’m thinking now about the Winter Vashon, so more later . . .

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