15 July 2016. As sad as this makes me, this will be my last entry on Billy’s Paccup 2016. Last I left it, we were motoring sail-free into Monterey. Severely disappointed, but relieved that we made it out of the roley-poley with the mast still standing. Within a couple of hours the Psyche crew, and the very competent workers at Breakwater Cove Marina had de-rigged and pulled the crippled mast out of Psyche. By afternoon, we had cleaned up much of the mess down below.
Such a mix of feelings. Relief to bring Psyche safely back to port. Longing to be out there changing headsails as the wind clocks. Gratitude to have a crew like this, each of whom works hard as can be till the job is done, whether it be hoisting a genoa, derigging a mast, or celebrating a “half-way” party (see below). Obsession, with the race on windyty, and whether we would still be in the running (conclusion, still in the running).
There was something about our sans-sails cruise from the rhumb-line to Hawaii into Monterey that I wanted to mention. Because we were powering, we just had 1 person on deck at a time. This meant 1 hour on, 4 off; a cushy deal, indeed. It also meant there was no chattering on deck. Very different. I watched the sun sink into the sea on my watch. It takes 3 minutes. I haven’t done that in many years. My 1AM watch let me watch the half-moon set as well. These moments are priceless. They don’t happen at home, although there is no reason they couldn’t. As soon as we came into cell reception range, it was all over.
Coming to dry land brought its rewards. A son of Sam (who “taught” me how to sail by challenging me to a dinghy race at Catalina Island; I tipped over) and Dana Bell, John Bell, activated a bottle of rum through his sister in law, Ashley, who is an active member of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club. Although I can’t well remember her last name, I can well remember the generosity of her and her family’s spirit.
We drank their rum at the dock in our half-way-party garb. Transformative.
Clockwise from upper left: Jim Barber, Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club, Scott Barber, Billy & the Mast, Capn Steve Calhoun, Don Burdge
Then, spontaneously with little discussion, we suddenly cast off our dock lines and powered the now mast-free Psyche out to the starting line of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club’s “wet Wednesday” and loudly cheered for every clean spinnaker set we saw. Then we powered Psyche back to the club-house for their post-race barbecue. A fantastic, warm, friendly yacht club. We are grateful to them for that. I waited patiently with two Mai-Tai’s for my sweet wife, Bird, who battled traffic and boredom to drive from LA to pick me up! In she walks, and the room just lights up. She’s a wonder, and we’re still together, and I am grateful.
And grateful to be alive (did I say that already?).
Pac-cup. The start!
Wed July 13. 7:30 AM
Munching on a delicious “pnut beure et jelie,” complements of master chef, Scott Barber.
Mondays start: An amazing group of well wishers on the dock. Nervous energy everywhere. We bid them all adieu, and head out a little early, noting that the 13-knot wind is already strong enough to merit the #3 jib, rather than the big #1 genoa. After our sails are up, we notice that Redhead, another Cal-40 and one of our main competitors, put up her #1. We’ve previously used our well-cut # 3 to sail past Cal 40s down in LA carrying their #1 in 13 knots of breeze, so we are cautiously optimistic, especially given the forecast of a building 20-25 knot northwesterly. We know that the global objective is to be on the right end of the line to get to the middle of the channel, where the current is strongly going out the middle of the bay. However, the left side of the line is so very favored that the boats in our start (maybe 10 boats) are well dispersed along the line. Redhead gets a spectacular start on the port side of the line with a ton of speed. We get the second best start with less speed, but come on, let’s crank in the #3 and get Psyche in the groove, and we should steadily move ahead of the over-canvassed Redhead.
Redhead just keeps marching over the top of us as we all near the Golden Gate bridge (I forgot to look up underneath the bridge, so caught up was I in the race). Thats ok, think we. As the wind climbs into the mid-late teens, we should start to move on her.
The wind dies.
What the hell? The forecast called for a steadily increasing wind. But Redhead knew (and I now vaguely remember someone saying something about this) that just past the Gate, the wind often abates, until one has reached the synoptic wind, a few miles farther where the wind that is beyond control of coastal contours, and is free to blow.
So we flounder in the light stuff, and drag the # 1 out of the bilge and hank it on, and now we are finally holding our own, but Redhead is far ahead. We tack into Bonita Point hoping for the Northwesterly, and don’t get it. Out we go on starboard tack again. Heading for the shipping lanes.
Big oblivious humpback whales EVERYWHERE! Really cool views of gnarly backs and blowholes and black tiny dorsal fins.
A view of whitecaps on the horizon. We tack to port again, hoping to get into that wind a little earlier. Finally the wind fills. It strengthens gradually to 15-18 knots. Psyche is tipping too much, so we change back down to the #3 as we tack over to starboard and head toward Farallone Island.
Lots of chop and slop, and we have to keep things a little loose to keep our speed up. Seems like we might be gaining on Redhead, although she is pretty far out there in the mist.
We’ve finally sailed into the synoptic wind. Cooler, gusty. It grows into the 20s. Everyone sitting on the weather rail happy to be in a groove, determined to run down Redhead.
The wind strengthens more (as advertised), inching over 25. We put a reef in the mainsail (see previous blog), and Psyche starts to dance. The wind has shifted to the right ever-so-slightly, and we start to fly. 8 knots, 9 knots, even a 10 in there every now and then. We seem to be gaining on the two boats (Redhead and another) ahead of us.
We see cold, moldy, Southeast Farallone Island to windward, an apparition in the fading light. I spent 2 very memorable weeks doing intertidal research on that island, but that is another story.
Night time, now. The wind gusting, the white-caps breaking over the boat. Suddenly with a shout, Jimmy says oh no! The line that holds ALL our halyards, the lines we plan to use to pull up our sails all the way to Hawaii, breaks! Up go all the halyards, swinging in the breeze, just out of reach. If they get up too high the weight of the line on the other (mast side) of the blocks through which they run will take the outboard side of the blocks all the way up the mast. The only way to retrieve lost halyards is to drop the jib and use its halyard to send a man (that would have been an interesting lottery) up to the top to grab the halyards and pull them down. Not something we want to do in 25 knots and breaking seas.
Jimmy is tall, he snags a halyard. I am lucky and a bundle of halyards swings into my hands. We pull them down. Jimmy makes a new tie-down line. The whole operation would take maybe 2 min in calm weather. It takes about 15 minutes tonight. Waves just crashing all over us, water sluicing up the boots and into everything. Thoroughly soaked. Very cold. But the crisis is averted.
I go off watch and sleep in my favorite quarter berth. Funny how easy it is to sleep down there. But cold! I could have tripled my supply of long undies. But this will pass I keep saying. The water gets warm very quickly as one sails west and south from these cold upwelled seas.
After waking up, I notice a new rattle on the port side. In my usual optimistic “la-la-la” way, I think, oh its nothing. Jimmy comes up for the second part of my watch and says, I wonder what in the heck is making that noise? I say, quite predictably, I heard it too; its probably nothing. Jimmy works his way forward in the pitching darkness. The shrouds are really loose! What is going on here? He comes down and checks the backstay. Its fine. He runs his flash-light up mast, perhaps a spreader is bent or broken. Nope. Then he shines it on the base of the mast.
All hands on deck! We’re losing the mast!
Cal-40 masts have their bottom end on top of the keel. The mast rises from the keel through the deck, where it is supported by myriad wires, shrouds on the sides, stays fore and after. Somehow, our mast is torn at the deck. It is a mystery why the mast has not toppled. Several inches of the mast above the tear collapsed onto the cabin top next to the part below the tear. This could very well turn from bad to worse, hence Jimmys call.
So, we have a serious emergency on our hands. It takes FOREVER for the crew to get their foul weather gear and flotation devices and head-lamps together and on, but finally everyone is on deck in the pitching stormy darkness working to get the jib and mainsail down. I am steering, and head the boat down wind to lighten the load on mast. The sails are so wet and heavy, this is a monumental task.
Note in the photo above (taken from forward of the mast) that the upper part of the mast has torn itself free of the lower part of the mast, and is resting on the cabin-top’s platform to the right). We’ve lashed with line (white with red dashes) the the sheared off part, trying to prevent it from sliding off, thus toppling the mast. A second critical point is that the downward force of all the shrouds and stays and halyards in this wind is huge. Instead of this force being applied to the keel on the bottom of the boat, it all pushing against the cabin top. It is most remarkable that the cabin didn’t collapse under the weight. Steve had the cabin reinforced prior to the race, probably explaining this puzzle.
One of the most sickening things in my sailing experience is a sailboat at sea with no sails up. I previously described one of the circumstances, a hurricane in survival conditions. Much more mundanely, is on the old Siwash, after she has sailed up to Howland’s Cove on Catalina, smartly into the wind, drop the sails. Now there are no sails on the mast; the boat rolls sickeningly. I always get a little sea sick at that moment, when a sailboat is nearly at a standstill rolling in a sea-way back and forth, much more gut-wrenchingly than if even a small sail is up, steadying the roll.
Here is another bare-pole circumstance. A dismasting. Psyche is dismasted now. Her mast is standing, but it is just a ghost, never to hold a sail again. We are very, very, lucky that mast didn’t just topple over, creating a tangled mess of blunt weapons that can beat holes into hull and human heads, indiscriminately. That is the fire drill that was averted by Jimmy’s alert listening, and functional curiosity. Now the mast is wobbling in the 6 ft breaking seas, as we sail straight downwind under bare poles. Psyche is rolling horribly, so unnatural and scary. It is very hard to keep footing in this shit. After more than an hour of securing and stowing and trying to get the situation under control, we start the engine, and head toward Monterey. We call the coast-guard. “Pan-Pan ” is the call, kind of a Mellow May-Day. This is what you are supposed to say when you are in trouble, but not at risk to life or limb.
We set the motor to “slow” to reduce gasoline consumption, and started the rolly-poley bare-poles trip to Monterey.
So it is now nearly 9 AM a day later, and we are motoring into Monterey. Happy to be safe, but really sad we couldn’t continue in the race, for it most assuredly will be a record breaker, with a tropical depression climax. We will have to wait till another time.
This particular transpacific yacht race has had a chaotic slow, but inexorable build-up. Particularly for me personally.
I made a list of all the things I had neglected to bring this morning. It was much longer than I would like to admit (my shipmates have had their show together for months). Running around with my kind shipmate Don Burdge, tracking things down north of San Francisco Bay. Here’s two of them.
Everyone has their own strategy for fighting mal-de-mar. The top item is fresh Dramamine. This is my strategy for the upcoming stormy close reach. I take it just as I’m about to come off watch. It makes me drowsy and quells my sickness. I sleep. It is slightly worn off when I wake up before my next watch. Then I repeat. I don’t like the scopolamine patch, nor do I like Dramamine with the extra caffeine or whatever they use to keep you awake. I’ve been using this strategy for a while in coastal cruising. The next few days will put this fairly mild strategy to a good test.
The next item is a man overboard locator device. If it works as advertised, falling into the ocean should activate the radio signal when the personal flotation device (life jacket) automatically inflates. This should work even if I’m unconscious. Here’s the thing about this device. I hate paying $200 plus for something that I will never use. The chances of falling overboard are so very small that it seems like OCD behavior to spend so much money and time getting this device and programming it to send position information back to Psyche should I fall overboard.
But, I’m picturing myself. Nightime squall. We take a knockdown, I fall over. My tether breaks. There I am. Sure I’ve got a strobe light, but the waves are big, and by the time Psyche gets her sails under control and returns to find me, it has become a big ocean. They can’t see me.
So I’m floating there with my cheap strobe, knowing Psyche will never find me. Then I think, “Gosh, if I’d paid the extra money, it would be a pretty straight-forward rescue. Now it’s next to impossible.” That regret filling my brain during my last moments on this planet is not a pretty vision. So buy the goddamn thing.
Steve and a significant bevy of women (All friends of Robin, his daughter, and Amanda, his wife) motored Psyche two hours from Richmond to the St Francis Yacht Club, right next to the starting area (see below). I spend the night onboard Psyche again tonight (slept like a log last night on an old familiar bunk).
This St. Francis Yacht Club is quite a place. Very exclusive. Very dignified. Lots of wood. Lots of heavily framed paintings and photos of sailboats. Sitting here in a back cubby using their internet. My sun hat is off. That’s the rules.
Another thing that is cool about St. Francis Yacht Club in the context of the Pacific Cup is that it sits RIGHT on the starting line. Below are two sailboats shortly after a start. It took them 5 minutes to sail to the starting line from the dock. That’s the bar in the background! That is where Jimmy’s wife Andrea, Scott’s girlfriend Kathy, and Steve’s wife Amanda, will all be watching when we start. I kind of wish I could watch the start and then get a chase boat to run me out to the boat as it passes under the Golden Gate Bridge!
By contrast, the original “transpac race” starts off of Point Fermin in southern California. It is a hour + motor from the harbor to the starting line. You can barely see the boats from shore. Here at St Francis Yacht Club, spectators will have a clear image of their favorite boat to last them the two weeks till we arrive in Kaneohe.
Pretty cool. This start will be a fitting climax to a long build-up.
I will be sending emails from sea after this, but you can follow our daily progress with a cool web site. You can step the boats back and forth through their history. It is really pretty fun. If you go back and forth between that site and windyty, you can do some anticipating. That’s what makes sailboat racing fun; watching how boats put different navigational strategies into play, and second guessing which boats do it right, then following them over the next day or so.
So, here I am at the Richmond Yacht club at 5 in the afternoon. The pre-race party is starting to build momentum. Very nice Hawaiianesk music up above, mixing reggae with hawaiian. Very smooth. May have to go up and drink a Mai Tai before dinner.
Sat with Scott, our gribs and bytes guy. Stepping through the likely path of Psyche starting this Monday and continuing for a week of predicted speeds into the predicted winds. My dire forecast captured the attention of many of our loved ones. I think I’ve exaggerated pretty much everything (my apologies; let’s call it poetic license). Windyty’s gusts setting looks to be a significantly over-estimated, leading me down that “what-if” path. But you know, we won’t know till we get out there. Suffice to say there should be plenty of wind, perhaps a bit too much for the first three days, then a pleasant, perhaps bordering on slow, sail. Then some unknown weirdness from Celia and the as yet unnamed storm a brewing off of Mexico. Stay tuned. You never know about the ocean, that much is for sure.
But Richmond Yacht club is amazing! Nothing but masts. I don’t think I’ve seen a single powerboat! Do they outlaw them here? What a contrast to most every harbor I’ve been to in the last decade. People are friendly and jovial, and everyone is excited about sailing out of the Golden Gate into an gripping sail-boat race to Hawaii. We’ve met some of the crew of “Redhead” our main competition in our class. They are very cool folks. We have also met a couple who are sailing another Cal 40 in the “double handed” class. All are pleasant, knowledgeable people. All are happy to be alive.
So am I.
It is way too early to tell, but if you go on windyty, you will see a hurricane converging on our path! Really? Gulp, yes. It even has a name, Blas. Set your windyty to wind gusts, and step forward 2 days from now to the start. Blas “breaks up” pretty much right in our path, on the day we start, day after tomorrow. Furthermore, there is another hurricane (Celia) heading across from Mexico, and at least two more that will likely be born in the coming week.
Now I’ve been at sea in 30+ knots of wind numerous times, so I know to some extent what to expect. I’ve been in safe havens in 50+ knots of wind. That is when the droplets start to dance off the water, flying down wind, and visibility begins to drop.
But I have never been to sea in anything remotely resembling a hurricane. I don’t think the next two weeks will change that.
But it might. You can see the discussion of the best guess of what these hurricanes will do at the national hurricane center.
In the last few years, a really good climate biologist named Kerry Emmanuel has been examining a very interesting hypothesis: that global warming is increasing the frequency and, more profoundly, the intensity of tropical hurricanes. I’ve seen his talk, and examined his data. It seems to me that he is quite likely right. Last summer, I tracked the hurricanes in the eastern tropical pacific on windyty every week. New hurricanes popped up like flowers after a rain. All summer and into the fall, these storms emerge off the coast of mainland Mexico, and usually head west, or northwest. This summer is already setting up to be a repeat, with perhaps even more named hurricanes, of last summer.
Celia looks like it will brush the northern edge of Hawaii before it finally breaks up. If the race had started 5 July, we would be forced into an experience unlike any that anyone on the crew of Psyche has ever contemplated. I think we would survive. Worst case scenario, we would drop the mainsail entirely, and sail either under bare poles, or with a tiny storm jib. We would strap ourselves in and ride it out. From what I understand, the biggest danger is that of being rolled (sideways), or pitched (stern over bow), 360 degrees. I don’t really have much else to write about this possibility, for I only know what I’ve read. If a third hurricane takes shape in the next few days and converges with us, and we survive, you can be sure I will then have something more to write about hurricanes.
If we don’t survive, you can count that as a personal consequence of global warning, and honor it by trading in your gas guzzler for a lifelong pass on the Metro.
Some of my friends who read the last blog, suggested that I might be exaggerating the conditions just a little bit. But luckily, Willie and Howard are still around. I think at least one of them might be reading this blog. Perhaps they will verify my tall tail for the doubters. In any case, there is one sober fact that may be at least partly relevant. The same day we left from San Francisco to San Diego in July, 1983, another “midget ocean race” (the boats are small, not the ocean) was being sailed from Half-moon bay (south of San Francisco) to Moss Landing, a small port north of Monterrey. One of the boats in the race, a “Wiley Wabbit”, was lost with all hands very close to the same time we were repeatedly broaching. This was a crushing blow to a bunch of sailors, especially in the Monterey Bay area, from where the three lost crewmembers hailed.
The ocean is a dangerous place. No doubt about it.