And, we’re off! The race start in San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge was intense, but fun. The sun was out, the wind was fresh and most importantly, it was warm and welcome after the cold, wet battering we took crossing the North Pacific.
We sailed out into the bay past Alcatraz Island and waited for the beginning of the race that would take us 3,300 miles down to Panama, then through the canal and roughly 2,000 miles up to New York City. Shortly before the race started as we were jockeying for position, a batten popped out of the sail. That was a near disaster, but we were able to drop the mainsail, find and insert a new batten, and raise it again very quickly. The crew worked flawlessly and we were able to raise it just minutes before the start. Seconds before the start there were two other boats, Gold Coast Australia and Edinburgh within half a boat length of us jockeying for position. That was quite exciting as we were striving to force them closer to the line (actually over) and position ourselves for a clean start. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen quite as planned and all three of us ended up jumping the gun and crossing the line early. That meant having to circle back around the start buoy and restart again as the rest of the fleet sailed away.
Nevertheless, we did that very quickly and were off under the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the Pacific. The weather continued to be sunny and breezy which made for quick sailing. With the tide ebbing under the bridge and a stiff breeze blowing onshore, it was a beat (upwind sailing) into some good-sized swells that were left over from the Pacific storms. Several of the crewmembers ended up seasick from the boat motion, sending them downstairs into their bunks. The rest of us persevered and after heading out a bit into the ocean, we turned south, raised the spinnaker (large billowing sail at the front of the boat) and began our downwind run to Panama.
The next few days could only be described as champagne sailing. We had great downwind sailing along the coast of California and down along Mexico’s Baha California with the sun up during the day and the stars out at night. The weather quickly warmed and by the third day we had shed our foul weather gear and are currently sailing during the day in shorts and t-shirts. Such a wonderful treat after a month crossing the cold, stormy Pacific! I ended up winning a bet with a fellow crewmember who thought we wouldn’t be able to shed our foulies until day five. I betted it would happen on day three as based on the weather reports we would be crossing the Mexican border just after the second day. A welcome cold pint awaits in Panama!
As far as the race and the fleet are concerned, it looks like tactically, there are two schools of thought. One, stay close to shore and try to take advantage of the sea breeze during the day and the land breeze at night. Two, head further offshore and catch a southerly wind that – at least on the weather forecast – appears lighter but more consistent over the next few days. As such, the fleet of 10 boats were spread out by day three over a line of roughly 120 miles, yet only a few miles apart with regards to distance to finish. Time will tell which strategy plays out. We opted to stay offshore.
That strategy appeared to work as we quickly worked our way from near last after the failed start to fifth place in the fleet. Unfortunately, late last night we ended up with a kite wrap in which the lightweight spinnaker got backwinded and wrapped in knots around the inner forestay (a wire cable running from the front of the boat up to near the top of the mast). It took us nearly nine hours to unwrap it with less than an hour of sleep. This morning all on my watch were exhausted, but felt so elated when with Sherlyn’s help up the mast, the sail dropped to the deck free and clear! In no time we stowed it below, hoisted our medium-weight kite and now are back in the race!
I must say, these past few days have taken time getting used to the watch routine (three hours on, three off at night and four on, four off during the day), but it has been an amazing few days! Besides the great weather and sailing conditions, we were also treated to a spectacular light show in the evening sky the other night as we saw several meteorites blaze across the sky above us, leaving glowing trails. One particular meteorite seemed rather close as it raced across the sky above us, leaving a bright, glowing tail that stretched halfway across the sky. Lastly, no whale sightings yet even though we are close to the migration path. However, it was interesting to see squid jump out of the water and land on deck in the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps they were attracted to the light as we worked to drop the wrapped spinnaker.