Tag Archives: ocean racing

Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race

MHOR CourseThis year, in addition to the Annapolis to Newport Race and the upcoming Around Long Island Regatta, I decided to sail Sedna, my Hunter 45cc, in the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. Since growing up in Western Canada (and avidly reading Farley Mowat) it has been one of my long-time goals to sail around the Canadian Maritime provinces in general, and the rustic Nova Scotia coastline in particular.

The 365 mile ocean race is considered one of the oldest ocean races in the world, with a history that began in 1905, predating the Newport Bermuda, Fastnet and Sydney Hobart Races. The race originally started as an informal competition between the Boston, Eastern and New York Yacht Clubs run sporadically between 1905-1939 and then biennially since then. The race starts just outside of Marblehead, MA (near Boston) and runs 260 miles across the open ocean of the Gulf of Maine before rounding Brazil Rock (a shoal off the southern tip of Nova Scotia) and heading 105 miles up the rugged – and often foggy – Nova Scotia coastline to Halifax.

One of the things that make this ocean race unique are the fast currents that flow around the tip of Nova Scotia and into the Bay of Fundy which is home to one of the largest tidal ranges in the world – up to 54 feet! Miscalculate the tides around Brazil Rock and a boat can find itself being swiftly sucked up into the Bay, bringing a quick end to the race.

martin at helm

Martin at the helm with a warm cup of hot chocolate

This race was several years in the wishing stage for me, and I was very excited to finally make it to Marblehead this year for the start of this classic ocean race. Adding to the excitement was having my younger brother, Martin join me after many years of inviting him on my various ocean sails. Although not a sailor, he is an avid adventurer, spending many years sea kayaking and hiking on the coast of British Columbia. Also racing with Sedna was Susan Paul and Owen McDermott.

The weather forecast on the day of the race looked generally good with fair winds and clear skies expected for most of the ocean crossing. The only concern was that the winds were expected to eventually turn light to variable which added to the stress of navigation and tactics. Following the rhumb line from Marblehead to Brazil Rock is the shortest course, but if the wind dies and the current begins to flow into the Bay of Fundy, then we could get quickly swept up into the Bay, and it’s race over. If we head further south, it adds extra distance to the race, but lessens the chance of being swept into the Bay of Fundy.

All in all, it was a great trip across the Gulf of Maine with clear skies day and night. What made the trip particularly spectacular was all the aquatic wildlife we saw. Dolphins, whales and sunfish were in abundance, and at one point my brother and I counted at least eight whales in a 15 minute span. What a beautiful sight!

whale2 whale1

Basking shark Dolphins

sunfishThe award for the most unusual or unique sight though, goes to the giant ocean sunfish. Prior to actually seeing these fish, we would often see fins break the surface and appear to lazily wave at us. Not seeing ocean sunfish before, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say I was quite surprised at how odd they looked. These sunfish were between five and six feet long and it seemed as if half of their body was missing after the dorsal fin. The one pictured came up to within 10 feet of the boat and just hung around with us for about half an hour.

As we approached the southern tip of Nova Scotia  the fog began to build and before too long, we were surrounded by what could only be described as pea soup fog. At times it was even a challenge to see the bow of the boat. Adding to the stress, we had to pass through a fishing fleet off of Cape Sable and only a few of the boats showed up on AIS (Automatic Identification System). The others had to be found with radar. Fishing boats do not often trawl in a straight line, but instead make a series of turns which make it a challenge to avoid.

Despite the fog and cold, it was a good 110 mile run up the southern coast of Nova Scotia with southerly winds of around 15-20 knots and four foot swells. As we approached Halifax Harbor during the night the fog finally lifted, unfortunately, the wind also died just 10 miles from the finish line. With 3-4 foot swells left over from earlier and no wind, the boat rocked from side to side with the sails either hanging listlessly or banging to and fro every time the boat was rocked by a wave.

Feeling frustrated by the lack of progress we were making to the finish line, I decided to try to use my spinnaker in the light to non-existent winds. That was a bad mistake!! After hoisting it from the pitching bow, the boat rocked again and wrapped the spinnaker around the jib and forestay. Another roll and a puff of wind to partially fill the spinnaker and it wrapped around again even tighter. Ugh!!! It took 45 minutes and having to cut the dousing line to finally free it. But, what a relief to see the spinnaker finally drop down to the deck!

The rest of the night and next morning was a painful crawl to the finish line as the wind remained light and the current began to reverse its flow, threatening to sweep us back out to sea. But, we persevered and finally crossed the line after 365 miles racing across the open ocean and up the foggy, rugged coast of Nova Scotia.

Sedna Approaching the Finish

Sedna slowly approaching the finish line on glassy seas

watermelon salad

Watermelon Caprese Salad

P.S. Having the distinction of being the last boat to cross the line, Sedna was the proud “winner” of the ‘prestigious’ Cook’s Plate. This trophy is presumably given to the last boat to finish as the cook on board has to work the longest. When asked if I was happy to receive this award I answered unequivocally “Yes!” It was my first Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race, a race I have wanted to participate in for many many years, and I had not only successfully completed it without ending up in the Bay of Fundy, but had done it with my younger brother, Martin.

Sedna at RNSYS

Sedna and Suntex Racing at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron

Annapolis to Newport Race

Suntex flagI was really excited to be back in Annapolis for the start of the Annapolis to Newport race. I find the city a vibrant, exciting place with a long history steeped in maritime tradition. Sailing seems to be a passion here and it vies to be the sailing capital of the U.S. Along with my regular crew, Paul, Susan and Amir, we invited some of the tenants from Liberty Landing Marina to sail with us on this iconic North American ocean race. Joining us were Marcus Ansell, Jeremy Nash and Moochie Corrado, all avid sailors keen to try their hand at sailing/racing on the open ocean.

Amir the RockstarFor this race I’m thankful for my sponsors who have been very supportive this season. Suntex Marinas was helpful in getting the boat ready for the race back at Liberty Landing Marina, its flagship property, and Liberty House Restaurant, part of Landmark Hospitality, provided some delicious veal and portobello mushroom meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy for some of our meals (there was so much delicious meatloaf!). I should add that Amir was a rock star in the galley. Even when the boat was heeled (leaned) over 25-30 degrees, he was happily preparing meals for everybody.

On the day of the race start, the weather forecast looked good with 15-20 knots out of the northeast. This would make for a great 120-mile run down the Chesapeake from the start off Annapolis to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Norfolk, Virginia. This year the race was set up with two race starts on separate days, the performance cruising boats started on Thursday, while the faster racing boats (like the 80-ft maxi, Donnybrook) started on Friday. The Thursday start was also different this year in that roughly 30 boats would all be starting at the same time. That made for a very exciting start, with all the boats tacking (turning) very close to each other trying to position themselves for a quick start at the front of the pack.

Spinnaker Run down the Chesapeake We had a good start and with the spinnaker flying and were quickly sailing south towards the mouth of the Chesapeake, making over 8 knots at times. There were some challenges sailing in the Chesapeake, besides helming at night without the moon or stars or other external visual references to steer towards. The first challenge is the timing and location of currents which could significantly reduce our boat speed if miscalculated. Second, is the heavy commercial shipping traffic (tugs and barges, freighters, tankers, etc) which need to be avoided. These ships travel quickly through the shipping channels and you do not want to be crossing closely in front of them! Third, are the fish traps – some marked on charts, others not – which are a hazard at night. The fish traps are a series of poles with nets stretched between them, often without working lights to show their location. You do not want to get caught up in these!

In spite of those challenges, we safely and quickly navigated down the Chesapeake and by 0600 Friday morning we crossed the Bay Bridge Tunnel in fog and headed out into the open ocean for the next part of the race – a 330-mile beat (upwind sailing) to Newport.

Weather Forecast in GRIB FormatBefore we were out of cell phone range from land I grabbed the latest weather forecast, and that forecast was not good! The new forecast called for 26-32 knot winds right on the nose with 10-15 foot seas by Saturday night. Because it would be on the nose, it would be a rough, rough pounding in the waves with apparent winds in the 35-40 knot range. To put it mildly, that would not be pleasant.  In reviewing the forecast, the winds did look lighter if we stayed closer to land but that would add extra miles to the route. Deciding to put the safety of crew and boat first, I opted for the longer, but safer route closer to shore.

However, before we headed on our new route to Newport, we had a nice surprise waiting for us. Shortly after we rounded a navigational aid which marked the turn to Newport eight miles offshore, Susan, who was at the helm, shouted that the boat had suddenly stopped! I ran up from down below wondering if we had grounded or got caught in a fishing net. We hadn’t grounded as we were in 45 feet of water, and I couldn’t see fishing nets under the boat, so that didn’t appear to be the cause. Then Amir noticed that the anchor had dropped and was holding us fast! Apparently the force of the waves crashing against the bow had knocked the pin holding the anchor out. And, because I had forgotten to ensure it was lashed down (big learning experience for me!) the anchor was free to drop with all 220 feet of chain and rode running out.

It was a tense half hour, as Amir and Paul struggled to bring the anchor back onto the boat. In the middle of raising the anchor, another sailboat, one of our competitors, emerged out of the fog and heading toward us.  Fortunately, the crew saw us and quickly changed their heading. They must have wondered what we were doing with our sails up but going nowhere! The rest of the day was uneventful as we settled down into our watches, and continued our race towards Newport.

Saturday was a mixed day. It started out with more fog and just a light breeze. Eventually the wind picked up as thunderstorms built up around us. Fortunately, the storms passed on both sides of us, saving us from strong squall conditions. I found out after the race, that some boats which went further east were hit with +50 knot winds, and one boat was knocked down (mast in the water) and had its hard dodger ripped off by the strong gusts! Several others had their mainsails ripped by the winds.

Jeremy FishingWe had another small adventure – this time positive – on Saturday when Jeremy decided to try his hand at fishing. It didn’t take long, and within fifteen minutes he proudly caught a fish, the first time one was landed on my boat.

By 1830 on Saturday, the clouds cleared and the late setting sun came out, promising a clear night full of stars. This was a nice change from the previous nights of dark skies and constant fog and mist, water dripping off our eyebrows.

Sunrise at SeaThe rest of the race to Newport was smooth sailing and everybody was happy to have a watch under the beautiful night sky with the stars shining brightly overhead. The rising moon late at night was also a stunning sight as it slowly lifted above the horizon. It also helped that we had some delicious left over meatloaf sandwiches to enjoy during the wee hours of the morning! Thanks again to Ken Trickilo, the executive chef at Liberty House Restaurant. The early morning sunrises were also a sight to behold.

During the following two days, we were fortunate to see dolphins and sea turtles swimming around us. We even passed a few large Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish. One sight that caught those of us up on deck by surprise, was a picnic table floating leisurely far from land with a bird perched on it as if waiting for crumbs.

Race Finish at Castle Hill LightRounding Block Island, all the crew came up on deck for the last sail into Newport and the finish off Castle Hill Light. It was an exciting time to finally cross the line after 460-miles and the crew burst out in loud cheers!

Four and a half days with seven sleep-deprived people on a small boat, sounds like a recipe for conflicts and short tempers. But, that was not at all the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite, and I was very happy with the camaraderie and the positive attitude had by all. I hope everyone came away with a sense of wonder and excitement that ocean sailing/racing can bring.

P.S. – It was sad news to hear that a great, kind person and excellent sailor at Liberty Landing Marina, passed away shortly after we returned. Seymour Friedel will be warmly remembered for the smile he brought to our hearts and the joy he had for being on the water.

Another Racer in the Distance

(click here to see more photos)

Sedna at race start

Ocean Racing For All

Sedna submarinePeople sometimes joke that with my Hunter 45cc, I have a “racing condo.” To an extent, that’s true. It is a fast, mid-price production boat loaded down with all the creature comforts which many people look for in a boat. That includes  a comfortable layout with wonderful dockside amenities which include air conditioning, a couple large flat screen TVs, stereo, microwave, espresso machine and more. It really does feel like an apartment (albeit, NYC-sized) on the water. Yet, I like to race Sedna and show sailboat owners that getting out and racing on the open ocean is attainable for many people with standard production boats, it’s not just for specialized racing boats. Granted, there is some preparation that is important for getting one’s boat and crew ready for offshore sailing/racing but it is easily achievable and well worth the effort.

bird2The excitement and sense of adventure that sailing on the open ocean brings can be so rewarding! I always smile when one of my crew experience something new. dolphinsWhether it is a crystal clear night with the stars shining in abundance without the glare of city lights, the golden glow of the sun slowly rising above the horizon at dawn, seeing whales, dolphins and sea turtles swimming alongside the boat, or bio-luminescence glowing in the water during the night watch, it’s moments like those that are cherished.

In getting the boat ready for the upcoming Annapolis to Newport Race, I worked with the service yard at Liberty Landing Marina, Suntex Marina’s flagship marina. I was very happy with how quickly Dan the service manager arranged to have someone down to my boat to troubleshoot issues. Chuck from service was able to find the source of new house batteries not charging, a great relief before we left on a 800 mile round trip sail. The service yard was also quite helpful in getting the rig checked before the race.

All too soon, it’s time to head to Annapolis for the start of the race, where we will be proudly flying the Suntex Marina flag. Check back for an upcoming post detailing the excitement of the Annapolis to Newport Race.

Greg helm

Finally Home after 11,000 Miles

Sailing under the Verazzano Bridge and seeing the Manhattan skyline in the distance was a very welcome and happy sight after racing over 11,000 miles and half-way around the world.  It was a grueling ocean race from China across the cold North Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, and then down the Central American coast, through the Panama Canal and finally up to New York.  Granted, the last part of the race was not as grueling as clawing our way across the storm-tossed North Pacific, but it was nonetheless tiring.  Sleeping only 2 1/2 hours at a time does wear the mind and body down.

The final part of the race from Colón on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal to my home in New York was marked by a series of great moments and frustrating disappointments.  To sail through the Caribbean trade winds with consistent breezes day after day was a welcome relief after having no wind on our way down the Pacific side of Central America.  The seas were abundant with dolphins and whales and it was with constant pleasure that I watched these creatures gracefully play and swim around us.

However, there were also days of little wind or finding ourselves becalmed. It was very frustrating winding our way through the islands of the Bahamas and bobbing like a cork in a lake as we waited for the wind to fill in.  One of the most beautiful sights on the last part of the race that I witnessed was just before we crossed the finish line.  As we were sailing off the New Jersey coast, we were treated to a pod of pilot whales leisurely passing within 30 feet of our boat.  Such a beautiful sight!

My not-so-luxurious bunk

Now, after spending some time back on land, there are numerous thoughts that have gone through my head as I look back on my adventure, and it has taken some time to settle back into some degree of normalcy.  Initially, settling into home with a comfortable bed and a full night of sleep felt strange after spending three months at sea on a bunk barely three feet wide while being lucky to find sleep for just a few hours at a time.

Gone is the pain and agony of spending a month battling up the Japanese coast and crossing the North Pacific Ocean.  Now, it is replaced by a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Even though injured (lower lumbar sprain) during that part of the race, it was an experience that I would contemplate repeating again.  Albeit, next time I would make sure I am properly in shape with a strong focus on building the core and back muscles.  I also learned that finger strength is very important in grabbing and pulling down the yankee (head sail) when it is wildly flogging in 25-40 knots of wind.

Learning to coexist with 18 other people in a ‘small’ cramped environment has taught me a lot about tolerance and putting things into perspective.  Petty personal frictions (which were seldom) are not at all important when you are working together as a crew to safely race either in storm-tossed seas in the middle of an ink black night, or during windless days under the hot tropical sun.  All of us had the same goal, if different perspectives.  When I did feel myself becoming frustrated with crew members for what I perceived as their ‘short-comings’, it was a struggle to remind myself to be more compassionate.  These were useful ‘teaching moments’ for me and a great exercise to try to show more wisdom and compassion, two qualities I’m trying harder to develop in myself.

One of the many highlights of the adventure was standing at the coffee grinder (a large pedestal winch) trimming sails  while Sarah would read poetry or Chantal would recite sonnets from memory as the stars sparkled overhead.  Each of the crew members had qualities that I admired, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to sail and develop relationships with all of them.

You also learn a lot about yourself when you think you are at the limit of your endurance.  Your muscles burn from exhaustion, your mind is in a sleep-deprived fog and you just want to give up, curl up in a ball and sleep.  But you cannot.  There are only four of you on the wildly-pitching foredeck, the winds are building above 40 knots and the sail has to come down.  There is simply no other option, so you reach down somewhere deep inside and find the will to power through.  You learn to focus on the task immediately at hand, and just take it moment by moment.  No thoughts for hands that are cramping up, for fingernails torn off, for arms that are past the point of burning up.  No thoughts for the future, not even 15 minutes ahead.  Just focus on the now, and the wildly flogging sail in front of you.  Eventually, the sail comes down and you crawl slowly back to the cockpit, throwing up along the way.

Even through the exhaustion and fog, it takes extra effort to concentrate on just the simple tasks, and not doing so can be life-endangering.  There were a couple times, when I found myself unclipping my safety tether from one jack line (safety line running down both sides of the boat) to clip onto another on the other side of the boat.  Instead, I found that I had unclipped the safety tether from myself and had connected both to the same jack line.  Those were sobering moments.  If the boat were to unexpectedly roll, or a wave(s) were to wash down the deck, I would end up over the side of the boat.  That taught me to – no matter how tired or exhausted – take the time to think through what you are doing, and ALWAYS keeping safety in the forefront.

Indeed, that stood me in good stead another time when I was moving across the deck and asked a crewmate to unclip me from the high side of the boat so I could clip onto the lower side.  Just as he unclipped me, passed that end of the tether to me, and I was set to clip in, the boat rolled and I found myself summersaulting towards, then partially over the rail of the boat. What saved me from going overboard was the old adage, “one hand for the boat, one hand for yourself.”  I had held onto the jack line with one hand, while I was unclipped from the boat during the brief moment of transition. It was that one hand holding on to the jack line while my body was tumbling, which kept me on the boat.

What do I not miss from the experience?  The roar of the angry sea breaking unseen around the boat and the howl of the wind through the rigging during the middle of a fierce Pacific storm.  Having waves washing me down the deck like a little puppet and being folded around winches along the way.  Unable to find sleep as you’re constantly airborne and repeatedly slammed down into your bunk when the boat is beating (heading upwind) into heavy seas.  Trying to sleep in the equatorial heat as the inside of the boat is turned into an oven.  Some of the meals that were hopelessly boiled beyond recognition (having said that, people’s ‘right thoughts, right efforts’ were there, so you cannot fault them for that 😉 ).

I think the adventure also helped to remind me of what I find important in life.  Although I do appreciate my career and the success I’ve had over the years, it is not what defines me.  Without wanting to sound cliché, I’ve relearned how to live in – and appreciate – the moment.  Just sitting there and watching a humpback whale rise majestically out of the water as it breaches, is a magical experience.  No thoughts running through the mind, only capturing the beauty as it unfolds.  Or, watching meteors streaking across the sky at night – and smiling inside. Or, the numerous other times in which I was glad to be experiencing life at that moment.  Now, if I can just take those experiences and try to find satori in daily life back on land.

Like the race, life is truly a journey, and I look forward to enjoying and appreciating each day that it brings …

Caribbean Bound

And we’re off! At least we were, in the beginning…

After days of waiting around in Colon, Panama for one of the boats to have their gearbox fixed and eventually replaced (hand delivered as pieces in check-on luggage as the other one express mailed was held up in customs) we slipped lines in the early evening. Our goal was to motor through the night until mid-day (roughly 100 miles) in order to pick up the beginning of the trades. The reason for this was that there tends to be little wind on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.

The other boat finally caught up to us by early evening and with fair winds the race officially got underway with a LeMans start. It’s always exciting starting a race, particularly with a LeMans start. For those that are not familiar with a LeMans start, it is one in which all boats are lined up sailing with the mainsail up and all crew waiting behind a certain point on the boats (in our case, the coffee grinder). As soon as the start signal is given, the crews race forward to raise the headsails. Needless to say, those boats in which the headsails are raised and trimmed the quickest, have the advantage. Our first scoring gate or waypoint was 738 miles from the Panama Canal in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispanola.

We had a great start, with the crew working quickly to raise our Yankee in record time! It was also exciting to be sailing again with the trade winds and the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Brisk 17 knot true and 25 apparent winds (the additional wind from the boats forward motion sailing into the wind) and 6-8 ft swells made for some fast sailing. Unfortunately, during a sail change our Yankee 1 was nearly washed overboard, acting as a drogue or sea anchor and slowing our progress as we struggled to bring it back on deck. Finally, with 10 of us pulling for a good half hour, we were able to bring it up on deck with only a small tear on the sail and 3 stanchions (posts on the side of the boat to hold the guard rails) broken. Next time, we need to make sure that as soon as the one sail is dropped, it is properly lashed and brought on the upwind side of the boat.

Unfortunately, the winds did not hold very long and by day 3 they had already begun to ease. Nevertheless, still being in 3rd place helped keep us motivated. I think the crew is very motivated to have a podium finish on this race, and I know I am! After our 2nd place win crossing the North Pacific Ocean, it would be very exciting for me to arrive home with a 1st or 2nd place finish! Then again 3rd would be fine as well. Actually, just the opportunity to race from San Francisco, through the Panama Canal to New York is a wonderful opportunity that I am very grateful for 🙂

Day 4 was, I have to admit, a depressing day. The winds kept getting lighter and lighter and despite multiple sail changes (from Yankee 2 to medium-weight spinnaker, to light-weight spinnaker, to wind-seeker, to Yankee 1) we kept on seeing our boat speed dropping. The biggest fear I had, was after all that hard work in which we had climbed up to 2nd place, finding ourselves in a wind-hole could quickly land us at the back of the pack. Fortunately, it looked like the other boats were experiencing the same weather pattern as we were.

At one point, we could see 7 other boats around us which is very unusual after 4 days of racing. Normally by that time, there tends to be quite a spread between the boats as each have their own opinion of where the better winds are. I think that the one difference here, is that in the Caribbean, the trade winds are pretty consistent. 17-20 knots of winds, with gusts up to 25 and wind direction of 90 degrees, plus or minus 10 degrees.

The end of day 4 saw us in a neck-to-neck race for 2nd with Derry Londonderry and De Lage Landen with Gold Coast Australia within closing distance. It was a nail-biting time as we were only 60 miles from the scoring gate. Adding to the tension, was our boat speed which at times dropped down to only 2 knots! At least, DL and DLL were experiencing the same lack of wind. Nevertheless, frustrating to say the least!!!

Today, I am starting my mother watch for 24 hours, cooking and cleaning for the crew, but at least I was able to wake up this morning to us taking 3rd place through the scoring gate. Now, New York awaits!

A Frustrating Finish

The last few days were frustrating to say the least. With barely a whisper of wind, there were times that we were lucky to make one knot at times as we sailed down the southern coast of Mexico. Wind was definitely the one thing that was in short supply. In abundance were sunny skies and very hot temperatures. In the morning, the temperature quickly heats up to 38 degrees Celsius (can you change this to Fahrenheit) in the shade. Grinding and trimming the spinnaker in the sun was even worse. The water temperature is also hot at around 36 degrees (also in Fahrenheit please 🙂 ) so there is little respite at night.

At one point, we had dropped to 10th place as we struggled to find wind. However, without wind to fill the sails, there was little we could do but wait it out with fingers tapping on the deck in impatience. Finally, yesterday (April 29th) the wind picked up and we were able to move again, making at times seven knots, which helped improve morale considerably. Unfortunately, the joy was relatively short-lived, as the race was called early due to the lack of wind. As a result, although we were climbing back up the leaderboards, we ended up finished seventh on this race. Ah well, at least it wasn’t 10th.

Now we have roughly six days of motor sailing to reach the canal and wait for our slot to transit. In the meantime, the time will be spent doing repairs, deep cleaning the boat, and other miscellaneous tasks. Also, there is a promised swim later today which everyone is very much looking forward to! I will also continue to keep an eye out for marine wildlife as well. So far, the whale count is up to nine. And, dolphins too numerous at times to count. As always enjoyable to see are the birds resting on top of turtles.

Cruising down Baha Way

After our spinnaker wrap a little while ago and the acrobatics of two crew members up the rigging and the rest of us twisting and pulling and tugging down below, we managed to free it after nine grueling hours. Unfortunately, that cost us dearly in the race standings as we quickly fell to ninth position. Although that was at first disheartening, we remembered that this is an ocean race with thousands of miles yet to sail. And, as we leave Baha California behind us, it will be, to a large extent, a game of luck.

The wind has died down considerably and is expected to be very light to calm as we sail down the remaining coast of Mexico and Central America. I wish I could say that there is some strategy to finding the stronger wind patches, but in reality the GRIB (weather data) files shows a very large area of calm conditions for the next 96 hours. It will likely be a matter of luck as to which boats have some semblance of wind and which could end up being becalmed for hours if not days at a time. If we are fortunate in keeping our wind while others lose theirs, then we could move relatively quickly up the race standings. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed.

Although we haven’t seen as much wildlife as I had hoped for, we were treated to a special treat the other day as a pod of perhaps six pilot whales leisurely passed within 30 feet of our boat. It was another reminder of the beauty that can be found out in and on the ocean hundreds of miles from land. It is for us to see and appreciate. In addition to the pod, I also spotted a large whale about a hundred yards away as it cruised along the surface occasionally sending jets of water up in the air from its breathing hole. I wasn’t sure the type of whale, but the visible part of its back was 30-40 ft long.

The other common sighting of late has been rather comical. We have been seeing quite a few birds seemingly standing on the water. As we draw closer, they mystery was clarified. The birds were standing on the back of turtles with seemingly not a care in the world (for both). An interesting relationship 🙂

Today is April 25th and the past few days have been ones of baking heat and at times becalmed conditions with the ocean looking like a large pond with nary a ripple on it. There is even little relief at night as the ocean temperature is 34 degrees Celsius, providing little cooling at night. And, with no wind even having the hatches open does little to cool the sleeping area down below.

Trying to sail in these light conditions can be extremely challenging. On one watch, we raised our yankee, dropped our light-weight spinnaker, raised the wind seeker, dropped the yankee, raised the yankee, dropped the windseeker, and changed the yankee to another one. All to little avail.

Looking over the side, the squids were swimming faster than we were.

Our hopes did finally pick up last night as the wind filled in moderately (8-11 knots) enabling us to make 7-9 knots towards the first finishing gate with the lightweight spinnaker flying as a large code zero (light-weight reaching sail).

Initially, the race committee had set three finishing gates beginning from off of Acapulco down to Panama in case the wind does not cooperate. At this point, it looks like the race may be called soon as we have a deadline to transit the Panama Canal and it is still a good 1,500 miles away. But, we are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping we can move up more in the race standings before the race ends. As I write this, we are currently in 7th now and we hope to move up into 5th or better on this portion of the race. Time will tell…