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Condors First Fight Part 1

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  • Condors First Fight Part 1

    California Condors 1st Flight: The 2010 Pacific Cup

    By Jim Antrim

    Condor in pre-flight mode

    I have often said there are two things you need to do to win the Pacific Cup:

    1) Go the right way
    2) Never let the gas pedal off the floor

    But that is an over-simplification. You also need good preparation; and to have a chance at an overall win, you need luck with the weather - particularly in escaping the California coast. In 2010, the Thursday start, California Condor's division D, drew that lucky card.

    Condor had plenty of breeze at the start

    Then there is the preparation clause. Good preparation means many things and takes a great deal of time for a race of this magnitude. All other entrants in the 2010 Pacific Cup started the process with an advantage over California Condor – they already had a boat. Buzz Blackett is not one to be intimidated by such a trifling matter. We just started with “build the boat” as item number one on the initial “punch list” and set to the task.

    Proximity was one primary reason Buzz chose Berkeley Marine Center as builder; and I must say it was a rare treat to have owner, builder, sailmaker (Pineapple), and designer (Antrim) all within a 20 minute drive circle. We took advantage of that, with weekly meetings between Buzz, Cree Partridge, and myself and frequent meetings with Kame Richards as well. It was an ambitious build schedule and deadlines did slip as they seem to inevitably do in boat building; but by the time of our Pacific Cup start, the boat felt ready. This was in no small part due to Buzz's diligence and hard work. His punch list took on a life on its own, and Buzz spent countless hours at the yard sanding, mounting hardware, and slinging epoxy. Buzz's son David, also a member of our Pacific Cup crew, likewise spent many days working on the boat at the yard. We launched on May 27, and spent the month of June doing test sails, checking systems, tuning instruments, getting measured, provisioning. We were in and out of B.M.C. several times getting things finished and finalized.

    Condor’s profile

    By start day the punch list had shrunk to non-critical things. For example we had a cool keel camera which could be extended to look for kelp on the keel and rudder, or swiveled around to watch dolphins playing in the wake. It wasn't working yet. It would have been nice to have more time on the water, racing and lined up against some competition, or time to optimize the rating. Several of the sails had barely been out of the bag. But the boat felt very solid and very fast, all the important system were working. Our gear, spares, and tools were on board and well thought out. We had a great crew. Aside from Buzz, David, and myself, Liz Baylis and Todd Hedin were aboard. This would be my fifth race to Hawaii with Liz and my fourth with Todd. Last, not least, was foredeck extraordinaire and Pacific Cup veteran Tom Paulling, with whom we had all sailed on Kame's Express 37. ~It's not the size of the website, it's how you use it! ~

  • #2
    Condors 1st Flight PT 2

    Condor’s Crew

    My biggest concern going into the race was our rating. We owed the three Santa Cruz 50s 14 to 26 sec/mile, and the Andrews 56 Delicate Balance 15 sec/mile. Could our 40 foot boat possibly be that fast? Other Class 40s had just been creamed in the Bermuda race under the ORR rating.

    Condor gets a good jump

    Then there were the bizarre weather patterns. There was a massive low frozen south of Alaska and the Pacific High was way north of normal. A small low had been centered almost on top of San Francisco, making for a very slow departure from the coast. The double-hand fleets and divisions A-C were tacking north, trying to get to the gradient wind, and making very slow progress. One of our pre-start Expedition routing runs advised us to hug the coast all the way north to Point Arena before heading west! But as the hours before our start clicked away a window of opportunity began to form, and it looked like the Thursday start might escape the coast relatively unscathed. Expedition still had us tacking a bit north; but my instinct was to head almost due west, a little south of the predicted optimum course; which would put us in better position if the high popped into normal position and would play to our reaching strength vs the rest of our class. Furthermore, we suspected that the high wasn't quite as far north as the GRIB files and weather maps indicated. The wind we experienced (slightly backed from the predicted direction), and the barometric pressure we measured (slightly higher than the predicted isobars) seemed to confirm our suspicion.

    Finally, the start gun, and California Condor's first race has begun! We are under the Golden Gate and off. It is waterline conditions; but we are hanging in pretty well with the SC50s, in fact we have Hula Girl in sight just in front of us all through Thursday night and Friday. All the other boats tack to the north. We lose sight of Hula Girl Friday night; but on Saturday morning there she is on the horizon in front, both of us flying spinnakers. California Condor has her small fractional kite up and one of the two starboard water ballast tanks full. We are ripping. Four hours later Hula Girl is disappearing from sight off our transom. Can we sail to this rating? In the right conditions, hell yes! We're hitting 20 knots on occasion, but average speed is what wins races and we are doing steady 14+.

    Built for Speed, Condo rips out the Gate

    It is still a power spinnaker reach because we are as far south as I dare to go with the current weather. Lighter air and holes to be avoided to the south for the next couple days. In the light spots it feels like we would be faster without the ballast, but the extra stability gives the helmsman more steering range and control. Maybe we should have both tanks full and a masthead kite? Certainly if we were VMG running. We are just learning the boat; but the current setup feels great, very solid and powerful.

    Tom and Buzz enjoying the ride

    And so it went for the next couple days. We have to sail on the hot side to avoid light airs to the south. The boat feels great and we are doing well. We pass the halfway point on Monday, 4 days into the race. It's looking like first to finish is a likelihood. Our lucky start division is 1-7 overall and I'm starting to think we'll be at least in the top 3 on corrected time. That's the kind of hubris that get's you pounded down in life.

    Nantucket sleigh ride

    Tuesday 3:30AM and I'm on the helm as we struggle with a couple botched spinnaker changes. The helm suddenly gets stiff and a flashlight reveals that lower gudgeon on the port (leeward) rudder has broken. The ¼ x 2” stainless steel strap that wraps around the rudder is broken clean through on one side. We pull the rudder on board and go to a jib. Not a big problem. We are still in the race and only half a day away from port jibe layline. Once we jibe the good rudder will be to leeward. We decide to jibe early considering the circumstances.

    A few hours later Liz in on the helm and calls out that something is wrong. By the time I can run to the transom the lower gudgeon has broken completely. This time the strap has broken through on both sides. The rudder is swinging wildly back and forth, hanging only on the upper gudgeon, which is now twisted like a pretzel and all but one bolt through the transom sheared off. We get the sails down and the starboard rudder on board. So ends our hopes for a glorious finish. For the record, I had designed and engineered these gudgeons; and though they were not welded quite the way I intended, I approved the part. I'm taking the fall on this one.

    David steering with droge

    Speaking at recent safety at sea and race preparation seminars, I had been promoting the idea of carrying a drogue and favoring the Jordan series drogue in particular. Didn't really expect to need one; but luckily, we had one on board. The drogue as provided is really sized with a cruising mentality in mind where in a bad storm you want to slow way down, perhaps to go below and suck your thumb. The series drogue is a long dragon tail of small cones. Its intended advantage is that most of the cones are always buried and in a group of waves. A single drogue may vary its drag from trough to peak and runs the risk of it popping out of a wave now and then. A second major advantage of the series concept in my mind is that you can “tune” the drag by reducing the length of the tail and the number of cones. When we first set the full length of the drogue the pull was enormous. We were doing 2-3 knots with jib and staysail set wing and wing; but the pull on the sheets and the drogue bridle was incredible. Once set, you didn't have to steer at all; but the going was very slow and the loads enormous.

    All heads to the task of attaching a rudder

    We set to work over the next few days, experimenting with different sail combinations, trying to increase speed by reducing the length of drogue, and jury rigging one of the rudders. The drogue length we settled on was shorter than ideal, less than ¼ of the full length, which meant that we had to steer constantly and our course was unstable. “Steering” consisted of playing one leg of the drogue bridle while standing at a winch, ease for a starboard turn, crank like mad for a port turn. The boat swung back and forth drunkenly but our speed was up to around 4 knots and on average we were aimed at Oahu. After a couple days of hard work we had a rudder ready to mount, with gudgeons jury rigged from old cracked and broken pieces and spectra lashing. Would it survive a day or a week? Should we mount it now or save it for the final approach to Hawaii? We decided to go for it. Several frustrating and exhausting attempts to mount the rudder ensued over the next few days. As David said at one point, “It takes three men and a forklift to mount this thing in the boatyard.” Not an easy thing in a seaway to mount a precisely aligned blade and get two pins aligned and inserted. Each time we refined our technique, and waited impatiently for the next lull in the wind and seaway.

    One of the sail combinations under drogue

    Finally after about 4 days on the drogue, the wind lightened again, we dropped the sails, and all hands moved into their prescribed positions for another mounting attempt. “IT'S @$*&^*@*& IN!!!!! The drogue came on board for the last time and the sails back up. Directional stability! Accurate course control! What a concept. But of course the lighter wind that allowed us to mount the thing continued to die, and two days later our progress was as bad as the slowest days under drogue. That was an emotional low point, knowing that our families were now in Hawaii waiting for us. But the repair was was holding without sign of movement, and the wind eventually increased once again.

    Finally on the morning of the 21st, knowing we would arrive that day and having renewed confidence in the repair, we began to discuss finishing the race, rather than sailing directly to the boatyard in Honolulu. It was the right thing to do, and we arrived at the Kaneohe dock that evening right after the Luau ended to an unexpectedly warm welcome. Sometimes in life's journeys your definition of success must change along the way. In this case it was working together as a team, cheerfully, covering for each other when needed, and refocused on a new goal. Mostly success was just getting there.

    Jim Antrim

    You can read more about the California Condor Here and
    Here ~It's not the size of the website, it's how you use it! ~


    • #3
      Great read!

      Thanks Jim!


      • #4
        Tres magnifque'


        • #5
          Originally posted by Charlie Tuna View Post
          Great read!

          Thanks Jim!


          • #6
            The Jury Rig That Could

            Close up images of the jury rig used to limp California Condor into Kanehoe

            All photos courtesy RYC's Seymour Dodds
            " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella"

   Photo Gallery


            • #7
              Great read. We have centered the helm and steered with a makeshift drogue, but never sans rudder.

              May have to borrow an old pintail-gudgeon boat and give it a whirl.

              Thanks Jim!