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Oregon Offshore 2011 Race Report

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  • Oregon Offshore 2011 Race Report

    Trying for the elapsed time record..!

    The Oregon Offshore is the longest offshore race in the Pacific Northwest, running 193 nm from Astoria Buoy #2 up along the Washington coast, to Cape Flattery and into the Straits of Juan de Fuca to finish at Victoria B.C. The race is a feeder race for Portland boats headed to Swiftsure or for Summer-time cruising in the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and occasionally also draws participants from Puget Sound. Because the race is so long, it starts on Thursday with a time limit around 70 hours to allow all boats a chance to finish before the weekend is up.

    I sailed the race on the Portland-based sled ‘Rage’, owned by Steve Rander. The boat sails the race almost every year, and owns the current elapsed-time record for the Oregon Offshore, at just over 19 hours. We congregated in Astoria and hatched our plans. Participation for the race was slightly up this year, with 20 boats signed up, a good showing for an event as long and challenging as this! This year the forecasts leading up to race day started solidifying several days in advance. It was extremely unusual: it promised a spinnaker run up the coast! (Normal conditions for Oregon Offshore are a beat up the coast and a run down the Straits.)

    THU...S WIND 10 TO 20 KT. WIND WAVES 2 TO 4 FT.

    On Rage we were getting excited, as this forecast would play to Rage’s strengths. As with any weather forecast around here, it’s really hard to really believe it until one sees it, but it was very promising. Wed evening at the crew dinner, the crew made predictions on what time Rage would round the turn mark, Dunse Rock buoy off Cape Flattery. The range was 6pm Thurs to 3:30am Friday, but most folks thought we would round before midnight. Now we had to make it happen!

    Thursday morning found us going out to the 9:00am start in a 15 knot S’ly, just as predicted. Nearer to land there was an E component to the wind but at the start it was blowing pretty much due S. The RC boat was a bit late for the start and flew an AP flag briefly, but got the starts off in decent order a short time later. 30 minutes after the start, perhaps what will become one of the most infamous incidents in Oregon Offshore history occurred: a small humpback whale, perhaps 30 feet in length, breached next to and directly into the racing yacht L’Orca, while they were sailing under spinnaker, and destroyed the yacht’s mast, rigging, lifelines, toe-rail, and caused extensive damage. No one was injured! On Rage we heard the VHF radio calls for help, but L’Orca was quite diplomatic on the radio, only indicating “rigging problems”, so we only found out the details later. Several other racers stood by to assist, and the mast and rigging had to be cut away, but L’Orca still had a functioning engine and was finally towed into Astoria by the Coast Guard, who had been standing by at the start. (She later proceeded back up-river to Portland under her own power.)

    Details Here:

    On Rage we stuck to our game plan, heading offshore on port gybe. Since it was the majority board, and since it was forecast to be SW further offshore, we didn’t see any reason to stay near the coast. Rage was initially sailing a steady 13-15 knots under masthead 3/4oz spinnaker, but the wind built as the day progressed. We only rounded up mildly once or twice throughout the afternoon, but around mid-afternoon we encountered the first of several intense squalls. During this squall, the combination of W swell and serious increase in wind velocity caused Rage a very serious round-up, and the boat did not come up even with all sheets eased. In a series of unfortunate events, the halyard was mistakenly blown and the kite dropped into the water next to, then under the boat! It took about 30 minutes and ultimately a knife to free the boat from her predicament, and back to sailing. The crew is a group of seasoned sailors and once the pieces of the damaged spinnaker were below, we launched the fractional 3/4oz spinnaker and continued on port gybe.

    The second intense squall overcame us perhaps an hour later, but this time it was manageable, just barely, with the fractional kite. We saw some sustained boatspeeds in the 19 knot range with surfs to 22.5 knots during this squall. After the squall, we continued offshore in what turned into very nice afternoon very fast sailing. By this time any doubt that we would enter the Straits during the daylight was fading, and while we were already 30 miles offshore, we started thinking about our gybe angles and when we would actually be able to lay Dunse Rock. It was going to be pretty soon, but the breeze was on and no one thought it was a good idea to try to gybe the boat at that moment. We were going to wait for a lull and try a full standing gybe before doing a letterbox-and-reset.

    A short time later, a leeward collapse led to the spinnker wrapping itself around the forestay! Ug! This became a very serious problem, as the spinnaker was only wrapped on the very top, and very bottom of the stay, with the body of the kite free and drawing - a danger to the forestay and therefore the rig. We tried all our tricks to unwrap it, and during this process we started to suspect that the halyard was also jammed at the top of the mast, as the kite wasn’t coming down with a few feet of halyard ease. Uh oh. One of our tricks to unwrap spinnakers is to gybe onto the opposite board, drive deep, and let the kite unwrap itself. There were few other options short of cutting the kite away now, with the current sea state and wind strength, and this worked out this time: the kite eventually unwrapped itself – quite suddenly - and presto! we were now on Starb’d gybe! Whew!! Once on the new board it became obvious we were going to have to sail very hot gybe angle to get to Neah Bay, now only 25 miles away. After another hour, the wind was going more and more SE’ly, and it was blowing E at Tatoosh Island inside the Straits so we knew this was not local. We had to get rid of this kite and soon!

    We were not sure the kite wasn’t going to come down on its own from earlier experience, but we were willing to try a letterbox. If it worked, it worked. If it didn’t, the kite was in the lee of the main and it would be the safest option. So I blew the tack and….it didn’t work. The kite wasn’t going anywhere, least of all down. So while we wrapped it up and pulled it taught against the back of the main, I went up the mast and transferred halyards. The spinnaker halyard cover had buggered a bit and was preventing the halyard from running free. But on the new halyard we completed the letterbox drop, hoisted the #4 jib, and began what turned into a monster jib reach at 21 knots sustained into the Straits of Juan de Fuca! It was 8:30pm, and there was now no doubt, none, that we were rounding the mark with daylight. As if to celebrate, humpback whales breached three times off out starboard, several hundred yards away! Awesome spectacle! No one on Rage had ever been up the coast this fast before! We rounded Dunse Rock at 9:28pm and powered into the Straits, aiming for the Canadian shore. It was slack current at 9:30pm followed by an ebb, and we knew from the weather radio that while it was SE here and blowing more E’ly up the West coast of Vancouver Is, it was still blowing W at Sherringham and at Race Rocks! If we were lucky we would transition into the dying W’ly and still get down the Straits, out of the ebb, and some good distance before it went E. It would mean breaking the record. Rage has gone from Cape Flattery to Victoria in 3 hours in the past. It was doable!

    Rage ragin' video.


    It had taken us 12 hours to go 150 miles up the coast. It would take the next 18 hours to get the 45 miles down the Straits. Now, mentally it’s a bit of a relief going from somewhat dramatic heavy-air sailing to relatively light-air sailing. And that’s certainly the more comfortable and safe option in the darkness. But no one really wants to bob around doing 0.00 for hours, drop anchor to avoid getting swept backwards, or look for those special tidal currents to keep the boat going 1 knot in the right direction. That gets very old. No one had really slept and sleepy sailors are not speedy sailors. But like it or not, that was what made up the entire night, and into the next morning. One watch went down 5 miles from Sherringham, and came up…5 miles from Sherringham. We drifted past Sherringham light, 30 feet away from the rocks it guards, in an eddy that took us over crab pots while we had no steerage. All this time, we were dreading that the rest of the fleet had breeze while we parked, and catching up. Finally we saw something out in the middle, and I went up the mast and saw the filling Easterly out in the Strait, filling from the S and E. We checked the currents and found that the flood was soon to start, so we went for it! To get to it we had to tack and launch a light-air spinnaker, the Frankenkite, sailing some very negative and ugly VMG for a while.
    It was worth it. Once in the wind, it was a solid 11-15 knot SE’ly, filtering down the Straits. We worked out way into the building pressure and soon, and for the first time in over 12 hours, were again doing 10+ knots towards the finish, now close hauled! The pressure and the flood held through Race Passage, and here we knew we had one tricky race leg left; the last 9 miles to the finish are notorious for light air and adverse current. The flood was also soon finished, followed by a strong ebb we had no desire to contend with. This last leg was quite touch-and-go in rapidly diminishing conditions; flying the light-air masthead kite kept us moving and there was enough residual pressure to bring us to the finish with a few gybes. Rage finished the 2011 Oregon Offshore First to Finish, and now we cleaned up the boat, dried out the gear, and began the waiting to see how the other boats behind us would fare!

    Almost a full day later (Rage owes some boats over 12 hours corrected time!) it seems Rage is first in class A, and fourth overall! The winners this year include Bums Rush, Wy’East, and California Girl! Congratulations to all the participants of the 2011 Oregon Offshore!

  • #2
    Nice report. Is Rage doing Swiftsure?
    Anacortes Rigging and Yacht Services


    • #3
      Yes, long course.


      • #4
        Terrific write up!



        • #5
          A little disorganization goes a long way toward fun sailing.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Ballard Sailor View Post

            " 92 Nauts Per Hour, A new California Record...Not even Stan Honey did that"

            ...Interestingly, in the midst of transcribing an interview we did with Stan a few weeks ago...forwarded url to Stan...he'll love it...

            ...thanks guys!
            " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella"

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