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Vic-Maui 2010 Wrap-Up Report

by Mark Gray, July 18th, 2010


“Challenge ● Adventure ● Teamwork!” is the Vic-Maui motto. Add to that tales of perseverance and courage, high performance sailing and navigational challenges and you have the recipe for an adrenalin-rush race – Vic-Maui 2010. Regular blogs and emails from most of the fleet allow us to put together a detailed picture.

Looking at the weather picture shaping up in the days before the start, there was a clear sense that this was going to be a fast race, and we weren’t disappointed. This year’s line honors elapsed time of 11d:15h:20m:49s recorded by Scott Burbank’s speedy Riptide 35 Terremoto! ranks in the top third of fastest elapsed times in the history of the race going back to 1968, twenty-two races in all. Terremoto! at a compact 35 feet is by far the smallest boat to win Vic-Maui line honors, and her time ranks up there with elapsed times set in previous races by 50, 60 and even 70-foot sleds. No telling what could have happened if the big guys had come out to play this year!

But of course mixed-fleet racing is about more than line honors and elapsed times. It’s corrected times that count for the standings and our overall winner this year is David Sutcliffe’s Beneteau 47.7 Kinetic, with a corrected time of 10d:23h:01m:19s (elapsed 12d:12h:12m:23s, just twenty-one hours behind Terremoto!) The winner of Class 2 was Chris Hui’s Southern Cross 39 Sonsie, with a corrected time of 11d:19h:38m:37s, good for a third place finish overall. Terremoto! was second in Class 1 with a corrected time of 11d:12h:46m:57s, and Gunnar Jonsson’s C&C 44 Turicum took second place in Class 2 with a corrected time of 12d:11h:08m:56s, sixth place overall.

The 2010 fleet was divided into two classes, with two separate starts. The first start on Thursday, July 1 was for the boats in Class 2, comprising Dan Matthieu’s C&C 39 Black Watch (handicap rating 110), Stuart Briscoe’s Jeanneau Sun Magic 44 Pyreneenne (100), Sonsie (160)and Turicum (89). Two days later on Saturday July 3, the faster boats in Class 1 hit the starting line. Class 1 boats were Pierre Cote’s X One-Ton Delicate Balance (68), Kinetic (58), Jim Innes’ Beneteau 49 Red Sheilla (65), Al Bartlett’s Hunter's Child HC50 Starlight Express (48), and Terremoto!(4).  Both starts got off on time at 10:10 am PDT. Early in the planning for this year’s race, the decision was made to go with a staggered start format to try to get a disparate fleet to the finish line in a smaller time window, reducing the time spent waiting for the wrap-up party in Lahaina. The decision was vindicated as the finish times window was just over two and a half days.

The race began with the usual beat out Juan de Fuca Strait and some of the fleet taking a full day or more to transit Duntze Rock at the western end.  But the excitement started from there. Northerly winds filled in with wind speeds in the 20 knot range, gusting to 30 and 35, with 10-20 foot seas. Reports of fast reaching conditions and boat speeds exceeding 15 knots for some started to come in.

It was now time for the navigators to earn their keep. Not for nothing is Vic-Maui known as a “navigator’s race”. As always in Vic-Maui, the navigator’s choice of the route to sail is the key to the race. The big hurdle to overcome is the North Pacific High, a large region of light or no wind. The High shifts and moves and often sits atop the Great Circle route, the shortest possible distance to cover on the course. The position and expected stability of the Pacific High determines how far south boats will head before turning to the west and Hawaii. It’s always a trade-off and it can be a gamble. Sail close to the Great Circle and shorten the distance, but run the risk of running out of wind; or sail south in good winds but with a longer distance to cover.

The normal route in many previous Vic-Maui races, including particularly the 2008 race, has seen the fleet stay relatively close to shore for a much longer distance, reaching well into California latitudes before making the break toward the west. But 2010 was the year the navigators could roll the dice on a more direct shot at Hawaii. The forecast position and stability of the Pacific High and the resulting wind patterns allowed the fleet to make an early push westward much closer to the Great Circle route. Hunched over their computers, navigators endlessly analyzed the weather GRIBs and ran course optimizations using their tactical navigation software. But in the end, the final call has to be made by human beings, the navigators and skippers. And the gamble paid off.

But trouble lay ahead. Crew injuries, fatigue and gear failure took their toll, with one retirement from the race. We heard inspiring stories of courage and teamwork under adversity.

Terremoto!. Co-owner Susan Burbank broke several ribs in an accidental fall:

It happened quickly on Day 2.  We were changing positions in the cockpit to prepare the boat to be more stable going downwind. The waves were merciless in their pounding on us.  It was cold and very wet.  Susan was sitting on the floor of the cockpit, usually the safest spot.  She was ready to put up the staysail as soon as Skyler got it ready.  As she sat there the boat heeled over about 80 degrees when an unexpected wave slammed into the back of the boat and the rudder came out of the water. As soon as the rudder left the water, the boat immediately leaned over and Susan fell 8 feet straight down on the lower edge of the cockpit.  She was harnessed into the cockpit but the harness is designed to let the wearer move across the cockpit freely.  So, nothing stopped her fall until her left side slammed squarely on the edge of the cockpit.

The crew immediately slowed down the boat and tried to stabilize it in rough conditions. They were able to get Susan below and strap her into a bunk, in obvious pain and having trouble breathing. It turned out that she had broken several ribs. The crew discussed pulling the plug on the race and heading back to the West Coast. But they all agreed to keep racing, with Susan herself being the strongest advocate for continuing on to Maui. The three remaining crew members, Scott, Skyler and Alex, pulled together, standing extra watches through nights of blurry fatigue. Through her pain and discomfort, Susan remained confident, despite an ever-dwindling supply of ibuprofen. By Day 6, she could move around in the cabin enough to help out with below-deck chores, and by Day 10, she was even able to come out on deck in lighter winds.

Delicate Balance. Forced to withdraw from the race on Day 5, Delicate Balance made it safely to San Francisco:

By day 3 we were in 30 knots of wind with gusts a high as 40 and seas had built.  We were sailing fast under reefed main and full jib when the first of many waves swept right over us, dousing the lee berths. We dropped the main and sailed on with just the blade. During the night we were doused several more times, and the furling line on the jib broke, allowing the jib to unfurl. Russ fought it down and called for the storm jib … The first time it happened I was sitting in the floor of the cockpit sheltering from the wind when a huge wave broke over the side, filling the cockpit up to my neck, and totally soaking the inside of my foulies. The companionway was closed so not much went inside, but later we were hit in similar manner with hatch open as crew members went in or out.

A crew conference was held and they decided that on the current course they would never dry out.  The difficult decision was made to withdraw from the race and head to San Francisco.

Black Watch. Crew injury:

I have to admit that First Mate Shawn, (myself) has received the first injury on board. I took a fall against the gangway stairs and speared my hip. I can now say I know exactly how football players feel who take a helmet to the hip. I’m sure that rogue wave that hit us was powered by the entire Seahawk defensive line. It also appears that I have either fractured or dislocated a bone in my foot but it is not giving me as much grief as my hip. Daniel asked me if I wanted to head to a port, and those who know me, know exactly what my response to that was. It will take a lot more than a few bumps and bruises to drag me off this boat.

Kinetic. On July 7, broad reaching in 20+ knots of wind, a spinnaker wrapped around the forestay:

As squalls rolled over the boat and darkness fell, Kinetic bowman Adam Thomson went up the rig in a climbing harness, twice, for a total of almost two hours. On his first trip up the rig, hanging from a halyard, tethered to a standing line, and holding one-handed or two-legged to the wildly gyrating rig by sheer willpower, he succeeded in unwinding and zap-strapping about twelve feet of the top section of sail using one free hand. But all efforts to unwind the majority of the sixty foot tall, sixteen hundred square foot sail proved futile. We lowered Adam back to deck level, discussed a variety of ideas, and decided that the sail would have to be cut down. 

Up the mast Adam went, for the second time. The sail cloth was wound very tightly on the forestay, in many layers, and had to be cut away with a knife held in one hand while hanging onto the forestay with the other hand or an ankle or the crook of a knee, in a variety of contortionist positions dictated by the boat and mast pitching and rolling in the seas and the sail remnants flogging relentlessly in the blustery wind. At times, he was in a vertical, head up position, at other times he was horizontal like a hang-glider pilot. He cut and sawed and sliced and gradually the sail came down in strips … Finally, down to deck level came Adam, exhausted and bruised but otherwise alright …We've given him the rest of the night off.

But not all was adversity. Consistent 200+ nautical mile days were reported by the lead boats. By the half-way point, Terremoto!, leading the pack, had even overhauled the Class 2 boats which had started two days previously, with Kinetic nipping at her heels. Reaching the halfway point is a special time for Vic-Maui racers, calling for some celebration. Most of the boats put on a special halfway dinner featuring a great meal with a little time for revelry. This is often the only time during the race that the entire crew will have the opportunity to share a meal and companionship together, as the watch cycle can keep them on different schedules. With warmer weather as the boats approach Hawaii, the foul weather gear gets stowed and the shorts and T-shirts, as well as sunscreen, get broken out.

Also around the half-way point, the Pacific High was passed and the boats were getting into the Trade Winds. Steady northeasterly winds in the 20’s, with 10-20 foot rolling waves make for a fast ride once the boat gets surfing. Boat speeds of 18+ knots were reported by Terremoto!: “What an awesome ride!” and Turicum, a heavy C&C 44, also reported hitting 18 knots.

On to the finish. As the finish line approaches, crews know that it can be a struggle to retain your concentration and focus. Light air sailing in the last few days compounded this difficulty. Turicum on July 13 at 396 nm out:

By morning the winds had lightened and all around us were benign weather cells bringing minute amounts of moisture and occasionally much welcome respite from the now consistently high temperatures. We have changed to a lighter spinnaker and continue to make a presentable 5 -6 knots in only slightly more wind. Everybody on board can sense a building anticipation of making landfall but you try to let that occupy only the smallest recess of your consciousness since anything can happen at any time and our attention must remain on the immediate task of sailing the boat intelligently and efficiently.

From Sonsie:

… we have invented a new point of sail in light air...the Leech Reach!  It is done by sailing wing and wing with the wind approximately 45 degrees off the stern on the poled out genoa side...you generate laminar flow backwards over the genoa by splitting the air with its leech, and you get a whole extra knot out of her!

At the finish near Lahaina, each arriving boat was greeted with an outstanding Hawaiian welcoming party. Family and friends met the racers to celebrate the accomplishment with hugs, leis and mai-tais. Many crew will stay to spend more time enjoying Maui with their families before heading home.

Much as we’d like to, we can’t pack everything into this report. Left to your imagination: Star-filled nights under the Milky Way, dolphins and porpoises spinning along with the boat, whales blowing, sometimes too close for comfort, wave-skimming albatross and other sea birds, and flying fish landing on the deck. Or not to your imagination. You can read all about it in their own words under the team blogs in the Team Profiles section of the website.

Vic-Maui 2010 will finally wrap up with a grand celebration at the Awards Banquet in Lahaina on July 24.

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