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Reflections on Vic-Maui 2016 - What a Ride

by Brad Baker, July 27th, 2016

By Brad Baker - www.swiftsureyachts.com


With the Vic-Maui a done deal, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the 2016 race. I don’t know about you other armchair sailors, but I have had a tremendous amount of fun watching this year’s race. It’s had a little bit of everything. It’s had some drama with Crossfire’s early retirement from the race. I sincerely hope that after licking their wounds, and taking a few lessons from the experience, that they will be back in 2018. I suppose I was a harbinger of doom when in my third installment I said there would likely be boats with steering issues. I think it was the day after writing that the J-109, Mountain, retired with rudder bearing issues. Later, Forty had their steering quadrant fail. There were lots of reports of broken halyards and blown up spinnakers. Most recently the specter of tropical storm Darby made things interesting. What is foremost in my mind, though, was the weather pattern itself. It turned out to be a near perfect scenario for an elapsed time record breaking pace. And there were four boats in the race capable of breaking the record — a perfect storm.

Looking back to the few days prior to the first start, the forecast didn’t look all that promising for a quick race. The GFS weather model showed a broad ridge of weak high pressure extending nearly to the US west coast. Had this transpired the fleet would have had to make the choice between hugging the coast, sailing extra distance south, and faced with a nearly dead down sail the rest of the way to Hawaii, verses going shorter distance and trying to bust through the light air ridge of higher pressure. Either way would have made for a long race. The good news, if you can call it that, is weather models become much less reliable at more than four days out. Thankfully this was the case, because by the time the sleds started the forecast had flipped to a very different pattern. The new forecast was for building high pressure to move west, well offshore, and a bit north of where you would normally expect. This was ideal, as it would produce a broad wind field with average winds averaging just over 20 knots for thousands of miles! And from there, it would all be down wind for the fleet. The forecast confidence was high as nearly all the weather models from various agencies were showing basically the same thing. This forecast is what eventually came to pass. The beauty in this pattern was that with the high pressure located so far to the NW competitors could cut the corner early and sail a shorter distance and with the exceptional 1040mb high, there would be plenty of pressure gradient, i.e. wind, to spare. The stage was set for a record breaking race. Navigators still needed to get it right, but just as much of a premium was now on raw boatspeed, and holding it together for the long haul. With the above normal winds there was also a premium on managing breakages and wear.

The well prepared boats shined. A huge and hearty congratulations goes out to Gavin, Jason and the crew on Valkyrie. Well done! You own that record! I’m sure they had a few trials and tribulations along the way, but it was hard to see where they occurred from watching the tracker. From a navigators point of view, Valkyrie sailed a very clean/smart course and were obviously very well prepared. I’m envious of their accomplishment and hope to one day be aboard a Vic-Maui record setting boat.

Next is Kinetic, again hearty congratulations are in order. I’ve known David Sutcliffe for a number of years and he is obviously no stranger to this race. Some might say he practically is this race! Kinetic too sailed a smart, never gave up and showed they had the pace. Congratulations on the first overall corrected time victory! It’s well deserved.

There are a few others I’d like to call out. Longboard, holy crap! This is a 35-foot boat, you know it had to get hairy for those guys at times being that small and going that fast. You could tell they pushed hard. Well done.

String Theory, nice job John and crew. Watching Class 2’s String Theory on the tracker you could just see that they had their s**t together! Obviously she was well prepared and kept down time to a minimum. I remember as their competitors, Equus, managed to get farther to the right, with better leverage and a hotter angle, String Theory showed that not only did they have the pace, but they had the preparation to hold on to the first place slot. Well done.

Raindrop showed us all how it’s done, completely dominating class three. Had they not had the worst starting conditions, with light air for two days, we might be congratulating them now on a first overall.

I know of two ocean race first time newbies that put in good performances. Equus, in Class 2, a brand new out of the box Jeanneau 50, looked impressive and I’m sure gave String Theory a reasonable scare. I bet Equus has learned from the experience and if Dean and crew come back next time, look out Class 2!

My weathered Swiftsure cap also goes off to Joe and crew aboard Canard in Class 3. Nice job pulling out a 2nd place and pushing hard at the finish.

Finally, I want to congratulate the fleet as a whole. Finishing the Vic-Maui Race is quite an accomplishment. As Bill Huseby, sailing on Raindrop, told me in an email, “This is not brochure sailing”. The conditions were very challenging. The storms in the tropical eastern pacific pushed competing waive trains across the course. The seas were reported as very confused. Joe Gaffney, skipper of Canard, at one point called it a “Rolly polly s**t show”. This was no picnic, especially for the first timers. Well done everyone.

Then there was tropical storm Darby! Watching the weather early on I, and anyone else who paying attention, could see the series of tropical depressions spinning up every 4 or 5 days just off Mexican waters. Storm after storm seemed to be aimed right at the Hawaiian Islands. I wrote (and I guess in the end it was true) that these storms wouldn’t likely be a safety concern. Darby nearly made a liar out of me, and easily could have been a safety issue if an earlier predicted track had come to pass. For a couple of days there my focus had shifted from what is the best route to get there fastest, to what is the safest route. Thankfully, in the end, Darby clipped the big island, which took out quite a bit of steam, then passed south of Maui a much less powerful storm for having interacted with the big island. Likely the biggest casualty from the effects of Darby was Expresso, who in the light air wake of the storm spent five hours sitting in the Pailolo channel within sight of the finish and likely cost them 2nd place.

I’ll conclude with this. It may stand for some time, but the elapsed time record is still certainly beatable. I’m not trying to diminish what ValkyrieKinetic and Westerly have achieved. They sailed very well and I think it would be extremely hard for another TP 52 to break this record. The conditions were very good this time around. The fact remains the record is now held by a 52-foot boat. It’s likely going to take a big turbo sled, maybe something with a canting keel (or perhaps Crossfire?). But the fact remains, the record is still very beatable. Bring it on!

Brad Baker has been navigator on seven of his nine Vic-Maui races, with two first to finish finishes, two first overall finishes and 4 more first in class finishes. Brad is a principal at Swiftsure Yachts in Seattle. www.swiftsureyachts.com




The Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and the Lahaina Yacht Club are the Presenting Yacht Clubs and Co-Host Sponsors of the Victoria to Maui International Yacht Race


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