On Saturday the 26 of May two sail boats from Salt Spring Island, Caliente and JJ Flash, raced in the Swiftsure yacht race. The race is the biggest in the area attracting more than 200 boats from all over the west coast to race in different categories and routes. The course is from Victoria to the Cape Flattery through the Strait of Juan De Fuca.
I was on JJ Flash, skippered by Stuart Farson, along with a crew of Saltspringers and three young men from Edmonton on their first ocean race. It was my first Swiftsure and I had butterflies and queasy stomach the night before the race. It was a beehive of activity with all the boats tied up in front of the Empress Hotel in the Victoria inner harbour and about 1500 sailors. I thought I was prepared for the worst but little did I know how wet it would be.
Early Saturday morning our crew had a assembly line set up making 40 sandwiches in a borrowed kitchen in Victoria. We arrived at the harbour at 7am and spent time making sure we had our safety harnesses working and rain gear on. Then we started out of the harbour in a huge parade of boats of all descriptions. Once out side of the harbour we jockeyed for position on the starting line with boats coming at us from all angles. It was not easy to even find the starting line in the mayhem of boats. We maneuvered up to the line and started and we were off but too many boats were over the line early and we had a general recall. Now I thought the first start was confusing but having to turn back and maneuver through the next division that was moving up to the line was total chaos. Finally we were off and had clean air in our sails heading out towards the infamous race rocks. With the wind building up to 20 knots we here changing sails and hammering along. Once past the rock we had a windy sail out towards the Pacific with water coming over the bow and swamping the crew. The crew was sitting out on the rail of the boat using their weight to keep the boat as flat as possible. The water coming on board was bone chilling cold and went through rain gear easily. At one point I was on the bow when the bow went under and had the water fill both of my boots. Ug.
It was a real treat to see the trees on the Olympic peninsula up close and see how huge the ones left standing were. When we got to Neah Bay we had to circle around boat and start the trip home. The sun was setting and we had the wind to our backs and up the spinnaker went. Somehow as the foredeck man I apologize to the crew for the tangle on the spinnaker halyard. I don’t know how it happened but it was around the forestay and we got it up but I knew it would not come down. Now, to be out in the middle of the Strait Of Juan De Fuca with 20 knots of wind, in the dark with a spinnaker up and not being able to take it down is scary. If the wind had picked up we could have broached over and who knows what would happen. With the wind building we were given the order to spike the spinnaker. I spiked the guy, only to have the pole crash on to my head. Luckily my trusty wool toque took the impact and cushioned the blow and sacrificed itself to the ocean. If someone finds a old black toque floating in the strait it’s yours. With three of us tugging on the spinnaker with all our weight we could not bring it down. We had two choices, someone goes up or we fly it and try to unwrap it. We chose the latter and it worked. This happened in the dark while surfing down 6 foot swells. With the spinnaker down we flew the blaster and talk about flying we were on a 39 foot surf board calling out the locations of freighters and cruise ships. Did I mention we had no heat about or hot drinks? Cold coffee just does not warm you up. I was dreaming about a large TJ coffee with cream.
At about 1 am Stuart was on the helm when we noticed a rather big white light and green light bearing down on us…fright..UG…At this moment Roger Kibble took the helm, yelled out “gybing” and we came about and headed for race rocks. The freighter went by about a 100 meters off but why were we headed at the rock? Why not go around? Roger wanted the push of the current through the rocks. Did I mention our GPS was down, radio was out, wind gauges were not working, batteries where dying… The crew was bracing for the crash into the rocks, Stuart was calling out the position of the rocks off the navigation computer that was still working. “Rocks dead ahead 1 mile, Rocks Dead ahead 1/2 mile, Rock dead ahead 100 meters, Rocks abeam “. I still don’t know how we passed them but we did. Roger was just grinning and saying “we are not even close I have been way closer”. Well at this point the sight of the lights of Victoria looked like heaven after just being through hell’s gate.
If anyone would like to go in the Swiftsure next year, Roger is always looking for crew. I wonder why?