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Thursday, September 22, 2011

May 29, 1988-Dawn: Tatoosh

Back in 1988 we were just starting to learn how fast this boat really is in a breeze and how to sail it.

That year, at the start of the Swiftsure Race, we had 30kts in the starting area and gales of wind in the forecast. The waters around Brotchie Ledge were choppy and everywhere mains were flapping, boats were changing down and most were reefing. We set the #4 and hoisted a full main, as flat as we could get it, and with the crew fully hiked out and hunched down in their yellow foulies against the cold breeze we were sailing well. The boat seemed to like the conditions.

Rocket Ship Upwind

Our start was a flyer, alone at the committee boat end, but we had seen some oscillations earlier and the wind had gone left just before the start. We took advantage of that and started at the left end.

The gun on the Canadian Navy ship went off just as we passed under it with a full head of steam while on the long line the rest of the fleet were far to windward near Brotchie Ledge. It looked to us like they were overstanding the first mark, Race Rocks.

After starting so well, in the lead, even though we were seeing over 6 knots, I soon saw that we were slow compared to the other boats! The other boats were pointing higher and going faster. It didn’t seem like this should be the case. I looked at our trim. I saw that the jib was stalled, too far in! In the heat of the moment I had not been watching the tell tails. I called for some trimming help and Jack jumped down to the low side. He eased the #4 out a few inches and I footed off. The difference was astonishing; immediately we picked up speed and began to point as well as the competition. Then we hit 6.8kts with the speed still building; this was above our target speed. When it got to 7kts I pointed up and burned off a tenth of a knot and Hunts began taking bearings on the other boats. We were pointing on them and footing out! It was like we turned on the after-burners; what a rocket ship we had!

With the height we were now sailing I could see we would easily fetch Race Rocks and it looked like we would lead the fleet through which we did, except for Palm Tree Express, a Santa Cruz 50 who reached down from the windward end and overtook us before the rocks.

Holding starboard tack the whole fleet headed across to the US side of the Straits and, as the wind died off, they caught up with us. But we were still sailing with the leaders. At 9:00 PM we were at Neah Bay, in a nice breeze, but then we were alone again; we’d lost the faster boats in the beat towards Neah Bay. Night fell and we sailed on in darkness, working the shifts aggressively. We rounded the light ship at 01:07 on the 29th with no idea where the rest of our class was. We had seen no other boats for hours. It was light winds and we set the half ounce kite and jibed a few times, looking for a good angle. It seemed that heading back to Neah Bay was the best we could do so we headed that way.

Tatoosh(wingssail images file photo)

Dawn found us off Tatoosh Island in very light conditions with a glassy low swell and the sun over a low fog bank just beginning to warm us. There were a few boats barely in sight ahead of us in the fog but we could not identify them and we had no idea how well or poorly we were doing. As the sun burned the fog off and we began to get a few zephers we started to see who we were sailing with: Aquila and Warrior, the Chance 50, were nearby. There were other boats abeam; boats in our class. This was good, we hadn’t been left during the night; in fact we might have made up some time.

We changed to a ¾ oz kite and stayed on the American side, running down the rugged shoreline, keeping pace with the boats outside. At Clallam Bay the wind had begun to fill so we changed kites again and set a new course for Race Rocks, back across the Straits. The wind continued to build for us, 20kts then 30kts, and more. Reaching hard under the big 1.5oz with the whole crew on rail on the weather quarter, we crossed in front of most of the boats, sailed inside the rocks ahead of them, and surfed in to Victoria on a screaming reach, finishing 4th, very happy with that since only three top boats, all bigger than us, nipped us at the finish.

Coming Home

We’d been sailing Wings for two years, had had a bit of success now and then, but now we had proof that the boat was fast, very fast. We were elated.

Over the next months and years we came to know how great a boat we had: in windy conditions Wings seemed untouchable.

In the 23 years since then it hasn’t changed.

Click here to see more shots from 1988 Swiftsure.

Click here to see our logbook from that race.

Click here to read all of our logs (

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Richards Bay, South Africa

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Blogger The Wilder Things... said...

Fred and Judy,
As an avid sailor myself (with many pictures to show for it on my blog!) I love reading about your adventures. And what beautiful pictures from the 80s! Looking forward to more,

12 October, 2011 18:14  

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