He comes from the land of the ice and snow

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A few months ago, we posted analysis of our 2017 R2AK experience, from which we drew the conclusions which now inform our 2019 R2AK race planning. Much was made of the primary lesson:  get a bigger boat. However, little was said of the second, equally important learning:  get more crew.

While the Canadian and the TPSR engineering team are wintering in Area 51, hard at work getting Dragon race ready, let me take a few minutes to introduce the newest member of Team Pear Shaped Racing. Our regular followers are by now very familiar with TPSR’s admiration – fetish, if you will – for foreign talent, regardless of national origin. France, Australia, New Zealand, the Ukraine – even the remoter parts of Canada – anyone with a lengthy sailing résumé and a peculiar accent is guaranteed to attract the attention of TPSR recruiters.

Fortunately for us, we did not have to cross oceans to find the right foreign talent to join us on Dragon, the boat we literally did cross oceans to obtain. Tom Kassberg, the man known in international sailing circles as “The Swede”, answered TPSR’s collect call from his regionally convenient San Francisco mead hall, where he manages his own pursuit of global racing glory.  Like the Canadian, who is actually from Canada, and Hollywood, who is actually from Los Angeles, the Swede is from Minnesota, one of the earliest Viking outposts in the New World. And for those inclined to protest, the Swede has, in fact, been to Sweden, races boats with Swedish names, and earned great fame – i.e., notoriety – for regularly appearing on the starting line of J/105 events with Abba’s Greatest Hits blasting from his cockpit speakers. He is also a man well-acquainted with Aqavit and other adult beverages.

And indeed, as in so many sailing-related stories, adult beverages played an important role in the history of the Swede’s relationship with Hollywood, which goes back more than 20 years. Recently arrived on the San Francisco racing scene, in 1997, Hollywood was recruited by the Swede from the SF Sailing Crew List bulletin board to make a cameo appearance on his J/105 Walloping Swede, for the Encinal Yacht Club‘s Second Half Opener race out to Bonita Light and back. During the course of the race, the team’s regular bowman exhibited symptoms of being on the losing end of a night of liquid debauchery by dropping the spinnaker over the side and skying the halyard, at a decidedly inopportune moment. Back at the dock, the bowman was summarily dispatched and Hollywood pressed into service at the pointy end for the remainder of the 1997 season.

Fast forward to 2018, and in the intervening years the Swede has raced at the top levels of our sport, inshore and offshore, all across the United States, as well as in Hong Kong and other exotic locales, in a wide variety of boats, including J/105s, Melges 24s, Melges 20s, J/70s, and 505 dinghies, many under the Walloping Swede, Flygfisk and Pickled Herring banners.  American flagged, yes, but with Swedish characteristics.

Like the Canadian and Hollywood, he is no stranger to salt rashes, sleep deprivation and the use of coarse language, having endured 17 days at sea alone, in his J/105, with his faithful Southern California bowman, in the 2000 West Marine Pacific Cup Race, arguably the slowest on record. By comparison, spending 5 days aboard Dragon, in the frigid waters of British Columbia and Alaska, accompanied by his crack TPSR crew mates, will be much closer to his Minnesota viking roots and Swedish sensibilities, with the mead halls of Ketchikan offering the sort of robust, Nordic pleasures that simply can’t be found in a Kaneohe Yacht Club swimming pool.

So welcome to TPSR’s newest foreigner! While we can’t change Dragon’s name to her Swedish equivalent, without risking a lengthy lawsuit from a certain Toronto-based Canadian rapper, Päronformad Tävling might well be an option. Skål!

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She comes from a land down under…

Dragon - PIC Coastal Classic 2015

Nearly six months have passed since TPSR’s unsuccessful attempt at the 2017 Race to Alaska, yet in that relatively short period of time we have made significant progress in our preparation for a planned 2019 R2AK effort. Once we got through the finger-pointing and name-calling, conducted a rigorous post mortem, shook off the guilt and emotional trauma, quaffed innumerable adult beverages, and pledged undying love and devotion to one another, we did what TPSR does best and got busy.

As noted in a previous post, our principal learning from 2017 was to get a bigger boat. So, for weeks and weeks the Canadian and I literally scoured the planet, looking for the biggest, most competitive multihull we could convince TPSR executive management to fund.  In the end, we came up with a short list which included two SeaCart 30’s, two Farrier F32-SRCX’s, two Grainger Raider 302’s, and several custom trimarans.  For each boat, we created a spreadsheet of pros and cons, arguing vigorously over every point, our opinions shifting back and forth, as new information became available, thanks to the Canadian’s relentless pursuit of more data – pestering brokers, tracking down owners, reviewing years of race records, scouring blogs, forums, YouTube, and sailing web sites – even consulting Sailing Anarchy’s multihull forum – in search of the truth we knew to be out there.

Ultimately, we arrived, as we generally do, at the same conclusion:  Dragon. The sleek and sinister Chris Cochrane-designed, Auckland, New Zealand-based, 10.6M trimaran, scrupulously – almost religiously, in fact – maintained and upgraded by owners Jeremy and Matthew, ticked all the boxes for us, and the Canadian was duly dispatched to the Antipodes to perform due diligence and seal the deal, a trip memorably documented in TPSR Facebook posts.

However, with the deal struck, oaths sworn and additional adult beverages consumed, TPSR faced a significant challenge: how to get a 34′ x 25′, non-demountable trimaran from Auckland to Vancouver at a cost not in excess of the price of the boat? In early discussions with Jeremy and Matt, the use of chain saws did, in fact, come up, with Matt volunteering to re-assemble the boat upon delivery in Canada.  And while we all agreed this was a clever approach, our experience putting together IKEA furniture convinced us that perhaps it was not the best solution, the cost of carbon and epoxy being somewhat higher than laminate particle board and cheap wood screws.

shenking container ship
Singapore-flagged container ship Shengking

Fortunately, Swire Shipping and Burrard Transport were able to offer a reasonably-priced deck cargo option, provided we could get the boat from Auckland to the New Zealand container port in Tauranga, furnish suitably stout deck cradles, and have experienced personnel available to supervise loading from the water. Once again, demonstrating why New Zealand continually punches above its weight class, Jeremy and Matt came through with solutions on all fronts, despite their growing and understandable reluctance to part with Dragon.

The process of loading Dragon onto Shengking, the Singapore-flagged container ship, was fascinating. The Canadian and I were able to watch the drama via a web cam overlooking the jetty where the transfer took place, but the shipping agents photographically documented the process end-to-end:

Needless to say, we’ve been very impressed with the professionalism and skill of everyone involved.  It is almost as if they do it for a living.

The entire process took several hours, but finally Dragon was loaded securely aboard the ship, which then headed out to sea, bound initially for Zhenjiang, China, before steaming across the Pacific Ocean to Vancouver, British Columbia, where the Canadian and the TPSR shore crew will supervise her offload and subsequent delivery to Van Isle Marina, in Sidney, BC.  From there, work will begin, in earnest, to prepare Dragon for her new mission:  to win the 2019 Race to Alaska.

Pear Shaped Post Partum

R2AK-TPSR-Day1Over the past two years, TPSR chronicled our many months of R2AK 2017 preparation, from mad scientist epoxy experiments, in draconian Area 51, to white knuckle test sailing, in the chilly Vancouver Island waters. When the big day finally arrived, we gushed over our results for the tricky opening leg, from Port Townsend to Victoria Inner Harbour, never mind being soundly thrashed by three self-propelled teams. Now that the race is in the history books, the smoke cleared, the ice melted, the $10,000 dispatched to the Cayman Islands, and the steak knives tucked away in the cutlery drawer, the time seems ripe to reflect on TPSR’s overall R2AK experience, which, somewhat prophetically, came to a rather eponymous conclusion far sooner than we would have liked.

The Canadian and I have had a few months to reflect on our campaign, from jaunty beginning to ignominious end, and while this produced an extensive list of what if’s and shoulda-coulda’s, about which we’re in agreement, I want to express some personal thoughts about the whole thing. Duncan, having a passing familiarity with the English language, including many salty idiomatic expressions of indeterminate origin, may choose to share his own impressions at a future time. But the following musings are entirely my own.

shackeltonLet’s start at the end: what did I learn from our R2AK experience?

  1. While my obsession with the Race to Alaska was fueled by fantasies of maritime adventure, following in the hallowed footsteps of Cook, Shackleton, Parlier, and MacArthur, once thrown into the reality of the event, itself, I was immediately confronted by physical and psychological limitations which I’d seriously underestimated. While I anticipated struggling with the cold, and spent months in the gym, preparing for the physical demands of racing the Multi 23, I succumbed nevertheless to the conditions encountered the first night out of Victoria. Despite multiple layers, including an electrically heated vest, my body was beset by cold in the rough 18-23 knot conditions in South Georgia Strait. The physical discomfort, aggravated by lack of sleep and the exertion of rowing three hours through Active Pass, against the 3.5 knot current, eventually led to a loss of self-confidence in my ability to carry on.
  2. My demoralization was clearly fueled by more deeply-rooted fears I brought with me to the race, and clouded my judgement about the actual situation and my ability to function. In fact, throughout the night, I responded effectively – and without fear – to the tasks at hand: reducing sail, securing various bits of gear, following the electronic charts, and driving the boat upwind in big seas. It was when we hit the submerged log, in the pre-dawn hours, that my anxiety level ratcheted up to where I entertained serious doubts about my ability to continue. In hindsight, I was not able to look beyond my immediate visceral response to the situation and evaluate my capabilities objectively.
  3. Rational fear – that is, fear based on objective facts – is an important component of our individual psychology, contributing to a healthy sense of self-preservation. But irrational fear is debilitating, and prevents us from accomplishing things of which we’re fully capable. In my case, fears about the potential risks awaiting us through Johnstone Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound and Dixon Entrance, overwhelmed my ability to rationally assess the risks. These anxieties further fueled my sense of responsibility for my partner, Duncan, the Pear, and anyone else whose safety I could jeopardize by failing to make sound decisions, or perform at the necessary level of effectiveness, under dangerous conditions. In hindsight, I couldn’t factor in our solid experience and sailing skills, thorough boat preparation, and our multiple options if confronted by adversity. In short, irrational fear, fueled by mental and physical fatigue, led to poor decision making, on my part, or, at least, overly conservative decision making.
  4. We knew, from the beginning, that racing the Multi 23 would be physically demanding. But we were confident we’d made sufficient provision for crew ergonomics – particularly getting out of the wind and wet – to handle an intense 5-day sprint to Ketchikan. For me, at least, this proved not to be the case. While our Typhoon dry suits proved superbly effective in keeping the icy Salish Sea on the outside, the relentless cascade of water coming across the boat and into the cockpit made it impossible for me to rest. Indeed, Duncan soon dubbed the cockpit “Guantanamo Bay”, due to the incessant water boarding conducted there. Sleeping on the trampoline proved no more restful, with the apparent wind speed approaching 30 knots, as we rumbled up South Georgia Strait at 8.5 knots. Similarly, our galley solution turned out to be sub-optimal, making hot food and beverage preparation nearly impossible when sustenance was needed most. Cumulatively, these ergonomic deficiencies contributed to wearing us down physically and impairing our judgement.
    R2AK-TPSR-Day2-02
  5. Have a plan and follow the plan. Wise words. Duncan and I spent a lot of time working on our R2AK game plan, particularly how to sustain the pace necessary to hang with the leading contenders, Team Freeburd, Team Bad Kitty and Team Big Broderna. We knew our diminutive waterline length was disadvantageous upwind, and that we would have to push hard to give ourselves opportunities to exploit the Pear’s downwind advantages. At the same time, being double-handed, we had to pace ourselves or face physical exhaustion. Unfortunately, in the heat of the opening Leg 2 battle, this last and perhaps most important consideration flew out the window.When the bell sounded in Victoria Inner Harbour, we executed our race plan to perfection, being among the leading boats heading into Juan da Fuca Strait, and hanging closely with Team Freeburd and Team Bad Kitty through Oak Bay and into Haro Strait. Duncan’s savvy tactical choices saw us gradually pull away from the top teams, culminating in the critical decision to go inside the Gulf Islands, while our competition chose to head around Saturna Island, and directly into South Georgia Strait. As the fleet parked up in dead calm, off East Point, we managed to stay in breeze all the way to Active Pass, arriving just as the current turned unfavorable. Here, we made the critical decision to row our way through the pass, against the 3.5 knot current, hoping to consolidate what we thought was a narrow lead.

    R2AK-TPSR-Day2-01Rowing through Active Pass was brutal. Our rowing system was sub-optimal at best, a last-minute substitution for an ineffective pedal drive we’d spent months in the gym training to use. Somehow, we managed to propel the Pear forward at 4 knots, enough to get us into South Georgia Strait in just under 4 hours. It was here we made the fateful decision to deviate from our plan and push hard, hoping to extend our 10-mile lead over our competition. Duncan and I briefly considered tying up to a nearby mooring, for much needed rest and recovery; instead, while he worked out navigation options, I continued rowing north, bringing us closer to the building breeze, forecast from the northwest.

    By the time the promised conditions arrived, around 2:00 AM, I was physically exhausted and struggling to stay warm, once I no longer needed to row. Laying on my back, in Guantanamo Bay, as Duncan guided the Pear upwind in the confused seas, the fatigue and cold triggered doubts and fears about my ability to continue, magnified by the realization this was only the first night and conditions further up the course could well be much, much worse. Thus, when we struck the submerged log, at 3:00 AM, it triggered an overreaction which led to my decision to abandon.

    Ultimately, our solid game plan came to grief in the heat of the moment, as the adrenaline-fueled desire to win ran roughshod over the sound strategy necessary to achieve victory. With the predicted winds coming from the northwest, we ought to have taken advantage of our lead to get some rest and recover from the opening sprint, confident we would get to the new breeze before the boats to the south. Instead, we pushed on into difficult conditions, which wore us down even further. By the time we threw in the towel, and sailed into Nanaimo with the damaged rudder, my self-confidence was shattered and I was too mentally and physically spent to rationally evaluate our actual situation, or get us back on our solid original plan.

Karl Kruger smiles after finishing the R2AK. Credit Zach Carver_1498526457805_9912997_ver1.0What, then, did I take away from the R2AK, when all is said and done? Most importantly, I learned that I was not psychologically prepared for the effort. The countless hours spent lifting weights, riding stationary bikes, and posturing in front of full length mirrors might have been spent more effectively with a performance coach, working on mental and emotional preparation, learning to handle adversity and the emotional rollercoaster of extreme competition. This is a point articulately expressed by Team Heart of Gold’s Karl Kruger, the stand-up paddleboard Zen master, in his must-be-heard R2AK podcast interview with Race Boss Daniel Evans.

Another lesson learned is life doesn’t end after failure to achieve one’s goals, no matter how ego-invested they might be. In the days and weeks after abandoning the race, I waited patiently for my world to collapse, while the Canadian jetted off to Ketchikan, to express solidarity with our competitors and enjoy all that fine city can offer, in liquid form. When my own private apocalypse didn’t materialize, I was able to begin learning from the experience, identifying opportunities for growth and self-improvement, figuring out how to try again, with a different outcome.

However, one key lesson stands out above all others, as Duncan and I turn our attention to R2AK 2019: we’re going to need a bigger boat.

Stay tuned to the TPSR Facebook page, as we put that lesson into action.

Facing the Music: 2017 Northwest Multihull Championship

CowichanBayRegatta2017Expectations were high, at TPSR, for a triumphant return to Cowichan Bay, site of the 2017 Northwest Multihull Championships. In 2016 we surprised everyone, ourselves included, by grabbing a podium spot in our first major outing in Nice Pear.  This year, we were gunning for the overall title which so narrowly eluded us before.

Following our unsuccessful R2AK campaign, we thoroughly prepped the boat for round-the-can racing, jettisoning everything that wasn’t absolutely essential, including the solar charging system, tiller pilot, emergency rudder, galley station, and medicinal alcohol. We even found time to do some practice, breaking in Eric – AKA “The New Fellow” – at the trimming position, on a wet and wild day off Oak Bay that most definitely did not resemble the anticipated conditions at Cowichan Bay. In hindsight, we probably didn’t hear the grim, foreboding music over all the wind noise.

Three days before the event, the Canadian and I grabbed some Cliff Bars, a couple Fuji apples, several bottles of water, and a 5 gallon jerrycan of petrol, fired up the 2 hp Honda 4-stroke, and set off on the 5 hour delivery to Cowichan Bay. Conditions were perfect… for Karl Kruger or the Canadian Olympic synchronized water skiing team; zero knots from every direction, with a slightly favorable current, flowing lethargically beneath a smoke-filled British Columbia sky. Again, somber orchestral tones were drowned out by the sound of angry bees emanating from the transom, though we began to sense that weather conditions for the regatta might not be to our liking.

We arrived at Cowichan Bay harbor early enough to secure a choice mooring along G dock, promising unimpeded movement in and out each day, and no danger of undesirables rafting up outside us. While the distance from the boat to the Cowichan Bay Pub was less than optimal, we agreed that this was probably, on the whole, a good thing, given the extensive post-R2AK self-medication of the preceding several weeks.

The Multihull Gods served up one final pre-regatta message to us, as we stood on the dock, admiring the sleek, sinister, aggressive appearance of the Multi 23, primed and ready for action. Unfortunately, we did not receive this message until the first race on Saturday, at the top of the first windward leg. As content as the Canadian ever is about our preparation – i.e., mildly displeased – we went off in search of adult beverages, awaiting the arrival of the TPSR support team, to transport us back to Victoria.

Saturday arrived, with barely a whisper of breeze visible across Cowichan Bay. It was not at all certain there would be any racing at all, and certainly we were not going to see the 16-18 knot conditions from 2016. ByCowichanBay2017-01 10:30 a.m., however, a light easterly began to fill in, and the three of us set off to the start line, eager to see if we could shake off the previous year’s starting woes, which cost us the title.

With the current flooding the entire day, we determined it was critically important to favor the right side of the beat, hitting the beach as hard as we could, while keeping any eye out for wind holes.  This had paid huge dividends in 2016, and enabled us to fight our way to clean air after our abysmal starts.  The race committee strongly favored the pin end of the start line, presumably to discourage a pile up at the boat end. As we wanted to get right quickly, we were reluctant to go all the way down the line, settling for a spot about midway. We hit the line at the gun with a clear lane and good speed, with last year’s winner, Bad Kitty, winning the boat end, and a bunch of bigger trimarans set up on our hip and to leeward. Tacking on to port was going to be a challenge and we decided to hang in on starboard and look for an opening.

It was at this precise instant, the message from the Multihull Gods arrived with flourish and fanfare: we were completely unable to hold our lane upwind. Of course, we knew we could not outpoint the F-31s, F-27s, and the rest of the bigger boats, but we were not all that far off their angles in the past, and could hold a lane in the clutch. This time, we were brutally below our normal tacking angles, on both tacks, and were ignominiously flushed out the back of the fleet. Even the lonely C Class catamaran, sailing without a headsail, for some reason, was out-pointing us. Our fantasies of championship glory were going up in smoke, as we wracked out brains to figure out what was wrong.

CowichanBay2017-04Finally reaching the layline to Patey Rock, leave it to Eric, “The New Fellow”, to ask the obvious question: “Do you think maybe we have too much mast rake?” Cue the dark violins and trigger the flashback to standing on the dock three days earlier, lovingly admiring the Pear, with her sleek lines and aggressively raked mast, optimized for the breeze on conditions of Juan da Fuca Strait. Rounding Patey Rock in next-to-last position, we put up the UK Sails A2 whomper and set off in pursuit of the competition. With force vectors shifting forward, we quickly reduced the mast rake and hoped for the best. Yet, despite our best efforts, we gave up so much upwind that we could do no better than 10th out of 13 boats. Only the C Class catamaran posted a more dispiriting result, which was of little consolation to us.

The breeze was still easterly at 6-8 knots for the start of Race 2. This time we determined to avoid being sandwiched between the bigger boats and went for a pin end start. The Canadian seemed to be getting the hang of the time-and-distance equation, and put us one up from the pin, at the gun, with a full head of steam. We didn’t have space to put the bow down and rumble, but the mast rake adjustment was clearly working, allowing us to hold on long enough to find a lane and tack back to the beach. We executed our strategy to the letter, short tacking up the beach, looking for pressure, keeping clear lanes, and generally hitting our upwind speed targets. But while this was good enough for 5th across the line, it wasn’t enough to overcome our handicap, leading to a 7th place corrected finish.

Race 3 was a short sprint to an inflatable mark, followed by a much-too-short-for-our-rating-in-light-breeze downwind dash to another inflatable, then a mercifully short slog upwind to the finish. Of all the quick kids, only Bad Kitty managed to salvage a decent result in this one, while TPSR settled for a disappointing 9th.

It would be an understatement to write that we were a bit disappointed with the day’s results, particularly the embarrassing failure to rake the mast to the prevailing conditions. And we would have been forgiven for drowning our sorrows in a sea of adult beverages. However, while we are not wiser, we are somewhat older, which dictated restrained alcohol consumption and early to bed.

CowichanBay2017-03Sunday’s conditions were more of the same, with the race committee sending us out to Patey Rock and back for races 4 and 5. We stuck with our strategy of starting at the pin end, then hugging the right side of the beat out of Cowichan Bay, and were successful on both accounts, with the exception of being over early in Race 5, an entirely forgivable sin, relative to 2016’s consistent tardiness. With a bit more breeze, and the return of our normal pointing abilities, we gave a much better showing, hanging with the top boats to the weather mark, and ripping by almost everyone downwind, leading to 8th and 5th place finishes respectively, including being 3rd across the line in the final race, behind Dragonfly (-105) and Bad Kitty (-9).

So, Team Pear Shaped Racing did not win the 2017 Northwest Multihull Championship. Nor did we win any of the fabulous prizes raffled off at the BBQ, courtesy of the event’s gracious sponsors, including our own personal favorites, Trotac Marine and UK Sails Northwest. And the Canadian managed to pick up a mild case of food poisoning at Sunday’s “celebratory” dinner with our friends from Bad KittyMail Order Bride and Sons of Raven, at a local restaurant which shall remain nameless. Nevertheless there were some positive lessons acquired:

  • Mast rake influences upwind performance – e.g., pointing. Actually, the key lesson was not that this is true, but that it doesn’t matter how well you know it if you fail to apply said knowledge.
  • We are actually capable of getting really good starts now that we have a better feel for how the Multi 23’s acceleration affects time-and-distance to the line.
  • Nice Pear is a rocket downwind but needs at least 8-10 knots of breeze to really break loose and fly.
  • The Multi 23 is vulnerable in light air, particularly upwind against long waterline length competition. We knew this before, but experienced it first hand at Cowichan Bay this year.
  • The canting rig system works well but isn’t as effective in light air, when the boat isn’t heeling much.
  • The boat really responds well to sailing upwind with the screacher in under 8 knots. We made big gains on the approach to Patey Rock in both races Sunday, with that sail deployed.
  • Avoid fried seafood at certain Cowichan Bay restaurants.

CowichanBay2017-02Let us not conclude our account of good times at Cowichan Bay without calling attention to the brilliant sailing of Eric Pesty, who sailed into battle singlehanded on his F-24 Geneva, and managed to rack up a mind boggling 1-2-1-2-1 scorecard, against some pretty damn good competition, for his third Northwest Multihull Championship. That’s some serious game and we certainly spent far too much time in his company on the water, wondering how we were going to get back those 87 seconds we owed him. Well played sir!

If there’s any consolation to be had from this year’s event, it’s that none of the top three podium finishers from 2016 made it back to the podium in 2017. We were not alone in our misfortune, and nothing makes misery better than company – and good, solid, friendly company at that. Our sorrows were pleasurably drowned at Sunday evening’s dinner with Bad Kitty and Mail Order Bride, where we collectively schemed to take back total Northwest multihull domination in 2018.

Full results

 

An Iced Pear

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A favorable weather window for our trial run to Seymour Narrows finally materialized Friday morning, May 12. With over a year of preparation behind us, we would soon find out if Nice Pear was remotely ready for the R2AK challenge. The forecast was for southeast winds, ranging from 5-18 knots, at various points along the course.

Not surprisingly, we cast off from Oak Bay Marina and motored out into a dying northeast breeze, and an ebb current gradually pushing us toward Juan da Fuca Strait, instead of Haro Strait. We tried sailing for a bit, then went to the trusty Honda 2 hp outboard. About an hour into the voyage, we were able to start sailing, under full main and screacher.

Simrad_TP10Early on in the Pear Shaped program, we’d debated the wisdom of installing a tiller pilot. Of primary concern was the added weight of a battery and solar charging system. But being doublehanded, we recognized the potential value of having that extra “arm” available, to free the on-watch crew to move about the boat under appropriate conditions. In practice, the Simrad TP-10 immediately proved it’s worth, steering the boat under power while the Canadian and I poured over the wind apps and electronic charts, trying to figure out where we should be going, in light of the less-than-cooperative conditions. For those not following our Facebook posts, the tiller pilot is connected to a 12 volt, 10 amp hour lithium ion battery, from SolaCity. The battery is, in turn, connected to an Aleko 40 watt flexible solar panel, via a Mohoo PWM solar controller, with a 30 amp in-line fuse between the battery and wiring bus bar, to protect the entire set-up. The Aleko panel sits on the foredeck, just ahead of the rope clutches, with the MC4 cabling running through a watertight fitting to the cabin below.

The Simrad TP-10 draws only 0.5 amp hours, under normal usage, and under the limited duty it saw, during the trip, we found the Aleko panel was more than keeping up with the power consumption. One additional note: along with being inexpensive, the Mohoo charge controller features two USB charging ports, that will draw from either the solar panel or the battery. We mounted it just above one of our storage bags, in the cabin, enabling us to charge tablets and mobile phones, while the Goal Zero Venture 30 storage packs charged off the two Nomad 20 watt solar panels on the trampolines. We use the Venture 30s to quick-charge the three Samsung 10.1″ tablets running our Navionics+, SailGrib and wind forecasting apps, at night.

The forecast consensus was for southeasterlies, but the breeze in Haro Strait had a significant east / northeast component – shy enough to keep the UK Sails A2 in the bag, but aft enough to fly the Smyth screacher. Our initial plan, for the trip, was to head to Active Pass or Porlier Pass, basing our decision where to exit into Georgia Strait on the state of the tidal currents. But passing Stuart Island, the breeze began to pick up and it looked very much like we’d soon be beating up inside North Pender, in increasingly squally conditions. The emerging scenario suggested this could well be one of those extremely rare occasions when opting to exit south of Saturna Island might actually be a prudent call. The dark and ominous rain showers, descending from the west, made the decision easier, as we cracked off onto a beam reach, the screacher driving us along at 10-11 knots.

Transiting past Saturna, we had our only white knuckle moment of the trip. The wind was up and down, in the 12-16 knot range, with flat water, and the Pear was in her element. But every few minutes gusts in the 18-22 knot range came rifling down the channel, pushing the apparent wind into the low 30’s. The screacher was not the right sail at those precise instants, and the Canadian made his annoyance known by declaring, in his typically understated manner: “We are in the death zone.” Of course, this was not the optimal time to discover that the mainsheet cleat angle was sub-optimal for quick release. Nor was it convenient to learn, as the leeward hull buried itself up to the crossbeam, that the “sheet” to be blown was attached to the screacher, not the main. This brief misunderstanding resulted in a quick peel to the AP jib, without much loss of forward progress.

The promised southeasterlies gradually appeared, to our great relief, as we rounded Saturna Island and pointed our bows towards Tsawwassen. Now the UK Sails A2 spinnaker could make its appearance, pulling us nicely up the Georgia Strait.  With the Pear making a comfortable 8-11 knots, we were able to gauge the effectiveness of our t-foil rudder enhancement, designed and implemented by Brandon Davis, at Turn Point Design.

The purpose of the t-foil rudder, on the Multi 23, is to dampen pitching, at speeds of 9 knots and greater, and to reduce the tendency of the bows to dive in waves. This, in turn, should result in better overall performance averages, offsetting any additional drag. And, yes, adding C-foils was discussed, but ultimately vetoed by Team Pear Shaped accountants. When we initially sailed with the t-foil rudder, we encountered unexpected weather helm and a decrease in upwind speed, for the conditions. After fiddling with sail trim and mast rake, a quick glance over the transom revealed that our fool-proof rudder lock had, once again, malfunctioned, allowing the rudder to shift to a non-vertical position. A quick trip to Blackline Marine, for a date with a drill press, finally laid this recurring issue to rest – with a stainless steel bolt through the rudder and rudder cassette (removable, if necessary, for portaging).

Meanwhile, in Georgia Strait, steering was fingertip light, without the slightest hint of weather helm. The boat didn’t seem to be pitching but the waves were not very large and the boat was moving fast through the water. In short, it wasn’t possible to determine whether the winglets were having an effect, so we’ll have to wait for more suitable conditions to make that determination. They certainly didn’t seem to negatively impact boat performance, however.

As we made our way north, we gybed off Vancouver and steered a course between Lasqueti and Hornsby Islands, still under the A2 spinnaker. The weather had been delightful, once we were in Georgia Strait, but as the sun went down the temperature gradually diminished, sending us to gear bags for additional layers. Up to this point, we hadn’t resolved sleeping arrangements. The Canadian fabricated a carbon bunk in the cabin, but sail and gear stowage rendered accessibility difficult. The cockpit floor – in the absence of the pedal drive system – was accommodating, as were the trampolines. Throughout the evening and ensuing morning, we would try all three options, learning the relative pros and cons of each. One key lesson, however, is that trying to sleep without recourse to the bivy-encased sleeping bag was a losing proposition, particularly as the temperature dipped to 6C / 43F, with the associated windchill. The Canadian and I both tried doing so, in the cabin, atop the screacher, separated from the icy cold waters by millimeters of fiberglass, and suffered accordingly. I gave the cockpit a try, in my Typhoon PS-300 Extreme drysuit, and ended up chilled to the bone. Ultimately, the bivy-sleeping bag combo, on the trampoline, proved to be the winning combination, though we expect that pairing to work well in any onboard location. Another benefit of the bivy bag, in its camouflage configuration, is it renders the sleeper invisible to the untrained eye.

Despite the miscues with sleeping arrangements, we survived the night thanks to a steady stream of hot tea, freeze dried food, and noodle bowls, courtesy of the JetBoil cooker, mounted in the Canadian’s custom carbon galley (not a factory option on the M23). The jury is out on the freeze dried food, but the noodle and oatmeal bowls were quite delicious.

We were able to carry the spinnaker through the night, as the breeze ranged from 12 knots down to zero, on occasion. At one point, in the pre-dawn hours, we executed two 360 degree turns, tacking through one shift, with spinnaker up, then gybing through a second, a few minutes later. Finally the breeze settled down and propelled us past Courtenay and within sight of Campbell River, as the sun came up. With ten miles to go, and the Canadian snoozing in the bivy bag on the trampoline (see picture at the top), the wind died completely. It seemed an excellent opportunity to test our auxiliary SUP paddle propulsion system, so I extracted one of the two paddles, switched on the tiller pilot, and proceeded to paddle towards what turned out to be a permanently retreating wind line. Fifteen minutes later, I summoned the spirit of Honda, and soon had us motoring to Campbell River at 5 knots, waking the Canadian in the process.

A brief stop at Discovery Harbour Marina, to allow for the current to change, and we headed north towards Seymour Narrows, our final destination for this practice run. The wind showed no sign of appearing, so we had to motor the final 90 minutes, arriving in the Narrows just as the tide turned to flood, dramatically diminishing our forward progress. We managed to get close to Brown’s Bay before bowing to the superior force of nature, and turning back to Campbell River, where we moored the boat.

Tomorrow, we head back to Campbell River to fetch the boat home on the newly refurbished trailer (courtesy of Custom Hitch and RV). This will give us the chance to demount the boat, check all the attachment points, complete some final modifications and upgrades, and prepare the boat for the main event, on June 8, 2017.

Summary of lessons learned:

  • All in all, the systems we installed work quite well, though there is a lot of string in the cockpit and additional line bags may be in order.
  • Despite our best intentions, we did not do a good job of hydrating or ingesting warm food and beverages early on in the trip, resulting in both of us getting colder than we should have.
  • Navigating with the tablets and mobile devices worked very well, and the charging systems performed as we hoped they would. Navionics + is really easy to use, even when accessing a tablet or phone through an Armor-X waterproof case.
  • The Navisafe battery-powered navigation lights proved rather disappointing. While they’re plenty bright, and easy to operate, they rely on magnetic mounts that are not sufficiently strong – on two occasions, the spinnaker dislodged the starboard light, the second time depositing it in the water and leading to an impromptu MOB exercise to retrieve it, under sail. Finally, while deploying the outboard, we inadvertently lost the stern light overboard and couldn’t retrieve it. We plan to install tethers on all three lights, and construct lens hoods to reduce the amount of glare coming aft, which negatively impacted night vision.
  • The Simrad TP-10 worked well, though we only used it while motoring and, briefly, with the A2 flying in light breeze. It needs to be adjusted to reduce responsiveness, as it’s a bit “busy” in default configuration. Great to have available, when needed, but no substitute for manual helming. The pilot only draws 0.06 amp hours in stand-by mode, so leaving it on and ready for action is not a problem.

Stay tuned for a final evaluation of preparatory efforts, including the pedal drive installation. We’ll also have a lot to say about the many people who have helped us, and without whose assistance we’d be watching the R2AK on telly.

Shaken, not stirred

NicePear - 32 knots

With Nice Pear back in the water, following her winter spa treatment, the Canadian and I determined it was time to take her for a spin last Sunday. The forecast was a bit sketchy – 20-24 knots, with big gusts coming down Juan de Fuca Strait – but it looked like we could run off in the opposite direction, toward Haro Strait and San Juan Island, where conditions were much more benign. So we teed up the UK Sails AP jib, fired up the trusty Honda outboard, and cautiously poked our noses out of Oak Bay Marina.

The combination of big breeze against an ebb current made for some bouncy wave action, as we hustled past Chatham Island and Ten Mile Point, seeking the relative calm of Haro. Nice Pear handled the conditions easily, zipping along at 8 knots under jib alone. As anticipated, we soon found ourselves in less breeze. Well, in no breeze, to be more precise, as the wind completely shut off. This seemed like a very good time to put up the UK Sails carbon main, but the Canadian cleverly deduced that we would be heading back upwind into a breeze that showed no signs of abating, despite a forecast claiming the contrary. To this end, he called for two reefs in the main and peeling to the brand new UK Sails carbon J-4, the sail we declared, only a few days before, we hoped to never see out of its bag.

The new sail configuration in place, and the Canadian at the helm, we pointed the Pear in the direction of Oak Bay, gliding slowly, at first, but gradually picking up momentum as the breeze began to build. And suddenly it was game on, as successive 30 knot blasts came ripping out of the west, kicking up white caps on an already frothy ebb, and generally creating an atmosphere of barely controlled chaos. Duncan passed me the main sheet, and focused on feathering the boat into the puffs, which were becoming more and more boisterous. At the same time, we were listening for warning signs from the boat that something might be about to fly into little bits of carbon and fiberglass.

Yet despite leaping off waves and pounding into the backs of more waves, the surgically-enhanced Pear was handling the conditions with aplomb. The only sounds of pain came from the intrepid crew, trying to shake off the rust of too many months in Area 51. The J-4 was the perfect sail for the conditions, while the double-reefed main looked pretty good, despite the fact we didn’t have the reefing system quite perfected, and, in hindsight, weren’t sheeting it in hard enough, at times.

One important thing we quickly discovered was we were in no danger of perishing in these conditions (later analysis revealed steady 26-28 knots, gusting to 34 knots, WNW). The boat was under control and making decent enough progress upwind. The motion was a bit jarring at times, but this was more due to our technique than the boat. A second important thing we learned is the boat prefers to be driven harder than we were driving her. In other words, our overly aggressive feathering contributed to reduced speed and a more tumultuous path through the water. When we bore off a bit, and dug in, the boat took off, with the speed climbing above 10 knots, and the motion became much smoother. There is enough buoyancy in the floats to allow them to resist digging in, and, with sufficient speed, knife through waves Diam 24-style. To this end, sheeting in the main tighter would have provided more control with that approach; eased out too much, the boat wanted to heel over further, as the bows came off the wind. Sheeting in more aggressively would have given us a flatter sail and smoother flow. Lesson learned.

Tacking proved a bit challenging, but was occasioned more by our own rustiness than any problem with the boat or set-up. Eventually we were able to maneuver effectively, which was a good thing, given the approach to Oak Bay is seriously constrained by rocks and shoals in every direction. With a bit more time in the boat, and sail trim dialed in, tacking and jibing in big breeze won’t be such an adventure. Once under the lee of the headland, we dropped the main and motored back to the dock, mission successfully accomplished.

Needless to say, we intended to ease our way into sailing Nice Pear in big breeze. But sometimes I guess it’s better just to jump right in and hope for the best. This was the most wind in which we’d sailed the Multi 23, to date, and the combined breeze and sea state was not too different from conditions we’re likely to encounter in the Race to Alaska. So that’s all good. We were more than satisfied with the performance of the UK Sails, the structural improvements provided by Blackline Marine and TPSR Area 51 composites specialists, and with the way the Canadian has laid out the controls (though, for prudence sake, we decided not to fiddle with the canting rig that day, leaving the settings at vertical). While it’s not entirely clear where or when this occurred, our top speed reading for the afternoon was 13.8 knots, presumably upwind, though possibly after we dropped the J-4 and tight reached under double-reefed main alone, to line up for the approach to Oak Bay Marina. Our top speed upwind, that I recall seeing, was 10 knots or so, but I suspect it would be difficult to sustain that speed, in those conditions, over a long period of time. Another important lesson: boat needs to be set-up for sustained performance, not necessarily peak performance. And, again, boat handling and crew experience is key.

More reports of test sails and boat performance coming soon, as we take the opportunity to spend as much time on the water as possible.

 

10 1/2 Weeks

splash - March 2017 - 03

Astute readers, and knowledgeable cinephiles, will note the reference to the less well-known 1986 film – i.e., the one not starring Kim Bassinger and Mickey Rourke – which seems a fitting point from which to launch some reflections on the imminent start of the 2017 Race to Alaska. For certainly, compared to many of our competitors, Team Pear Shaped Racing is more Chatsworth than Hollywood, not that we’re in the same league as John Leslie or Tom Byron, to be sure. But the allusion is, after all, more literal than figurative.

With June 8th just around the corner, we’ve been reading up on our competition and keeping an eye on the Vegas odds. We were a bit concerned, early on, about what seemed to be a marked absence of participants, particularly so late in the cycle. Not that we weren’t willing to race to Ketchikan by ourselves. But there’s a lot to be said for having other teams nearby, just in case. And the sportsperson inside us is looking for the kind of match racing Team MOB experienced with Team Mama Tried, ripping up Johnstone Strait, in the 2016 edition.

Fortunately, our deep longing for fellow travelers has been rewarded, with several multihull teams throwing their respective toques into the fire, within the past couple weeks. While we knew our friends on Bad Kitty would be back, with a score to settle, we were surprised by the sudden influx of “foreign” – i.e., non-North American – talent.

r2ak-competition-montage

Those who follow TPSR even casually, are well aware of our fawning admiration for European sailors – well, for French solo sailors. Less well known is our pathological fear of sailors from the lands down under, most of whose careers take them straight from Optimists to America’s Cup teams, stopping, briefly, along the way, to cart off Olympic medals and world championships in 40-foot containers.

In Team Sailpro Racing and Team 3 1/2 Aussies our fears coalesce: Europeans (of the Polish variety, but based on the Isle of Wight, sailing’s equivalent of Asgard) and Antipodeans (Aussies, to be precise, who while not quite as godlike as Kiwis, are handier in a barroom brawl), in trimarans, with mad skills, and super-serious offshore experience. Adding injury to intimidation, Team What the Fuca, while sporting mere mortal North Americans, spent the winter training in the Gulf of Mexico. This fact drew howls of protest from TPSR staff, who had been promised similar conditions, but ended up in a big, grey tent, with propane heaters and wellies.

Based on what we know, what we’ve read, and what our vivid imaginations have conjured, it looks like our main competition will be, in no particular order: Bad KittyTeam 3 1/2 Aussies, and Team Sailpro.

  • TPSR raced against the BK squad at the Cowichan Bay PNW Multihull Championship, last summer, so we’re familiar with what the bright yellow catamaran can do. Upwind, their longer waterline gives them an advantage, though greater size means greater weight, and in short-tacking conditions Nice Pear could benefit from being smaller and more nimble. Downwind, the Pear seems to hold her own with the bigger cat, thanks to her monster running kite. At Cowichan Bay, we consistently made gains on the long offwind legs. Ultimately, there’s a question mark when it comes to beam reaching. In 8-16 knots – Nice Pear’s sweet spot – our new UK Sails reaching kite, canting rig, and buoyant floats should give us an edge, though whether we have the stamina to push the boat 100% in those conditions remains to be seen. Team BK has a lot of experience in these waters, and should be an early favorite to take the prize. But TPSR could still be a spoiler.
  • On paper, Team Sailpro looks almost unbeatable, based on their deep offshore experience, competing in serious races, against serious competition, on serious boats. In actuality, how they’ll do in unfamiliar waters, in an unfamiliar boat, against weekend warrior competition, is a big question mark. Their Crowther Buccaneer 34 was purchased sight unseen, and while a fully capable design, is also larger and heavier than the competition, with sails and equipment of indeterminate status. In 2015 conditions, this should serve them well – provided the boat doesn’t explode into kindling (though the Sailpro squad probably has the requisite MacGyver / Parlier skills to completely rebuild the boat from said kindling, using only duct tape and a metric socket set); but in lighter conditions, they could be at a disadvantage against lighter boats like the Pear. At least this is the story we’re telling ourselves. While we still believe Bad Kitty has the necessaries to hold off Team Sailpro, it won’t be easy.
  •  We’re still a bit unclear about the 1/2 an Australian, but three whole Australians ought to be enough to get the job done. And what makes this particular bunch more dangerous is the fact they’ve actually lived in the area for years, presumably under the Aussie equivalent of the sailor protection program. Team 3 1/2 is bringing a Farrier F-31 trimaran to the start line, a proven race performer, particularly upwind, in breeze. At the PNW Multihull Championship, TPSR went up against two F-31s and beat both handily. Upwind, the F-31 has a definite advantage (cf., “waterline length”), but, in practice, we were beating them to the windward mark consistently, then jetting away from the much heavier tris downwind. However, the F-31 is also a very, very comfortable boat, and a warm, dry, well-rested crew can sail at consistently higher levels of performance than a cold, wet, sleep-deprived crew – i.e., Team Pear Shaped Racing. So we may have to reach deep into our souls – and our emergency liquor bag – to fight off the team from that land down under. Team Bad Kitty, on the other hand, should be able to beat them, as both boats excel in similar weather conditions.
  • As for Team What The Fuca, their Farrier F-28 is an outstanding trimaran, but not as quick as the Multi 23 except upwind in very big breeze upwind – i.e., in “survival” conditions, where TPSR prides itself on being first to the nearest cozy marina when things get ugly. And while the Fucas get top marks for the good sense of training in warmer climes, the months of misery endured by TPSR – at least by the Canadian – should better prepare them for the Ketchikan route. On paper, as well, TPSR’s extensive offshore racing experience, including many years in the PNW, should provide the necessary edge to keep TWTF in the rear view mirror. Nevertheless, the Southern Californians could be dark horses, should the pros from Dover stumble.

The first week of April, TPSR will be spending as much time as possible on the water, with the arrival of your humble author in Victoria, BC. Based now in Oak Bay Marina, we’ll be able to train on the lower end of the course, and eventually further up the route to Seymour Narrows. Still many things remain to be done, but we’re much closer to the end of the beginning, than we were to the beginning of the beginning, in 2015. Look for more frequent posts and pictures here, on our Facebook page, and on Twitter.