What a great sailing homecoming.
After finishing the solo around the world (Around Alone) aboard Ocean Planet, I was asked to sail in the Coastal Cup race (San Francisco to Catalina Island) with key supporter and friend Stephen Hodges aboard his Express 27 “Dianne.” Steve was also a devoted shore crew at every Around Alone stopover, so how could I refuse? Also coming along was Stephen’s boat partner Steve Katzman, and friend/OP Team rigger Jason Winkel.
After being away from my sailing stomping grounds for 15 months and 40,000 miles, the 360 mile coastal cup race to Catalina was the perfect homecoming race for me to do. I first raced to Catalina about 20 years ago, and loved it; racing out the golden gate, the initial downwind blast and scary first night, ricocheting past the infamous Point Conception, then screeching to a halt in the channel islands “parking lot” to struggle the last miles to the finish. Then, of course, arriving in the compact little party town of Avalon and hearing all the stories from friends and competitors…. Hey, all the adventures of a Transpac packed into just a few days! In ‘ 97, when the race went to Ventura I navigated Azzura when we won class and overall to avenge breaking our mast two years before…..ah, memories…
With gale force winds predicted, I admitted to being a little nervous switching back from a 60 ft. specialized Open 60, to a tiny ultralight. But for the Coastal Cup race, the Schumacher designed Express 27 is the one of the ideal California ultralight pocket rockets. This year the fleet was loaded with hot, downwind boats heading for the Transpac race start in L.A., including “Pyewacket,” “Pegasus,” several Transpac 52’s, and a host of Santa Cruz 50’s & 52’s. In our division winning wouldn’t be easy, with several good boats including none other than the navigator extraordinaire/ace driver team, Stan Honey and Sally Lindsay sailing their Cal 40 “Illusion.”
After a tight pin end start we short tacked out along the rocky shore inside of Mile Rock, slowly leaving our division behind by avoiding the wicked flood tide. The wind then slowly increased and clocked aft, so before long the fleet was ripping down the coast in 25 to 35 knots of wind. What a blast driving and surfing the waves…on the quick handling E27, the pace was just as hectic as zooming across the southern ocean on Ocean Planet! But the little missile was in her element, and we left one larger boat after another behind in our wake. At night, the waves and wind were spectacular in the full moon, perhaps too spectacular, as ten or more boats dropped out with a host of problems from broken masts to shattered rudder shafts.
We picked a good jibe spot in the wee hours of Sat night/Sun a.m., then charged by Point Conception, Point Arguello and across the Santa Barbara channel, right on the line we wanted to be on. We then passed between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands, taking the most direct route towards Santa Catalina. While in between the islands, we spotted a red spinnaker behind us which we soon recognized as an Express 37 that we had passed the evening before…we were doing well! Unfortunately, the wind died off for the last of the ride, likely spoiling our chances for an overall win. Finally, after many hours of drifting, we managed to reach the finishing point at the beautiful northwest tip of the island. While puttering away the 18 miles from the finish to the awaiting party town, Avalon, we heard Stan from Illusion call in his finish time, several hours behind us. It turned out that we had left our class far behind on the windy first part of the race, and hung on to win! We also netted 4th overall, not bad given that the E27 despises the light sloppy stuff we had for the last 50 miles!
Afterwards in Avalon, I ran into dozens of sailing friends that I hadn’t seen since before my trip around the world. It was nice to get some kudos for my solo circumnavigation, and catch up on what I’ve been missing in the Northern California sailing scene. I couldn’t have picked a better place to meet everyone, as so many acquaintances did the race. This morning I flew home to tend to business (fundraising, bills, more bills….) and missed the awards dinner, but this was definitely a homecoming race to remember.
Correction of correction:
Our appearance at the Wooden Boat Show in Rockland, Maine, on July 18-20 is back on. The organizers have been measuring the depths at the docks and think they (barely) can fit our 15ft draft in. Let’s hope the bottom is soft! See you there?
Skipper, Ocean Planet