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Newport To Cabo Race 2011

As seen aboard Alchemy

Fri, 25th Mar 2011
By Chuck Skewes

Newport To Cabo Race 2011 As seen aboard Alchemy
Alchemy crew arrives in Cabo

Going into and preparing for this race we knew what we were in for and did the best to prepare for this event.  We have a very experience crew and most of us have sailed all over the world including a couple of us that have sailed around the world including a Whitbread.  I have sailed in Force 10 and 11 in the English Chanel and fished in Alaska for 9 years.  I am sure I have seen more bad weather than most, so I feel that I can speak with more experience than most.

The race started with a different weather pattern than predicted but it was obvious that the depression rolling towards us was not a model but an actual living storm that was already developed and moving quickly.  There was going to be no chance that it would dissipate and little chance that we could get south of it before it ran us over.  With the wind light and upwind shortly after the start we knew that we were going to be much further North than the routing showed and we were going to hit more of the wind. 
As we headed south the wind built slowly all day.  There was a large pacific swell running as well but in long periods so at this point the ride was less than ideal since we were beating in a typical running race but it was good sailing and we were monitoring the shifts and racing hard.  Around 3:30 am we put up the #3 and the wind waves were only a couple feet on the nose with a large westerly swell of 8-10’ on the beam. 
As we travelled further south the wind increased and the waves built coming from the south.  The wind settled in at a solid 28-30 with higher gust and now the boat was taking lots of waves over the bow and with the side swell, made a very confused square waves.  As the hours ticked by the seas built more and more making it just plain uncomfortable.  We were healed over with the rail in the water with sails stacked on the weather rail with many waves coming over the bow.  The back sides of the waves were just plain square, there would be a silence for about 5 seconds and the boat would drop with a huge bang that send a reverberating vibration through the entire boat from bow to stern.  It made moving around slow and tricky.  It was very hard to sit and nearly impossible to stand.   Going straight upwind in these conditions it is not possible to stay dry.  The waves would hit you hard in the face and work all the way down into your boots.  I grew up sailing in the Northwest and it brought back memories of smaller boats in the winter racing.  The boat was doing 9 knots and although it sounded like it was coming apart it did not.
We continued to monitor weather and GRIB files looking for a right shift as the low went past.  This meant spending more time on port tack which was by far the worse tack.  The fun meter was pegged on 0 and we kept hearing of boats dropping out and as tracker reports from other boats showed them falling further behind we rightfully assumed they had dropped out as well.  At 3:30 the following morning we hit a 90 degree right shift in 2 minutes without the wind velocity change.  We went to an all hands tack to move the sail stack and get onto starboard and immediately were reaching still reefed but a much better angle to the waves.  At this point we knew we were through the worst of it and had something to look forward to.
As the night wore on we shook out the reef and eventually were in a Jib Top and now reaching much bigger speed and headed straight down the race track.  Within a few more hours we were into a spinnaker with 12 knots of breeze and much smoother sea state.  It quickly was becoming a more typical Mexico race and the wind was increasing every hour until it was blowing 20 knots again, but this time from the direction that is much more desirable.  We could see Grand Illusion and Mayhem on the horizon in the daylight hours and track Mayhem during the night with the tracker but lost track of our closest completion Grand Illusion when there tracker did not track during night hours on the last night.  We finished right after day break in light wind with the wind slowly building it brought Mayhem and Grand Illusion in with a little more wind.  We corrected 18 minutes out of first after a great race.
We did not break any gear or tear any sails.  There are a lot of critics of the amount of boats that dropped out of the race, for boats that are supposed to be ocean going boats.  I can tell you that it was definitely challenging, and for 36 hours just plain not fun.  I think everyone that dropped out did the correct thing.  We are in a recreational sport.  We do it for fun and lots of the people on the boats have families and other jobs outside the sailing world.  It is never a bad or poor choice to quit when it is no longer fun, or unsafe.  We would have dropped out if we had problems that brought safety into question.  We all take a certain amount of risk and that is what makes this a great sport.  I know many of the sailors that dropped out and I respect their decision.

This article was posted on Fri, 25th Mar 2011