THE EPIC N2E ADVENTURE – SAILBOAT RACING

The intrepid crew of “Savasana” (a Yoga relaxation pose) started off at 9:30 AM Friday as SSYC’s entry in the 125nm 70th Annual Newport-to-Ensenada race. SSYC’s Senior Staff Commodore, Don Albrecht, with 43 straight years of N2E experience, was at the helm of the start of our class at 11:10 AM. We were shadowed by a number of SSYC’ers on “Ku’ uipo”, with Vice Commodore Dean Russell at the helm. They were cheering us on after the start. The crew included owner Erik Waelput, Don Albrecht, Kathy Abbott, Tina Simmons, Chris Haro, Mark Howard, John Marshall and Dan Urbano.
We had 5-7mph winds at the start and as the sun became bigger, the winds were expected to build. A majority of the boats rode a port tack some 40 miles out to sea and after several hours, were further away from Ensenada than when they started. They were outside looking for high winds while some us remained closer to shore. With 8 people on board, everyone had an opportunity at the helm. As the winds grew ever stronger, we determined that the wind had indeed clocked around from the SSE to the West. It put the wind direction coming over our starboard aft quarter, an ideal direction and opportunity to set our gennaker (a gennaker is an asymmetrical sail and mounts like a jib on the forestay, where a spinnaker is symmetrical and flies with lines on the corners).
With Tina on the helm, the wind was gusting up to 18-20 mph and we were hitting hull speeds of 10.4 mph! With following seas at 6-8 feet, the rudder became too shallow in the water and we lost control of the boat direction! Needless to say, it’s a very crazy time on the boat when you can no longer steer it where you want to go as the boat starts “rounding-up”.
“Rounding-up” is a phenomenon that occurs in sailing when the sailor at the helm is no longer able to control the direction of the boat and it heads up (or “rounds up”) into the wind, causing the boat to slow down, stall out, or tack. This occurs when a gust of wind overpowers the ability of the rudder to maintain a straight course. It takes a great deal of strength to get the rudder to respond to the rounding-up.
As the sun set, the winds began to die down. By 9:00 PM, the wind stopped and we were simply being pushed forward by the ocean swells. It’s roughly the equivalent of being in a washing machine as the sails and rigging slap from one side to the other, causing the boat to pitch and yaw. That was a bit unsettling to a few sailors’ stomachs. But, the beauty of the night sky away from city lights is amazing as night sky literally explodes with stars.
Since we were sailing in the Cruising Gennaker “B” class, we were able to use our engine for a few hours to make some headway. After all, the party in Ensenada started Saturday at 6:00 PM and we didn’t want to miss it! As the sun rose on Saturday morning, you could see Point Loma in San Diego. As the sun rose, the winds returned and we were on our way again down the coast to the border with Mexico.
We heard many radio broadcasts from the San Diego Coast Guard warning sailors of small boats to be aware of a “Small Craft Advisory”. A “Small Craft Advisory” is a type of warning issued by the National Weather Service in the coastal areas. It is issued when winds have reached, or are expected to reach within 12 hours, a speed marginally less than gale force. The wind that triggers the advisory is typically 25-38 mph. We kept wondering when it was going to give us the great wind to reach Ensenada in a reasonable period of time. After all, we had a “Welcoming Committee” looking for us!.
We were headed to a waypoint roughly 20 miles off Ensenada Bay where we would have to jibe from a starboard tack to a port tack. I was on the helm and we brought the crew together to discuss how we were going to manage the jibe. Erik and Dan were to scramble up the foredeck wearing the auto-inflatable PFDs while being tethered to the boat to make sure the clew of the Gennaker made it around the forestay. Chris was to center the main, then ease the main sheet to the starboard side. The port side Gennaker sheet was to be eased, while the starboard Gennaker was to be trimmed. We executed the maneuver to perfection! Now, we were on a final leg in to Ensenada!
The winds started to increase dramatically. We were getting buffeted by winds that created a twist in the Gennaker at the top of the said. Our boat speed kept increasing to 9, 10, 11 mph. We hit 12 mph and I was fighting the helm hard as she kept trying to round-up with each bigger gust of wind. We had to get the Gennaker down as we were pushing Savasana beyond her limits as we hit 12.9 mph! Unfortunately, the twist in the Gennaker made it impossible to put it into the sock. We had to pull the entire sail into forward hatch. Mark Howard was standing by below deck as we wrestled with the Gennaker. Another gust of wind blew the Gennaker block off the starboard side and the sail was flying out of control. Winds are always fastest at the top of the mast while the water slows the wind. Savasana buried her starboard rail in the water as the Gennaker billowed out far on the starboard side. We were heeled way over and I’ll never forget the 3 seconds that everyone looked at me on the helm with the, “Are we going into the water?” The 10-12 foot swells were slapping against the port side of the boat, but I managed to steer the boat off the wind to keep the boat upright. When we were heeled over, Mark Howard, shouted, “I can see fish!” Fortunately, the starboard side windows were closed. We did our best to save the Gennaker as out came the knives to cut the lines. The only thing holding the Gennaker was the halyard. We managed to raise it ten feet above the water where it became evident that the Gennaker had split in two. Erik made the final call to cut the Gennaker halyard and we watched the halyard fly out of the top of the mast and away from the boat. The expressions on the crews’ faces looked like we had just lost a dear friend. I know many of us were willing to pitch in to buy a new sail. Erik did his best to make us feel better. He explained, “It was a $3,000 sail. I used it seven times over the past three years. I just bought a new boat and it has a spinnaker. I’m planning on leaving Savasana in Windward Sailing Club and they’Ll never need a Gennaker, so we’re not replacing it”.
After recovering from a trying experience, we finished the race at 5:25 PM on Saturday and were greeted on the dock by a very enthusiastic welcoming committee comprised of Robin Marshall, Juli and Brian King and Dean and Barbara Russell. Champagne was poured all around and we toasted to an N2E experience that we will not soon forget. The Coral Hotel and Marina is a magnificent property. The King’s and Russell’s suite on the 5th floor had a commanding view of the pool area and the expansive view of Ensenada Bay. They entertained the crew of Savasana on the patio deck while many in the crew took advantage of a hot shower. The party featured lamb, carnitas and chicken tacos for $2.50. The Cadillac Margueritas for $5.25 were fantastic!
The RBOC past president and friend Cleve Hardaker of Silver Gate Yacht Club was on the N2E finish boat and explained to us what happened on the water. He described that two large air masses collided out at sea. You had the cool onshore breeze that was building all day. Then, you had the warm offshore breeze of the Santa Ana winds combining to create a windy vortex with winds exceeding 37 mph. Truly, gale force winds. Savasana was one of several boats that either lost their Gennaker or Spinnaker that afternoon. Many boats crossed the finish line with only their mainsail up or what was left of their spinnaker tied to the mast. Many mainsails were simply blown out. “Apprentice” out of the Newport Sea Base had to retire from the race in San Diego as their head stopped working! Next year we’ll have an even more experienced crew!
-Race Director John Marshall