Northern Century II: The Race

As mentioned in my previous post, I was taking part in a race called the Northern Century on Gudge, with my friend Emma. The race started from Anacortes Yacht Club on Friday evening at 7:30, so on Thursday we sailed across to a nearby island. This was a lovely broad reach all the way and was very relaxing!

After anchoring there for the night, the next day we headed to the yacht club and tied up at the temporary berth. There was a bit of last minute dashing around as I had to replace the cylinder in my life jacket after accidentally inflating it while reaching inside a lazarette for a spanner that I’d dropped while trying to tune the autopilot, in a series of events that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a silent movie. Once that was done, open bar time!

…. except open bar apparently means a ‘bar that is open’ in the States. Mind you the beer was 3 USD a pint and they took Canadian money on par, so it was the cheapest pint I think I’ve had for about ten years! Following the briefing, I said good luck to Phil (who was racing on his boat Zaff but in a higher division) and we went back to set up and head out!

A wasp decided to attack me as I was right in the process of backing out of the dock, luckily the docks were huge so I didn’t hit anything and after a brief struggle I emerged victorious and it was on to the start sequence!

This was my second ever start and was a lot more chill than Swiftsure, being a lot less boats.

Here is Zaff, getting a good start

The wind died right at the start so we were slightly worried about even crossing the line in time, as it happened we weren’t even the last over and it was off on an instant spinnaker run!

….. kind of.

In a series of events that later discussion with Emma would reveal were ’embarrassing’, we first managed to hourglass the spinnaker due to the skipper of Gudgeon deciding in an early fit of hubris that we didn’t need to run the tapes to check it wasn’t twisted as it was ‘probably fine’. Once untangled, this was then followed by immediately wrapping it around the forestay, followed by the pole flying up in the air as the downhaul wasn’t attached corrected. Seasoned pros, I tell ya.

Luckily by this point the entire double-handed fleet (who we started with, being double-handed) was ahead of us so probably didn’t see the show. Which just left the fully crewed fleet behind us, enjoying the spectacle.

ANYWAY, once we got everything sorted we actually started moving… and much to everyones surprise (not least mine) we actually started gaining on the other boats, and overtaking them! In addition, our position at the back of the fleet meant we got some really nice shots of the sun setting behind the other boats

This part was made more ‘interesting’ by a couple big tankers coming through

We basically flew the spinny for 5 hours non-stop until just South of Point Roberts (and were in first in our division), where we ran into these real shitty steep waves, which caused us to launch of the top of them into a trough, causing the spinny to refill with a crash. After a few minutes of this, I had visions of the spinny disintegrating, so we took it down. We had real trouble stopping the waves rolling all the air out of the sails, and it was frustrating to say the least.

Eventually, we made it to Point Roberts and some flatter water and headed back on a close reach. At this point I went and had an hour or so nap.

I woke up and we reevaluated our position. Basically, whatever we had been doing was not great and we were now near the back again. Balls. We carried on heading South, and somehow caught up to the other boats again.

Now, the tide was about to turn to a flood and the wind was light, and with visions of swiftsure still in my head (where we got swept backwards for around 7 hours) we decided to anchor and have a sleep. We definitely slept too long, since if you look at the tracker you can see all the other boats move back slightly for the first 30 mins or so and then shoot forward. Which means after the slumbering beauties aboard Gudgeon awoke from their nap after a couple of hours, they found that all the other boats were once again a few miles in the lead. Balls.

Not to be discouraged, we set off after them. We stuck to the Canadian side, as we figured there was usually better wind and the current according to the charts seemed to be less. This paid off big and we soon overhauled the other boats, though Kyrie overtook us again once they hit the stronger wind

This is us belting down the Haro on a close reach. This turned into a beam reach as we approached Hein Bank in the middle of the Juan de Fuca.

Now, I really dislike the Juan de Fuca. It’s the bit of water my marina is on, so I have to go through it to get to anywhere else, and it’s just shitty. There is always strong current (usually in the wrong direction), it always seems to be choppy and it’s always cold. What happened next did little to dispel that notion.

Hein bank (where the mark is we had to round) is a bank where it goes from 400 feet to 6 feet very very fast. Throw in some 20 gusting 25 winds that were opposing current and there were some pretty shitty waves. It was also enhanced by getting dark RIGHT as we got there, and also having a rock nearby, meaning you have to go between the mark and the rock.

I forgot to put the gybe brake on, so the wind shot from 15 to 25+ in a gust, the furling line (which I also hadn’t secured correctly) gave way at the same time as the reef line in the main slipped it’s knot, meaning we suddenly had a lot of sail out in a high gust. This led to an immediate crash gybe as the bow got pushed away from the wind, followed by another one immediately afterwards. Somehow nothing broke and we both managed to avoid getting hit by the boom. At this point we were in some disarray but managed to get the boat stabilised, although not fast. We’d got the genoa in, and the main was still up and reefed at the luff side but not the leech, so it looked like a huge sugar scoop. We decided to stick with it as the boat felt stable and we didn’t want to muck around with it too much, but it meant we were pretty slow at 4-5 knots.

Eventually the wind started to moderate so we first put out the genoa, and then shook out the reef, and as we got into the Rosario strait the wind died, 5 miles from the finish. Sadly there were a lot of swells, so we got rolled from side to side, sails slatting. 20 minutes was enough of this and we were discussing whether to quit when suddenly we noticed a steady 3 knots of wind! From the same direction! We got the sails up, then I put up the spinny for like the MILLIONTH time and we ran for the finish….

…. alongside Amorillo, the boat with the same rating as us. IT WAS ON! We were neck and neck approaching the finish…

…. and then we ran into a huge wind hole caused by the lee of the island. Amorillo obviously knew about it so avoided it and sailed onto glory while we drifted around. Eventually we finished 13 mins behind them and 20 behind Kyrie. Not bad! The San Juan 24 came in behind us but corrected over everyone, meaning we came 4th out of 6th (two boats didn’t finish). The next day we went to the results party and met some of our competition including a frankly adorable father/daughter duo on Kyrie and one of the sailors on the San Juan 24, who was salty As All Hell.

So all in all a great result! Finished the race, came in real close to the other boats. Couple of things we could have done differently

  • put up Spinny again earlier near Point Roberts
  • Not slept for so long
  • Dealt with the crappy weather at Hein Bank better, and therefore gone a lot faster leaving it. This is where we got caught by the other boats.

I learnt so so much about sailing and moving even in light winds, and feel way more confident in a lot of situations! Main thing I got out of it is I need to find a way to keep the spinny rigged even when using the Genoa – as it was every time we flew it I had to rerig it from scratch – run and tie sheets, rig pole etc. Such a pain, esp at 3am.

Results are here and you can replay the race on the tracker here

Here are some more photos I took that are kinda miscellaneous – couldn’t really find a place for them in the text so putting them below.








  1. Nice job. Amazing that boats can finish so close to each other despite so many different variables and hiccups, on a long race.

    Re: spinnaker rigging, we always keep it rigged if we think we might use it again that day (or week). The kite should have its own sheets (they usually are lighter-weight than genoa sheets too) and own blocks. The tack can stay mostly rigged. Just the halyard might need to be disconnected. And probably the pole, not sure you can get that out of the way otherwise. (you could switch to an asym, but the cost of dealing with the pole is worth it in my opinion, for better DDW sailing).

    • It has its own sheets/blocks but every time we tried using the Genoa with the spinny sheets still rigged (or vice versa) it got tangled. This may be due to doing it at night with very little sleep. I ended up having to retie the spinny sheets or move the Genoa sheets everytime.

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