Sunday, August 14, 2016

J/88 Chicago-Mackinac- “Veni, vidi, vici”!

J/88 Blue Flash crew- Chicago-Mackinac Race (Chicago, IL)- Read about how Scott & Sean Grealish from Portland, Oregon came, saw and conquered the Chicago-Mac race sailing their beautiful navy blue colored J/88- BLUE FLASH.  Here is Scott’s report:

“You never what you're going to get for weather in Chicago, except that if you don't like it just wait a few hours and it will change. In each of the seven days before the start our GRIB downloads were giving us a different forecast, with everything between drifters and breeze, sun and rain, and all compass points getting a fair shot at bringing wind to carry the crew of J/88 BLUE FLASH north on their first Chicago Mackinac race.

OD48 sinking- Chicago Mac RaceBut if looking forward is unpredictable, so too is looking back. What will our team of two experienced" (older) and three teenaged sailors remember in 20 years about our "dream" Mac? It might be the attack of the moths at Grey's Reef in the fog, while ghosting under the Code Zero making wind speed at 2.8 knots.  Or, maybe the inches of rain (per minute!) that gave new meaning to "letterbox" drop as the waterfall created by our loose footed main found the gap in my foulies, setting up the next 24 hours as an epically wet Mac Race for me personally (a sentiment shared by most of the fleet!). Surely, we won't forget the dramatic and perfectly executed rescue by the team of "City Girl" who took on all 10 crew from the sinking, rudderless One Design 48 in the Manitou Passage, under gusty 25+ conditions (photo here at right).

For myself, a Chicago native returning home from the West Coast after 30 years to sail again in fresh water, I think the memories will be more of feelings than moments. There's the feeling of closing your eyes laying on a lumpy code zero in wet clothes after 38 hours awake, not really awake or asleep, just "taking a break". The feeling of accomplishment just sweating the details to make the start (and I mean literally drenched in sweat in the hot, humid and windless harbor getting the boat together). The feeling of having the support of so many: Pack the boat up for the Mac? SDBoatworks! Add XM weather for the thunderstorms, expedition, Sat phone, second battery? Artie Means! Trailer 2,000+ miles and put her together again? Ken Cox (Uship) and the guys at Crowleys! Replacing the kite we blew out in time for the Mac? Kerry Poe at North Sails Oregon!

J/88 Blue Flash- drying out after Mac RaceThe feeling of being home again, with my entire extended family sailing out of Belmont (thank you Chicago YC!) in the days before the race, remembering my father who gave me the greatest gift ever letting me find my own way in his old Cal 28 as a teen roaming all over Lake Michigan. The feeling of pride in our teenage crew who met the challenges with the energy and enthusiasm only reserved for the youth. Imagine this: 20+ sail changes, peeling kites, iterating from zeros to jibs to kites and round again? Sure! Sleeping on the rail in the pouring rain? No problem! Dodging thunderstorms all night surrounded by such intense lightning the mast was literally buzzing with static temporarily "frying" our wind instruments? Scary! But ready for that "letterbox" and all sail down! Surviving on bars, trail mix, Gatorade and freeze dried "food"? "Anyone else hungry?" " You just ate!" " Yeah, but...". Teenaged boys.

The greatest feeling? How about surfing for much of the race, often 15+ knots without a single wipeout, nor a missed gybe? The J/88 is an incredible offshore boat!

But what about our crew? Amazing! What else is there to say when you can hand over the helm to someone like my longtime friend Kerry Poe (North Sails Oregon) in 20­ to 25 kts with the big kite up and you just know he's going to make the boat go faster!

Mackinac Island harbor- finish at dawnNot a missed gybe? Yeah, seriously. Our Portland-based kids included John Ped, heading to MIT next year, but "owning" the bow here and now! His right hand man was my nephew Nick DelGuidice, recruited days before the race, sailing the Mac as literally his first time on a sailboat!! Iron stomach as our "cook", handy with a fire extinguisher (OK, so the Jetboil setup was my bad, but hey who knew the overhead would be so fire resistant without a liner?), and able to memorize and copy moves at a glance on the fly (not the classic "see one, do one, teach one" but more "do one, do two, ask later what the heck we just did"). And, how about my own son Sean? The youngest crew, and soon to be part of Oakcliff Sailing in their Offshore program, he was truly my right hand man. A versatile sailor, he drove and navigated, during the race and in the weeks prior learned tons about Expedition software, weather, routing, polars, sail charts and more. Most important, he kept us just conservative enough that first night in the squally thunderstorms to stay in touch with eventual second placed J/88 Rambler who challenged us the entire race, yet avoid any drama.

J/88 sailing on Chicago-Mackinac RaceSpeaking of dramatic, how cool was it to be 12 hours into the 300 mile long Mac and still be sailing with all three J/88s, Rambler, Blue Flash, and Slot Machine in a row (photo at right)! Only the BBQ on Mac Island after the race beat that moment, as that is a fun group of sailors that know how to sail hard and throw a killer after party!!!

The last word on my 2016 Mac has to go to the boat itself. Almost two years ago, I bought my J/88 thinking mostly about sailing with family for fun. Fast forward, and we have quickly had to clear more space on our mantle piece over the fireplace with wins in the Rum Runner and two Newport Ensenada Races, seconds in the Spinnaker Cup, Islands Race, and California Offshore Week, and now the big section win in the Mac! Knowing fully well my own limitations as a racing sailor only reinforces my belief that I've been lucky to race with terrific crew on a terrific boat!

The J/88 is slippery in the light and wicked fast once it hits 18+ kts TWS. It's just big enough to sail offshore, yet small enough to trailer behind a pickup. Our favorite strategy (besides sail fast fast in the right direction) so far is going upwind at 55mph (highway VMG is good stuff!) and downwind at 15 knots offshore! We've been fortunate enough to sail for wins, yet everything is small enough that we can take youth out and introduce them to offshore racing without worrying about the loads and safety issues. What more can I ask from a boat? Just that it keeps bringing us those great memories!”