Sunday, June 24, 2018

J/88 BLUE FLASH- Race 2 Alaska Update

J/88 Blue Flash sailing Race 2 Alaska
(Port Townsend, WA)- On Saturday, June 16th, the infamous Race to Alaska started off Port Townsend, WA for the first qualifying leg of 40nm.  Then, on Monday, June 18th, the “real race” took off to Ketchikan, Alaska for over 735nm up fearsome straits with currents up to 15 kts, tornado-puffs pealing down hillsides like 40 kts microbursts gales, and even snow midsummer off the Canadian maritime provinces of British Columbia and the “inside passage” north to Alaska.  The weather can be fearsome.  A race not for the faint of heart, that is for sure.

J/88 Blue Flash crewScott Grealish’s son Sean and five other crew members all under-25 are sailing their J/88 BLUE FLASH and hope to be the first boat to finish and win a cash prize of $10,000.  That they even finish will be a reward in itself as the youngest adventurers ever to accomplish that feat. Here are some of Scott’s daily updates on their progress north to Ketchikan.

June 18th- Monday- 2035 hrs Pacific
Quick update for those who didn't stay up half the night watching the tracker :)

The team made an incredible start out of the harbor, and worked really hard to build a lead in super light air and against current in the early going.  Really good stuff.

They had a tough decision to make at Turn point, and in the pre-race briefing, we had discussed going out of Boundary pass if they were late to this point.....but they went inside in a gamble to get up to Active pass before the current turned against them.....and it almost worked!!

Race 2 Alaska wildlife- porpoiseAt that point, with just a few more knots of breeze, they could have punched out into the straights and had a commanding lead.  It wasn't to be.

They made a choice to go north to the next pass, Portlier, which had a 3 am window of slack to allow them through...but they were fighting the ebb current in light air and you can see on the tracker that they bailed out and just hung around Active pass for hours waiting for their chance to get through there instead. I'm pretty sure that was a decision based on fatigue from a long hot day of pedaling and light air sailing.

In reality, if you got to turn point late and elected to go inside, you needed to 100% commit to going up to Portlier (as the race winning PT watercraft did).  That would have put them right where he is now, literally 25 miles at least ahead.

But as luck had it, the outside boats got just enough breeze to creep up north overnight, and the tough luck is that today the southerly boats haven't gotten the wind (as we expected) and so the boats in front will extend the lead and things look pretty grim for now.

BUT, that same idea works both ways, and here is my two cents on what's up next.

So, you guys headed my way?  wazzup??The light air zones in the straights will persist with all this high pressure today....and there may be some southerly even at times and places that could bring them back.  But by late tonight/early am there should be real southerly breeze that could bring the fleet back up towards the leaders.

PLUS, the next big "gate" to get past is Seymour Narrows....and if the leaders get there any time other than slack, they have to wait up to six hours.  So once again, a little luck can either get you way up the course or bring back the fleet to you.

The next wild card is the actual Johnstone Straight.  They can get past the narrows by pedaling (it's short) but all the teams will be very challenged if the light air continues as forecast and they have to manage the entire straight under mostly human power.....  The team knows this, and the pre-race plan was to pack in the sleep today/ tonight so they can power thru.

Once the leaders (whoever they are) clear that hurdle, they will be very hard to catch.  It's been a crazy race so far!

J/88 Blue Flash sailing upwindJune 19th- Tuesday- 0900 hrs Pacific
Wow!  Big gains overnight for Team Blue Flash.  As expected, the southerly breeze came and brought them back into this race.  I'm sure there are smiles onboard this morning, as they are finally getting a chance to show they are good sailors.

They took 10 miles out of almost everyone, sailing away from the Olson 30 Dreamcatcher, and taking time out of the leaders.

I'll reveal my secret weapon now:  It's called the A2PHRF kite.  At 103 sq meters, it's much bigger up top than the typical 89 sqm J/88 kite.  Great for this stuff.  Version one took us to several victories (until Cal Offshore week when it went from 20 to 30 knots quickly and Andrew H (included here so I can tease him yet one more time :)  found out that at 19 knots boat speed even he can't keep the J/88 from wiping out when the rudder cavitates!)  So, we shredded that one.

But version two was cut even better for some reaching, and used only in the Mac race (served us well).  New sails are fast!

The big story:  The girls are nearing the tidal gate at Seymour Narrows, but they are going to miss the 10:30 ebb by a hair!  That means they get their turn to sit while the Blueflash gets until 4:30 to get there.  So, it's race restart at Seymour Narrows!!!

Then they all go thru and guess what?  It's a 10.6kn flood!  So, they all sit on the other side in Brown's bay until 11pm.  Then when they finally get the ebb....there won't  be any real wind!

So, it's river sailing in light wind and current.  Sean and Grant have been racing in that condition since they were 8!  I like their chances.  Going to be tricky at night too.... This just got interesting.....

J/88 sailors off CanadaJune 20th- Wednesday- 1235 hrs Pacific
Got a great text around noon from the team:  "Team is in really good spirits.  Great trip so far".  After worrying about them half the night getting thru the Seymour Narrows and Johnstone Straits, that was a good text!

Sean started dreaming about this race two years ago, watched every video, analyzed all the tracks, talked to prior participants, and set out with one goal:  Create an all youth team and be the youngest to finish R2AK.

I bring that up because, naturally, in the prep and early stages of this R2AK, they clearly were out there with competitive ambitions. I'm thinking right about now they are stepping back and realizing that R2AK is really all about challenging yourself in the company of like-minded (crazy) people.  And, they are having a great adventure!

For the moment, they look good coming through Johnstone Straits without getting into big headwinds. The leaders are about 30 miles up the course, but considering the team stopped for a few tidal gates on the race so far, it's actually pretty cool there is this much company near the front of the fleet.

I think things could get closer, actually, as the leaders enter back into the channels to Bella Bella and the chasers look like they'll be reaching fast. And, a forecasted gale will slow the others down, while the J/88 can keep sailing!

I think Russell Brown on PT Watercraft (solo guy on a Gougeon catamaran, who stops every night) is sleeping more than I am this week!

Remember, they will lose cell coverage soon, so not likely to hear much until Bella Bella. I'll relay any sat phone updates I receive.

J88 Blue Flash cruising upwindJune 20th- Wednesday- 2335 hrs Pacific
I got a call from Sean. All good.  They tried to get out of Johnstone Strait, but got flushed back. No wind, much more current than charts suggest.

Trying again on this next cycle.

Conditions change quickly and don't reflect what we see online. Talks five minutes, then wind built from dead to over 15 kts. “Gotta go Dad”!

He confirmed they missed Active Pass by 45 minutes, so the ten mile lead turned into a ten mile loss. They tried for Portlier, but couldn't make berthing/ docks against the current. Their pedal drive is not up to the other leaders level- like the “girl power” in front of them.

He said the leaders went thru Seymour Narrows with nearly max ebb in no breeze (up to 15 kts!). Gutsy call. They would have had double that current, so they waited. They skipped the next slack to flood, as they didn't think they could get into Brown's Bay and would get flushed back through Seymour Narrows!

J/88 paddling and bikingIn any event, they timed their Johnstone Straits run perfectly, to get to Helmken Island, as planned, and out of the powerful currents flowing down Johnstone Straits.

They know about the dissolving omega block, approaching Low (depression), gale warning for Johnstone Strait.  That should help them a lot against the leaders- the J/88 can handle that, not so sure about the others!

They are going to need water and battery recharge in Bella Bella and plan to stop.

They are thinking things through and playing it conservative.

They told me to tell Stu Johnstone that you can hit a large floating tree at 5 knots going upwind in a J/88 and it doesn't leave a scratch!

I guess that proves the logs don't go away at night....Go BlueFlash!

More news when it’s fit to print next week!  Or, follow “LIVE” at the links below.  Fascinating race!!

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