The Pacific Northwest weather Gods conjured up an amazing weekend of great racing weather.
Friday morning first light MARTHA departed for West Sound Orcas Island accompanied by PACIFICA, Doug Jones’ Sparkman and Stevens yawl. The wind was SE 10 to 15 and by Smith Island built to 15 to 18. MARTHA made the passage Point Hudson to Cattle Pass in a quick and civilized manner.
The forecast for the Saturday race was SE 15 to 25 building to 25 to 35. Motoring to the start line in the morning we saw apparent winds to 32 knots. With a deep reefed main, main staysail and fore staysail we checked in with the committee boat and started to range the line.
It’s a good thing we were reefed down and snug because there was plenty of wind and a crowded start box with almost 60 boats starting together.
At 2 minutes to the gun we gybed over and ran for the line, crossing just after the gun with about 10 knots of boat speed. The crew set the jib followed by the Fisherman and we were off.
We quickly accelerated to 11 and 12 knots of boat speed with the highest speed observed at 12.4. MARTHA stretched out and led the fleet out toward Lummi Island as POR FAVOR and POKE and DESTROY came smoking past with their chutes up reaching across our bow.
Most boats hadn’t set Kites yet as the wind was very strong in the puffs, 30 knots or more. As we approached Sucia Island the Extreme 40 (a huge lightweight catamaran), DRAGONFLY came screaming by and pitchpoled. None of us saw the actual event but we came up on the overturned hulls with the crew still not immediately in sight. Our look-out then saw someone about 30 feet from the hulls, and the others scrambling up onto one hull.
We struck our sails, rounded up and came close aboard to check in and help if/as needed. Sean Trew the photographer was on scene with the photo boat and eventually another powerboat showed up to offer assistance. With a huge sense of relief, our crew re-set our sails and we were off once again.
We were still able to round the half-way mark at Patos Island with the top portion of the fleet and started heading to weather with our same sail configuration, minus the fisherman stays’l. As we hardened up to fetch Turn Point we took a very strong gust that laid MARTHA down, cockpit coaming under water.
Wow! that was a puff, MARTHA stood right backup and kept on rolling, 9.4 knots to weather. We were pointing up with the fleet and looking to keep a weatherly position when a sound like a shot gun blast, accompanied by a violent shudder throughout the boat, made everyone take notice.
I thought we had hit something but a few milliseconds later it became apparent that we had lost the Boomkin stay and by extension the effectiveness of our backstay.
The crew responded with fluid precision as sails were struck and we assessed the situation. MARTHA was fine, not making any water and the rig was still up, not bad.
We decided to raise the main staysail, call the race committee to withdraw from the race, and motor sail to Roche Harbor.
Once dockside we surveyed the culprit, it was the bommkin stay chain plate, dating back to 1968 that failed, it appears we exceeded the yield and break strength of the plate and pulled it apart. We quickly turned to rigging a running backstay affair to the masthead, and after consulting the weather crystal ball we decided to race again on Sunday.
Sunday dawned quiet and peaceful, a total opposite to Saturdays vigorous wind and sea. The breeze at the start was a mere whisper and at time would be non existent. MARTHA was ghosting to the line with much of the fleet when the zephyr we were riding evaporated and we and many others drifted in the current.
I decided to start the engine and slowly, carefully, extract ourselves from this untenable position and move out of the start box. After drifting about for about an hour we timed out and decided to go for a sail down Haro Strait, into Cattle Pass and go visit Miles and Louellen McCoy. We then proceeded to Orcas Island Yacht Club to help celebrate an incredible weekend of sailing.
A great takeaway from this weekends racing: We have never pushed MARTHA so hard for as long. She felt absolutely powerful and I never felt worried about her abilities. When the failure occurred it is of note that the failure was of a piece of hardware from 1968, all of the new work performed by Port Townsend Foundry, Port Townsend Rigging and Port Townsend Shipwrights performed as it should. Especially of importance the potentially catastrophic failure did not cascade into something worse. It supports MARTHA’s robust strength and engineering as well as the crew’s ability to respond to situations quickly and effectively.
Please visit these website for further stories of the race and some awesome photos of the event: