Swiftsure 2015: Keep your fingers crossed!
Every once and a long while we have conditions that should give us a great race. Those conditions can be summed up in one word: WIND! Not too much, maybe 25 knots Saturday night near Race Passage and not too little, maybe 5 knots as you leave Neah Bay and head to the mark on Swiftsure Bank. Then again, it is Swiftsure so no guarantees.
The big change for this year is this persistent ridge of high pressure we’ve had along the West Coast for some time now combined with a trough of low pressure on the east side of the Cascades. This has given us a cranking westerly in the Straits for the last 4 days with a peak of almost 35 knots last night at Race Passage. Remember this is a very localized 35 knots that only exists in the vicinity of the Race. Outside of Sheringham Point and inside of the Race, the wind is less. Regardless, the systems aren’t going to move very much this weekend so I’m thinking wind especially inside the Straits from about Clallam Bay back to the finish.
The other interesting feature this year is the tides, starting at around 2200 hrs on Saturday night the tide will ebb until 1610 on Sunday afternoon! YIKES. There will be a very short window from about 0645 until about 0745 Sunday morning when the ebb will slow to near zero in the Race and then the ebb will crank right up again. The good news is that we’ll be starting just before max ebb so with the forecast of wind we should be shot right out the Straits.
We should have about 8-10 knots of southwesterly in the starting area just watch that you aren’t swept early over the line at the start. You’ll probably start on starboard and when you can get a clear lane hitch to port and aim towards the Race. Watch getting out of the ebb as you get to the beach north of the Race as there will also be less wind in there. The goal is to find the the axis of the current to take advantage of the free ride. You’ll also want to start with your headsail in the port groove so you can change on starboard tack.
When you get to the Race, you’ll go through on starboard however remember that immediately as you exit the Race there is a plume of stronger ebb the runs to the west-northwest for about a 1/4 of a mile so a short hitch to port to stay in that is worthwhile. It will also put you into position to be on the inside of the upcoming starboard tack lift that will come as you cross the Straits.
The breeze should stay in the 14 to 18 knot range until you get almost to Neah Bay and then after about 1700 hours the breeze will start to drop especially along the US shore so watch that you don’t get too close to the beach. Make your approach into the Neah Bay mark on starboard and if you find yourself being set in the flood below the starboard layline, hitch immediately pack up while you still have breeze. The wind will be much lighter at the mark. while I reference the Neah Bay mark the same will be true of the mark in Clallam Bay.
Regardless of the tide, once you round the mark it will be time to beat feet to the Canadian side because there should be more wind there. This will also be very similar to last year where it will pay big dividends to be leading your fleet when you round because you’ll be the first to get back into the stronger breeze as you sail towards the Race.
It also doesn’t look we’re going to have that white-knuckle increase in wind speed as we go from Sheringham to the Race. Instead, it will be time to have your best drivers taking advantage of every little shift as you sail downwind and gybing when you have to and not getting too far offshore and into that ebb.
Hopefully you’ll be through the Race sometime between about 0500 and 1000 hours on Sunday morning. Once through the Race the breeze will drop as you get closer to the finish. The other problem will be the trade-off between staying out of the tide by working up on the port gybe and sailing off to stay in the wind. I know it’s tough from about 0200 hours until the sun comes up but tracking your competition with the handbearing compass can be very rewarding.
As I said, keep your fingers crossed and let’s have a safe fun race!