I’ve been up here in the Bay Area for about 4 weeks now. With plans changing on a daily basis, I had one goal regardless of what happened and that was to sail. After going through my contacts, I shot a message to my friend, and local racer, Will Paxton, to see if he knew of any sailing opportunities I could hop on while I was here. Sure enough, he was able to give my information to his buddy, John, who was short on crew on his Flying Tiger 32′ for the upcoming 2014 Great Vallejo Race.
I was ecstatic to have my first opportunity to crew on a race boat with a dedicated crew and in such a big race! I was also extremely nervous! I know how competitive these guys can be and I did not want to get in the way of anything! I’m pretty decent when it comes to sailing, however, racing wasn’t something that even came close to my skill level, in my personal opinion anyway. The opportunist in me, however, was not going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers. It was a chance to meet new people and greatly better my sailing skills!
On race day, I showed up early so I could get a chance to get familiar with the boat and ask any questions I needed before things got too heated and competitive out on the water. Upon my arrival, I see this sexy, sleek race boat with a skinny carbon fibre mast and all these intimidating instruments. Sure enough, I see the name, “Wild1” stamped on the side. This was the boat I was to race on! She was a Flying Tiger 32′. The boat looked as if it was moving fast just sitting in the water alone! With so many emotions flowing at this point, I couldn’t really tell you how I felt at that moment, but I’m sure it’s safe to assume, excited was on the top of that list.
After meeting with John and the rest of the crew, we began moving quickly, running lines, hoisting sails, packing food, etc. Within an hour we were already on the water with our spinnaker flying high in the sky! Never having flown a spinnaker before, I wasn’t crazy about being the guy on the bow running the kite but if there’s any good way to learn how to fly one, it was probably like this. After about a half hour of practicing gybing with the spinnaker up I was confident on successfully being able to do my job and do it fast! With that said and done we headed to the starting line.
When we arrived to the starting line, we were surrounded by well over a hundred other race boats sailing in a tight group like a bunch of confused ants. Boats where sailing in every direction, quickly tacking constantly to avoid collisions with one another. It was chaos! However it was a controlled chaos and actually a very peaceful site. To be surrounded by so many other boats, all under sail with literally only a few feet between the boats themselves, it was definitely a fun experience!
From my experience, The Bay Area is one windy place! In fact, I hadn’t experienced a single moment where the winds had died for any longer that 10 minutes. When we arrived to the community boat, the winds were pretty calm. Much like the average winds of San Diego. It was rather suspicious and the “1 minute to race time” shot had already been fired! Sure enough, the the wind died completely by the starting fire and the race was postponed for another hour due to the lack of wind.
11 o’clock came around and we got a good start. We were one of the first off the line. After rounding the first race bouy we raised our spinnaker and the wind died immediately. It was at about this time that sailboat racing started to seem a lot less exciting than I had thought. However, to no prevail, the wind eventually picked up and it was all downwind from there! Out spinnaker filled with air, the boat heeled far over to the starboard side and we shot across the bay! After rounding the Richmond Bridge, we had the wind blowing directly at our backs and we sped down the bay! It was at this time that I realized what all the hype was about!
Our boat, having a plaining hull, shot along the water at a steady 17 knots! The fastest I’d ever been on a sailboat! Being a cruiser, I never understood why people loved to sail downwind over upwind. But I realize the problem now, I’ve always been sailing on these huge slow tanks and not on anything lightweight and fast. We were going so fast that everyone on the boat had to be leaning off the back of the boat as much as possible to prevent the bow of the boat from dunking under water and stopping the boat! Being as fast and organized as we were, we finished placing 2nd in our class! A huge deal in my book for my first race and with the number of boats racing.
When it came time for docking all of these race boats, it was a bit chaotic! There would be a second race the next day back to Richmond so instead of making the sail back, everyone rafted their boats inside the Vallejo Yacht Club. I say “rafted” because there were so many boats being jammed into the marina that they just tied everyone’s boats together. It was quite a site to see that many boats all tied up together. By the end of the day, the marina looked like one of those puzzles with the sliding pieces and only one square open. The Marina itself was a very shallow marina, and with about 300 race boats coming in, it was not a very good choice in marinas. Most of the race boats drew at least 6-8 feet deep and the maximum allowed draft of the marina was only 4 feet! Because of this, a lot of boats had to sail back to their home ports and miss the next days race.
Our boat, had a 7.5 foot keel on the bottom of it and instead of turning back like most, I was sure of another marina nearby that had been recently dredged pretty deep. After some hesitation, the crew took my word and we entered the marina. We made it in without any issues and we were quickly approaching the slip we chose to pirate for the night. We drifted the bow right into the slip and then threw the boat into reverse to slow down. The boat immediately stopped and everyone was very surprised without how well the engine had stopped us in our tracks. However, It didn’t take more than a few seconds to realize that it wasn’t the engine that brought us to a halt but we had actually ran aground. And to make things worse, we were only about 4 feet in the slip with the rest of the boat just sticking out in the channel. Everyone was pretty upset and I felt awful for getting this nice raceboat stuck in the mud. We tried everything we could to get her further into the slip but nothing worked. We even used a halyard to heel the boat over but we weren’t going anywhere until the next day when the tide had raised. Feeling guilty for running the boat aground, I offered to sleep on the boat overnight to make sure nothing happened to it while the rest of the crew stayed in a nice hotel.
The next day came along and once again, it was raceday! I had breakfast with some local ducks off the back of the boat which you can see here. After breakfast, we set up the boat again, switched out the sails, threw our gear on, and waited for the tide to raise those last few inches allowing us to break free from the bottom! We quickly headed off into the channel and put our game faces on. It was race time! The winds were blowing pretty consistently today and no classes had to be postponed.
The shot was fired and we were off! This race was all upwind and not as exciting as the day before. We literally sailed in a straight line, making only 5 tacks in moderate winds. Nothing too exciting but fun nonetheless. We placed 5th in this race.
After the race, there was another small party at the Richmond Yacht Club where I met a racing couple Bret and Kristy. Both were amazing sailors with epic stories to share! After sharing a meal with them, I was invited to stay at their house in Brickyard Cove for the next few days. I also did some boat work for them on 2 of their boats. They owned 3 sailboats between the two of them; 2 race boats and 1 cruiser. The last night, I spent on their cruiser, which was a Pearson 26′. Not the largest cruiser in the world but a cruiser nonetheless.
The following few days I spent working on my friends’ WestSail 32′ in Berkley. This boat has one of the most beautiful and creative interiors I’ve ever seen. The boat actually won the award for the best custom interior WestSail ever built. The boat had just been shipped down from Seattle via flatbed so she needed to be rerigged and the mast needed to be stepped. Since the boat was out of the water we took the time to really get as much work done as possible before placing her back in the water. Unfortunately, we found some wood rot in the 7′ long bowsprit. Seeing that the bowsprit weighed a few hundred pounds and hung off the bow of the boat, we decided to remove it for repairs while the boat was on stilts. With the help of a fork lift, no heavy lifting was necessary and we loaded it in the truck to repair from their home.
Karina and James, the owners of the WestSail, have an awesome home. They live in a nice big trailer home with a full on yard in the middle of the Mt. Diablo State Park. If I wasn’t living the boaters life, I’d be trying to live theirs. We ended up staying the next few nights there where we worked on the giant bowsprit from their boat.
What didn’t seem like a very big job turned out to be 3 days of just sanding the paint off to expose the wood. The bowsprit was painted so we couldn’t really get a good idea of all the places that were rotted and needed repairing. Furthermore, to prevent this problem from ever happening again, they want to varnish the bowsprit instead so that if rot were to ever happen again, it would be visible before it becomes a problem. The work was tedious but it was much nicer working in the middle of the forest with the shade from the trees instead of in the middle of the city in a noisy boat yard in the blistering sun. Definitely made the work a lot easier.
After working, I went on a nice hike before sunset and found a wind cave right off the trail. Seeing that I was on an adventure, it only made sense to me that I sleep in the cave. So after making my way back to the trailer, I gathered my stuff up and made my way back to wind cave where I set up camp!
This big adventure that I’ve been on for the past month had just turned from a sailing trip to an all around outdoors adventure! After saying goodbye to Karina and James, I found myself in the middle of the woods along a beautiful river in Nevada City, just North of Sacramento. From here on out, nothing had been planned and has its own long story of how I ended up where I was. I spent the following day swimming in a freezing river with small rapids and waterfalls and drifted about 2 miles downstream. The water was freezing but too awesome to not swim in. I wish I had my GoPro to film myself rushing with the water over rapids and waterfalls. Definitely would have made for a great video!
From Nevada City, I began my descent, making my way down the Coast and spent a night at my favorite ranch in Big Sur, Apple Pie Ridge.
After a night in Big Sur, I furthered my descent and found myself exploring in Morro Bay and staying the night in a beautiful beach house in Pismo Beach. As of now, I’m in Los Angeles where I will be staying and sailing on Que Sera, a beautiful Horizon Nemo 39′, for the next week.
This has been one hell of a month for me! It started out pretty awful and plans fell through just about every step of the way but nonetheless, I kept a great attitude the whole time and I’ve lived every moment of it to the fullest! While my adventure is coming to an end, a new adventure has already began to unfold. An adventure much greater than this past one deserving to be called a “Game Changer”, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out! I’m so excited to get back to sailing my boat once again. I should be back in San Diego this Sunday on the 11th so if you’re reading this, let’s plan some outings on the water for when I’m back!