An alternative to the mundane

Published on June 7th, 2018

Time is tight, people are soft, boats aren’t seaworthy. Offshore adventure has been traded for windward-leewards (yawn!). Who can still remember the excitement of the SORC, Admiral’s Cup, or Kenwood Cup? Good times!

Seeking to instill an alternative to the mundane is the California Offshore Race Week, which unlike most of the pretenders on the calendar, is a full week of adventure. When did a three-day regatta become a ‘race week’? People, you don’t get to include the recovery time…

Dave MacEwen and his team on the Santa Cruz 52 Lucky Duck have participated in every edition of California Offshore Race Week since its inception three years ago. The concept connected three existing offshore races, and while he’d done well in various legs in the past, this year his team put the whole package together.

Lucky Duck won the Spinnaker Cup, had a very close 2nd in the Coastal Cup and won Division and was 3rd overall in the SoCal 300. The cherry on top was to take the Division AND Overall in the CORW cumulative points spread.

It was a tough, grueling 8-day schedule that began in San Francisco and ended in San Diego, with stops in Monterey and Santa Barbara. Erik Simonson caught up with Dave and got some insights to the week and how things went down…

Spinnaker Cup:
It was a little tricky getting out of the gate, for everyone. We had to play some shifts to get out but had great local knowledge with Pete McCormick, Zac Schramm, and Robin Jeffers just to get out and clear. The breeze picked up on way out and we cut it close to Seal Rocks then worked our way outside the fleet looking for better breeze and clear air.

We set the A2 just off Montara and carried that down to Ano Nuevo with Horizon on our port hip the whole way. If I recall right, we then peeled to our A2.5 and hugged the beach to get some of that compression pressure before working outside a bit to carry the kite across Monterey Bay. Horizon was on our starboard hip most of the way across the bay before we gybed in towards the finish.

We got lucky and got in before the shutdown, but my heart goes out to the smaller boats like Outsider and Don’t Panic that went from planning mode to displacement mode at the end.
Great party and awards at the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club – kudos to the staff and volunteers for another job well done!

Coastal Cup:
We had pretty good wind at the start, it had filled in pretty much to the starting line. We had a slight advantage with the local knowledge by heading in to the left towards Cannery Row as you get headed at first but then get lifted right up to the mark. It started honking pretty good, lots of boat flying their #3 jibs until we got to the corner where the southerly took over.

So, we were beating down the Big Sur coast and then it almost completely died. It wasn’t really clear whether to go in or to go out. As it turns out, going outside proved the way to go as Oaxaca, Horizon and Hana Ho got to the wind first, with Oaxaca getting a nice jump on all of us. We all sailed due south for a few hours, then it was a question of when to head in.

We decided to go in towards Conception early and the other 3 stayed out and ended up sailing a much longer course while we cut the corner. We eventually converged in the Santa Barbara Channel before the wind shut off. And boy did it shut off.

We spent hours just going about a ½ knot. Then there was the current. At first it was going out (east to west) and we all suffered equally, then when it switched, the boats to the south got the better angle, and were sailing close hauled and making better time.

We ended up crossing the finish just ahead of Horizon but they beat us on corrected time. We had them by MILES for a while there, but they fought hard and clawed their way back, so I tip my hat to them!

The Santa Barbara Yacht Club hosts a mean Wednesday Night Beer Can Race, and we have participated in previous years, but we were too beat to participate this time so we just relaxed and enjoyed the show from shore!

SoCal 300:
The weather played out almost exactly as forecast. They try to start the boats at a time where they think boats can get to the sea breeze, and again, the local boats did the best job at that, like local boat Prevail got to the wind line ahead of all other boat in our class. Then it came on just as predicted.

By the time we got to that Santa Cruz Channel it was blowing 20 knots solid, maybe a little more, then you go through the lee of San Miguel Island. It’s a little deceiving, as things calm down for a while but then comes on much stronger when you emerge out of the shadow.

Some of the boats don’t seem prepared for the eventuality, and it can come back and bite you. Some boats had the wrong kite up or were not really ready for the sudden increase. That’s when Bretwalda and Destroyer had their issues. We had our jib top up, maybe longer than we should have. We set our A5 when we got back into the pressure, and even that was a bit of a chore to sail with in those conditions, but it was the right call.

Prevail was leading at the time by a large margin; they just kicked our butt on the upwind leg, but we are optimized for downhill racing for these events. We were able to carry through the night, while they switched to jib reaching mode. Swells built to the 10’-12’ range and winds ramped up to 32 knots, and the boat was getting pushed around a bit, but SC 52 behaves quite well in those conditions, and with the new high aspect rudder, controlling the helm is very manageable.

We usually start our watches around dinner time, but this time we just took our best handful of drivers and rotated them through the night and mixed in the rest of the crew on a normal rotation. With guys like Robin Jeffers and Dave Morris driving, they were rock stars when it came to keeping the boat under the kite and not wiping out. We were trucking through the night and saw boat speed in the low 20s and hit 26-27 knots at one point so it was pretty game on!

The wind backed down some and squared off a bit in the middle of the night, so we switched to our A 2.5, a bigger kite, more of a runner. During the change, while we still had both kites up, a big gust hit just as we were sitting on a wave and we crashed hard.

I was at the helm at the time and we had guys up front, and I just hoped they were hanging on. We got the boat back on her feet and completed the change, but that was a moment I won’t soon forget. I had never wiped out with two kites up before, and in the middle of the night!

We sailed down to the turning mark and gybed, just past midnight and we still had good wind, which is pretty unusual for this course, as we usually come in the morning, the next morning! Our routing took us south of rhumbline so we could have leverage towards the finish close hauled in the lighter airs.

Anyways, we managed to get lucky with the wind all the way to the finish and closed the gap on the big boats. We were really pleased with the results and having been able to carry the kite all the way on leg 2.

I have to hand it to the other skippers, they made the decision to do the race, but do it in a prudent manner and put safety ahead of finish position. That’s really the right thing to do, nobody wants to get someone hurt or break the boat.

For us, the Lucky Duck program, we are out there in game on conditions a lot, sailing in Northern California in events like the Farallones, Lightship or Duxship, you get accustomed to the conditions.

We put a lot of miles on the boat and the crew has been together for some time and we carry the best safety gear we can put on the boat. Not that you want to have to use it but if you are out there, at night, in 30 knots with the kite up, it’s comforting knowing that you are doing everything you can to protect yourself.

We have the luxury of having a really strong, very capable crew, the main core that has been together for 4 years, and we have added some “youts” into the mix. If you are going to race in the SoCal 300, it’s going to blow 30 knots at some point, more often than not, and you need to be ready for that.

Making the right decision that applies to you and your boats and crew’s ability is crucial and I think the boats in our fleet all did that. Whether it be doing the race but not flying the kite at night, as Prevail did or not doing the race at all as Horizon did. Most of all, I am really proud of our crew, they did an amazing job, and I could not be happier.

Lucky Duck crew: Pete McCormick, John Hansen, Ashley Hobson, Austin Book, Zac Schramm, Robin Jeffers, David Morris, Brenden Bradley, Giacomo Paoletti, Karl Grunewald

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