Getting offshore with Islands Race 2021

Published on March 6th, 2021

A full year ago in Spring 2020, Newport Harbor Yacht Club and San Diego Yacht Club hosted the Islands Race with a just a hint of the COVID-19 influence over our lives, one of the last “normal” regattas before the pandemic took over. A few weeks later as the 2020 Puerto Vallarta Race sailed down to Mexico, the US fully embraced the initial COVID-19 lockdown and sailing hasn’t been the same since.

But with patience and planning, this year’s Islands Race brought 32 teams to compete in the 142 mile coastal California course from Long Beach, around Catalina and San Clemente to San Diego. And for those on the race at night, the offshore racing experience and competition were back in all its glory.

Many teams have not had the chance to compete in this way in over a year, so the 2021 Islands Race served as its own competition and also training and preparation for teams set to compete in the 600+ mile race to Cabo in March, and the 2225 mile Transpac Race in July. Fifteen of the Islands Race teams will sail the Cabo Race, and 20 will sail in Transpac this year.

Other than a half moon rising late in the night, the conditions were perfect. Following the start on March 5, conditions were nearly ideal for racing with a W-NW breeze most of the day and evening. These conditions sent the fleet surfing quickly past the backsides of both Catalina and San Clemente. All boats were around the southwestern corner of San Clemente (Mark 3) by midnight.

The sea state was also nice with mostly 6-f00t running swells and the occasional ‘growler’ in the night (a breaking wave astern that ‘roars’ ominously, especially loud when you can’t see them). From the turn at Mark 3, it is 71 miles to the finish and it is a race with the sun.

As soon as the sun rises, the wind across the 15-20 or so miles of ocean next to the coast tends to evaporate. Boats not finished by 6:00 am tend to struggle until the thermal breezes restart to fill that void around noon.

Every year, it is a challenge to coordinate the course around San Clemente with permissions from the U.S. military. With dozens of charted exclusion zones which the military deploy like a play book in order to run specific training exercises all around the island, sometimes they are “on,” sometimes they are “off.”

With the help of Range Schedulers, race organizers learn two weeks prior to the race which of the exclusion zones are going to require a 3 mile, 10 mile or 20+ mile barrier. This year was ten. For a wide open ocean, it sure seems crowded sometimes.

First to finish was Roy Disney’s latest edition of Pyewacket, the Volvo 70. While that may have been the expected results, the Pyewacket team also set the elapsed time record (0:10:49:52) for the full Islands Race course (sailing around both Catalina and San Clemente Islands), the race that has been sailed annually since its inception in 2010.

Roy Disney, Pyewacket: “My crew is a group of good close friends that I consider family. We have all sailed with each other and against each other for decades. Two guys in particular are amazing. Robbie Kane got his start in offshore sailing as part of our Morning Light movie. Dave Tank was his teacher and mentor through the whole process. Now they are each some of the best in the world at what they do, and they are working together flawlessly on a very complicated demanding boat.

“I have done the Islands Race a bunch of times and I’ve seen a lot. So I have learned to expect pretty much everything. A race in early spring in changing season can bring rain, lots of wind, or a drifting match. All good tests for a boat and its crew.

“We have been fortunate and grateful to get a few races in this past year. Much better than Zoom sailing! Hard to get any practice in however. That said, we are gearing up for Cabo and Transpac (which would be my 24th) so we are constantly learning, refining and developing our very complex boat.”

The top four in the overall results all came from four different classes. Usually with a particular weather condition, a particular class will dominate, but not so this year. The big boats had the power to run quick, but the little boats (not sleds) were surfing sooner in the smaller sea state, and were able to keep within their corrected time margins.

Witness the overall winner: ‘io, an Antrim 27 at the smallest boat in the fleet.

Buzz Blackett, ‘io, First Overall and First Class 4, shared his teams background before setting off on their victorious 2021 Islands Race: “We have a small but great crew: Jim Antrim who designed the boat, Giles Combrisson who built everything in and on the boat, and David Liebenberg who grew up racing Antrim 27s.

“I learn from each of them every time we go sailing. We’ve only done one ocean race on this boat, last year’s doublehanded Farallons Race. We’ve raced in San Francisco Bay as much as COVID would allow. We’re looking forward to a year or preparation for the 2022 Pacific Cup, doublehanded division.”

The ORR-EZ Class featuring three Beneteaus and a Schock 35 was won by the Beneteau First 40 Saga.

Twenty-five boats finished with seven boats retired for various reasons including two with equipment issues. Adam Faura’s Beneteau 423 Santiago retired with a broken mainsail outhaul. Dan Merino’s Express 37 Juno retired just before San Clemente Island with a damaged rudder. They reported periodically checking in with USCG for safety while returning to port.

AIS equipment and xmit was voluntary for this year, but many boats were running AIS after the start. There was comms btw USng CG/LA Harbor and Islands Race Committee to manage inbound commercial traffic via a voluntary (uncharted) Western Approach Lane btw Santa Barbara Island and West End Catalina Island.

LA control facilitated an alteration of course by the commercial vessel to increase CPA to a comfortable margin, and Islands Race Committee broadcast on VHF 72 and 16 for racers to keep clear of commercial traffic.

These situations pop up more frequently as commercial shipping increases along the coast and being aware of how to avoid dangerous situations is critical. Monitoring your radio and keeping your AIS on for safety and visibility is key. AIS will be required equipment for this race in 2022.

Event informationRace detailsResultsTrackingPhotos

2021 Winners:
ORR-1 Winner: Grand Illusion, Santa Cruz 70, David Clark
ORR 2 Winner: Warrior Won, Pac 52, Chris Sheehan
ORR-3 Winner: Bretwalda3, Rogers 46, Bob Pethick
ORR-4 & Overall Winner: ‘io, Antrim 27, Buzz Blackett
ORR-5 Winner: Nalu V, Cal 40, Mark Ashmore
ORR-EZ Winner: Saga, Beneteau First 40, John Brynjolfsson
ORR-MH Winner: Chim Chim, Gunboat 62, John Gallagher

Source: SDYC

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