I have never been very keen on competitive sports. I prefer engaging in activities where I am more focussed on bettering my own abilities rather than beating other people. Sports like hiking, climbing, back country skiing, scuba diving, and long distance sailing. So it was with much trepidation that friends of mine first goaded me into participating in sailboat racing in Seattle.
I thought that there was something perverse about taking something as beautiful as sailing and making it into a competitive ego battle on the water. But I was blessed with being asked to crew on a boat where the captain and crew where using racing merely as an excuse to go sailing. First and foremost on their minds was sailing safely and having fun. If we happened to win a race or do well that was great, but it wasn’t the reason for us being there.
What I soon learned on ‘BYB’ (Big Yellow Boat) was the finer art of sail control as well as learning to recognize the subtle signs of wind and currents and adjusting the boat accordingly. Striving to take full advantage of the forces at play in order make the boat move through the water as efficiently as possible. This was to help me immensely later on when I started to do long distance solo sailing as well as crew on unfamiliar boats.
When I first arrived in Honolulu on ‘Desire’, after an epic 54.1/2 hour sail from Hilo with little more than three half hour ‘naps’, I was tired and a bit confused as to where to dock my boat. According to my sailing directions for the Ali Wai harbor the outer row next to the breakwater was reserved for visiting sailboats. Any slip that was not occupied was fair game for moorage. I slowly motored down the channel and found a slip close to the dock’s entrance gate that was unoccupied.
Now the challenge was to do a Mediterranean style tie-up to the dock without destroying my own boat or any of the one’s to either side of the slip. I needed to fix a line from my stern to a buoy in the channel and then tie the nose of the boat to the dock. This had to be done with perfect grace and timing so as to not go crashing into the concrete dock or the boats a couple of feet away to either side. This was also the first time I had ever done this kind of a moorage.
After several failed attempts and narrowly averting disaster the owner of the large blue boat to my left came to my aid. He patiently told me the sequence of what I needed to do and then caught and secured my forward dock lines. With his help I managed to safely dock ‘Desire’. After shutting down my engine I thanked him for his help and we began to talk. Curtis Collins had owned his Bounty II yawl ‘Tiare’ for nearly 19 years. He lived aboard and also raced her constantly. He was greatly impressed with my little pocket cruiser and the fact that I had solo sailed her from Seattle. We became instant friends and spent many hours, after I slept for about 12 hours, sharing our stories.
Several days later Curtis asked me if I wanted to sail with him and his crew in a simple Friday night race around some buoys in front of Waikiki. I jumped at the chance and soon met and befriended his crew. I was amazed that he had about 20 people on his boat. There were about 10 regular crew members and about 10 visitors. The 10 visitors were assigned to the role of moveable ballast, or ‘rail meat’. During the course of the race Curtis would tell them where to sit to trim the boat for the prevailing conditions. Curtis assigned me the task of assisting Joseph and Dan on the foredeck, quite an honor for a new guy.
I remember that as we came up to the buoy at Dimondhead we were getting more and more pounded by wind and waves. Being on the foredeck the three of us were getting the worst of it with the occasional wave drenching us. As I heard Joseph and Dan grumbling about the conditions I started chuckling to myself. At one point Joseph turned to me and asked me what was so funny. I told him that when I did a race like this in Seattle I was typically wearing three or four layers because of the cold water. Now I was wearing a T-shirt and board shorts with 75 degree water hitting me and I was loving it!
I sailed with Curtis and his crew for another 2 years on ‘Tiare’. If I happened to be in Honolulu for a Friday night race I was welcome on the crew but I went out of my way to come to town for the longer ocean races around Ohahu and to the other islands. Then 5 years ago Curtis had an opportunity to buy a hot rod of a boat that had been built for long distance ocean racing. ‘Siesta’ had been sitting in storage for years as her Japanese owners lost interest in her. She was one of 12 nearly identical 45 foot carbon fiber boats built for a series of races between Hawaii and Japan. Dennis Conner has on of the other 12 boats in San Diego and he uses his to train secondary crews for the America’s Cup boats. Theses boats have very complicated racing rigs with mostly titanium hardware, mylar sails and spectra lines. Where ‘Tiare’ was a solid old lady that was very forgiving to mistakes, ‘Siesta’ was a thorobread that demanded constant vigilance and attention to detail to avoid major sail damage, rig failures and breakage as well as crew injuries.
We trained for several months and destroyed several old sails before we began to understand her nuances and needs. We didn’t do very well in the first few races but everyone on the crew knew we were in a whole new league with ‘Siesta’ and slowly we started placing better and better, as well as winning some races. But more importantly she was a fun boat to sail once we began to understand her as well as our own roles in the crew.
While I have been able to sail a few of the Friday night buoy races since I returned to Hawaii, I haven’t had a chance to do what I really love, a long distance open ocean race. On July 31st I have an opportunity to sail on ‘Siesta’ in the 86 mile Kauai Channel Race. With a 7:00am start from the West coast of Oahu at KoOlina we plan to charge across the channel to Kauai’s Nawiliwili Harbor in 8-10 hours, depending on the wind conditions.
While this should be a relatively benign race, several years ago ‘Siesta’ cracked her hull just forward of the keel in this race when she crashed down hard in a wave trough after becoming partially airborne in 18 to 20 foot seas with close to 50 knots of wind. Luckily it was only a superficial crack in the gelcoat and the conditions calmed down shortly afterwards.