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Sailing a Transpac 52 in the 2019 VanIsle 360 Race

Image Title: Transpac 52, Sonic moored at Winter Harbor, BC. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Transpac 52, Sonic moored at Winter Harbor, BC. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Transpac 52 Sonic crew hiked out on the rail on the race from Victoria to Nanaimo. 
[Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Transpac 52 Sonic crew hiked out on the rail on the race from Victoria to Nanaimo. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Transpac 52 Sonic crew hiked out on the rail on the race from Winter Harbor to Uculet. 
[Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Transpac 52 Sonic crew hiked out on the rail on the race from Winter Harbor to Uculet. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Transpac 52 Sonic in a sunset drag race for line honors with Transpac 52 Glory outside of Race Rocks. 
[Photo: Sonic Crew Member, Brian Davies]
Transpac 52 Sonic in a sunset drag race for line honors with Transpac 52 Glory outside of Race Rocks. [Photo: Sonic Crew Member, Brian Davies]

Image Title: Transpac 52 Sonic Owner/driver, Marek Omilian at the Helm. 
[Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Transpac 52 Sonic Owner/driver, Marek Omilian at the Helm. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

“3 Boat lengths to the line!”. . . .  “30 Seconds to the start!” . . . . “Trim the Jib! – Grind, Grind, Grind!”. . . . “4,3,2,1, Hike it out, we’re racing!”.  This is what you hear from dozens of boats on the start line of an international yacht race. I have been invited as a guest sailor to be a grinder on the mainsail for a Transpac 52 Grand Prix Race Boat, called Sonic. Sonic is relatively new to the Seattle racing scene. Marek Omilian, Sonic’s Owner, brought the boat to Seattle last winter and has been building crew and racing aggressively for the past six months. Three of the fourteen crew have significant TP52 racing experience and the rest are all experienced sailors, some of whom have serious offshore miles under their belts. Marek himself has sailed around the world with the 2017 Clipper, Visit Seattle boat. I have over 30 years of sailing and racing experience and 10,000 offshore miles, but I’m still a little nervous and I hope that I’m up to the challenge. The VanIsle 360 Race literally races around Vancouver Island in nine legs over two weeks with layover days at cities and fishing villages along the way. The race starts and ends in Nanaimo, BC. I joined the Sonic crew at the halfway point in Port Hardy for the four outside legs of the race: Port Hardy to Winter Harbor, 69 NMi; Winter Harbor to Uclulet, 138 NMi; Uclulet to Victoria, 98 NMI; and Victoria to Nanaimo, 60 NMi. Our division includes four TP 52’s and a Riptide 41 for a total of 5 boats. All of the boats are handicapped to account for differences in things like sail area, mast height, beam, ballast, and length at the waterline. With four TP 52’s that are closely handicapped this was very close to one-design, match racing.

 

My first race with the boat was the sixth leg from Port Hardy to Winter Harbor. The weather was sunny and the wind was blowing a steady 5 to 10 kts out of the NW. The 15 foot tides at the north end of Vancouver Island mean you could get 4 kt currents going with you sometimes (posi-water) . . . . and 4 kt currents going against you at other times (anti-water).  We saw 4 kts of anti-water right when we were trying to claw our way around rocks over the infamous Nahwitti Bar and out into the Pacific ocean. We eventually made it through the tide rip and out into the ocean for a spinnaker run into Winter Harbor, but not before having to back down for kelp. After seeing a dozen or so humpback whales on our run around Cape Scott and into the Pacific Ocean, we were greeted in Winter Harbor by playful otters and majestic bald eagles where we were the third boat to finish and placed third for that race. We moored on a private dock owned by Oli’s Fishing Charters who also owns the twelve bedroom cabin overlooking the harbor where we stayed that night and the fishing charter boat that some of us took out on our lay day the next day. Winter Harbor is one of the most remote places on Vancouver Island. On the road from Port Hardy to Winter Harbor, the road crews reported a record six flat tires among the two dozen vehicles that made the trip on the primitive logging roads.

 

After an amazing crew dinner of fresh caught halibut (courtesy of the fishing charter crew) and a down-to-the-wire, alcohol-fueled cribbage tournament, we started the seventh leg of the race (my second race) promptly at 9:00am the next morning. This would be the longest leg of the race from Winter Harbor to Ucluelet and would have the fleet the furthest offshore of the entire race. The weather was uncooperative for this leg with a steady rain for 18 of the 32 hours it took us to finish.  The wind blew a respectable 20 kts in the morning which led to an exciting tack-line failure with the jib free-flogging off the front of the boat. By mid-morning, the wind fell off to 5 kts and made for a soggy crawl down the coast for the rest of the day. Everybody’s foul weather gear failed and everybody was soaked through after eighteen hours of bobbing in the heavy rain which made for a chilly overnight ride on the rail. The highlight of the evening was getting a hot Mountain House, freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff handed up the companion way with my name on it. Think about that – the HIGHLIGHT of the night was a hot freeze-dried dinner. Definitely not in the brochure. The short story is we survived the chilly night and by 10:00am the next morning the sun was out and the breeze was up for a spinnaker run in to Ucluelet. Sonic was the second boat to finish and through the magic of the handicapping system, we placed ahead of the first boat to finish in our division, but behind the last boat to finish in our division for a solid second place. Ucluelet is a First Nations village and the name roughly translates to, “Awesome Surf Break”.  In May, Rip Curl sponsored the Canadian National and International Surf Association World Championships at Wickaninnish Beach. So naturally, I rented a long board and hired a surf guide from Long Beach Surf Shop to show me the baby break next to the competition break and it was, “totally bitchin, dude”.

 

My third race was the eighth leg which runs from Ucluelet to Victoria. Morning dawned bright and sunny with a modest NNW breeze. The day promised to be great for sailboat racing and it delivered. Once we turned the corner into the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we had 60Nmi of a ripping spinnaker run with only two jibes. That’s what I’m talking about – this is exactly what was advertised in the race brochure! As the sun was setting, we caught one of the rival TP 52’s called Glory and had a spectacular drag race around the outside of Race Rocks with a building breeze and boat speeds approaching 20kts. These are the days that definitely keep you coming back for more. Once past Race Rocks, we jibed to head toward Victoria Harbor and the finish line. Through a series of jibes and an exciting broach in the dark, we separated from Glory and ended up losing line honors, but again through the magic of the handicapping system, we placed ahead of them for the race and behind the last boat in our division for another second place. More importantly, we finished in time for last call in a Victoria bar and any sailboat racer knows that is the real trophy.

 

The final leg of the race was the leg from Victoria back to Nanaimo where the Race began two weeks earlier. This leg may be the biggest tactical challenge of all the legs. Skippers and tacticians have to consider wind, tides, and islands to sail through the Canadian Gulf Islands. As Sonic led the TP 52’s into the myriad of Islands, one boat followed us through Active Pass and the other two rolled the dice to continue on the inside for the shorter course through Portier Pass. They gambled on the wind holding and made it through before the tide change to finish well ahead of us, leaving Sonic with a disappointing fourth TP 52 place finish just nine seconds behind Mist, and fourth place for the final race. As some sort of consolation, we still finished in time not only for last call, but for a proper sit down crew dinner on the wharf in Nanaimo while much of the fleet suffered through the tide change before finishing the next morning.

 

After all nine legs around Vancouver Island were in the books, Sonic finished third in in Division 0 and second in the TP 52’s which meant hardware going home in the form a beautiful Trophy for Marek’s office. I made a number of new friends from Sonic and from the rest of the fleet without damaging myself (except maybe some short-term liver complications) or any boats in the process. All-in-all a great week of sailing in a beautiful part of the world. Many, many thanks go out to Marek Omilian and the Sonic crew as well as the VanIsle 360 Race Committee for running a professional race; the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard for providing escort boats around the course; the welcoming cities, villages, and First Nations tribes; and the rest of the 2019 VanIsle 360 crews.

 

Phil Ohl

Open Door Travelers

 

Phil Ohl has sailed and raced in Seattle for nearly 30 years, first on Ozone (Olson 30) and currently on Kahuna (Aerodyne 38). He and his wife Diane retired in 2016 and started free lance writing for the Travel Blog, www.OpenDoorTravelers.com . When not exploring the world, they live in Richland, Washington.