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2010-07-21

Squall aboard at the Lake Ontario 300 race



In order to get a hint of what was to come, you had to look aft.

Ahoy, maties, 'tis the Ancient Mariner back from t' voyage...a voyage that will pay for many a sailmaker's kids to go to college...

Short version is that everyone on my crew is safe and we came second in our fleet on both finish and corrected times, which was very gratifying. That was after a very frustrating, if typical, early Tuesday morning that saw us ghost past the finish line at one knot of boat speed.



Saturday's start was fast and very crowded and which saw a boat not in our start fouling us over the line. We had two violent squalls in the first two hours, one south of Scarborough lasting about five minutes at what I estimate was 40-45 knots and one about 25 minutes later south of Oshawa/Whitby that took about ten long minutes to blow out and which clocked 50 knots on our vessel before we really were too busy to look anymore. We have reason to believe it went to 60 knots because a boat near us took a shot of their WSI registering 59.8 knots which we saw after we had finished. I felt a little funny seeing that, I can tell you. Certainly, I recognized the sound of the 45 knot squall, but the heavier one flattened the seas, had marble-sized hail and roared like several freight trains. The first squall saw two of our crew on deck trying to wrestle the sock onto our assy spin while enduring a fearsome heel and pelting hail. They were safe, however, if strained. The assy spin was torn and stowed, but it can be repaired.

The archetype of a parade of Lake Ontario squalls. It barely rained and didn't blow back in the city.


About four miles further on, I was watching aft and saw a spinnaker explode on a boat about a quarter of a mile back before it disappeared in mist, which gave us about ten seconds to partially furl the jib and to release fully the main as we turned partially to the wind. This probably saved us more damage, as the boat was pinned at 40-45 degrees over for some very noisy minutes as we watched several hundred grand in composite sails disintegrate on several boats we could see around us. The radio buzzed with abandonments and reports of damage and injury and a trimaran having flipped its four crew into the lake. They were all retrieved safely. The best analysis of what actually happened from a meteorological standpoint can be found here, while the skipper's take on the entire race is found here.

Our damage was a torn leech line cover that meant we had to partially furl for every subsequent tack, a ripped up assy spin, a Code Zero with a hole chafed in it that we repaired with duct tape (how Canadian!), a damaged stanchion, a lost Dyneema spin sheet and some underwear, although I can't confirm the last bit. Later on, in the 25-30 knot following winds that propelled us the rest of the day, the barbeque on the rail simply sheared off, no doubt amusing some fish. We had a surplus light air spin of vintage years that we used pole-forward as a fake Code Zero in the middle of the next night, but it was only good to 10 knots and we had to douse it when faced with further, if only a measly sub-30 knot, squalls on Sunday night on the American side of the lake.

Proof we dipped the boom (!):

Weed heeled a bit.


It was the biggest squall any of us had seen, and I was sailing with some experienced sailors. If the 60 knots of wind speed is true, and I believe it's credible that it blew that hard, that's bettering what I had in the Atlantic delivery I did last November by 15 knots. Here's what 60 knots does to sails on a racer:

Painful to see, unless you run a sail loft. Then it's porn.

Out of 198 boats, 59 "did not finish", 33 of those due to too much damage, injuries, dismastings or capsize, and the rest because they were frightened/exhausted and wanted to stop their suffering. I think that maybe 30 feet should be the lower limit for this race, because of the sort of exhausting wave motion I saw on the sub-30 foot boats. The exception was the 20-foot Mini Transat boats, which faired well, but are arguably made for such conditions.

Also, beating up the U.S. side is tedious work. I much preferred the downwind legs.

All in all a great trip, a great crew and a great experience in getting a fairly large cruiser to race effectively. Had we had a second A-sail, we might have won on corrected time.

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