Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Turn.....What's Involved?

As the lead boats approach Cape Flattery, a big decision comes into play.
Do you continue North towards the middle or Canadian side of the Strait, or do you turn right as soon as possible, and start covering ground to the East?
It's a decision that has waxed and waned amongst experienced race veterans for years....and there is never ONE right answer, but there are a few things to consider....

1) Rocks - Approaching the turn involves rounding a small barrier island near the home of the Native American Makah tribe known as Tattoosh Island, and beyond that is the beckoning whistle of Duntze Rock, which barely rises enough above sea level to anchor an all important audiovisual nighttime aid to navigation.
2) Underwater Rock "Pillars" - Just SW of Cape Flattery, beneath the surface about 40 feet is a solid rock pillar.....not too much to worry about for these relatively shallow draft sailboats....but still, it is pretty alarming after being in 300+ feet of water all day to suddenly - in the dark in the middle of the night - find your depth sounder reading 40-50 feet of depth if you happen to pass directly over Fuca Pillar.....
3) Ships - That big purple line on the chart? That is the shipping lanes! There is nothing like trying to cross the bow of a 600 foot long car carrier as it steams in (or out) of the Strait.......they are moving fast, and not inclined to make any course adjustments for a little sailboat!
4) Wind & Weather Conditions -  As boats approach the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the weather conditions can change rapidly; it is not uncommon for the fleet to encounter Easterly winds as they make the turn near Neah Bay or further down the Strait. The wind can build, back, veer or die....or all of the any given time at any given place.
5) "Holes" -  As much as people like to crow about their vast race experience, even the most grizzled race veterans sometimes encounter a "hole" on the course.
A hole is a temporary ( you hope) windless area that only seems to affect you and (you hope again) the poor guy next to you, while others gleefully sail around you in a fine, unobstructed breeze. Have no fear, karma usually catches up enough to level the playing field but there are decades old stories about holes near Neah Bay and other locations in the Strait that have lasted long enough to make the difference between winning & losing the race.
6) Finally, we have the current; Not just any current, but - like the Columbia River current only bigger - the entire Strait of Juan de Fuca flushes in and out twice a day like clockwork, and the tidal currents can make a huge effect on a boat's progress towards the finish....timing is everything in the Strait because trying to buck a strong ebb tide is a little bit like trying to squeeze toothpaste back into the's just not that easy to do!

1 comment:

Chris Sheesley said...

Thank you for the very informative walk through of these issues.