Sunday, September 25, 2016

Tjorn Singlehanded Race- the BLUR Experience

J/111 Blur in Tjorn Singlehanded Race (Tjorn, Sweden)- Continuing on his adventures of sailing the Tjorn Runt on his J/111 BLUR.SE, Peter Gustafsson made the absolutely inspirational decision to tackle the Tjorn Singlehanded Race at a moment’s notice.  Here is his amusing story:

“Quite often sailing can be spontaneous and simple as it is fun. That tedious journey which suddenly became a race, or that holiday race in which you won a beer at the bar afterwards.

One of those experiences was to sail solo around Tjörn on Sunday after Tjörn Runt!  Now that was a spontaneous idea!  The desire to be free, to get out onto the ocean, that fantastic feeling of freedom with 100% focus on your own sailing.

This year we 27 boats had registered for the race, but only 18 came to start, which is quite ok. It is not surprising that some felt a bit of concern or adversity when the alarm clock rings early in the morning to get you rolling to the start and it's ‘pea soup’ fog outside the harbor entrance. But, for those who adventured forth, it would be better soon ...

The wind direction was SE for the start, just like Saturday's Tjörn Runt. So, it felt safe to come out in the fjord east of Bratton. Here, many boats chose to go "all in" and take the far east.  Meanwhile, myself and three others pushed southwards as soon as we could.

My analysis was that the pressure was standing in the middle of the fjord, and the sooner I could get there the better. The balance was to run near Tjörn to avoid current or position yourself for the wind to fill in from the east (or south).

J/111 Blur sailing upwindI started off with the J0 (e.g. a “Code Blade”) hoisted to the masthead and attached to the middle of the fully extended pole.  It looked a bit odd, but in the light wind, I could get good VMG upwind and it worked fine.  Plus, I can solo faster with this combo, going between this, the Code 0 and the jib in a sensible, easy way.

At Soa and Galten, I got out of phase with several competitors and I could take a long tack into the middle of the fjord for better wind. It was slightly more out there, about 4-5 m/s.  So, I could quickly change over to the jib and stretch south in a wind that slowly turned eastward. Perfect timing for a passage at Gråholmarna!  I passed my chief rival Jonas, who had to tack and follow me in my wake.   With a little drop in the breeze, I could then change over and roll out the Code Blade again and extend my overall fleet lead towards Dyrön.

At Tjörnekalv, I could hoist the big A2 gennaker.  Some boats that I passed must have wondered what they were doing, but I got away without broaching with the big gennaker and I was leading everyone (even early starters) out of the Bredbåden.

A good jibe quite far west placed me on the west side Härön with a good angle. Qixi went into Kyrkesund but was way behind. Cheetah 3-4nm distance behind, but with good angles on Qixi.

I had a safe drop of the gennaker with the snuffer.  Now, it was back to the Code 0 and charge eastwards, further extending my lead.  God I love this J/111!  So easy to sail fast!  My bigger competitors must have been quite frustrated by now.

But at the Horse Cut turning point, I realized that something was not quite right.  I could see across the island archipelago that an Arcona 380 (on the way to Ellos about 3 legs behind me, I assumed) was sailing in a much different wind. East wind? Or, is something else happening?  As I start to think about it more, minute-by-minute the wind quickly subsides to nothing.  A complete calm.  A glass out!  Oh no!  What is going to happen next?

After half an hour, I see Cheetah come rushing up behind me very quickly.  However, soon we are both in ‘the dead zone.’  No wind, or very, very little. Drifting, really.

Then, more and more boats begin to appear behind us, one by one, until the entire fleet of boats is concentrated again.  Crap!  A complete restart 2/3 the way into the race.  So much for my gigantic lead and all that hard work!

We begin to see a black sky forming off to the northwest. Does that mean something?  Squall?  Or, just rain and no wind?  Honestly, I’d prefer a storm by now!

It's quite tricky sailing towards Skåpesund, so I decide to drive safe and sail conservatively. I know I am hopelessly last in the SRS Handicap scoring right now because of the “fleet compression”.  So, I take the spinnaker down in good time, and I go directly to the jib.

It's pitch black all around us behind the bridge, and I look for more breeze on the water in front of me.  Nothing.

J/111 Blur sailing Tjorn Singlehanded race upwindThen, I turn around and look behind me. The whole fleet is coming at me with spinnakers up.  Don’t panic, I remind myself.  Wait.  Something is about to happen.  Looking at the black sky again, I can see the wind is ticking rapidly around the clock and increasing in speed even more rapidly!  White caps form fast.  The wall of wind hits Cheetah, not good.  She goes into a massive broach with the spinnaker up, I can see the skipper with the tiller under his chin in an attempt to bear off.  It’s not working, a big problem when you are single-handing!  The proverbial ‘crap’ has hit the fan!

I turn around for one last time to look at the peaceful, colorful panorama of boats with their spinnakers filling the horizon behind me.  It’s a spectacular painting- color, sun, black clouds advancing, white caps building rapidly behind and around them. Now, I know that it's much too late for those boats to get a nice takedown...  I wish I had a time-lapse video of the carnage behind me- spectacular wipeouts everywhere.  I hope they are OK.

Sometimes it plays to be safe, right!? :-)

The black squall made for a very messy short cross under the bridge.  It was blowing at least 8-12 m/s and gusting even higher to 15 to 18 m/s.  Chaos everywhere.  Torn sails. Broken boats.  Bruised egos.  Oh well, that’s sailing.

I am home safe and sound.  I didn’t win, but in spirit I had won.  I sailed fast, was first boat on elapsed time against much bigger competitors, sailed safe and lived to tell the tale!  I still got 11th overall on corrected time despite the madness going on behind me!"  Follow more of the J/111 BLUR.SE's adventures here.