• 2016 Single Handed Farallones: The Freedom To Go It Alone

    The Northern California short handed sailing scene is one of the strongest in the US and presents sailors with a unique set of challenges found in few other places in the world. With the Single Handed Sailing Society as the root base, those who choose to go it alone, can find a number of various events to push themselves to the extent of their comfort limit and establish new ones.

    Of the available events, the SSS Single Handed Farallones can only be surpassed by the Long Pac and the Single Handed Pac Cup. For some it is a steppingstone to bigger and better challenges, and for others it marks the apex of their personal offshore experiences.

    The 56 nm round trip is fraught with danger and not for the faint of heart.

    Be it the never ending stream of commercial traffic entering and exiting the Golden Gate. Large ships, which in many cases, might never see a small vessel in its path, or avoid a collision due to inertia.

    The weather. It can blow like stink in the Gulf of the Farallones in spring. Gear busting, mast breaking, white knuckle 25-35 knots with temps in the low 50's and water temps even lower. Or it can be calm and pleasant, which is a blessing and a curse, as moving across the course at sub 5 knot speeds makes for a long day, and a DNF for missing the 0600 Sunday finish time.

    Then there are the Islands themselves. A nasty, cold, forbidden remnants from the Sierra Nevada, the last pile of stone before the continental shelf, where the ocean plunges thousands of feet into the deep abyss. There is little comfort there. So safe harbor. No tavern or overnight accommodations. And the greeting party of a several thousand pound, VW Bug sized grumpy landlord with rows of razor sharp teeth is more intimidating than roller-blading down the Cal Train tracks during the commute hour. You are just as happy to see the inlands in the rear view as you were to reach them.

    And then there obstacles. Some fixed, some moving. You have your other boats in the race, that can come out of nowhere, especially at the start line. Without an extra set of eyes, things can creep up real fast, and the sail technology has yet to produce a long lasting durable clear sail. Buoys can sneak up real fast, especially the unlit ones in the dark. Crab pots also have a tendency to reach out and grab things, slow them down real good. This year's late start to the Dungeness season means there are more crab pots scattered all about the fringes of the shipping channel, the place you want to be.

    Other more mobile obstacles in swimmers, paddle boarders, Kayakers, fishermen in high speed whalers and rowboats traversing the course in the morning and a deluge of windsurfers and kite boarders and ferries in the afternoon, This year's race had an organized group of swimmers traversing the waters from Alcatraz to Crissy Field. Right during the start time. Does the said organizer of these events not check the calendar for conflicts?

    Then there are the cetaceans. In a normal year, one would expect to cross paths with a migrating set or two of California Grey Whales. If you were lucky. With a spring loaded with strong North Westerly's, the upwelling has been tremendous, with water temps dropping some 12-15 degrees. and with that, and abundance of krill followed closely by an abundance of bait fish and a bit higher on the food chain, leviathans rarely seen close to shore, the mighty humpback.

    The pas couple weeks have witnessed several pods of humpbacks feeding and frolicking in the Golden Gate Straits, presumably content with the abundance of sardines and such. You know they are happy when they wave there huge, powerful tail at you and lunge completely out of the water. Fun to watch, yet if you are in the landing path of said aerial display or tail slap, things in a small boat can go south very quick. And as most of these pods consist of a mother and a calf, any perceived intrusion between the two can trigger a defense mechanism in momma whale's mind, and being at the receiving end of her vengeance would not bode well for the offending small craft.

    You must be self sufficient in these single handed events. There is no crew to take the helm while you gather additional clothing, food or perform a sail change. No extra set of eyes to keep watch for things. You get yourself to the line, in this case 08:30 1st gun, with no assist. There is no crew to rig the jack lines, check the electronics, examine the rigging, fill up on fuel, food, water, or check on misc safety gear. In many cases, the individual rises around 04:00 to make the start. Others will sail their boat over to the City Front the day before to be ready, and get a tad more shut eye before that 1st gun.

    It's a long day on the course on a good day, and when you are the most exhausted is just when things can get the most tense. This year the forecast suggested light SW winds clocking to NW and building in the afternoon. As things progressed, a low off the coast spun a front through the area, producing a steady 10-12 knot SW through most of the day, and with it, a band of drizzle and down to the deck low to no visibility fog in the middle of the race. The good thing was the seas remained flat as can be with just a 2' swell, making sailing by the compass an easier task. The further north one sailed, the thicker the murkiness. Brian Boschma, sailing his Olson 34 Redsky reports that " I don't use it very often, but this year I actually had to turn the radar for a while when nearing the entrance buoy"

    It turned out to be a fine day for sailing, all told, with 42 signed up, only 8 no shows, leaving 34 boats in 7 divisions hitting the starting line, (31 monohulls and 3 Multis) with just 4 retiring without completing the Rockpile Loop. While the return was lighter than projected, with boats flying their lightest gennakers , the 1st boat to finish, Amy Wells F-27 Wingit crossing the line at a respectable 16:18:42, with just 07:43:42 elapsed. Not too shabby.

    The 1st monohull to complete the course was Greg Nelsen's Azzura 310 Outsider, which to the gun, err, air horn at 17:28:30, for an elapsed time of 08:28:30, correcting out by 24 second over Bob Johnston's J-92 Ragtime. Bob mentioned the welcoming committee just under the bridge of several humpbacks and a fleet of spectators lingering just near the south tower that forced him and others to stay north and out of the flood. " The whales seemed to be happy just hanging out in the band of ruffled water just under the bridge, never witnessed anything like that before"

    Max Crittenden rigging his Martin 32 Iniscaw for his final Single Handed Farallones.
    Max will be retiring to Borrego Springs in the fall and will take his beloved boat to Marina Del Rey
    where he plans on participating in short handed sailing events in the future.
    We will miss ya Max!

    Max's Report:
    I did my first Singlehanded Farallones in 2005. Since then I’ve missed two and DNF’d one. So 2016 was my 12th, and probably my last … unless I find out I can’t stand the desert.

    This is probably my favorite race, but certainly not for the results I’ve had. I rarely get up among the top half of the finishers, and I usually feel a little frustrated or disappointed afterward, like I left something on the table. There have been races where I got aggressive, setting the kite when it was too windy and/or reachy, then freaked out, backed off and cruised home after the adrenaline wore off.

    This time, without the physical stress to deal with, I was thinking strategically and aggressively pretty much the whole way, but I definitely made some bad decisions. Rounding the island and falling into line heading back, close or beam reaching with no spinnakers in sight, I had the bright idea of heading up to find a course that I could fly the kite on. But by the time I decided to head down and set, most boats on the rhumbline had kites up anyway. Then, coming into the Vestibule – my name for the stretch between Bonita / Land’s End and the bridge – I figured the southwesterly had to swing west and we’d be sailing too deep on starboard to be fast. So I threw in a couple of jibes to get over to Pt. Diablo. (I also wanted to prove to myself and to YouTube that I could jibe near the bridge!) The jibes went OK and did give me a hotter angle, but they also prevented me from crossing in front of Very Maria, the ship coming in. How do you solve a problem like Very Maria? You sail low and slow until you can cross behind. Greg on Nightmare, who was having a very good race and had rolled me a few miles earlier, did slip by in front of the ship and seemed to keep his speed up sailing deep. My move probably cost me one position in class and two or three overall.

    But still … it was a great day on the ocean. With the light breeze we got a hint of that deep blue oceany water. There was the humpback crossing behind me just outside the Gate. I sailed through a big swarm of sea lions jumping and diving for fish – haven’t seen that before. As always, it was a big chess game, with lots to think about and lots of time to think.

    Full Gallery

    Results By Division

    Overall Results
    This article was originally published in forum thread: SSS Single Handed Farallones started by Photoboy View original post