Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sailing in Seattle

Tuesday evening was a real treat! On the plane on the way up to Seattle, I thought what a treat it would be if I managed to get some sailing in around the Puget Sound and the bays of Seattle. Although I found a few operators which would take you out for 90 minutes for $30, on a 70' boat set up for tourists, I wanted to see if I could connect with any recreational sailors who could take on a Brit as another crew member just for fun. On the day I arrived, I found the Google Group for sailors in the area and put a little advert up:

 Hi guys,

 I'm visiting Seattle area for a week and would love to get out on a boat if possible. I've never sailed in the USA but am an RYA Day Skipper with a couple of thousand miles under my belt. I also have quite a bit of dinghy experience.

If you think I can help on your boat, please let me know! Racing, day sail or just around the bay - anything would be fine with me.

Many thanks,
Colin Field 

To my delight, I got a couple of replies, one of which was from a chap called Steve who offered for me to join him on his One Design 48' racing yacht, named S/Z Flash, for a Tuesday evening race on Union Lake called the 'Duck Dodge'. The Ducks are the tourist amphibious buses which will take you round town as well as a dip in the lake.

So I took the bus to the other side of the city and found my way to a fish restaurant where we were meeting the crew. The yacht then arrived, crewed by Steve and his daughter Christine:

I was not quite prepared for just how racy this yacht was going to be! 48' is the biggest yacht I've been on, but this one had a 60' mast and huge sails and genoa. There was nothing on deck that wasn't required for racing - the deck was very flat and featured pedestal for 'grinding' the two very large winch drums. Also, look at the size of the wheel!

One of the other attractions of Lake Union is the floatplanes, and also the houseboats, where Sleepless in Seattle was set.

Eventually more and more crew turned up, eventually numbering around 20! Of these, about 8 were hangers-on (daughters, sons, wives and friends) acting as ballast with their legs over the side. The other 12 of us were sailing the boat, including 2 on the bow, two grinders, two jib trimmers, two vang and halyard trimmers, one main trimmer, one backstay trimmer, and of course the helm-come-tactician-come-owner. In other words, a full racing crew, great fun and a new sailing experience for me!

The young lady here is Steve's other daughter Jenny and was an excellent winch grinder for the race. So we set off for the middle of the lake, where we joined maybe 50+ other yachts, powerboats, Laser dinghys, Ducks, floatplanes, windsurfers and all sorts of other water craft! It was not a large lake for so many vessels, but ours was probably the largest, and by keeping the engine running the whole time (and having a very efficient bow man looking out), we were able to avoid collisions.

There was even a floating dinner party in the middle of the lake!!!! We asked what was for dinner. 'Salmon' they replied :-)

The race started and, being in the fastest boat class, we set off first. The course was two reaches to windward and then a broad reach to the downwind marker - repeated twice. Each lap took us about 15 minutes, the boat never seemed to go slower than about 8 knots, and this was in a fairly average wind of 12-15 knots... in other words, this boat could really move!
The crew was clearly quite experienced together and I was especially impressed with the spinnaker raising and lowering drills. It was an asymmetric spinnaker, which I am not so familiar with, but the sheets and guys still seemed to have the same function. My job was partly jib trim but mainly blowing out the working sheet whenever we tacked or gybed, then handing over to the other trimmer who was much better at the finesse of trimming such a big sail, giving commands to the grinders. During the spinnaker runs I was operating the guy on the same winch as the others, but this didn't require much adjustment. 

Starting at the head of the fleet

Running downwind under spinnaker. Mine is the winch with the yellow guy wrapped around.

Needless to say, we won easily in about half an hour, collected our prize then headed back to Ivar's Salmon while tidying up the boat. It was great fun but I wish we had had another race, or a longer one in a bigger lake, to really stretch the legs of this awesome boat. Lake Union was just too small for it!

Finally managed a sail on USA water!

You can see the size of the crew as we all disembarked.

After everyone else had headed home, I helped Steve and Christine return Flash to its mooring just outside Lake Union. We had to pass under a couple of raising bridges as the sun set, and motored home in very still water. 

Steve was then kind enough to drop me off at the Hostel in the International District, which he assured me was en-route! I am so grateful for Steve for making this expedition possible, what an honour it was to sail with his crew. He said that he had replied to my request because he had been in the UK for Cowes week with some friends and family, and wanted to pay the favour back to UK sailors! How good it is that we can connect with all sorts of groups like this through the internet, and that he was walling to let a complete stranger on board and help out. Thanks again :-)

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic boat and an amazing opportunity! It was a brilliant idea to post on the group and lovely the he trusted a stranger to come aboard!

    Sounds like you had a wonderful day and congrats on the win!