Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Swift? Sure!

Cap’n Ron and I joined up once again (for the last time?) with the crew of Blade Runner. This time it was for the classic Swiftsure Race. Victoria BC to Cape Flattery and back. It’s a race I’ve always wanted to do, and a stepping stone to some of the more coveted crew spots (Vic Maui and TransPac come to mind).

We left Everett at Fucking Dark Thirty on Thursday to motor slog for 11 hours up to Victoria (official slogan: “Come to Victoria and Shit Directly into the Ocean”). The Colleague jumped aboard the Victoria Clipper to meet us up north where even the crosswalk signs are jaunty and everyone is, frankly, too fucking nice for their own good…

The Inner Harbor is jammed with racing boats and testosterone. Beer everywhere and a lot of posturing and story-telling already. The usual suspects are here: Icon and Braveheart from Seattle (the favorites for the line honors and overall titles). And there is an assortment of hot race boats from around Washington and British Columbia.

And beer. Lots of beer.

I will admit to being taken by the scene. Hundreds of boats jammed together, flags flying, music playing, sun out…It was cool, and the photos don’t do it justice.

After some bellyaching the night before about the potential for no wind, we are greeted at the start with a nice 15 knot westerly breeze. It’s cold and cloudy, but with the building breeze and 97 boats in our start alone, it was quite a scene. The plan (stolen from conventional wisdom and past races, not from any sort of real planning…more on this later) is to sail to windward on the Canadian side well past Race Rocks before tacking across the Straits of Juan de Fuca to the Washington side and rounding the windward mark in Neah Bay. Cap’n Ron expresses some concern that according to his GPS, the windward mark’s coordinates are actually on land. This is unnerving to those of us who realize that boats are supposed to float on water. Still, we know that the mark is somewhere east of Tatoosh Island. So there’s that…

The upwind leg is a pounding. Fast and wet. The true wind ranges from 15-25 knots, and under the small #3 jib we do ok in all but the biggest gusts. I take two runs at the helm as we hug the Canadian shoreline. Twice I note to Skipper Funnybone that when we get within a few hundred yards of the shore the wind gets gusty and turns into a nasty header, pushing our track lower and hurting our windward progress. Also, the waves get confused in close and it makes driving the boat more difficult. Driving the boat through the gusts and lulls is a pain in the ass, and Skipper Funnybone takes our changing course to mean that I am driving poorly. “Head up,” he says more than once. “I’m up. There is no more up. The wind is shifting,” I say…What I don’t say is “Shut the fuck up and let me drive or take the helm yourself.”

“Let’s get ready to come about,” I say instead, seeing that we are headed back into the weirdness near shore.

“No,” says Funnybone. “We can go right up on shore here. It’s plenty deep.”

“Hey asshole,” I don’t say, “it isn’t about the depth of the water. There is no good reason to be in here. We need to be out in the steadier breeze.”

Before I can finish my internal tirade, Funnybone says, “Let’s get ready to tack.”

No shit. And so it goes. We drive on upwind. Hours of this. We’re all happy to make one last tack before heading to the US side of the Straits, but the fatigue is showing. And Cap’n Ron’s hair is a wreck…

SKIPPER TIP #1: Don’t be a dick if you want good people to sail on your boat. Yell all you want, but you better be damn sure you know what you are yelling about. In fact, here is the already revised TIP #1: Only yell clear instructions. Otherwise shut the fuck up .

It’s dark when we get to Neah Bay. I’m still driving as we make our last tack onto starboard and head into the bay where a ketch with a flashing yellow strobe light serves as the windward mark. It’s a landmark moment in the race - the halfway point in terms of distance – and everyone is on deck for the rounding. Skipper Funnybone takes the helm for the turn and the coming spinnaker hoist.

Spinnaker work is a pain in the ass. Can I be more clear than that? Crews HATE spinnaker runs. We’d rather beat upwind all day than have to fight the madness of spinnaker rigging. And all of the rigging is one thing, but the fact that it takes 5 crew just to get the thing off the deck and flying is the real problem. Someone has to be driving the boat about 15 degrees above dead-downwind. Someone has to be on the bow feeding the chute out of its bag. Someone has to be hoisting on the halyard. Someone has to be raising and adjusting the spinnaker pole. Someone has to be running the sheets. Someone has to be running the guy. It’s all a real fiasco. In calm weather two people can do it all. In a rising 18 knot breeze in big seas? It takes a few more. There was yelling involved…

After rounding the windward mark in Neah Bay, just spitting distance from open ocean, we hoist the spinnaker in about 18 knots of wind and 6 foot seas. Out here at the mouth of the Straits, the swells are more like the true ocean swells you get when offshore: long, rolling waves that the boat climbs over and races down. There isn’t any pounding, and the rolling motion is dampened by the helmsman’s ability to drive at an angle down each wave. When a 37 foot boat starts surfing down the face of a wave you are right on that edge of control that is awesome no matter the outcome. The closest I can get to explaining it is a long downhill run on a bike: you reach a sort of terminal velocity where everything is right on its practical and engineered edge, and one piece of bad luck can bring it all crashing down in a bad, bad way. Still, speed is addictive, and we had a lot of it. I won’t try to be poetic and descriptive here, but when we were driving downwind in 12 foot seas with 30 knots of wind on the port quarter, phosphorescence trailing behind us, knot meter hitting 12 on the downhill sides of the wave? Awesome. Pure power. The sound the boat makes at that speed can make a grown man weep. Well, not really. But it’s cool as shit.

Surfing downwind, averaging 10 knots through the water, is a great way to spend a sleepless night. But…well, why rewrite what’s already been written.

Instead I’ll offer you this gem from Dallas Murphy’s great book Rounding the Horn:

But there (is) a price to pay for this downwind delight…It usually comes up when racing sailors congregate, and as the evening wears on, the pisco flows immoderately, the begin to tell war stories that end up focusing on knockdowns, savage round-ups, and mast-in-the-water broaches. These terms describe basically the same completely avoidable event, that is, the loss of control while running before the wind. The boat heels too far, the keel and rudder lose their grip on the water, the boat spins out sideways to the wind, and over she goes. The cause is too much sail.

And what is the cause of too much sail? Oh, that’s right, the skipper.

We run downwind for hours in the dark. I catch 15 minutes of sleep below before being called back on deck. We have to jibe to head into Race Rocks and make our way to the finish line. At this rate we’ll be in the harbor by 4:00 am, a brilliantly fast run. I start thinking about our finish place. Who could be ahead of us in our class? Are we first? Second? Then I start thinking about waking The Colleague with a celebratory phone call (she’s back at the Castle by now, no doubt in the midst of 3 hours of sleep after being out with Little Brother all night while we were out getting our brains beaten in by the sea).

The jibe goes fine, eventually. Hauling the spinnaker around the headstay in this much wind takes a sort of precision and power that we simply don’t have. We, to quote someone from some movie I’ve seen a million times, look “like a monkey fucking a football” out there. But we get the sail around and turned to a port jibe, which we should be able to hold until we get to the finish line.

A mile short of Race Rocks things go very, very wrong (for those who don’t have their nautical charts in front of them, Race Rocks are a nasty outcropping of islets and islands about 10 miles west/southwest of Victoria. If you listen to NOAA weather radio in the Puget Sound you get up to the minute reports from the lighthouse there, and numbers above 30 are very common. I’ve been lazily sailing around the San Juans before and heard “Race Rocks: Winds west at 60 knots, gusts to 70. Seas 15 feet.” No lie.)

Anyway, we are just about to shoot through the small gap between shore and Race Rocks (why are we going through Race Rocks again? Oh, that’s right…no good reason) when we suffer the first knockdown. Funnybone is at the helm, I am on the leeward side trimming the spinnaker. Cap’n Ron and several others are on the windward rail. We get a big wave and a nice gust (30 knots apparent, which means it was at least 35 if not more) that rounds us up HARD. Before I have time to think, the leeward rail (where I am stationed, remember) goes well under water.

Here’s the picture as I remember it. I am facing outboard at the winch on the leeward side of the boat. The boat rounds up and spins out, and suddenly the cockpit is perpendicular to the waterline. Cap’n Ron and the rest are directly above me, but I don’t really know this because I am UNDER WATER. The round up tosses me toward the rail, and by the time I get a push-up stance on the toe rail, the top third of my body is in the water. I have no tether on, and if I go in, I’m done for. There is no way that boat can come back and get me, and my inflatable life vest will just make me a more buoyant corpse after a couple of minutes in this water. The good German Software Engineer, at Cap’n Ron’s polite request, grabs my harness and helps keep me from swimming. Thanks.

When I come up for air, the boat is still on her ear. Both sails are in the water, the boom is dragging through the waves and pulling us deeper into the broach. And no one can move. I can’t climb straight up the cockpit. Cap’n and the rest can’t let go of the lifelines on the high side unless they want to plunge into the sea…It’s a scene. My most vivid memory of the moment is watching as the masthead slammed into the water. Whether a wave came up and got it or the boat rolled farther over I have no idea, but I DO know that masts are not supposed to be in the water. Ever.

After an epic battle of man versus nylon canvas, we manage to drag the spinnaker on deck. There are halyards and sheets everywhere, and we are still knocked over with a full mainsail bashing us about. With the chute down and at least 3 feet between us and Race Rocks, things feel manageable again. We’ll just sail into the finish under main and jib. No problem.


We have no jib hoisted and we are still on our side.

With just the main we can’t get the boat moving and so we are at the mercy of the waves. And I mean waves. All throughout the race the crew would call out extra large waves to the helmsman so he could drive around or through them. “Wave!” was the call. Easy. I distinctly remember the following from Cap’n Ron as we were wallowing around Race Rocks under main alone:

“Wave! No. I mean it! Big fucking wave!”

And when it hit us, we got wet. The boat spun around again, the main filled with air and we were on our ear again. And Again. I counted 3 full knockdowns.

Fast forward: we limped into the finish at 5:40 a.m. with a busted spinnaker pole, a torn chute, a foredeck man with 2 broken teeth, and several wasted crew members.

Lots of wind for the 2007 Swiftsure resulted in lots of gear failure. Many boats limped back and several are tied up at the Inspection dock with various ailments. Icon has a sheet wrapped around her prop, Rubato is stopped with engine failure and Blade Runner has a bent spinnaker pole. Wind plus keen sailing equal broken bits on boats, and the Inspection dock is getting smaller as they all moor alongside.

Let the war stories begin. Back at the docks all of the crews were bragging about broken gear and harrowing downwind moments.

Cap’n Ron and I crashed out for a few hours, had some lunch and brew, crashed out for a while longer, had some sushi and many, many Asahis, and crashed out again.

Blade Runner was 5th in class. Would have been 3rd except for the Race Rocks epic. All said we probably did 2k worth of damage to Blade Runner, which is officially not my problem.

We ended our weekend with The Colleague picking us up in Port Townsend after clearing customs. Then? The Colleague and I spent a couple days with my parents. Yep. Weird.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Half of What, Exactly?

So...a couple of weeks ago I was at the local shoe shop spending insurance money on running shoes (it turns out that if you break your foot while running, Dr. Hilarious refers you to a sports medicine specialist, you can buy kick ass new shoes and call it a medical expense) I saw a pamphlet for the Kirkland Half Marathon.

What the hell? It's just a half. No worries. So I sent out a recruitment letter and got a positive response from Mrs. Math Dude. Let's do it. Sure it's mother's day. But my mom was busy going to see the Mariners beat the Yankees, and the former Mrs. GVB was doing whatever it is she does these days.

So I woke up at O-Dark-Thirty to pick up Mrs. Math Dude and head to the Eastside for a little run.

Side note: why do they insist on starting these things so early? It's unnatural. My body is NOT ready to hit the pavement at 7:30 a.m.

Let me just say this right now: The Kirkland Half Marathon has to be one of the most brutal 13.1 mile courses in the country. It isn't esppecially hard, but the combination of constant climbing and absolute boredom makes the first 9 miles of the race an exercise in tolerance and endurance. I think I ran miles 3-6 with my eyes closed. It was that boring. Just look at the straightaway here...

Here is the course description I sent to RPD in the energy starved moments after the race:

The course? Hard. The first 6 miles are uphill with only one break. I knew the first 2 miles were a climb, but it just kept on going...somewhere around mile 5 I turned to the guy I was running with and said: Are you kidding me with these hills?

Then a lot of steep downhill back into Kirkland. Too steep, actually. Still, it was fast, especially after 6 miles of climbing.

Through downtown was a flat drag. I was burned out by mile 10. At that point it was just a matter of telling myself I could do anything for 25 more minutes.

Then? They throw a steep hill at us leaving downtown Kirkland.

Then? They throw a brutal hill at us at mile 12! Are you kidding me with this?

Mile 13 is half downhill and half flat.

I had nothing left at the finish. Nada. I pushed WAY too hard for not having done any training for this and for coming off of a bad cold. Also? I didn't eat well or hydrate yesterday (long boat race) and I didn't sleep more than 4 hours last night. Lesson learned. Fuel and rest. If I had fuel I could have done 1:35 I think. In fact, coming through miles 8 and 9 I thought I might. Wrong...

I entertained myself along the way by thanking every cop at every intersection.

Here are some highlights and things to note:

•Overall finish place: 94

•Division Place: 21/65

•Gender Place: 75/257

•Overall Time: 1:41:37

•Pace per mile: 7:46

•GU Packs: 3

•Water Stops: 4

•Number of times I grabbed Gatorade by mistake: 2 (vomit potential when drinking Gatorade with a heart rate in the 180 range? high.)

•Average starting price of new single-family homes along the route: $800,000.

•Price GVB's dad paid for a house 4 miles from the race route in 1990? $180,000.

•Percent time GVB had to piss during the race (thanks to massively long porta-john lines at the start): 95%

•First words out of GVB's mouth to The Colleague at the finish line? "This course sucks."

•Number of times GVB saw a hill coming up and said "FUCK!" out loud: 4.

So here is the summary:

Very little training, no sleep the night before, no fuel (forgot to eat dinner the night before and had no breakfast before the race), new shoes, no course knowledge, cold weather...and still I beat my Seattle Half time by 4 minutes.

Plus? I know I could have shaved another two minutes off my time if I had been rested and knew what the course was going to throw at me.

Also? Mrs. Math Dude KICKED ASS, throwing down a 1:45:25, beating her Seattle Half time by almost 11 minutes. And she crossed the finish line looking like she had just showered, changed, and put on makeup. I, on the other hand, looked like hammered crap. Something about running 12 miles at max heart rate that just takes it out of me.

Next up? A nice 10k in Lynnwood with the Cap'n.

And, actually, before that? Swiftsure. Yikes.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Go Cap'n!!!!

How long does it take Cap'n Ron to run 26.2 miles around Vancouver BC?:


That's 89th in division. Congrats!

Way to go, brother. And thanks for setting the bar so high. Shit.

In your honor, The Colleague and I drank 26.2 Coronas a piece on Saturday while sitting by the ocean. Almost the same...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Suddenly Everything's Right

Hey, I put some new shoes on,
And suddenly everything is right,
I said, hey, I put some new shoes on and everybody's smiling,
It so inviting,
Oh, short on money,
But long on time,
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine,
And i'm running late,
And i dont need an excuse,
'cause i'm wearing my brand new shoes.

Ah glorious day. I finally got the funds I was waiting for to replace some aging and ill-fitting footwear. So off to RoadRunner Sports this afternoon where Cute Youg Urbanite Girl (CYUG) spent what must have been the least tolerable 2 hours of her life fitting me with new shoes.

On Cap'n Ron's recommendation I tried the ASICS, and I really wanted them too fit. No dice. CYUG insisted I go through the whole fit fiasco with computer analysis and such forth (nothing like a video of your stride on a treadmill to make you self conscious, though I did notice that the tattoo looks sharp from behind. Good news for all of you who run behind me...). I have two different strides. My left foot is totally neutral, my right is a trainwreck. Anyway, looking for a good stability shoe for distance training took FOREVER until I found the perfect fit. The Adidas adiSTAR Cushion 4. I used to wear Adidas back in the soccer days, but never thought to try them for running shoes. Add some Superfeet insoles and these babies are golden. Bye bye New Balance Bone Crushers.

For giggles, I decided I also wanted a pair of lighter shoes for pace days and medium length runs (5-10 miles). For whatever reason, the Adidas shoe that filled this need just would not fit me. Nor, for that matter, would the Adidas lightweight shoe for speed work at the track. So much for my brilliant plan.

So, when it was all said and done, GVB left CYUG and took home three new pair of shoes from three different manufacturers: Adidas, Brooks, and ASICS. Weird.

As predicted earlier in the week, I could not stand having new shoes and not breaking them in, so I hit the streets of the greater Castle neighborhood for a nice 10 miler.

Mid Week Score
I told you earlier in the week that I could see the future. Let's see how I have done so far...

Except for the wind report, which was happily strong and steady from the west northwest ALL DAY, my Saturday prediction was spot on, right down to the ESB and the snarky comments from Mrs. GVB (who much to my delight arrived to pick up the kids with one of the worst haircuts I've ever seen). Now, that's not true. Sweater Girl's haircut is MUCH worse...

Dent de Lion managed a 5th place without her two best crew and a brand new spinnaker. Way to go, swabs.

Sunday was also spot on, except that the Cap'n and I did 11 miles (not 10) and it wasn't as "easy" as we had planned. We're bad for each other. We just can't slow down...

Not one essay was graded.

Monday I was wrong about. Rather than bitchy comments from Sweater Girl and the Pear Shaped Woman, I got passive aggressive silence and avoidance when they KNEW I had shit to get done that needed their input. Nice professional work, ladies. Also, RPD had already had a run in with the Pear Shaped Woman on Friday. Had I known this, I might have predicted something different here...

Also? I did not run. Instead I had beers with Adjunct Formerly Known as Caroline and crashed at the castle.

Well now, that's today, isn't it? As of this writing all is true. I still theoretically have time to make my weight lifting session, but sheesh, I've already run 10 miles and plan to swim tonight. I'm only human, and SOMEONE has to drink these Corona's in The Colleague's fridge. Since even I won't let a 9 and 12 year old drink beer, it seems like I have to do it...