USA-26 One Life J/99

Race Week 2021 (Hello again!)

I really thought I’d get better at doing these more regularly, but work, moving to a new place, and the 12th (and, um, 13th and 14th, month of the pandemic) seemed to sap any desire I had to spend time writing on the blog.

It’s been a great first half of the racing season. One Life and her intrepid crew had our first overnight race (fun), won first in our class at the STYC BRBR (w00t!), spent a week or so in early June wrapped up in protest hearings and appeals (do not recommend), and generally made pretty good strides on getting faster even if our results didn’t always show it from the outside. There were many highlights and lowlights I wish I would have shared with y’all, if only to cement them better in my mind.

I won’t promise to ‘get better’ at doing these because, honestly, who knows what work or life will serve up next to keep me away from the keyboard.

Race Week 2021 Tragedy

One of our fellow racers died on the race course after becoming entangled in spinnaker sheets and I can’t really write about the race without starting here. The coroner’s report out two days ago listed the cause of death as saltwater drowning and ruled it an accident, putting to rest some of the wilder rumors heard on the dock. I eagerly await the presumed USCG review of the incident, specifically the organizer and race committee roles in the response, so we can all learn as many lessons as possible in the hopes of preventing this again.

I fervently hope significant safety-related changes will be made by the organizers of Race Week before the 2022 edition. They need to ensure there are on-water certified EMT personnel, a designated safety boat with adequate speed and proper equipment aboard (at a minimum an AED, for example, which One Life carries and would have immediately offered up if the fleet had been notified of the seriousness of the situation), and most of all a safety plan provided to the entire fleet in advance that includes stopping an ongoing race for extended COB situations like this one. (Despite 40-50 boats on the same course behind the incident boat, racing was never stopped.)

I spent the rest of the week terrified for my foredeck (which, honestly, is not a bad thing for the back of the boat to be). I’ll also never forget the radio call from With Grace. Their desperate plea for help from the race committee and the pain in the voice on that radio call will stay with me for a long, long time.

My condolences to Greg Mueller’s family, friends, and crew. If you happen to read this, and there is anything you need, please reach out to our community. I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re standing by to help. My heart also goes out to Chris Johnson of With Grace. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through now. Similar offer to you — we’re standing by to assist.

Race Week 2021 Racing

Sadly, the race committee didn’t take this hint — or any of the others.
(Photo credit: “Anonymous”)

Looking at the race documents ahead of the week, I was really excited for some varied racing. None of the most popular races here in the Pacific Northwest for the keel boat classes are windward/leeward buoy races, and the big attraction for Anacortes was the geography offers ample opportunity for varied race courses in order to tease out which boats were the all-around best boats over a variety of conditions and races.

Before we started racing on Monday, the race commitee outlined 19 (nineteen!) possible courses for the fleet. Woo Hoo! I was stoked for a mix of buoy and distance races.

The reality differed significantly. All but 6 boats in the fleet (the four ORC boats and the 2 cruising class boats) raced the three-mark, straight up windward/leeward course 2.

Every day.

11 straight races.

No races around the beautiful local islands. Not even a gate.

Course 2. Every day. 11 straight races.

At one point on Thursday, an enterprising crew — building off the successful food auction from Wednesday One Life started by mentioning we were putting wind seeking hot dogs on the grill — tried to auction off an “Anything But Course 2” method of bribing the race commitee. One Life bid $100 to open, but nobody else kicked in and the idea (sadly) died. After that, the electrical tape gang responsible for boat renaming tried it on the race buoys Thursday night (see above), but to no avail.

I sometimes get the idea the organizers see Race Week as a shore party with a side effect of racing. 11 straight course 2’s is a perfect example of this. Why the hell they didn’t intervene, or at least tell the fleet why we were racing only 1 windward/leeward course depite 19 alternatives, is beyond me. Here’s to hoping that if we’re allowed to come back to Anacortes (the marina was not happy with the race organizers’ inability to control competitor hijinks and has threatened to not allow us to come back), we take advantage next year of the varied geography and race something other than the same windward/leeward buoys. I get it for the J/70 and Melges 24 classes. Those are built for such things. The rest of us?

More variety, please.

For our part, One Life had a great Monday free of mistakes. We ended up on the podium for the day. I was very surprised. While everyone on the boat had been aboard One Life before, they were spread out over a bunch of different races — mostly distance races. I figured Monday would be our shake-down day to make a bunch of mistakes and we’d clean them up and be more competitive by the end of the week. No, and it was pretty cool to go up and get the daily award on Monday.

Apparently, we saved all the mistakes for Tuesday and Wednesday. We led the fleet into the windward buoy a number of times, only to blow the hoists. We’d catch back up to the fleet at the leeward marks and blow the douse. This wasn’t a foredeck problem, really, as the entire boat took turns fucking up their roles. Good hoist and the lazy sheet was still tied. Get everything perfect for a gybe and the skipper turns through too fast and wraps the kite around the forestay. Everything ready in the back and the chute comes out of the hatch all twisted.

You get the idea…

It was so frustrating I actually yelled at the crew at one point, for which I was instantly mortified. I have a strong aversion to raising my voice on the boat except for safety issues and maneuvering directions because I believe skippers who yell all the time endanger their crews. Kelly “Pit Rock Star” Moon looked at me after I yelled, giving me a look and saying only “David?”.

Good on her.

After the race I apologized to the crew. And while I’d like to say frustration never altered my volume the rest of the week, I know it did a couple of times. Something for me to work on.

Wednesday was a light wind day. The Race Committee kept us out all day despite no wind, which after the fatality on Tuesday I didn’t mind. It allowed crews to bond with each other, which I think was fabulous. We rafted up with our spiritual sister boat Reckless J/80, which was (as always) a great deal of fun.

At one point, I popped on the radio to announce One Life was cooking some wind-seeking hot dogs (something we came up with that worked in the wee hours of the drifter that was the Protection Island race). Someone offered $5 and the next thing I know my (amazing) tactician Galen Collins is on the radio holding an auction. Wild Rumpus bought the 5 hot dogs for $50, proceeds to Pink Boat, and that started a bit of a thing. The photo boat (the wonderful Jan and her husband) came by to take some pictures and delivered the food over.

Making the wind seeking hot dogs bought by Wild Rumpus for $50, proceeds to Pink Boat
(Photo credit: Janpix)

Next thing I know Jan is back with a plate full of pizza Moose Unknown wants me to auction off. It went for $75 to Valkyrie. Sandwiches and a pink pirate flag came next, offered and bought by other boats in the fleet. In total, the fleet raised nearly $300 for Pink Boat whilst bobbing around.

To be honest, it was exactly the kind of healing moment we all needed.

We eventually got one race off on Wednesday, pretty much at the end of the day after being on the water for 5-6 hours.

Thursday was another drifter, but we managed to get a couple of races off. The Race Committee fucked up, however, and didn’t publish an amendment to the SIs they told us about at the skipper’s meeting. The amendment clarified the time limit for the races not at a set 90 minutes, but a certain time after the first boat in the class. Since the race committee set the course too long for the conditions and everyone finished longer than 90 minutes, we all got “abandoned” after the fact for the second race and some fleets got both their races abandoned — again, after the fact. Eye Eye, who was a rocket ship in our class on the day, filed a protest for redress based upon race commitee error — but it was sadly denied.

(Back to the race organizers not exercising proper oversight…)

All week I was under a cloud of the possibility of work responsibilities requiring I be on land. Friday dawns and it looked like that might happen with multiple calls on my schedule before the 11am start. I was 110% confident in Galen and Kelly taking the boat out without me, but I was sorely disappointed to see some decent wind for Friday after a drifter on Wednesday and the race commitee/organizer screw up on Thursday.

Fortunately (and unlike Point Roberts), there is decent cell coverage on the NE side of Guemes so I was able to take my 10am conference call from the boat during the motor to the course. Also fortunately, there was a 30 minute AP for the first race on Friday. I had the call over (just) before the start, and my wonderful boss told me to go race while the team at work filled in for me on the time-critical stuff, so I was able to race.

And oh, what fun was the racing Friday.

The team was rock-solid in the heavy conditions, with winds in the high teens and low 20s. We flew the new A4 I ordered over the winter from Doyle Sails Seattle specifically for brisk conditions and it performed like a champ. We’d first flown it in the Blake Island race, with equally stable results. We were decently fast the first race, though our big main kept us pretty overpowered with the winds in the upper teens and low 20s. Hoists were perfect, tacks were smooth, and douses flawless. It was one of those days racers remember for a long time.

Race one on Friday with the new A4. We hit 14+ knots in race two with a reefed main!
(Photo credit: Dennis Pearce)

Between races I asked the crew if they’d indulge an experiment, and they agreed.

During part of the Blake Island Tri-Island race when the winds hit the upper 20s, we reefed. And while the boat was still on its ear most of the time, point was good and speed didn’t appear to be diminished. This intrigued me, and after racing with the same five boats for 10 races at Race Week, I knew how we compared in speed and point. I figured it would be a great test of my theory that we could reef the main in anything over about 16-17 knots steady and still be competitive.

So, we spent 60 seconds before the start reefing the main (yes, I have a great crew) and gave it a shot.


We were faster and pointed higher in the heavy air when reefed, and not by a little. We led the fleet around the windward mark, led around the first leeward mark, and were well ahead at the next windward mark when we got fouled hard by J/105 Free Bowl of Soup. (Hey guys, leeward boat has rights when you’re on the same tack. Doing nothing so I have to crash tack to avoid a collision isn’t your proper response — you should have gybed.)

Despite this, we still rounded the final windward mark ahead, but it gave Mad Dash and Eye Eye time to catch up and we could not hold them off on the downwind leg. Eye Eye stayed to the right side with us, but they got their lighter boat up on plane more than we did in One Life and were absolutely sending it. Mad Dash took the left side of the course, which was the best side every day but the first race on Friday, and made it work for them again.

Nevertheless, we briefly got One Life up on plane a time or two and exceeded 14 knots water speed — a new record for the boat. It was exhilarating to the point I didn’t even feel bad about losing the chance for line honors.

We ended Friday like we ended Monday, 3rd overall for the day. For the week, we were 5th out of 6 boats. Not quite what I was hoping, but honestly the fun of Friday took the sting out of the midweek issues. Above all, we completed the week One Life Three Laws Safe:

  • Everyone Safe
  • Don’t Break the Boat
  • Have Fun

And, as Tuesday reminded us all, only one of those is really important.

I flat-out loved Anacortes as a venue and so did everyone else I spoke with. I hope we’re allowed to return. The race organizers deserve all our thanks for their persistence to find a new venue and get everything ready to go well ahead of knowing whether the vaccines would arrive in time to allow us to have the regatta safely. Notwithstanding my beefs, please know I truly appreciate the orgnaizer’s efforts to get this off the ground and particularly to abandon Point Roberts as a venue. Anacortes is FAR superior.

Special thanks go to my lovely girlfriend, Kris Holman, for being shore crew. Despite a bum elbow, she hauled food and gear back and forth for us, drove us around town, did general errands, and got us all moved out of the VRBO Friday while we were racing (because yours truly apparently cannot read a calendar and reserved one day too few). She also delivered me to the boat really early for the delivery up and picked me up after the delivery back. She made the week easier for all of us, and we are really grateful for her willingness to support the One Life crew.

Finally, a big thanks to my crew. You are all a great group of sailors I genuinely enjoy as people. It was great sailing with you all week!

The intrepid One Life crew for Race Week 2021: Left to right, Galen Collins, Jenn Olegario, Andrew Gawronski, Kelly Moon, Lizzy Grim, David Miller, and Katie Steiger

(Photo credit: Janpix)

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