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Lumpy seas in the Gulf of the Farallones
DHLS racers take their lumps. ©2011

DH Lightship Racers Take Their Lumps

March 28, 2011

This year's Island Yacht Club Doublehanded Lightship race was one that some would rather forget. A very bumpy ride and some injuries were in store for the 28 crews that finished. What started out as a very windy morning before the start and a forecast two-knot flood at the Gate materialized as moderate winds at the start and a spring runoff ebb. The lump line was pretty well defined - just east of Point Bonita.

Jim and Andrew Quanci on the Cal 40 Green Buffalo witnessed the morning change first hand. "The weatherman was on target this time – predicting high winds out of the south in the early morning hours changing to moderate winds out of the west. Entrants coming from the north side of the Bay had a real struggle getting to the starting line on time and I know a few entrants that gave up before leaving the dock (the Bay was really really nasty before 0830). On Green Buffalo, coming from Richmond YC, we were fighting 25-35 knot gusts and three-ft seas on the nose – barely making three knots through the water motoring – until just before the 0900 start, when the wind dropped to 10-12 knots."

The tide predictions called for a nice flood to smooth things out, but all that rain changed things. "The whole fleet quickly grabbed a big ebb out the Gate," continued Jim. "I have never seen higher speed over the ground going to weather, with the GPS reading 10-11 knots – which means a six knot ebb! We had this ripping ebb all the way out to the last main ship channel buoy. Beating out to the Lightship, we had, as the weatherman predicted, winds of mostly 14-16 knots with closer to 20 knots near the lightship."

The ride was not fun, as several boats and crew got tossed around enough to cause serious injury. Paul Sutchek on the Cal 20 Can O' Whoopass got his ass whooped with a cracked rib and dislocated finger. "The Boat goes up, the boat goes down with 13-ft swells and on one of the up parts I went up some more when the boat went down. Cracked some ribs pretty good. I also had a pinky bent 30 degrees to the left. I had to pop that sucker back in by myself." Can O' Whoopass took third in their first ocean race, and Paul went to the hospital for X-rays the next day.

Nathalie Criou on the Express 27 Elise got banged up also. "I slipped and fell from the high side of the boat and landed on my head on a winch and cracked my eye socket bone and suffered a small concussion." Tough sailors for tough conditions.

Nathalie's black eye
Nathalie's black eye back at the dock, and later, at home. For more of Nat's photos, see Elise's blog. Photos courtesy Nathalie Criou

Those voyeurs on shore looking for wind and wave information from the Lightship buoy itself were dismayed to find it offline. Green Buffalo found out why: "We ended up overstanding the weather mark because we were looking for the Lightship buoy – but what we found was a Coast Guard maintenance ship with the Lightship buoy on its deck – which we didn’t realize till we were well past the layline. I guess one could say that for the first time we really did round the Light Ship."

A crew on the Schumacher-designed quarter-tonner Summertime Dream described the conditions: "About five very quick miles out, the transcendant steep ones of the Bar gave you that E-Ticket ride. These guys were vertical like the walls in your house. As you go up you can’t help but wonder is this the one that flips you over your transom. Then there’s that solid bang slam when bow punches through wave top and sort of free falls to the solid water on the backside. The trip home was great ULBD surfable stuff. Most opted right for Seal Rocks. Those who set course for Bonita had the hot ticket. It was a hotter angle and all the ebb that pushed you out diminished the nearer you got to the Bridge."

All the boats made it back by 1700 and some were fighting their competition to the end. The Quancis were still in the hunt after it all. "I knew we were in trouble (racing wise) as the Wyliecat 30 Whirlwind rounded the Lightship in front of us, and we owed them about seven minutes. Having lost to Pat Broderick’s Wyliecat 30 Nancy in last year’s Pacific Cup, I know all too well these Wyliecats are fast!" Dan Benjamin's Whirlwind won their division.

And where was Nancy in the race? "It was so lumpy, rainy, windy in the berth in Sausalito that the boat stayed there," remarked Pat Broderick. "We drove over to the St. Francis YC and watched the boats start in what looked like almost perfect conditions! Then we drove out to Land's End and watched them go through - or not - the washing machine." Maybe staying home this year wasn't so bad after all.

Ray Lotto's El Raton took first place in the Express 27 fleet and first overall. For complete results see

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