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The Cat and the Bird, the chase continues

Posted by astajesse on July 30, 2008

Just like the passage into Port Alberni, the passage out was beautiful as well.  The channel was calm and we rode along at a comfortable pace with Lynx right behind us.  As this leg of the journey was a race, we were ever aware of Lynx‘s position as we jockeyed for first.  As we hit the starting line, it was all hands to set the sails and get underway.  Shortly after that, Captain James reminded us that this was a “wet boat” and that the condition of the straight of Juan de Fuca suggested that we don our foul weather gear…including our knee high rubber boots.   I have to say that I have never been on such a wet boat as this one.  With an ankle high rail and 15 foot swells, it was clear that the captain was right. 




The next few days seemed all a blur to me for several reasons.  First of all, I was doing everything in my power to keep from getting sick, which unfortunately was not enough.  I have never been seasick in my life, but that boat did me in…Alas, my record is broken.   I spent the first day and a half darting up for watch and back down to sleep without stopping for food along the way.  Eventually, my stomach managed to settle down and I was able to get into the shipboard routine.  After that, I completely lost all sense of time and was simply living from watch to watch. I enjoyed going on watch and setting sails and getting to know the ship and crew…and what a cast of characters they were.


On my watch were the captain as well as the bosun (lovingly called ‘buffer’). The captain reminded me of any great captain that is able to command the ship without overtly exerting his authority by rank.  He is poised, but his crew also understands that he is willing to jest with them when the opportunity presents itself.  The ‘buffer’, was quite a colorful and multifaceted character.  With stories to match any sailor’s and a mouth to go with it, he was great fun and came up with some great analogies. But at the same time, he was really quite caring…just don’t let his crew know that. We also had a couple of cadets (lovingly referred to as ‘deck geckos’) who were there to learn how to sail this 105 foot ketch.  Needless to say, there were many different people making an interesting watch schedule.


 It was an exciting passage from Port Alberni with strong winds and moderate sized swells.  But what made it the most suspenseful was the fact that we were in a close race with Lynx the whole way.  Throughout the next several days we mapped Lynx’s position as we jockeyed for the lead.  Constantly aware of their location, we pushed the Oriole to the limit and tested every stitch of canvas.  There were times of intense chaos and rushing adrenaline when we needed to act quickly in order to avoid damage to the rig or sails.  But in those moments, the crew came together beautifully by actin quickly and professionally. 


At one point, we had 20 foot swells and gusts of up to 35 or 40 knots so we decided to reef the only sail we still had flying.  With both watches on deck, we received our assignments, hooked our harnesses onto the jack lines to prevent from being pushed into the frigid water, and went to our work.  We stayed low to the soaking wet deck to avoid getting sideswiped by the sheets lashing about in the wind.  With the utmost efficiency our frozen fingers could muster, we reefed in the main and returned to our previous course.  Soaking wet and frozen, we went back down below with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Of course after such excitement it was impossible to go down below and sleep again…maybe not impossible, but difficult. 


                       Bosun at the helm



 In the end, it was Oriole that crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge first with Lynx on the horizon just astern.  However, because of the handicaps imposed on the ships to even out the competition, Lynx won the race.  Now, two weeks later, I am preparing to see the other side of the race as I set sail with my one time opponent Lynx in a race against the massive USCG Barque Eagle.  Let the race begin!


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