N2E Day 2: Youth Team Ain’t Shabby Friday

IMG_5690Started at 12:10, and the pre-start maneuvers were crazy. Lot’s of tacking and jibing and a sense of competition that’s nothing short of intense. We were a little off perfect timing and crossed the line behind three boats. No worries–it’s a 125 mile race and we made a good clean start.

Anyone who’s sailed multi-day passages knows this life ain’t easy. You’re often cold. You’re usually wet. You sail in shifts through the night, meaning you get 3 hours rest at a time before someone reaches over to where you’re sleeping in the sail bags to tap your shoulder, commanding you to get on watch. Hokahey has seen her fair share of grown men break down in tears after a few days on the ocean. But you know what? Youth Team hasn’t stopped laughing!

The Jackson Hole Ocean Sailing Team has a certain style on the water. First, everyone is tough and rough and doesn’t mind being outdoors. Second, quite a few crew members wear camo.

Youth Team has been busy. They’re filming the dolphin pods that’ve been playing in our boat’s wake for most of the journey. They’re watching the enormous full moon cast sparkles across the waves. Most of all, they’re making the boat go FAST. Thanks to the the whippersnappers’ increasing skills in driving and sail trim, we’ve been averaging 11 knots downwind. Not too shabby, mateys!

Of course, we did have a tough decision to make: Should we fly the spinnaker or not? The spinnaker is a monstrously huge, colorful sail that would pick the boat out of the water and make it surf to Mexico. El Capitan decided not to deploy this sail because the wind was blowing 25 knots in the dark and our young crew was not 100% sure about how to set and trim that beast. So we sail fast and safe…..but not as fast as we could with the spinnaker. The crew wants to come out again and do nothing but set and douse the spinnaker until we are really good at it!

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N2E Race Day 1: Pre-Start Thursday

¡Hola, landlubbers! JH Sailing Team just cast off from Marina del Rey, LA, and we’re sailing to Newport for the start of the Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race. Our Santa Cruz 52 sailboat, Hokahey, is gliding through the late-night harbor so excitedly it’s like she’s already thinking about the finish line’s location in sunny Mexico, where we’ll scarf down fish tacos before sailing home. Or maybe Hokahey’s excited because she’s thinking about the thing that makes us different from any other boat in any major yacht race this year, possibly in the world, possibly in any year: Youth Team. The major players in our crew are five kids, aged 13-14, accompanied by a small adult support crew.

We pushed off from the dock at 22:00 ( 10pm). Super cool that the moon is almost full and lights up the ocean almost as well as the sun. Currently, we’re all sitting around the cockpit, reviewing safety drills and procedures. We’re making sure the entire team’s wearing their life vest and harness, tethered to the boat, and understands how to be safe as the 19,000lb boat crashes through the waves. We’ll also talk about navigation and needed math skills. Turns out sailing is very physical, but our Youth Team sailors will also have to think and plan and figure out a lot.

Race goals are to be safe, learn as much as possible, WIN, and make some really good Snapchats. VAMOS.

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Day 14: Transpacific Mahalo

“Sailing is gnarly, brah!”

-Connor and Jeff

SMACK! The flying fish slapped Elizabeth across the side of her face, and is now flopping noisily about the cockpit. Elizabeth rushes over to toss him back into the ocean before washing off the scales dotting her cheek.

Two hours later, another flying fish soars out of the water, and into the back of Connor’s head. His sun hat will never smell the same.

When you first see a flying fish, it appears to be a bird, soaring two feet above the water at intervals of 30 seconds before dipping back into the sea. Fleets of flying fish now pass by so often, we could identify their flocking with eyes half closed on dog watch.

More wildlife. Hokahey glides past a floating 15 foot giant squid, the likes of which we weren’t sure existed outside the Discovery Channel. Its bulbous yellow eye stares menacingly at Scott and Sarge.

Bioluminescence. Phosphorescent plankton swarm the waters at night, illuminating Hokahey’s hull in bright sparkling flashes. Phosphorescent dolphins play in our wake. They shoot through the waves like neon torpedoes.

JH Sailing Team’s navigation gamble did not pay off this time, but our lives have been enriched by this Transpac adventure. You see, the things sailors experience offshore, you cannot see or do anywhere else. As a non-profit, our goal is to spread the opportunity to sail and learn. Please visit jhsailing.org to support our unique cause. Aloha!

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Day 12: Shark Gazers and Alien Watch

“It ain’t no J Crew ad out there, honey.”

-Elizabeth

At any given moment, a sailor can make any number of mistakes, ranging from the dangerous (grabbing a running halyard), to the humorous (Scott inflating his PFD while sliding into the nav station). Today, we discovered we’d committed mistake perfection: We filled Hokahey’s water tanks too high.

You see, racing boats must be light, and their tanks empty as possible. The way to remedy our error was….showers all around!! In racing, this is unheard of. The closest you usually get to a shower is standing on the transom while someone pours a bucket of seawater over your head. Ours were cold, two-gallon showers, but they might as well have been a spa referral from Beyonce. We fancy.

Shower factor’s one aspect of #racelife non-sailors aren’t aware of. Here’s another, expressed in the form of the most FAQ any sailor will recognize: “Do you sail through the night?”

We couldn’t stop if we wanted to! Sailors use a “watch system” for long passages. Our crew’s organized into two watch teams: “Alien Watch” and “Shark Gazers”. The teams alternate 4 hours on watch and 4 hours off during day, and 3 hours on and off at night. On watch, we sail the boat. Off watch, we sleep, either curled up in the sail bags lining the rail, or in the berths down below, but when you hear “all hands on deck!” you throw on your foulies and go.

We all have a love/hate relationship with the “dog watch” hours, between 0100 0400. Staying alert can be agony. On the other hand, what sight could match shooting stars dashing repeatedly across a star-jammed, smoky white sky 1000 miles offshore?

During last night’s dog watch, star show was blanketed by a thick, black cloud mass. On the horizon, we spotted something we’d thought was no more than a tall tale: the infamous night rainbow. Its thick, curved body glowed neon yellow-green, popping eerily against the pitch-black sky. The Shark Gazers stared, mesmerized by this rainbow’s peculiar beauty. Only a fool could believe rainbows foretell misfortune! However, the wind soon began gusting 27 knots, ushering in a night of squalls and wet, frantic sail changes. Let’s just say we’re not yearning to see one again…

Our non-profit believes that by participating in a watch system, kids develop responsibility, discipline, and confidence, while experiencing nature’s wonders. Visit jhsailing.org to find out more!

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Day 11: Turn Down for What

“Pay-to-play sailors got a great deal this year. Pay 10 days get 5 days free!”

-Sarge

jhost-sailMost northern monohull on any Transpac ever! We raised our gloved fists toward the heavens, as we gathered round the cockpit for the halfway point celebration. Then, shaking with laughter, we scarfed pickled sweet potato salad and rosemary leg of lamb out of our plastic boat bowls. We’d all been looking forward to this occasion, for which Jeff had donated and prepped such luxurious grub. However, we’d expected to meet the halfway mile marker about two days earlier, and we certainly hadn’t expected to be sailing the 34th latitude.

That was three days ago. Today, Elizabeth gave Connor a break from his usual duty of traveling to the top of the mast to check the halyards for chafe. 70 feet up, she hung on to the shrouds, and scanned the Pacific for competitors. The ocean’s so vast, it seemed we were floating not on the Earth, but a smaller, windier planet made up entirely of glimmering blue sea blanket. No land. And, most notably for us, no competitors. All according to plan.

JH sailing team’s rolled the proverbial dice in hopes that our competitors will follow a short, conventional route, falling victim to the low pressure zones likely to pop up in Hurricane Dolores’ wake. Victory depends on our superior northern velocity. Risky? Affirmative. We’ll win or lose big. But consider this, landlubbers: Is it not risk—in love, art, and Monopoly—that makes life zesty as a pickled sweet potato? Affirmative again.

So, the rainbow chute’s flying as we surf these northern waves. We’ll have to turn down south eventually, but that time has yet to come. For now, the Lil Jon’s blasting from the stern speakers. The pit men and women trim and crank the spin pole in time to the beat. From the helm, Gus murmurs to his watch team: “We are now lords of the north. We own it.”

As a non-profit dedicated to helping kids develop life skills through sailing, we believe that working together as part of a competitive sailing team will help them build perseverance and new ways to make decisions. Check us out at jhsailing.org!

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Day 4: Protectors of the North

“We protect the NORTH! Dare to come past the 33 latitude, we will find you and lee bow you!”

– Groggy pit man

jhost-sailingGlorious wind! We savored the feeling of it whipping around our ears and pushing us across the Pacific.  Our northern route around Hurricane Dolores’ dead zone was longer and colder, but after two days without breeze we felt like 11-yr-olds earning back Xbox privileges after a long period of confiscation. Hokahey was back.

The crew took turns at the helm, competing with each other for fastest driving time. Elizabeth and G4 were tied in first place for most of today, with a high speed of 13.2 knots. At sunset, JT pushed Hokahey to 13.3 knots. Just when we were about to award him Top Gun title, 19-year-old Connor stunned everyone with a speed of 14.3 knots. Not too shabby for a young scallywag, eh?

At 1900 hours, all nine of us settled into the cockpit for a crew dinner that revealed one of the things that makes Hokahey different: Hokahey has Jeff. A former chef at Jackson Hole’s Amangani, Jeff puts the master in quartermaster. Weeks ago, he cooked up, bagged, and freeze dried dozens of gourmet meals. Come mealtimes, we boil a bag in a pot of seawater and then distribute its impeccably seasoned contents into our plastic white “dog bowls.” We’re talking fare like garlic chive mashed potatoes and pasta salad with capers—superior to anything most of us eat on shore. You can imagine just how singular this luxury makes our time at sea, where, as any sailor will tell you, the customary food highpoint is Costco frozen lasagna.

So, foul weather gear soaking, but spirits flying fast as our boat, we tucked into spicy salmon stir fry and discussed our strategy. Offshore racing is a funny little game. Our competitors are spread out across hundreds of miles. We can’t see any of them. Yet, we know they’re out there, and we’re locked in a vicious battle with them. Each crew is working to find the optimal course to Hawaii based on wind speed, wind direction, the boat’s unique characteristics, and sea state. Every day at 8 am, we find out where they are (daily email we pick up via satellite phone). Last we heard, two more boats dropped out due to steering problems and taking on too much water.

We’ve already made our next move, but we can’t tell you what it is. In the meantime, learn more about our cause at jhsailing.org . The problem solving we worked through to make the boat fast as possible is one life skill our program develops in young sailors!

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Day 3: Lightwind Living

dolphinsDay 3, and the wildlife gods are smiling down on us. Humungous whales surface regularly, leatherback sea turtles bob on by, shark fins cut through the water’s surface, and Portuguese Man of War jellyfish float past us looking like deadly plastic bags. To top this party off, there’s the age-old tradition for dolphins of the Pacific: swimming up against bows and sterns to play in sailboat wakes. They come so close that if we wanted to, we could reach down and brush our fingers across their smooth gray dorsal fins.

The weather gods have been less benevolent. Don’t get me wrong—at the start, we were slot cars speeding with 15 knots of wind. But, as those of you following along at home may know, Hurricane Dolores is at large. Once we rounded Catalina, she smacked us with her “calm before the storm,” killing our precious wind dead.

No motoring allowed while racing, so in these cases, waiting becomes the name of the game. For two days, we changed sail after sail in hopes of harnessing what little puffs these feisty elements bestowed. We did figure out one wind summoning method, and it’s relatively foolproof: Change from the #1jib to the drifter jib, specifically designed for lighter wind sailing. Wind speed is sure to increase immediately. Of course, as soon as you change back to the original #1 jib, the wind will certainly die again, rendering the entire process futile. -______-

Still, can anyone but scurvy dogs really complain in the middle of the Pacific? As far as JH Sailing Team’s concerned, this is the life, wind or no wind. Yesterday, Connor, Sarge, and Jeff jumped off the boat for a swim. We blasted Red Hot Chili Peppers. Today’s Scott’s birthday, so we sung to him first thing in the morning as he drank his birthday coke.

And you know what? Thanks to the team’s work and some light wind steering trickery from the likes of JT and Gus, we finally crossed Hurricane Dolores’ dead zone. We used our satellite phone to gather weather data for navigation. Then, we raised the spinnaker, changed course, and are now following the wind north. Now, some of you landlubbers might be cleverly pointing out that Hawaii is in fact west, not north. You, sir or madam, are entirely correct, but we’ll be darned if we get stuck in another dead zone! Stay tuned to see whether this works out!

JHOST kids and trainers learned about competition on day 1, while days 2 and 3 taught patience and teamwork. All fully understood the power of engineering, science, technology and math as we plotted course and tuned the boat for performance. Visit jhsailing.org to learn about how you can support our cause!

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Day 1: Start of TransPac

Close Start

Ytranspac-start2ou know you’re cutting it close at the start when there’s a racer on another boat shouting your name in disbelief.

Day 1 started out innocently enough, with some old school hip hop and final phone calls to loved ones. 15 minutes before the 13:00 start, we set strategy: start on the furthest windward side of the committee boat. The radius around the starting line was already simmering with the combined adrenalin of every racer in Division 5. You could see crew on each deck scrambling from rail to rail as the pack tacked back and forth across the each other in pursuit of advantage numero uno: be first to cross the starting line.

At 12:55, Hokahey’s time had come. We zeroed in on Hamachi, a beautiful pale blue J125 making fast progress toward the committee boat. Trouble was, we’d already established that was our turf. No choice but to defend your turf, right, landlubbers?

Captain took the helm, and we barreled towards the 20 foot space between the committee boat and Hamachi. The wind whooshed past, and dolphins gathered round like spectators at a drag race. It was too close. We were going too fast.

“TACK!” our crew shouted to Captain from the mast. Starting before the gun would result in detrimental time penalty.

“GEOOOORGE!!” screamed Hamachi’s navigator to Captain. We’d sidled up so close you could smell the sunscreen on their necks. We’d gained right of way.

“TACK! TACK! TACK!” Captain motioned them on: “you tack.”

They held.

Captain put the bow down at 8 seconds. We rolled the starting line 0.5 seconds after the shotgun’s boom. Its smoke foiled through our sails, and our ears rang painfully.

“Nice driving, Tex,” said Jeff.

No one else could think of anything to say, so we just sailed elatedly on towards Catalina, unsure of whether we were being skippered by a maniac or a tactical genius, but not caring too much either way.

We’re getting more and more excited to share the opportunity to race boats with the kids who join our program. Check out jhsailing.org to learn more about our cause!