Please select your home edition
Zhik 2022 Choice of Champions LEADERBOARD

Watching sailing's magic unfurl offshore

by David Schmidt 2 Aug 2022 08:00 PDT August 2, 2022
Mountains to port, humpbacks to starboard © David Schmidt

One of the greatest pleasures of offshore sailing is the chance to experience nature in all of her moods and forms. I recently had the fantastic opportunity to help deliver Dark Star, the boat that won the 2022 Race to Alaska (they were racing as Team Pure and Wild) home from Ketchikan, Alaska, to Seattle, Washington, by way of Vancouver Island's west coast after the racing team's walk-away victory (it was measured in entire days).

While we had champagne-like weather for almost the entire 96-hour delivery (read: no rain, following seas and downhill wind angles), one particular evening stands out.

We left Ketchikan on the penultimate Wednesday in June, sometime around noon, and by late Friday afternoon we were somewhere off of Vancouver Island's Brooks Peninsula. This stretch of water has a well-earned reputation for delivering big conditions, but we spent the afternoon sailing in 10-12 knot, rolling seas that were a couple of feet tall and coming from our quarter, and fog.

While this made for a comfortable ride, the boat - a Paul Bieker-designed Riptide 44 - is an apparent wind machine. We were carrying a full mainsail and a cruising asymmetric kite, and the angles, the air pressure, the sea state, and Dark Star's impressive speed meant that it was easy to outrun one's apparent air.

We rifled through drivers (mea culpa: I wasn't doing a very good job of keeping the kite filled without a lot of cross track error), before Erik and Paul (Bieker) settled in for prolonged helm sessions. Our VMG spiked, our cross-track error vanished, and things felt good.

I can't remember who turned on the stereo and the cockpit speakers, but soon the tunes were flowing, bars of dark chocolate were making the rounds, and there was plenty of post-dinner coffee and tea to be had. While it was getting late, evening hadn't yet spilled over to night (remember this was at 50 degrees north latitude, roughly 96 hours after the summer solstice), and the whole crew was hanging out in the cockpit, watching Erik and Paul taking turns coming darn close to matching boatspeed with windspeed.

That's when the clouds parted.

Suddenly, grand expanses of saw-tooth like peaks, still white with their coats of winter and spring snowfall, appeared off of our port board. We always knew that there were huge mountains around, but - given that we had spent the greater part of 36 hours in a fog bank - we were suddenly true believers.

A comfortable silence spilled over the cockpit, as we each took in the scene.

That's when someone noticed a whale's tail. Then, many.

While I suspect Erik, our skipper, had been focusing on finding better wind pressure with his weather routing, he had expertly guided us to the perfect place: To port lay the expanse of Vancouver Island; to starboard (and, soon, ahead and astern) were whales. I lost count, but I'm guessing that I saw at least a dozen animals, maybe more, all swimming a northerly course.

I can only imagine what the humpbacks thought of Dark Star's slippery undercarriage and appendages, but we had plenty of time to contemplate their graceful bodies, the sheer size of their pod, and the fact that these beautiful creatures make this lonely stretch of sea their home for part of the year.

While we all knew that we needed to settle into our nighttime watch schedule, everyone stayed on deck to see the last of the dorsal fins and tails vanish.

That's when the evening stars began populating the darkening sky.

While I live in Bellingham, Washington, a place that prides itself on its inky dark skies, my backyard has nothing on the heavenly scene that revealed itself.

If you're not familiar with this stretch of coastline, this is one of the West Coast's most desolate stretches, with no visible onshore lights, cities or towns, and not even other nearby vessels. Basically, zero light pollution.

Standing in the cockpit, looking aloft, felt like peering through our own private version of the James Webb Space Telescope... just with our bare eyes.

The sky was soon pure blackness, punctuated only by the light of so many distant stars, and we reluctantly slid back into our watch schedules.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

Related Articles

2023 Coast Guard Foundation interview
We talk with Susan Ludwig about the Coast Guard Foundation's latest news Sail-World checked in with Susan Ludwig, president of the Coast Guard Foundation, via email, to learn more about the latest happenings at this 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Posted on 28 Mar
The Ocean Race sailors round The Horn
Rosalin Kuiper can now joke about her head injury aboard Team Malizia For armchair pundits, few offshore adventures are more fun to watch from afar than the Southern Ocean legs of storied events such as the singlehanded Vendee Globe or the fully crewed The Ocean Race. Posted on 28 Mar
Thank God he didn't!
Back at Sandringham YC in 2014, I met a strapping young West Australian... Back at Sandringham Yacht Club, in December of 2014, I got to meet a strapping young West Australian lad. Incredibly personable and quite worldly already, especially considering his years, Matt Wearn was a delight to speak with. Posted on 27 Mar
2023 Ides of March Regatta
We talk with Scott Tuma about the 2023 Ides of March Regatta Sail-World checked in with Scott Tuma, regatta chair of the 2023 Ides of March Regatta, via email, about this exciting multihull regatta. Posted on 22 Mar
2023 Deep South Lightning Regatta interview
We talk with Adam Young about the 2023 Deep South Lightning Regatta Sail-World checked in with Adam Young, Savanah Yacht Club's sailing director, via email, to learn more about the 2023 Deep South Lightning Regatta. Posted on 21 Mar
2023 St. Thomas International Regatta interview
We talk with Pat Bailey about the 2023 St. Thomas International Regatta Sail-World checked in with Pat Bailey, regatta co-director of the 2023 St. Thomas International Regatta, via email, to learn more about this exciting Caribbean regatta. Posted on 21 Mar
Risk and reward
Much more than a port tack flyer or banging a corner I've yet to meet a keen sailor who hasn't at some point banged a corner, usually after a poor start, and come out top at the windward mark. Nine times out of ten it won't work, but that one time where it does certainly brings out the smiles. Posted on 20 Mar
Some thoughts on U.S. Olympic sailing
If you're a fan of US Sailing you're best advised to stop reading this editorial Caveat Emptor: If you're a fan of US Sailing, and specifically how the organization runs the U.S. Olympic sailing program, you're best advised to stop reading this editorial. Posted on 13 Mar
Sally Lindsay Honey's bright view of the dark side
Featured speaker at the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup It's not usually big news when someone sells a boat, but then, most boats aren't Illusion, the Cal 40 owned and sailed hard for 34 years by two-time US Yachtswoman of the Year Sally Honey and her (sorry, Stan) one-time Yachtsman of the Year husband. Posted on 13 Mar
Edward Woodward
He played Lieutenant (Henry Harbord) Harry ‘The Breaker' Morant in the film. He played Lieutenant (Henry Harbord) Harry ‘The Breaker' Morant in the Bruce Beresford film depiction of the famed bush poet's execution during the Second Boer War. Woodward was utterly superb at it, too. Posted on 12 Mar
Selden 2020 - FOOTERASB23-SW-1456x180-Banner-Bottom-REV-02Marine Resources 2022 Salary Survey FOOTER