The last boat wins the SeascapeChallenge

Seascape Challenge – How to be the last boat in and still win!

Story by Thomas Nielsen

The Seascape Challenge is a race currently open only to ‪Seascape boats; the 18, the 27 and their newest, the 24. It is held in Croatia as the first race in a series for Seascape sailors. 2016’s Challenge was the first year for the 24 to race as it is a brand new design from Samuel Manuard for Seascape. It will be exciting to follow this design as the fleet grows. A sleeker hybrid version of the 18 and 27 with the 27’s big rig and sail area it promises some exciting fast sailing.

The race fleet for the challenge is limited to twenty boats. There are two courses. The short at 67 nm and the long at 134 nm. Sailing distance far exceeds this with potential long upwind tacks. I have yet to see our official distance sailed to complete the course but wouldn’t be surprised if it approached 200 nm’s.

We had a solid start as the race began. Within several tacks we took a different approach from the pack around and ahead of us and when we crossed tacks again an hour or so later, it had paid off. We were now the lead 18. We held this lead until we made the tactical error of flying the new code zero sail. It turned out the gennaker would have been the right choice to keep our lead. Oh well – lessons learned – 1. expect a little confusion if you are racing with your new partner for the first time and there is a bit of language barrier, 2. don’t try a new sail for the first time during a race particularly if you have never set it on the boat before. 3. flying half way around the world and then driving 1000 or more miles doesn’t necessarily get you in the best of shape for a long race. Conditions were light and variable so Jochen and I needed to work hard to keep the boat moving at it’s best. Well, Jochen worked hard, handicapped by my inexperience with this boat. He was a patient and competent teacher so I feel I improved over the 30 hours we were out. That was exactly my goal. I was here in Croatia to get a sense of distance racing on the 18 so when Jochen asked if we were going on as we passed the island of Komorica, the short course turning point, my answer was an obvious YES. Obviously I was here to gain experience and insight for the Race to Alaska, ‪#‎R2AK‬ even though it was now deep night and the navigation was getting tougher, there was commercial traffic around and the first signs of the approaching Bora were showing. We pushed on through the night to a background of lightning on the horizon and a need to put on every scrap of clothing as temperatures plummeted. As we raced with the other 18’s and passed the short course turning point other S18 crews turned back taking the sensible shorter route or dipping their toes and then deciding it wasn’t their race this year. The race is dominated by 18’s doing the short course and the 27’s doing the long course. Going long in an 18 is a little rogue and seen as “pushing it.”

Morning found us near the southerly most waypoint where you turn back north for the long sail back. Amazingly we had closed the distance to the trailing 27’s, having lost them the day before, watching them launch their kites as they started the long haul north. It also found us with rain squalls chasing us around the island of Drevnik Mali, dodging two ferries, a freighter, some fishermen with no lights on put plenty of net out and some weird looking barge-like vessel that looked like a tank designer gave up war to design boats meant for what I can only guess at.

With night gone and freshening winds, we began the long run back but now we had a new problem. We were out of back up power, the navigation iPad had 32% battery left and our paper charts didn’t go this far south. Binoculars found the 27’s on the horizon so we took a rough compass bearing and headed after them. Eventually we were out of power finishing with only 4% left, the iPad now at best temperamental. Luckily I had downloaded a street map of Croatia onto my iPhone and amazingly the island of Obun, the northernmost waypoint, though just a speck of land showed on this map. To hell with water depths and obstructions and sensible navigation, we were in a boat with a swing keel so we could take the hit.

The winds were now picking up and had shifted enough to the west that what had looked to be a long beat to weather became one long tack up the Island of Murter. The island names here are interesting. When the area was surveyed in the nineteenth century, the geographers wanted to use the locals place names. What they got were made up names such as big hooker, little hooker and other not so polite made up ones that remain in place today.

We were now seeing a real change in the wind. It was strengthening and becoming far more constant. Early arrival of the Bora? As we rolled around the last mark, the Malo Mare rock beacon, the gennaker came out and we began our speed run to the finish line. This made for some exciting sailing and a scrambling race committee and welcoming party. They had just ordered pizza and were settling in with drinks for a long wait. That’s not what we served them though. We were done with the race and it definitely felt like the horse was ready for its stable. With a big lit up trawler in the background headed for the Port of Murter, we headed for Jezera. And then the party began. First the committee and publicity boat out to snap photos and make sure that we legally crossed the finish line. Then a countdown as we made port followed by cheering and cowbells from the breakwater. We rounded up dropped the sails and ghosted in to our mooring. A champagne bottle was handed over to be popped, sprayed and drank from. Helping hands hauled us ashore for more photos, kisses and cups of the local hard stuff. Jochen and I were a little like deer in the head lights at this point as we had no idea that we had won the long course but finally they told us and the whole ending celebration began to make sense. We were “The Legends Of The Long Route!”

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