There is a familiar sense of excitement bubbling up in me right now. Preparations have begun in earnest to get Cassiopeia and me ready to go offshore this winter leading up to our big trip to Hawaii in the 2020 Shaka Challenge. As much as Hawaii is a big goal, I am learning that singlehanding the Guadalupe Island race in March might trump it in intensity and personal challenge (or so I have been warned). All warnings have been taken under advisement, and I am committed to doing it anyway……..typical ! The fire in my belly grows every day, as the reality of going offshore again becomes palpable. I have the drive to push myself and learn more deeply about what it takes to be out there alone. I am excited to feel Cassiopeia step up to a new challenge as well. After 2 1/2 years, I know her so well now, and I am finally ready to venture over the horizon with her as my steed.
PSSA’s famed Guadalupe Island race takes place every two years and is touted by almost every veteran I have talked to as a huge challenge, and one which they would think twice about undertaking again. It is 650nm and the course is from Marina Del Rey to Guadalupe Island, Mexico and back to Catalina Island. The run to Guadalupe is usually downwind, and can be quite pleasant. It is the beat back up the coast that is reputed to be a huge ass kicking. Over 300nm of upwind sailing at a time of year when huge winds are likely. Is it weird that I am actually excited for this?
Bishop Rock and Guadalupe Island are Category 2 and 1 offshore races, respectively, so I have a laundry list of items to check off in preparation. There will be an inspection of Cassiopeia to make sure that we are in compliance for each race. Most of the items are safety related, including a life raft, which thankfully, I already own. I’ll attach a list below to give an idea of what else is required. Needless to say, with 3 weeks left until Bishop Rock, I am in turbo project mode to get ready. Bishop Rock will be a great shakedown sail for Guadalupe Island in March. It is 165 nm round trip, straight out from Marina Del Rey and around the rock at the notorious Cortez bank and back to Catalina.
Given the challenging conditions I will likely be facing offshore, I have made some additions to boat. The fist thing I dealt with was my sail plan, with the expert support of my friend and longtime sailmaker, Oliver McCann, of UK Sailmakers. Oliver has been making my sails since 2004, and I trust him implicitly. Here’s what we decided: I am finally putting 3rd reef points in my mainsail. I am having a new furling Gennaker made for reaching (and ease of deployment), and I am also cutting down and re-purposing my 98% jib (that came with my boat) to be used with a furler on a semi permanent inner stay. This will help (especially upwind) when winds are high and I am unable to use my giant 140% Genoa. That genny is awesome, and I am able to reef it on its furler, but I have found that in higher wind (20+), it is more than a handful to reef, and I would rather have a smaller sail altogether. The inner stay will also serve as the stay for my storm jib if I should need it.
My friend and rigger, Mary Ellen Rose is, as always, guiding me and installing all things rigging. To support my new sail plan, we are installing a Mariner furling system as the inner stay, which is an old but reliable system, and most importantly to me, can be retracted when not in use. There is a lot that goes along with the new sails, and Mary Ellen will be setting me up with all of the rigging necessary for the additions. A little side note about Mary Ellen: She is a true badass, and a huge inspiration to me. She has been a rigger in the marina for a very long time, and started at a time when women riggers were not the norm (they still aren’t, by the way, at least not around here). She has held her own in a male dominated field, and is a wealth of information. She will never lead you astray and is always looking for practical ways to achieve your goals. I highly recommend her. Every time we work together, I learn so much. Not only is she a badass rigger, but she is a wonderful human being, and I adore her!
Last but not least on my list of super cool additions to Cassiopeia, is a Hydrovane self-steering vane. This vane is incredible and has a stellar reputation around the world. Its design is simple and powerful and will handily steer my big boat in all conditions without using any power. A very important feature for me is that it can also be used as an emergency rudder if needed. Category 1 races (Guadalupe Island and Hawaii) require an emergency rudder, so this amazing device kills 2 birds with one stone (I really hate that saying). Everyone I have talked to, and all of the reviews I have read, rave about the Hydrovane and it’s efficacy and dependability. I am very excited to try it out! We are laying out the installation as I write this, and I should have it working by Bishop Rock. Beyond all this, I really only have one large project left (famous last words), which is to install the drive unit and brain of my NKE autopilot. Both of these projects are being headed up by Jerome Sammarcelli (the guy who roped me into all this singlehanded offshore sailing in the first place) of Sailutions USA, with me as his (hopefully) helpful assistant.
It is the dawn of a new chapter in my sailing experiences, and I can feel it. There are new challenges to face, new things to learn adn new distances to be traveled. I am ready and fired up to dive in and see where this journey continues to take me.
Guadalupe Island Preview