Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Team Kotuku Wins the VanIsle 360 with Grit, Luck, and Funny Hats

So much for suspense.  After 8 hard bashing legs to windward, we were tired.  But we were leading.  With the wolves nipping at our heels and with the target squarely on our back, we knew that we'd be fighting all the way through the islands and passes to the finish back in Nanaimo, 14 days after our start.

Foolishly, we served notice to the fleet on leg 1 that even after doing a 720 for fouling Cinco de Mayo we could come back and win with a combination of good boat handling, decent speed, and solid tactics.  We were newbies, and didn't realize that winning the early stages doesn't do much more than make sure that the faster boats cover you once they get ahead.  And so the battle begins...

Leg 2 started well, but ended up being our worst finish, mid-fleet and looking at the stern of California Girl (2nd slowest boat) as we reached back to the finish after missing the shore lift.  Sometimes the middle doesn't pay.  Consistency does though, and one stinker was enough for us.  We would find ways to stay on the podium until the last race and except for legs 2 and 3, we would lead the overall point total until the end.

Legs 3 and 4 we were increasingly breezy upwind bashes through the top of the Strait of Georgia and the bottom of Johnstone Strait.  Back and forth we found ourselves trading tacks with Kiva, Opus, Rubato, and many of the faster Div 2 boats.  We finished 2nd and 3rd after fine results by Kiva and Rubato who both seemed faster than we are upwind in a blow.  Masts broke, sails blew out, and keel bolts loosened for others, but Kotuku took care of us.  And we took care of business and stayed in the hunt.

Leg 5 started horribly as we were involved in a close crossing with Anam Cara that separated us from our horseshoe as they picked it cleanly of the rail with their anchor roller.  I thought they were coming for me, but Tom (the driver of Anam Cara) managed to swing their bow just as we surged forward to avoid them, and all they got were our padded bits.  The stage ended better than it began though, and won it in the final 5 miles with the aid of luck, great boatspeed and good tactics at the finish.  The icing on the cake was the escort provided by a pod of dolphins to the harbor entrance.  That was a stage we will remember for a long time, both for the great finish and for the wonderful food and hospitality of Telegraph Cove.

On the long, grueling outside legs, we dug deep and found a level of focus and consistency that none of the other boats could match.  We might miss a shift or get stuck in a hole--it happened to everybody, most more than once. But when the sun rose, again and again Kotuku seemed to find herself near the front of the pack, taking line honors twice more before Night Runner came on form as we all knew she would.  Sometimes slower boats would correct over us, but we kept the other race leaders in our sights and fought for leverage over the top boats and gradually built a point lead until by the last race, we had a 50 point lead over our closest competitor, Rubato.  I believe it was in Uclulet that we broke out the wigs and hats.  (Photos coming...)

Leg 9 showed that while we don't have Night Runner's downwind speed, Kotuku is no slouch off the wind.  And we were really glad to shake out the nylon after carrying the kites around for 3/4 of the way.  After a solid start and an early surfing match that we eventually conceded to The Old Brown Boat Who Can, we ended up finishing 3rd.  For us, it felt like vacation for most of the run down from Uclulet to Victoria, where we had speeds in the 12s at the beginning and end of the leg.  We actually gave up a place to Rubato with a spinnaker change through Race Rocks, figuring it was better to be third with all our sails than have to fight again tomorrow without a light air kite.  A wise decision, as it turned out.

And in dramatic fashion, leg 10 proved that when the going gets tough and the night is long, Kotuku does not quit.  We finished first over the line despite multiple re-starts and current gates that left our closest rivals well behind us.  And that was how we won the VanIsle 360.

We finished first in Division 3, and it looks like we were the high point boat for all classes for the entire regatta.  (I think we were the only one tracking this as it turns out.  Sorry Tom and Terry, they only gave out divisional trophies, and shortest overall elapsed.)  Still, not bad for a bunch of oddballs, eh?

If I haven't said it yet, the boat is good, but the crew won this race.  I'd like to thank Becca, Trent, Eli, Garth, Chris, John, Stu, and a special thanks to Al for getting the boat up there, bringing it back, and making sure we were pointing in the right direction.  Our teamwork and sail handling was rock solid.  Our tactics were consistently excellent.  But most of all we had a great time.  Not sure quite how it happened, but Team Kotuku forged itself into a tight-knit, easy-going, fun loving family that could be consistently focused on the race course.  Thank you one and all for the great time, and the great results!

One last note:  This race is a logistical nightmare.  Without the continuous work of our shore support team, this result would not have been possible.  A big thanks from all of us to Tom, Marie, Talia, Savai, Solomon, Barry and Amy.

And most of all, thank you Janna for organizing, shopping, cooking, cleaning, wrangling, and just plain making this crazy dream come true.  As those who know you can attest, your support regularly makes
Big Hairy Audacious Goals Happen.
I love that about you.

Thank you!


  1. Fantastic work, friends!! All of you, through and through.


  2. Nice write up. Additionally thanks to you and the sailmakers at UK and Ballard Sails for some nice weapons to use in battle. One of my best memories is the other competitors doing "the bird" at the end of leg 10. Cool, Al

  3. THEN what did you do!??!?! I'm dying for a Kotuku update. Miss you guys