Double Damned 2014: The Year Of The Shark
Marking its 7th running of the 42nm upstream, down wind marathon from Cascade Locks to the Dalles on the mighty Columbia River, the folks at Hood River Yacht Club put on another well orchestrated event for locals and out of town visitors alike. An offshoot from other events which began or ended in the gorgeous town of Hood River, the Double Damned has seen a variety of conditions over its 7 year history, from the dominant westerly's, building into the infamous "Nuclear Winds" to light easterlies and everything in between.
The 2014 edition began ominously, as a wild fire burst out near the town of Rowena, days before the event. Rowena, just some 15 miles up river from Hood River marks the transition from the lush alpine the runs through the Gorge and into dramatic geographic uplift formations and the beginning of desert landscapes of eastern Oregon and Washington. The wildfire, flared up early Wednesday and fueled by dry timber and chaparral brush and 30 mph winds had the possibility to flare up and spread, making access to the Dalles on the Oregon side doubtful, not to mention sailing into a smoke filled basin, would not have been keen. Fortunately conditions eased and a quick aerial and land based attack knocked the fire down and kept the race options open and allowed home owners back to their abodes.
Over the course of 7 years, the Double Damned has become a bucket list race for some, and a yearly must do for others. The inaugural year saw 9 starters, and as word of the event spread. 2012 witnessed a fleet of 27 boats rolling the dice, and laying it on the line in one of the lightest wind races ever, consuming nearly 9 hours for finishers, vs the 3:53:23 record set by Morgan Larson in 2009 blowfest which saw winds in excess of 40 knots!
Over the years, the winningest, most entered boat has been the Moore 24', a staple of the Hood River Yacht Club, with it's ability to handle the harsh winds and massive swell the Gorge can dish out on any given day. Morgan Larson's tricked out Moore 24 Bruzer won the 1st 4 events and is always in the top of the standings at days end. One of the keys to success in this race is a shallow keel to assist avoiding contact with sand/gravel bars and the basalt ledges which lurk just below the surface on rivers edge and some islands. More recently, the Wylie Wabbit has become a surprise threat, taking 2 of the past 3 races, utilizing it's even shallower keel ( 3.5 feet) and lighter weight to plane faster than the Moores. 2013 and 2014 also saw the introduction of the 24' Shark, a bit more on that shortly
Navigation is another integral part of winning the Double Damn, and while nobody knows where all the underwater obstructions lie, not having to look at chart while blasting upriver, avoiding barges, windsurfers, kite boarders, paddle boarders, fishing boats, fishing net buoys and your competition, is huge. Obviously the locals have a much better sense of these things, either from bumping into them on previous occasions, or watching someone else do the same, combine with stories from various sources. A good knowledge of the terrain is also key in understanding where the wind shifts, accelerates or decreases, as it works its way up (or down) the river canyon. Also it being a river, which is always ebbing, there are large areas of pronounced current relief to be had in sections that will save you a bundle of time.
And then there is boat handling. Pinned down with your shrouds immersed , crew dangling from the lifelines and sheet wrapped around keel or rudder is slow. Keeping the rig up is a big advantage. Staying off the bars and banks is best. To do well in the Double Damn demands precise team work and keeping the hull under the kite. The locals, in general, have the advantage here as they are exposed to the power and velocity the Gorge can dish out, and in general, are not overwhelmed by the fear factor. That confidence, or blind faith, makes it easier for crews to sort out minor issues before they become major and lead to harrowing after effects.
Many a pro sailor makes their home in the Gorge for a variety of reasons, and new challenges are one of them. Their stoic ease to not panic when the shit hits the fan tend to rub off on others, and generally makes better sailors for all around them. When tactics and boat handling become 2nd nature, focus becomes clearer. Watching Morgan Larson with wife Krista win the start year after year, and continuously increase the lead is easier observed than duplicated. Its the flawless sailing that follows, and allows them to remain ahead of the fleet of Moore's that seems so easily orchestrated. The strategy of following Bruzer up river will help you learn the shortcuts, provided your draft is similar. Numerous boats find themselves banging the bottom if they draw more than 4 feet and follow that path.
The other beautiful part of being the lead dog, there isn't the constant battle of lead changes and keeping clear of other boats as the parade moves up the river. When you all rate 150, as does the Moore's, a tight flock, especially at the corners is almost certain. As mentioned before the Wylie Wabbits, with a much smaller fleet have less of that to worry about and 1/2 afoot less draft to drag on the bottom. With the introduction of the snuffer to be used during heavy air gybes, they have reduced the crashing to a minimum. And then there is THE SHARK...
2013 saw the appearance of the 24' Shark (http://www.shark24.org/home.html) at the Double Damn. Gay Morris's Fayaway from the CYC in Edmonds, Washington is a unique boat that is a big favorite in the far North America, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and the waters of the Swedish archipelago. With it's large cabin top, it provides ample space for crew below decks, important when sailing in the higher latitudes. It's rating of 231 , and minscule draft of 3'2" means it can stay in the hunt, by just keeping within eye contact of the Moore's and staying out of trouble. In the 2013 edition, with moderate breeze, Gay and crew corrected out into 2nd place, 5 minutes and 4 seconds ahead of Bruzer, despite a 43m42 sec delta in real time.
The 2014 edition, began with another nice pre race registration party at Cascade Lock's Marine Park hosted again by RBS Sailbattens*, a Luau flavored pig roast deliciously prepared by the crew at Lilo's BBQ, and a gathering of the tribes. Faces that have not seen each other in eons mixing with locals and out of town guests alike made for some great story telling and anticipation for the day ahead. The wind was up big time all along the Gorge this Friday, allowing crews an opportunity to check out potential high wind and light air spots while running their shuttle to the Dalles after launching their vessel. The forecast was on everyone's mind, as a light air, with transition to easterly was dispatched from the local prognosticators.
As the Skippers Meeting horns sounded prior to Saturday's 10:00 AM start, head race coordinator provided the crews and skippers a happier forecast of more moderate breezes in the mid to high teens, with gusts in the 20's. 'The tide will be ebbing all day" Race Director Doug Archbald kiddingly advised " Stay out of the way of commercial traffic and assist other mariners if needed, take the time of any assistance and you will be granted redress. Dinner is at 7:00 PM, don't be late!" pretty much summed up the essentials...
After hopping aboard Chris Lloyd 'sawesome Williard Marine RIB we scooted out to the start for some photo taking, and hopefully not to much 'Randy Rescue " work. Chris, and avid sailor himself, bought the RIB as an extension to his water loving lifestlye, and has refurbished the boat into Bristol condition, and it military spec build handles the gnarly conditions the Gorge produces with style and grace. Chris and his vessel proved a delightful, generous asset to the event, and getting us educated and in position flawlessly!
The start, a downhill affair prohibits the use of kite until the gun sounds, had all 21 entries going at once, with Morgan Larson's Bruzer once again nailing it and sailing into clear air almost instantaneously, with the 2 "Super 30"s Lance Staughton's Farr 30 " Bat out of Hell" grappling with Eric Nelson's Henderson 30' Gardyloo for the front of the pack in 10 -12 knots of breeze.
Predictably, the majority of the fleet followed Bruzers every move, with the 30's leading the parade on a two boat dog fight, followed closely by the two Wabbits, Simon Winer's SYZYGY and Colin Moore's Kwazy duking it out in a battle that would see several lead changes and a boat on boat chess match up the river. " Colin was relentless" Simon indicated after the race " Any slacking, like getting our lunch out was quickly pounced upon with impunity! In the 3rd fleet, there were several subdivisions.
B) The rest of the Moore24's and E-27's and SC27's
C) The Corsair 31, John Spurlock's Wicked
D) The SHARK
E) David Berntsen's mini pickle fork, Weta, "Weta"
In the light air, and several knots of conflicting current, the Weta fell behind quickly, and rather than suffer a terribly long day in conditions not in his favor, Davo bailed out and sailed back to Cascade Locks. As the gorge narrowed a couple miles east and the wind compressed and accelerated, the trimaran, the 30's and the wabbits jumped in to high gear. As they reached the waters of Wind Mountain, Wicked experienced a bit of a roundup, which resulted into a kitemare as the kite and lines worked their way around the dagger boards and rudder. As the crew struggled to gather the kite, the boat got perilously close to the Washington shoreline, and without the jib up, was unable to tack. After abit of a struggle, our driver was able to pull the boat out into deeper water, where the regroup and finished the course, san s kite.
Effectively, the Wind Mountain to Hatchery in the Gorge Narrows provided most of the electricity for this edition, with winds in the low 20's and kiters and windsurfers to dodge until the fleet clear the Hood River Bridge. This, the Halfway mark also provides and opportunity for any boat with issues a departure point, but there were no takers.
By now the fleets had spread out a bit. The 30's with a commanding lead, then the Wabbits, Bruzer and then the rest. As wind lightened in the front, it was building in the back. And in the back, the unassuming SHARK and its 231 rating was lurking. Fayaway's presence just behind the Moores &27's was a bit out of a Hitchcock suspense novel. Sailing a clean race and up to her prescribed hull speed, Gay and crew patiently reeled in their prey, slowly and methodically. As the fleet compressed, it became apparent as they neared Doug's Beach, that they were not going anywhere and it was their race to win.
As the township of Rowena neared, temperatures climbed, and the smoke from the wildfire lifted as a solo helo worked the river for water, hovering just a couple feet over the water as the pilot sucked up huge volumes of water, then quickly dashed to hotspots to give them a nice cool bath.
Upriver, the hard working, overheat Hood River YC volunteers awaited. And waited. As the 30's arrived on little to no wind and commenced in a tight gybing duel, they were soon followed in by the Wabbits which carried 3-5 knots with them. Cutting into the Oregon side, with Kwazy in the lead, they found a sand bar and parked, allowing SYZYGY a passing lane. But Kwazy was not done, upon freeing themselves they found a personal puff to put them back in the lead just yards from the finish, but the puff died as did their chances....Bruzer and the Moore & 27's arrived in building breeze, with Steve McCarthy sailing with Karl Robrock on Ruby taking 2nd in Moores, 5th overall, followed by Kathryn Meyer's More Cowbell, John Grays' Immoral and the SC 27, Eric Collin's Kokopelli.
And remember the Shark? Gay Morris and crew aboard Fawaway, glided in with 5 minutes, 33 seconds to spare to take the 1st place corrected prize, and no doubt the attention of Shark sailors world wide, who might just see the Double Damned as a Shark friendly race!
Once the boat were back on their trailers, mast's lowered and boats trailered back to Hood River, the crews enjoyed another fantastic meal, a raffle to benefit the Junior sailors and the awards, with adult beverages aplenty flowing for the parched but happy sailors! And while the Double Damned isn't for everyone, and for some a bit of a hike, the Columbia River Gorge and the Hood River area offer clean, fun recreation opportunities a plenty, a chance to unwind in one of world's greatest recreation Mecca's. Come for the race, stay for the fun!
Photo : Erik Simonson