OYRA Series 2015: Full Crewed Farallones - Orion challenges Farallones record
27 nautical miles west of The Golden Gate, on the edge of the continental shelf, the bedraggled remains of what was once a mighty mountain peak, lurks a chain of islands as inhospitable and menacing as one can imagine. Often draped in cold relentless wind and a bone chilling fog, and coated in guano from sea birds , seals and sea lions, with no natural fresh water supply and little vegetation or tillable soil, no safe harbor and barely any shelter, the "Rock Pile" has few visible redeeming qualities worthy of visit. The North Shore of the South East Farallon is the most menacing, user unfriendly , god forsaken, jagged outcropping on this stretch of coast, and send shivers down the spine just looking at it from a distance.
The might and fury of the North Pacific constantly unleashes its power on these remnants of this Salinian Block, its solid granite slowly eroding in time. Metric tons of icy seas crashing relentlessly on its banks, the Farallones were devoid of any human habitation for centuries, the Native Americans called them the Islands of the Dead and believed the spirits of the deceased haunted the isles. It wasn't until 1579 that Sir Francis Drake landed on a calm summer day to hunt seals and collect eggs, that the Farallones had it 1st human interaction.
The concept that enduring a cold windy sailboat ride out to, and around these terrifying rock outcroppings for joy is only one that a sailors mind could fathom. But several times a year, sailors from all walks of life, crawl from their warm dry beds at ungodly hours of the morning, slip on layer after layer of protective clothing and sail en masse out to the edge of the western world and back in conditions ranging from heavy seas and gale force winds to little low lying , little visibility for and light winds. The adventurer in their genes overruling the common sense genes, which would seek something more sedentary.
For decades, the offshore hardcore have looked forward to the adventure and the challenge, and circle the Farallones Race on their calendar with fervor. And when there is a race, there are records, and records are meant to be broken. To be the fastest around the stinky rocks is something no one can take away from you, and do to the lack of resort type accommodations at said rock pile, being the fastest to the rocks is a mute point. For the record, the record to date is a blasting 3hours, 30 minutes and 34 seconds, set by Jack Halterman and Zan Dres on the ProSail 40' TomCat in 1992.Fast forward to 2015 and that record still remains intact.
As many of you well know, there has been a rash of broken records in recent times, the most notably, via the Mod 70' Phaedo3. which has been on a seek and destroy mission on the East Coast and Caribbean , look for existing records and crushing them. The Mod 70 was purpose built for becoming an open ocean one design class with a world wide tour and Pro Am circuit. Built with exacting tolerances in construction and weight with all parts and appendages equal to avoid financial wars, 7 teams were assemble by 2011 with intentions for an ongoing circuit. " They are almost indestructible beasts " Says Zan Drejes who was instrumental in getting the 1st Mod 70 to the West Coast ." They weren't supposed to be available to anyone not signed n the Mod 70 circuit, but when the class stumbled in signing a title sponsor, a crack in the armor was exposed, and we were able to finagle a boat, hull # 2, the former Veolia Environment boat built for Roland Jourdain. Technically, we were supposed to commit to entering the circuit after a season of training on the West Coast, but when the class failed to get the title sponsor, we were off the hook". It was Zan's enthusiasm for the boat that sold the owner of what is now Orion, Tom Siebel, on the boat. Although somewhat new to sailing, Tom had experienced multihull speed via the Sig 45' Vamonos but wanted to go even faster. They acquired the boat in 2012 and had her shipped to Manzanillo, Mexico where they reassemble the boat and with the assistance of 20 of the Mod 70 representatives, learned how to tame the beast.
Now, sailing with a full crew under the guidance of Charlie Ogletree. the form Olympic Sailing Silver medalist, Orion stands at the ready and West Coast records are on the endangered list. For Saturday's Farallones race the forecast looked promising and with any luck, the 1st major distance record was in the crosshairs.
With a healthy 3.5 knot ebb prior to the start and 12-15 knots of cool moist breeze Pacific air blowing across the StFYC start line for their 10:05 AM gun, Orion and crew blasted up to and out the Gate in rapid fashion, reeling in boat after boat which had begun ahead of them. Out in the Golden Gate Strait, a mixture of ebb tide and long period swell created a raucous ride as Orion hobby horsed through the slop a some 20 plus knots. Blasting past Point Bonita and onto the North side of the course, the breeze change to a more westerly direction and eased a bit, while the boat was still making good speed in the mid teens and dodging string after string of crab pots, the wind remained on the nose, not great for vmg.
It was just past the Lightship when Orion tacked to head south and doing so crossed the lead boats at the time, California Condor and Deception and Adrenaline, the SC 50's which had started some 25 minutes before the Mod 70. And while the seas flattened out very nicely, so did the pressure. Slowly decreasing and aside from a short period when it teased with slight NW shift, remained almost directly on the nose. Not great for record breaking. It was just about 16 miles out that the wind all but ceased, and the boat slowed to a painful 3-5 knots, which continued for another 30 minutes or so. Looking at the Garmin chart plotter, we watch the ETA to our destination move further and further back.
But just when you thought all was lost, that lovely dark texture began to appear from the NW and with it, Orion picked up her pace and was soon galloping on a direct layline, pushing the high teens! The lead 50's which had been inching ever closer began to get smaller and smaller in the rear view window. It was just prior to noon when Orion reached the South East Farallon, with that menacing northern exposure looming to port, our thoughts turned the lost souls of Low Speed Chase and how utterly terrifying that afternoon 3 years earlier. As Orion cleared the north west corner of Maintop Island and eased the sheets there was a palatable release in tension running through the veins as well. A flawless gybe ensued and now, it was time to gobble up some miles. With 4-5 foot smooth following seas, the Mod 70 picked up to the mid 20's on the fun meter and the possibility of making up the lost time earlier was still on the horizon.
We could see the 50's and additional boats directly abeam about 4 miles into the return trip and the breeze was staying in mid teens as Orion hummed away nicely. But alas, and we neared the 1/2 way point, the wind eased again, and for several miles 8-10 knots was all she was giving. By the lightship we we were back in better breeze, and Orion sailed directly towards the Golden Gate mid channel in mid teen breeze. A short jaunt up to the North of Point Bonita before getting into the southwesterly breeze and a very fast blast to Mile Rock before another couble gybes and a hitch towards the North Tower. The crew laid a direct line to the finish line and blasting in winds now in the low to mid 20's, Orion finish with a fury, just the way you like to complete your afternoon.
It was a great ride out and back, and while the 5 hour, 49 minute, 20 second round trip is extremely fast und most condition for most boats, it was wasn't record breaking conditions just yet. Blackaller's TomCat still retains the title, but it's just a matter of time!
Photo & Report : Erik Simonson