Going into and preparing for this race we knew what we were in for and did the best to prepare for this event. We have a very experienced crew and most of us have sailed all over the world - a couple of us have sailed around the world, including a Whitbread. I have sailed in Force 10 and 11 in the English Chanel and fished in Alaska for 9 years. I am sure I have seen more bad weather than most, so I feel that I can speak with more experience than most.
The race started with a different weather pattern than predicted, but it was obvious that the depression rolling towards us was not a model but an actual living storm that was already developed and moving quickly. There was going to be no chance that it would dissipate and little chance that we could get south of it before it ran us over. With the wind light and upwind shortly after the start, we knew that we were going to be much further North than the routing showed and we were going to hit more of the wind.
As we headed south the wind built slowly all day. There was a large pacific swell running as well but in long periods, so at this point the ride was less than ideal since we were beating in a typical running race but it was good sailing and we were monitoring the shifts and racing hard. Around 3:30 am we put up the #3 and the wind waves were only a couple feet on the nose with a large westerly swell of 8-10’ on the beam.
As we travelled further south the wind increased and the waves built coming from the south. The wind settled in at a solid 28-30 with higher gust and now the boat was taking lots of waves over the bow and with the side swell, made a very confused square waves. As the hours ticked by the seas built more and more making it just plain uncomfortable. We were healed over with the rail in the water with sails stacked on the weather rail with many waves coming over the bow. The back sides of the waves were just plain square, there would be a silence for about 5 seconds and the boat would drop with a huge bang that send a reverberating vibration through the entire boat from bow to stern. It made moving around slow and tricky. It was very hard to sit and nearly impossible to stand. Going straight upwind in these conditions it is not possible to stay dry. The waves would hit you hard in the face and work all the way down into your boots. I grew up sailing in the Northwest and it brought back memories of smaller boats in the winter racing. The boat was doing 9 knots and although it sounded like it was coming apart it did not.
We continued to monitor weather and GRIB files looking for a right shift as the low went past. This meant spending more time on port tack which was by far the worse tack. The fun meter was pegged on 0 and we kept hearing of boats dropping out and as tracker reports from other boats showed them falling further behind we rightfully assumed they had dropped out as well. At 3:30 the following morning we hit a 90 degree right shift in 2 minutes without the wind velocity change. We went to an all hands tack to move the sail stack and get onto starboard and immediately were reaching still reefed but a much better angle to the waves. At this point we knew we were through the worst of it and had something to look forward to.