Xpression - Race report

The 2013 LongPac was challenging. My division (PHRF 108 below spinnaker) was strong, including the X119 X-Dream, Beneteau 42 Coyote, and
Lightspeed a Custom Wylie 39 with the same rating as Xpression (81)
I had a great start, which doesnít mean much for a long distance ocean race, but is still fun. The wind was perfect for the selected sail combination (full main and jib #3).
Outside the gate, the wind increased as expected and I set the first reef. Keep in mind that I opted for 2 reefs in my main instead of 3 reefs. The second reef is as deep as a typical 3rd reef. So my 1st reef is like 1.5 reefs.
The boat was behaving well and I decided to bear off a little to build up speed going south. It will result in sailing extra distance but based on the latest grib files, I felt it was the right decision. I expected light winds 150 miles out of the WNW. The angle reaching back should pay off. I expected to reach up in light conditions to about 100 miles of the coast where the wind was expected to pick up and I would be on a reach back home.

It didnít work out that way. The wind kept building and I set a second reef, seeing 40 Ė 45 AWS for a couple of hours. About 150 miles out the wind went down to 15 TWS and I switched the #3 for the #2. I was stuck in a wind hole under some rain clouds for over an hour. When that happens you always envision other boats having wind and sailing fast.
The wind started building again, something that I did not expect and the last 20 miles to 126.40 was hard. #2 jib and a reef in the main, feeling a little overpowered and tired of not having slept enough.
I tried sleeping a few times but there is an annoying squeaky noise coming from the mast boot. Not a problem in itself, just very annoying. I tried jamming screw-drivers in the boot, putting a line around the mast to pull in in place, but nothing helped. The good news is, that when you get tired enough, you will be able to sleep, no matter what. I guess I slept 20 minutes until the turning point.

After the half way point, I left the reef in the main and went to sleep for 30 minutes.
Trying to stay on the rhumb line back to the gate, the wind would be just forward of reach, a few degrees would make a big difference in speed and comfort. Did I wish I stayed North! The wind kept building and I set the second reef in the main. I now wished that I left the #3 jib up and not the #2. For me it is the most daunting task, switching from a #2 to a #3 in windy conditions with big seasÖ
I decided to leave the number 2 and rolled it in 70% at one point when the boat was overpowered.
At the same time I noticed that the batteries were very low. It didnít make sense because I ran the engine multiple times to recharge and I always check that the batteries are charging. It turned out that after 1 minute the regulator would stop the output of the alternator. It took some time to figure out the failure point and was happy to have fixed the problem. Any task on a sailboat in big winds and seas takes significant effort and one always has to take precaution not to be thrown through the cabin.

60 miles from the gate, the wind dropped to under 30 knots and I rolled out the #2. The boat was moving well at that point. I also got some more sleep.

When approaching the Farallones I picked up Lightspeed on my AIS. Lightspeed has an AIS transponder and the voyage became a race again. Lightspeed stayed North and was going fast. We were less than a mile apart and it could be an interesting race to the finish. We rate exactly the same, so whomever finishes first will win.

Approaching the coast, the wind start dying and I decided to use my A5.5 spinnaker to reach. The wind shut down completely. I tried to move for about 2 hours but noticed that I ended up in the same place each time (so did LIghtspeed). So time to furl the jib and take 10 min naps.
Early morning brought some wind and racing continued. Having the #2 jib really helped in the light conditions. Approaching the GG Bridge I set spinnaker and gybed my way to the finish only 13 minutes ahead of Lightspeed.

Lessons learned:
- First time to use 2nd reef. The 2 deep reef system works really well on Xpression. I was lucky that the planned approach using the barber worked very well. I should have tested this beforehand.
- Autopilot worked great but I realized that installing my back-up autopilot would be a huge effort in rough conditions. I should find a way to have both systems installed.
- I need to have a better emergency rudder setup. Canít imagine deploying a complex emergency rudder system in rough conditions.
- A little annoying squeak (in this case the mast boot) should be fixed before a long distance race. I did not and it made falling a sleep more difficult than necessary.
- Check all hatches. The large foredeck hatch was in the ventilation position and caused for a lot of water in the boat.

Dirk Husselman Ė Xpression C&C 110