A Wild Five Days on the North Pacific

A Wild Five Days on the North Pacific

Employees Who #LiveBeyondLand

On June 11, 2022, three Mustang Survival employees – Hunter Lowden, Joel Ross, and Theresa Riedl – set sail from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Francisco as part of a crew of eight delivering a carbon fibre racing boat, the Shadow II, for the Pacific Cup. Leaving their respective desks in engineering, product management, and marketing at Mustang Survival headquarters, the three experienced sailors unknowingly embarked on an adventure that would include a wild and sometimes terrifying last 24 hours at sea.  

 Employees setting sail in Meris gear

Departing late in the evening on their first day, the team rotated on a six-hour watch system during the day and four-hour during the night. They motored through the Southern Gulf Islands, arriving in Port Angeles around noon the next day. Then, hoisting the sails in the Juan de Fuca Strait, they beat upwind to Cape Flattery before bearing off and heading straight down south to San Francisco. 

 

June 11 | Theresa | 48’ 17’’ 17 N, 124’ 11’’ 65 W | Sea State: 1 – 2-foot chop, beating upwind 

My watch shift began at four this morning. I came out on deck as the sun slowly rose over the islands and turned the whole sky pink. Being on this delivery feels like a continuation of my last adventure three years ago, when I sailed from Hawaii to Vancouver on the 58-foot Farr Maiden.  

As excited as I am to be back sailing offshore, my biggest discomfort will be the toilet on board. This isn't your regular cruising boat but a racing boat with little comfort. The toilet has no door or side walls and is at the bow, where we also get our wet weather gear on before we go on deck. That means if you go and do your business, someone might walk by or try to get dressed at the same time.  

 Theresa in her Meris jacket and EP vest

Rounding Cape Flattery around 8pm on their first full day on the water, the crew worked to gain separation from the coast before turning south. An A7 (furling kite), genoa staysail, full main (no reefs), and favourable wind and sea state allowed for good progress. 

 

June 12 | Joel | 46’ 15” 21 N, 126’ 00” 64 W | Sea State – 2-foot chop, beam reaching 

With most deliveries, the goals are to keep the boat safe, not take forever to get there and minimize tacks/gybes. With a shortened crew - we normally race with ten to 14 on this boat – it's more difficult to perform maneuvers; so far, we've timed them with watch changes.  

 Joel at the helm

As they steadily progressed due south, the A7 blew up in a knockdown and had to be swapped for a J4 sail to continue down the coast. While the sail change slowed their speed, it worked to their advantage to align with a more favourable weather window. The main sail bolt rope at batten #3 had also started to poke out of the mast track and there was concern that it could affect their ability to reef or take down the sail in higher winds.  

 

June 13 | Hunter | 41° 20.34” N, 127° 10.30” W | Sea State – 2 – 3-foot chop on 5-foot swell 

Last night, Theresa, Julia, and I saw porpoises while on watch. They swam and jumped beside our boat as they were lit up by the bioluminescent plankton. While it lasted mere minutes, it was quite spectacular. 

 Sailing in severe weather

Despite attempts to slow down to miss it, the weather turned worse during the last 24 hours of the journey. By the start of the 8am watch on June 14, the wind had picked up to 30 knots, and waves had become significantly larger.   

 

June 14 - 15 | Joel | Safe in a harbor in San Francisco | Sea State: Rough 

It's hard for most people to imagine what a four-metre wave looks like; most people picture the waves at the beach, just taller. Usually, when the waves get bigger, they also space themselves out more. We had roughly six-second periods (beach waves are maybe two-second periods.) Time it wrong, and it feels like the boat will be swallowed by the waves. Get it right, and suddenly it’s doing 16 knots, and you need to find a gap in the waves very quickly. 

Hunter and I split the driving on our watch, which was tiring. We would trade off every 45 minutes to take a break and recharge. Every so often, waves would break into the cockpit, adding more fun to the experience as we tried to stay balanced on the helm with hundreds of litres of water cascading over us. 

 Hunter and Joel switching off at the wheel

None of the crew had sailed into San Francisco before, and the idea of power-reaching into the bay at night in 30 knots of breeze in an ebb current was not overly appealing. 

 

June 14 - 15 | Hunter | Coastal approach to Drakes Bay | Sea State: approximately 14’ breaking waves | Wind: average 30-36 knots 

When off shift, I was at the nav station or troubleshooting electrical and sat communication issues. I searched the coastline using Expedition (navigation software) within a few degrees of our course for a suitable place to shelter and get the main down. The best option looked like Drakes Bay, about 27nm northwest of our destination. We passed to leeward of Cordell Bank and adjusted our course up about nine degrees for another two hours of reaching through high winds and seas.  

 

June 14 - 15 | Theresa | Safe in a harbor in San Francisco | Sea State: Rough | Wind: 30 knots |Waves: 10 - 15 knots 

I went back on deck for my night shift, geared up in my EP jacketMeris bibs, and EP PFD with a tether and personal AIS beacon inside. As I stepped on deck for this evening shift, I made sure to clip in right away. The boat was healed over hard, and each wave pushed us around. Falling overboard at night in the North Pacific can be a death sentence. 

I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit scared, these were the roughest conditions I had ever sailed in. Even when I sailed across the Pacific Ocean previously the waves and winds were nothing like what we were experiencing that night. The two knockdowns that happened when I was on deck were fairly intense. The bow of the boat went into the wave while surfing down. The boat became overpowered and was caught on its side, with the end of the boom touching the water. We were hanging onto the lifelines.  

 Crew taking in a well deserved rest and meal

By 1am, the crew found refuge and could finally take down the main sail, which had a jammed batten, clean up, bail out, and get some rest – despite wet bunks.  

At dawn, the weather had shifted, and in the glowing morning sun, they sailed around the peninsula to see the Golden Gate Bridge – they had made it! 

 

Post Trip | Hunter 

Most of my career in sailing has been intensely focused on one design and dinghy racing. I was on the World Sailing circuit for most of a decade and concluded that chapter at the Olympics in 2012. Despite having no desire to explore offshore sailing or racing, I took the opportunity to do the 50th Transpac race. I learned a lot of new skills about navigating for offshore sailing, problem-solving required while underway, and about myself.  

The delivery to San Francisco was another opportunity to validate and continue this development. While I'll always prefer to sleep in a bed not soaked from seawater ingress or moving violently about in a knockdown, I have enjoyed getting offshore and experiencing more of what the sport of sailing offers.  

 Sunset

Post Trip | Theresa 

It has been a big goal of mine to sail below the iconic Golden Gate bridge coming from somewhere afar. It felt even more rewarding after what we had just been through, a huge challenge at sea requiring everyone to work as a team and push past their comfort zones. I can't help but feel grateful for this opportunity through Mustang Survival and my colleague Joel. 

Our motto at Mustang Survival is #livebeyondland; it's not just something we use for marketing but something deeply rooted within everyone and everything we do. Most of us here don't just sit at our desks and do our day job. Instead, we are passionate about getting on the water and strive to make the best products for those with the same desire. We get out there and test the gear ourselves - sometimes hundreds of miles offshore in 30-knot winds.   

I work in marketing and couldn't work for a company or market a product or service about which I am not passionate. I've dedicated the last ten years of my life to living on the ocean (sailing and paddling), and working for a company that strives to make the best products for those who live beyond land - including me - is genuinely fulfilling. 

On another note, I realize that I'd gotten used to the awkward toilet on the boat and that in those crazy 24 hours of the storm, it really was the least of my worries. 

 

Post Trip | Joel  

Despite all the stress, this isn't something I would ever give up. I've been sailing high-performance boats offshore for eight years, and there is just too much fun to be had when we #livebeyondland like this. 

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Photos by Jo-Ann Brown