Solos Page 2 - Sail Magazine

Solos Page 2

Thirty years after the first Singlehanded Transpacific Race, there’s a grassroots, run-what-you-brung, let’s-celebrate-life spirit still thriving in West Coast shorthanded sailing. You won’t find any French celebrity sailors with million-euro budgets. Nobody’s out to beat the world; they’re out to beat their friends. But if you’re thinking pushover, you haven’t met those friends. Let’s pick just
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Allan favors the simplicity of hanked jibs (“for uncompromised sail shape, and when you drop the halyard the sail stays on deck”), and the boat converts easily to a cutter by leading the inner forestay to a tie rod–supported padeye 3 feet aft of the stem. Running backstays are available but optional, given the spar’s large section. The cutter configuration centralizes the center of effort and allows for easy changes among three jib choices. Offwind sail selection includes a pair of 255-square-foot jib topsails that can be set singly for close reaching or together with staggered hanks and twin whisker poles for broad reaching.

“Twin jibs will steer the boat with the rudder tied off,” Allan says. “The boat yaws but self-corrects.” A spinnaker adds 20 percent to the sail area of twin jibs, but the self-steering fails under spinnaker above a windspeed of 15 knots. Shifting from spinnaker to twin jibs is “a five-minute job.” Allan’s solo spinnaker drop goes like this: Lead the foreguy aft to a block near the windward chainplates (to keep the pole off the headstay when the afterguy is released). Trail the halyard overboard for anti-tangle insurance. Sailing at a true-wind angle of 150 degrees, blow the afterguy, pull in and cleat the sheet, free the halyard, and gather the sail under the boom in the lee of the main. Try it, and you will appreciate the extra-tall, beefy stanchions with beefed-up lifelines.

Wildflower carries two Autohelm electric tiller pilots (one as backup) that do the job when seas are smooth and winds are 10 knots or less. The tiller pilot, which can steer by compass course or wind angle, is protected by a watertight cover, and it is secured to stay aboard, whatever. When the wind picks up, Allan switches to a Sail-O-Mat windvane with a selection of three vane sizes. The boat’s personal-best 24-hour run of 186 miles was made with the vane managing a #3 jib and double-reefed main in 20 knots. Allan says, “The trick to using any form of self-steering is to neutralize or nearly neutralize the helm before you connect the lines to the tiller. If it’s windy enough I sometimes just drop the main; I’m not giving away much in speed.”

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Storm trysails are a race requirement, Allan notes, “but I don’t think anyone in the history of all the races to Hawaii since 1906 has ever used a storm trysail in the race. I had mine up once, crossing from Tonga to New Zealand—close-reaching in 30 knots—but I didn’t really need it.”

Another race requirement is an emergency rudder that must be demonstrated in use to an inspector. Wildflower’s spare rudder slips, pintle-to-gudgeon, into a stern-mounted bracket. Allan says, “I added extra depth because I want to be able to continue racing. I trust the boat, but I remind myself that the rudder has been wet for 33 years.”

With a little help from his friends, Allan built Wildflower himself while working at designer Tom Wylie’s boat shop on the eastern reach of San Francisco Bay. The boat became the prototype of Wylie’s Hawkfarm class, which had a run of 31 hulls. Space to build plus some elbow grease were a gift from Wylie. “An artist in a profession that rewards promoters” is how Allan describes him.

The boat that emerged was bare bones, with a solid-glass hull (“because I wanted to sail into ice country in Alaska, and eventually I did”); the deck is balsa-cored. Allan raced solo to Hanalei Bay in 1978 with a sextant, without engine or electronics. Today Wildflower has a 1-cylinder Yanmar diesel (“I love my engine”) and a pair of deep-cycle wet-cell batteries charged by two tiltable 43-watt solar panels. Race-entry requirements now include an energy-management plan and worksheet. In this new world, Allan has a VHF with masthead and stern antennas, SSB and a Pactor 3 modem for sending e-mail and gathering weather charts, two handheld GPS units, and a stand-alone Automatic Identification System for traffic alerts.

Small touches. Allan has custom plotting sheets: “I can do a whole race with just four of them.” Engine instruments ride below, for protection from the wet. And there’s a small canvas bucket, “because how many times have you seen a big bucket ripped out of someone’s hands?” And there’s a simple spray-mister, for cooling down in case the race has a spell of the slow-hot-crawl.

Allan does not often steer from belowdeck, but that’s possible with a pair of lines that run laterally from the tiller through the cockpit walls to the interior, then through turning blocks to cleats on each side of the companionway. Or, from his wide aft bunk, our solo sailor can reach up through a portlight to tweak the tiller pilot of his floating domain. The name, Wildflower , came in a flash of inspiration. Allan was staying at Tom Wylie’s house in a tucked-away canyon, and one morning on the way to work on the boat, it seemed that every wildflower in California had bloomed overnight. There was a message there, somewhere. And the way that the project blossomed proves that a boat that is easy to race shorthanded is easy to cruise shorthanded. So keep it simple. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.

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