The Double Damned Race is a rite of passage for sporty sailors in the Pacific Northwest — 42 miles, point-to-point, usually downwind, on the scenic Columbia River from Cascade Locks to the dam at The Dalles. It’s The Oregon Trail, and while you shouldn’t get dysentery, the windy run may give you the runs as you try to keep your $hit together with boats wiping out around you as puffs funnel through the infamous Columbia River Gorge. Anacortes, Washington Viperer Steve Orsini kidnapped Kaa (Viper 129) to brave one of the west coast’s wildest races. Unfortunately, the 2012 race disappointed with a light air edition, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t stories to tell…
We arrived at Cascade Locks at 4:00 pm on Friday, August 10. It was howling at 30 knots with gusts to 40. We set up the rig, tuning it violin string tight, chocked the mast, launched (ramp at Cascade Locks) in thirty knots of wind blowing directly up the ramp. With a Jamaican bobsled start down the staging dock, we sailed the boat successfully out of the launch ramp’s rock and concrete confines around the corner into the Cascade Locks Marina, got registered, ate a free barbecue dinner sponsored by RBS Battens, drove 20 miles back to our non-star rated motel in Hood River and slept. Next morning, by 6:20 am we were driving the truck with trailer to the Dalles, another 20 miles to the east. A friendly Morgan Larson was dropping the trailer for his purple Moore 24 Bruzer at the Dalles Marina too and he said “Hi”. (No, its not me- my son Colin sails with Morgan in the RC 44 class.) We pried a most helpful five minute briefing from him on how to sail the river, got into the shuttle, 07:30 hrs, headed for Cascade Locks and arrived to a dead calm.
Time to kill time. We backed off somewhat on the bone tight uppers. One of the comments wafting up and down the docks was that two years earlier, they had another odd year this time with a 15-20 knot easterly all day. Morgan Larson, they said, did 99 tacks up the river in his effort to win that one. We noted with subdued terror, that a slight easterly was now developing in the growing heat under the postponement flag. Mercifully, it faded.
By 11:30 am, an hour and a half after the race was to start, the river’s surface still looked like the Zamboni had just refinished it. Finally, a tiny wisp of westerly rippled the mirrored surface. The RC started the race at about 12:30p. The table was set with the classic problem: the symmetrical kites pointed deep up the river and went while we worked the angles as hard as could be to break onto a plane. Where we could hold 8.0 knots we could break away from the Wyile Wabbits, but the rest of the time they ate our lunch and everyone’s else’s. The two Wabbits present rated 126, the seven Moore 24s rated 150. They gave us a Northern Cal rating for the Viper of 96.
Twenty minutes into the race, working along the Oregon shore with the rest of the fleet, we followed a B-25 and a Wabbit in toward the shore, tacked where they did and we hit the rock. Sickening sensation as the aft bolt holding down the keel plate popped loose. We had another bolt and got it to catch on the remaining threads and went on. I had purchased a chart of the river from Cascade Locks to the Dalles. We had cut it into seven leafs fitting it into a plastic cover so we had a good general idea of where to go, but concluded that we needed a hand-held GPS plotter to really find the danger areas in the river. As a result of the rock encounter we were very conservative about distances to shore and shoals which also drove us to jibe more. At one point we were holding with Dan Keseler’s Melges 24. He was inside of us and yelled that soon he would tack as we both knew there was a big sand bar coming. I yelled back to tack when he wanted and just seconds later he hit the sand bar. We tacked away instantly. In the parking lot, he said that was not the only time his keel kissed terra firma.
The rest is history captured by our Velocitek Puck and then down loaded onto Google Earth. (see below.) That’s right – 160 jibes. The majority of the race was in an 8 knot breeze that occasionally increased to about 15 knots. It took us four hours to get to Hood River and we thought surely the race would be shortened there. Nope- the RC announced on channel 72 that the finish would remain at the Dalles, 41 river miles from the start at Cascade Locks. We, on the other hand, sailed 51.18 miles with all the jibes.
Seven hours and forty-three minutes after the start, we ghosted across the finish line in a dying breeze, seconds after the Wylie Wabbit which won the whole thing. We were fried, rationing the last of our final water bottle 2.5 hours before the finish line. Many of the boats behind us, dropped by the heartless dying breeze, faced the firing squad of the relentless three knot current, dropping in slow motion backward toward Hood River. Of the 27 boats that started the race, only 15 finished, not due to the usual high wind carnage but to uncharacteristic anemic wind and the mighty current- Columbia rolls-on.
Under flashlight, we packed up the Viper and with huge help from a guy we gave a lift to, found the Hood River Yacht Club. The Mexican food was great, but the rum punch was awful and there was not enough water. The free keg was in persistent use. We watched as the first 6 finishers got awards. When the magic of the numbers finished with us, we were 7th. We had not peed since we left Cascade Locks, so we drove back to the motel, found some (very warm) water in the truck, had a cold Sierra Nevada that Dave Way had wisely stored in our 1 cubic meter room fridge and, after one of the best showers in the universe, hit the sack. I think my watch said 10:44 pm. No one moved in the night. The morning alarms came ruthlessly early so we could be on the road by 6:30 am. We were moving slowly from jibe-stiffened muscles. My lasting image of the race- David Way, while trimming the kite, leaning over the side of the Viper scooping up water in his cap and putting it back on with cooling river water streaming down the back of his neck. You ought to try it sometime, it’s hugely refreshing.
From Scott Ellis, intrepid navigator:
160 jibes total! (not far off our guess)
100 up to Hood river, 60 afterwards – looks like we saved at least ten running wing on wing there at the end 🙂
Average Speed: 5.97 kts
Top Speed (SOG) 12.42 kts
Video from the 2012 Double Damn Race from Viper 129 “Kaa”: