Race to the Straits

Races Galore: Tri-Island, The Straits, & More

Doug Hansen Sailboat Racing Sailing

Race to the Straits

Words: Doug Hansen // Photos: Jan Anderson

The early summer racing calendar is busy, and if you happen to be a weeknight racer, the schedule is downright silly. With the Ballard Cup on Monday night, J/24s or Duck Dodge on Tuesday night, PHRF and one-design keel boat races on Wednesday night, and one-design dinghy racing on Thursdays, it is easy for people around the office to start asking questions about where you go at 1500 hours every day. On top of the weeknight racing going full throttle, nothing is slowing down racing on the weekends.

Spring didn’t go down quietly. The 2019 Tri-Island Series felt like a long time coming this year, having already had a busy racing season before sunshine broke through the bitterness of winter. Starting things off with the longest race first, the Protection Island course was one of the first times this season that boats would line up for a long distance race in Puget Sound.

Alternating between Smith Island and Protection Island, the first of the three-race series is one of the few events that take fleets north of Whidbey Island. The tricky current swirls and funneling breezes make this fairway a complicated racecourse, full of passing lanes as well as the occasional trap where boats can get stuck as they watch the competition literally sail a circle around them.

There are always unknowns and variables in any long race, but this year’s event had one thing for sure—wind. Breeze had been heavy in Port Townsend, coming in from the Strait of Juan de Fuca for days, kicking up an unruly sea state throughout the waters north of Point No Point. This, combined with the boiling currents at Admiralty Inlet, made for a perfect storm of washing machine sailing conditions that would test even the most seasoned crews.

The start had an ominous tone with boats motoring out of the marina. Sails were raised and heavy air sails rigged as the wind began to swirl and shift. The ensuing confusion was downright maddening, with boats slating in the chop. While the start sequence ticked down, boats in the ORC class hoisted spinnakers to get moving towards the north in the confused sea state and light breeze. Light air spinnakers went to jibs and back to spinnakers as the wind continued to swirl and refused to fill from the north.

As the fleet battled its way to Point No Point, the wind finally began to fill from the north and quickly began to show its teeth to the leaders. The wind steadily climbed into the low 30s by the time boats reached Admiralty Inlet, where the awaiting waves began to take their toll. Many of the long course boats began turning back and retiring in the face of the nasty conditions and the promise of things getting worse before they got better.

Only 9 of the 26 boats that headed out for the long course finished, battling through tough conditions for a hard-fought victory over those that turned back. In ORC, the new team onboard the TP52 Sonic came away with their first win, finishing the course in just under 10 hours, while Charles Hill’s Different Drummer took home the short course line honors, beating the Ross 930T Overtime by just over one minute after seven and half hours of racing.
Boats at Race to the Straits // Photos by Jan Anderson

Top: Single- and double-handed crews enjoy a light downwind ride during the Sloop Tavern-hosted Race to the Straits.
Bottom, left to right: Kite dips in the water during Race to the Straits; Wild Rumpus, a Santa Cruz 27, makes the most out of a beautiful day on the water during Race to the Straits.

Following the Tri-Island fully crewed race to Port Townsend, many skippers were again sailing north, but this time a change of pace and a change of crew were in store. Now in its 18th year, the Sloop Tavern Race to The Straits (RTTS) invites double-handed and single-handed sailors on a two-day race to Port Townsend and back, with a break in the middle for refreshments, of course. The race is a fan favorite, due in no small part to the pursuit scoring system that has boats starting per their handicap and whoever crosses the line first is the winner, instead of everyone starting at the same time and calculating who won after the fact.

This year’s event was a light air affair, with many boats fighting it out for favorable current and taking multiple attempts at reaching the required gate mark midway through the race to save their halfway time for scoring. Of the 125 boats, only 46 completed the full course on Saturday as the ripping currents and light winds were forcing boats to set anchors so as not to go backwards.

The party that night was well worth the struggle, even for the boats coming into the finish with their motors on. It was all smiles at the Port Townsend Maritime Center as beer and wine enhanced the day’s adventures and dinner was served to the group of hungry sailors.

Sunday looked again to be a light air battle, only this time the current was pushing the fleet in the right direction with the wind at their backs. Spinnakers kept boats moving as much as they could. Ninety-one boats completed the whole course in what felt like record time compared the previous day’s adventure.

When the dust settled, Matt Pistay was on top of the heap racing the Skiff Sailing Foundation’s canting keel Shock 40, which just ate up the light air conditions both days.

With much of the traditionally cold and windy spring racing behind us, summer is looking bright on the horizon. As the weeknight summer series move into warm weather and t-shirt sailing, it is finally feeling like summer after what was a tough winter.

Headed into the final races of the Tri-Island Series, Royal Victoria Yacht Club’s Swiftsure, and the Van Isle 360, there is plenty going on to keep the racing crowd busy for at least the first few weeks of summer. Be sure to check back here for updates on these events and more as we head into the warm season.

Doug Hansen

Written by

Doug Hansen is a Seattle native and grew up cruising and racing in the Northwest. After spending several years taking care of boats and competing in regattas throughout North America and Europe, he has returned to Seattle to complete a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is an active participant in the Seattle racing community and enjoys sailing on all types of boats.

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