Sailing into Spring
Deep winter in the Pacific Northwest can be tough. Relentless rain plagued us through a seemingly endless January while we battled a different kind of traffic on the weekends, thanks to impossibly long lines at the ski hill. Luckily, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Spring is fast approaching and looking to be one of the busiest racing seasons yet.
Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle is set to kick things off with Center Sound Series taking over most weekends in March; Blakely Rock on March 7th, followed by Scatchet Head on March 21, and finally wrapping things up with Three Tree Point on March 28th. The series has long been the season opener and is made up of a mix of short and medium distance races that take skippers and crews on a tour of central Puget Sound.
In recent years, the race committee has done a great job of getting the ball rolling for the season with whatever racecourse makes sense for the conditions. Rather than sending the fleet south to Three Tree and into a hole of no wind last year, they directed us north on a shorter course with more turns to keep things in the breeze and moving. This type of proactive race management is keeping sailing relevant in a continuingly busy world. The attention and consideration goes a long way when attracting racers to an event, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of this sort of race management. It keeps people coming back for more.
The Sloop Tavern Yacht Club picks up the baton with the Blakely Rock Benefit on April 4th. Topping the charts as the most well attended race of the year, the entry list last year topped out at nearly 100 boats! It is surely not to be missed by anyone looking to race in big fleets against close competition.
Following a two-week break of local racing in early April, things start up again with the Seattle Yacht Club Tri Island Series. The name explains it all, a three-race series around three different islands that takes racers on a comprehensive tour of Puget Sound. The first race of the series takes the fleet north into the Straits of Juan de Fuca to round the bird sanctuary of Smith Island on April 25th. Being one of only a handful of races nearly guaranteed to be finished after dark, the opening race of the series gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs and settle into long hours of sailing.
The Vashon Island Race, happening on May 9th, is the second race of the series and is normally one of the first days on the water that feels like summer is finally showing up. Although some of the smart sailors say, “There is no sailing south of Alki;” this race often proves them wrong. In recent years, this competition sported some of the most intense racing on Puget Sound that I’ve ever participated in.
Following the lap around Vashon, the fleet is due to take on two weekends of short course racing in the form of Puget Sound Spring Regatta, or PSSR as it is also known. The event is split between two weekends, with small boats lining up earlier on April 18th and 19th and the big boats taking to the water May 16th and 17th. The event has solidified itself as an early season showdown where skippers and crews shake off the dust of winter and are ready to come together on the water in some close head-to-head fleet racing. This makes for dramatic moments as fleets converge upon finish lines and turning marks in the waters off Shilshole Bay Marina. Being the only real short course racing event during the spring season, PSSR stand out as one of the first opportunities of the year for One Design fleets to go head to head in real round-the-cans racing.
In stark contrast to the high tempo racing of PSSR, the following weekend race that starts May 21st, the Swiftsure, has only one turn. The Swiftsure International Yacht Race hosted by Royal Victoria Yacht Club is the oldest and most prestigious race on the annual calendar and the entrance list proves it. Topping out in 2019 with nearly two hundred registered boats and crowds along the start-line shore, it really is an event that makes this sport feel special. The traditional long course race is a true slog of 138 miles out the Strait of Juan De Fuca and around a ship-holding station on the Swiftsure Bank, the spot where seemingly every wave in the ocean comes together. While the long upwind battle can chip away at one’s soul, the hours of spinnaker running towards the finish brings it all back and then some. Some of my best sailing memories are of ripping through Race Rocks under a full moon with the northern lights on the horizon when heading into the finish inside the harbor.
Once back in U.S. waters, there is no rest for the fleet as the Tri Island series is scheduled to be wrapped up with the short and sweet Blake Island Race. It’s unique in the series in that it is technically a point-to-point race, starting in Shilshole Bay and finishing off Elliott Bay, with complimentary moorage at Elliott Bay Marina for the Seattle Yacht Club. The club hosts parties and gives series awards at the marina during the race weekend. It’s an awesome way to close out the spring racing calendar and launch into the summer weeknight series and larger events looming ahead.
It may be after Spring, but the high point in the keel boat racing summer calendar is what the locals simply call, “Race Week.” The event blocks out the calendar from July 13-17 and is the first of its kind. This year will bring a change of venues from Whidbey Island’s Penn Cove northward to the peninsula of Point Roberts, Washington. While the change in scenery does add a bit of distance to the delivery compared to the former venue, it certainly comes with some good perks. On-site camping plus RV and trailer access, a great marina with a chandlery and restaurant, and a host community bending over backwards to make this new event a success add up to an enjoyable event.
The five-day schedule is set to bring together two different race courses, and invites big boats on the water for some of the best racing the Northwest offers. In addition to the traditional Race Week entries, this summer’s event is host to the Corsair Nationals and the 6mR North Americans and is sure to attract more racers from Canada. It’s already on the schedule for several of the larger ORC fleet boats that are looking forward to some more short course racing in a brand-new venue. Being the first year in the new venue, it’s a bit of an unknown. But one thing is certain: its success is going to be driven by those that put in the work, and from what we have seen so far, their hard work is paying off.
Be sure to check back here for updates and reports on these races and many more in next month’s issue.