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Summer Fun in the PNW

AeroRS & Local Racing:
Summer Fun in the PNW

by Doug Hansen


Words: Doug Hansen // Photos: Maria Swearingen (SailingPDX)

Recovering from Van Isle 360 this summer has been an ordeal unto itself; catching up with work, earning back points with the family, and trying to figure out what to do when you’re not waking up and racing every day hardly leaves time for sailing. Part of the prescription to avoid full withdrawals is to take part in some “just for fun” racing. It’s easy to get lost in the world of target boat speed and optimized weather routing, so getting back to the basics of what makes sailing fun is just what the doctor ordered.

Monday nights on Puget Sound, the local PHRF fleet sets to the water in the heavily attended Ballard Cup, which is tipping the scales with over 70 boats signed up and packing the waters off the Shilshole breakwater. As the fleet ranges from heavy cruisers to purebred race boats, the traffic adds an interesting mix to the tactics with the constant need to keep clean air and choose your tacks wisely.

Anyone would be hard-pressed to show me another group of boats that cover such a wide spectrum in boat speed and experience, with some using the series as practice for other events, while others just focus on getting around the race course safely. They are all out for a good time, and good times are to be had. Once safely back at the dock, the group moves on to The Sloop Tavern, the host yacht club and sailing cultural icon, for beverages and awards to wrap up each week.

Taking the week into mid-swing and back to the freshwater, Duck Dodge takes the come-as-you-are attitude of Ballard Cup and kicks it into overdrive in more ways than one. The two-lap “race” every Tuesday night is wilder than I remember in years past, and the post-race raft-up is easily one of the best evenings in the city. A different theme each week sets the tone, and they include everything from Prom Night to the full-blown Animal House toga party.

AeroRS Championships 2019: Photos by Maria Swearingen/SailPDX

Top: The leeward mark was a make-or-break moment where a clean rounding could launch racers into the lead. Bottom, left to right: The intensity continued to rise as the wind built and the points became closer through out the weekend; Staying in control while pushing for every ounce of speed in a tight pack of boats takes both skill and nerves.

The Dodge has been a longtime favorite and its popularity has clearly rubbed off on the locals, many who race “Duck Dodge only” boats that rarely, if ever, leave the lake. While it’s easy to get into the mix and race your way to a gold duck, it’s almost better to be a spectator and sit back and enjoy the mayhem that is 150 boats going around the same buoy at once. While there are always close calls, and sometimes the race has the occasional inexperienced skipper with no business being in the middle of the race course, it is hard to find anyone not smiling as the raft-up breaks up at 2200 hours and the madness disperses.

Back in the saltwater again, Elliott Bay Marina is doing their part to keep sailors’ blood pressures low, thanks to both the Leukemia Cup and the Downtown Sailing Series. This year’s Leukemia Cup left something to be desired for wind, but was a fantastic way to kick off the summer on the water and in the shadow of the city. Truly a fundraiser, the Leukemia Cup raised over $70,000 this year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with the help of the 45 boats that took part.

Following along after Leukemia Cup, the Downtown Sailing Series runs on Thursday nights and attracts an impressive fleet of immaculately maintained cruising boats along with several of the larger racing boats coming out each week. This race follows along with the common theme of “don’t take it to seriously,” and the crew counts on both the TP52 Smoke and the RP55 Crossfire had close to thirty people aboard enjoying the sunshine. The whole event wraps up with hot dogs and drinks on the grass that overlooks downtown Seattle to the east and the dramatic sunset to the west. It is no wonder why it is one of the best attended and most anticipated series of the summer.

AeroRS Championships 2019: Photos by Maria Swearingen/SailingPDX

Keeping clean air off the starting line was critical in the lighter winds early on in the regatta. Top boats were able to hold their lane and keep the speed up in traffic making them difficult to reel in.

In stark contrast to the just-for-fun racing that is going on through the week around Seattle, the Columbia George Racing Association hosted the RS Aero North American Championships down at the Cascade Locks. The single-handed dinghy has been taking the world by storm, quickly replacing the aging Laser in many fleets, thanks to its updated design that fixed many of the traditional problems with other single-handed dinghies.

This year’s championships brought the boats out of the woodwork with 33 vessels lining up and some serious contenders among the top group. Sailing started off with light conditions for the first few races, but as the weekend continued, the wind built into the conditions that stretch of river is known for.

Fleets were scored in three separate divisions depending on the sail and mast they chose. Dalton Bergan, just coming back from the Van Isle 360, took the top spot in the highly competitive Aero 7 fleet, with Yannick Gloster taking home the win in the Aero 5, and Marc Jacobi rounding things out with a win in the Aero 9 category.

As summer trundles on, racers are looking forward to big events of the fall, but first things first, Whidbey Island Race Week happens one last time. This year’s regatta is shaping up to be quite the send-off with over 60 boats registered and bands lined up all week. It’s not going to disappoint.

The event is slated to move to Point Roberts next year, so this is the final act in a story that goes back to the early ‘80s. The new location hopes to pump some juice into the event and with large fleets of 40’ and even some 52’ boats putting it firmly on their calendar, it is sure to set the tone for a new era in short course racing in the Northwest.

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