Last weekend was just another classic example of why they send weather people to the Pacific Northwest: To teach them humility. Forecasting here is tough on a good day and you’d have to say the forecasts have been getting better. Better models, more accurate and when the NWS gets their new SUPER computers the confidence level should improve from three days to seven days out. Regardless, forecasting in the spring and fall can be tough because this is a time of transition and with days getting longer, and land masses are absorbing more solar energy and getting warmer. Just look at how early everything has gone into bloom this year. The other effect is that when fronts encounter our coast for the first time in their long journey across the Pacific, all kinds of things can happen and they usually do.
So having set the scene for this weekend, we’ll roll the dice one more time. As you can see from the West Point NDBC chart of conditions, the baro is dropping, the windspeed is increasing and the wind direction is out of the southeast, classic pre-frontal. http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/show_plot.php?station=wpow1&meas=wdpr&uom=E&time_diff=-7&time_label=PDT
You’ll want to check this in the morning to make sure the front has blown on through because that will then give you an idea of wind direction and strength for the day. Currently it looks like that this will be a start of the Three Tree Point Race in about 10± knots of wind from the SSW. Start with the headsail in the port groove so that if a headsail change becomes necessary you can do it on one of your long starboard tacks. As you can see from the tidal predictions we’ll be starting at roughly slack water however remember that since we will have had a southerly blowing for more than 24 hours, the ebb will more than likely start early. This will mean you’ll want to start on starboard and hold that into the beach. If the starting line is off of the north end of Shilshole, go into the breakwater, take short tack outs on port and then work back into the beach being careful not to tack directly into the outfall from the Ship Canal. Then work your way up under West Point. At West Point, you may want to hold port tack out as the tide compresses along on that shore on the south side of West Point. You’ll also want to find a lane of clear air so you’re aiming at the beach between Duwamish Head and Alki. There will be some tidal relief in there. It’s also on this leg that you may find yourself lifted on starboard tack in the post frontal conditions. Have your barber hauler set up on the port side so if you’re lifted above TTP you can move the headsail lead out and reach more efficiently.
If the breeze stays out of the south-southwest and you’re still beating with long starboard tacks and short port tacks it will pay to work the east side of the Sound to stay out of the building ebb tide and avoid the stronger ebb coming out of Colvos and Rich Passage.
Before you get to TTP, maybe even before you leave the dock, you’ll want to set up for a port pole spinnaker set. That way, as you get closer to the mark you won’t have to send anyone forward of the mast and go slow at this critical time of maneuvering in the congestion that tends to occur near the mark. Remember TTP sticks out a ways and there is known to be a keel grabbing monster that lives in the neighborhood.
Before you set the kite make sure you have a clear runway to go north, If you have to reach up a little ways under headsail to get that runway it’s a lot easier with the jib than the kite. I say this because this could be a port pole run all the way back to finish. As usual, you need to be ready for anything in the spring particularly at the north end of Vashon Island where the southwesterly can go forward to a westerly and make clearing Alki a bit sporty under spinnaker. Make sure the headsail is ready to go back up and that you’ve discussed who is going to do what if you need to get the kite down in a hurry.
Once you are comfortably set-up under spinnaker and running towards the finish it would be a good idea to get on the VHF and check the wind reporting stations to see if the post frontal westerly that will be cranking in the Straits in the morning has decided to work its way down the Sound.
This looks like this should be a great way to wrap up what has been a stellar Center Sound Series.