Words: Doug Hansen // Photos: Jan Anderson
When walking around the boatyard this time of year, it is easy to tell that winter is coming to an end. Boats are being moved out of sheds, final coats of paint are left to dry, and shiny new hardware is waiting to be installed. All this preparation is centered on spring and summer racing, which is just around the corner. Kicking off the season is the Center Sound Series, hosted annually by Corinthian Yacht Club. Marking the official start to the spring sailing season, most skippers and crews are eager to get out on the water after a long hiatus and historically this series host some of the best attended races of the year. The series attracts all the usual suspects from the well-stocked galleys of the cruising class to the carbon fiber sleds of the big boat fleet. The Casual Class invites those who are new to the sport or with less racy ambitions to enjoy a day on the water and sail an alternative course that returns them to the marina in time for the party.
Kicking off the 2017 racing season in style, Blakely Rock is Saturday, March 4, and has consistently delivered great sailing over the years. The course alternates with the wind, providing sailors with an upwind start regardless of the conditions. On a northerly breeze, racers start in Shilshole Bay heading south around Blakely Rocks, up to a temporary mark set to the north of Meadow Point, and then back to Shilshole Bay to finish at the Corinthian Yacht Club committee boat. This short course is a welcome shakedown and a great opportunity for many teams to blow off the dust or, at times, shake off the rust. While the rocks have claimed many keels over the years, a clean rounding and exit from the bay can mean the difference between a win and a loss for the tight matched racing fleets of today, and starting off the series with a win is a great beginning to the racing season. Perhaps one of the most important traditions within the Seattle sailing community is for the racers to drop yellow daffodils when rounding the rocks into the water in memory of Kelly O’Neil Henson, a beloved sailing photographer who passed away in 2004. I have personally witnessed boats refusing to leave the dock as a crew member was sent to the store for a bouquet of flowers. Overall, this race is beloved by many and sets the tone for the spring sailing season.
The racing crowd gathers again for the weekend following Blakely Rock; however this time they head north. Scatchet Head takes place Saturday March 11 and has made a name for itself as being a windy sleigh ride over the past few years. With multiple broken masts and more than a handful of speed records, the 26-mile course takes sailors straight up the sound to the Scatchet Head buoy off the south tip of Whidbey Island, and the back to Shilshole Bay to finish. While the out and back format is simple, the race course is anything but. With currents often raging, choosing which side of the course to stay out of the current is key, allowing a well-sailed classic to leave a misplaced race boat in its dust. As with all the Center Sound Series races, the day comes to an end back at the Corinthian Yacht Club for drinks, hot food, and the occasional tall tale of the day’s adventures.
Sneaking into the middle of the Center Sound Series, The Gig Harbor Islands Race is hosted March 18 by the one and only Gig Harbor Yacht Club. The shorter course that’s also a fun trip to Gig Harbor, the only visit of the year for many racers, is one not to miss. Fleets start to the east of the Gig Harbor Lighthouse and then sails up Colvos Passage and around a buoy set off the northeast of Blake Island before returning to Gig Harbor. The swirling currents that run along the shorelines in Colvos Passage marks this racecourse as one of the most challenging in Puget Sound. Following the race, the Gig Harbor Yacht Club hosts the awards party complete with hot food and a no-host bar. Moorage is available close by and spending an evening in this picturesque town is a must for any Pacific Northwest sailor. This is also the final race of the South Sound Series that began back in 2016, and is known to push racers and delivery crews to their limits.
Finally, rounding out the series is Three Tree Point on Saturday March 25. Heading south, this race sends boats to a lone white cylinder buoy tucked neatly behind Three Tree Point in Burien. While the last few years have presented less than ideal conditions, with last year’s race being canceled due to low winds, the race is a fun opportunity for racers to venture south of Alki along the east side of Puget Sound. The most challenging part of this race, in my opinion, is rounding the mark itself. If boats attempt to round too wide, they risk running aground on the soft sand bottom of the point, then are forced to watch their competitions sail past within spitting distance. Working back towards the finish off Shilshole Bay Marina, big gains can be made playing the current swirls and geographical wind shifts around the West Seattle and Magnolia shorelines, though cutting too close to the sandy beaches can result in disaster.
While there is plenty of winter left to be had, it will at least feel a little like summer as the sailing season officially gets under way. Be sure to look here for race reports on the Center Sound Series, as well as the other spring and summer regattas. See you out on the racecourse!
To see the results, continue on Issuu.