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Center Stage

by Doug Hansen
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Center Sound Series is a highly anticipated annual event that draws sailors from all over the Pacific Northwest. The three-race series spans the month of March and invites all manner of keel boats out on the water to measure up against the competition. This exciting racing series, hosted by the Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle, offers thrilling competition, camaraderie, and breathtaking views, making it a highlight of the sailing season for many sailors.

Anyone reading last month’s column knows the first two races of this year’s series were challenging and shifty light air affairs. Wind directions from every point on the compass and current swirls left heads spinning as racers crossed the finish line. Thankfully, in the third race of the series, the weather gods finally gave us a solid forecast for wind and even some sunshine. The beautiful southerly wind was blowing right on cue on the morning of the race, which combined with a massive ebbing tide to set the stage for a spectacular finale to the three-race series.

Like the previous race of the series, the course was decided on that day, and with the wind forecasted to hold, the race committee opted for a straightforward northward racecourse. The out and back course began near Meadow Point, with racers sailing downwind to Scatchet Head off the south end of Whidbey Island, and then everyone swinging back to the starting area to finish.

The nature of the course set things up for a downwind start, with boats hoisting their spinnakers at the perfect moment as the clock ran down to kick off an all-out drag race towards Whidbey. Lanes of wind greatly benefitted the boats that could stay under the puffs of pressure, and moves that looked like mistakes at first, paid off significantly in the long run. Things got interesting as the current began to flow strongly around the south end of Whidbey Island, making for tricky lay line calls with nearly two knots pushing boats from right to left.

The turn was a total converging of the fleet moment as nearly every boat on the racecourse came together in a mad scramble to drop their spinnakers and get set up for the upwind leg back to the finish line. As the slowest boats started first, some of the bigger, faster boats had to take a wide line around the pileup to avoid running up the transom of another boat as they dropped their spinnaker.

The upwind leg home was straight into the flowing current and set up for a textbook upwind strategy which essentially boiled down to “get to the beach at Edmonds and stay as close to the dirt as you can.” This is a tried-and-true approach, but has led to more than a few groundings on the bottom over the years, and this race was no exception. Luckily, there were no significant casualties on the racecourse, and the boats that did touch were able to free themselves before any severe consequences set in. It was indeed a game of feet and inches as the boats closest to shore made significant gains on the outside competition; there were tense moments as skippers and tacticians had to work together to keep putting the boat where they wanted it to be with every tack, sometimes with only feet under the keel and the competition literally within in arm’s reach.

As the afternoon passed and the fleet neared the finish line, the wind began to soften and shift towards the west. With the current still flowing, it felt like trying to throw a ping pong ball into a basketball hoop as boats tacked out towards the finish line only to get pushed back away, needing to recalculate and try again to finish the race.

While the Center Sound Series is known for its competitive spirit, with sailors pushing the limits of their boats and skills to secure a spot on the podium, it also fosters a sense of camaraderie and community among participants, some of whom have been racing against one another for decades. Sailors often share tips, advice, and stories, creating a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes sportsmanship and friendship, over a cold drink at the Shilshole Clubhouse after racing.

While sometimes frustrating, it is remarkable to race surrounded by Puget Sound’s beauty while fostering friendships and competition among fellow sailors. Whether you’re a seasoned racer or a newcomer to the sport, the Corinthian Yacht Club Center Sound Series consistently delivers an unforgettable sailing experience that combines the many joys of competition.

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