Words: Doug Hansen // Photos: Alex Kwanten
Founded in 2004 with the simple objective of getting more people out on the water on their boats, the Downtown Sailing Series seems to have hit on something special. Every Thursday during the summer, boats of all shapes and sizes begin with a tour of Elliott Bay and end with a BBQ on the Elliott Bay Marina lawn that overlooks the stunning Puget Sound vista. The event welcomes cruisers, racers, non-racers, and the entire spectrum of Northwest sailing is represented. Everyone from the purebred racing machines to the family day boats participate in the fun. With the number of boats swelling each year, the series is now one of the most well-attended weekly events in Seattle, and it’s not hard to see why.
The race course is set up to make the most of the light summer breeze. Starting at the Elliott Bay Marina breakwater, racers head east toward the downtown waterfront via a turning mark placed off Myrtle Edwards Park. The fleet then heads south along the waterfront to a mark just off the Seattle Aquarium on pier 59. Big puffs of wind roll along the piers and big moves have been made by those brave enough to cut in close. Leaving the city behind, boats head west to a buoy set below Magnolia Bluff. After rounding the final mark, the fleet heads for the finish line off Elliott Bay Marina breakwater. The simple course makes for easy and safe sailing by limiting the odds of boats crossing paths while providing plenty of opportunities for the competitive sides of people to shine through. Once the on-the-water race is finished, the race to the party begins at the Seattle Yacht Club Elliott Bay Outstation. Crews and friends gather on the lawn and watch the sunset over Olympics with beer and wine provided by sponsors. Thursday night sailor Joe Russell claims “the race to the hotdog line is the real battle,” and, with over a hundred people in attendance each week, he is not wrong.
The Show Must Go On
The race stands apart in more than just location. “The regatta will be governed by the simple rule that fun rules,” and “There will be no contact between vessels,” are the only limitations. The event has two starts, one for those keen on racing around the course and another cruising class for crews who don’t need to push the limits of boat speed. This relieves a lot of the stress for new sailors who are not fully comfortable with the racing rules of sailing, rules which
I might add even the best sailors misinterpret or misuse. This relaxing format helps to open up the somewhat closed world of sailboat racing to anyone and everyone who is interested in fleet sailing. With weekly prizes drawn out of a hat, it’s difficult for even the most serious racer to not relax and enjoy the evening. The unintimidating atmosphere is a wonderful introduction to the basics of sailing and racing.
Perhaps the most important rule, other than the one about contact between boats, is that the show must go on. “If in the event of little or no wind, the race will not be cancelled – use your engine to navigate the course.” This rule is a standout from all other sailboat racing, and makes for a very fun motorboat race around the course when the wind quits. From start to finish the objective of being a safe and fun event is beautifully executed.
Sailing is Contagious
Glen Bonci has been taking his boat Meridian to the series nearly every week since 2005. With 20-25 people onboard each week, the focus is on fun and just enjoying time on the water.
“The Downtown Sailing Series is such an important part of our summer, to connect with friends and partners, to come together. It’s just a big, giant festival,” says Bonci. Last summer, Bonci estimates that over 150 different people have come out sailing with him on Meridian for the series. “The joyousness of getting together and sailing becomes more fun the more people there are.” Five to six great sailors keep the boat under control and safe.
Everyone else is free to relax while having a glass of wine and bonding in the fresh air. For Bonci, the success of the series is a direct result of the commitment of the staff at Elliott Bay Marina who make it so easy for people to come out and enjoy themselves. When not sailing on Thursday night, Meridian is a common sight around Elliott Bay and the coves around Bainbridge Island. Over the years, Meridian has become a cornerstone of the series and Bonci claims that it is truly “part of the Seattle experience.” Bonci sums up why sailing is so special to him and his family. “Something about the water where you have to be in the moment, it’s the time when you are able to forget.” This excitement is echoed through many other boats and familiar faces and is not hard to come by each week.