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Duwamish Head Drama

by Doug Hansen

Duwamish Head Race

Words: Doug Hansen // Photos: Jan Anderson

On January 11, racers joined for the first time in 2020 for the second race of the South Sound Series. Organized by Three Tree Point Yacht Club and hosted by Des Moines Marina, the race is a favorite for its unique blend of upwind and downwind legs combined with a tricky (but fun) reaching leg, all the while boats are dodging the ferries and freighters that we have somehow grown to love.

Traditionally, it’s one of the more well-attended winter races, and this year had a strong showing thanks to the Seahawks playoff game scheduled for Sunday. Often referred to as The Fashion Show Race, as everyone shows up sporting their new gear from Christmas, it’s a welcome back to our racing family after a long holiday season of ugly sweaters and in-laws.

This year’s weather forecast was a bit of a head-scratcher with a strong northwesterly to the north of Seattle and a strong southwesterly coming ashore in Olympia. It appeared to be a good old-fashioned convergence zone. Rain was in the forecast for the day, and by morning it looked like it was going to be a wet one. Shortly before the start, however, the sky cleared and the wind settled into a picturesque day for some great winter racing.

The morning shaped up as expected with a strong southerly blowing all night and easing up as the sun come over the horizon, with the wind settling into a nice 10-15 knot southerly throughout the day.

The starting sequence saw a significant westerly shift to the breeze, which made things all the more sporty as top speeds were reached by boats on a blast reach out to Three Tree Point. The wind angle combined with a comically short starting line resulted in most starts being several rows deep, but with the speeds of the boats it was not much of an issue for long. Once the fleet got enough gauge out to windward of Alki Point, the spinnakers were hoisted and things settled into a beautiful kite run as the clouds stayed away.

With the significant westward slant in the wind, most of the fleet could carry their spinnaker all the way to the corner of the Duwamish Head day marker and pull off a sporty douse and a quick gybe onto the long reach to Blakely Rock.

Passing lanes were few and far between along the beam reach, as some of the slower boats were overrun by the more powerful racing boats that started off a few minutes behind. Coming into the rocks at this angle makes for a bit of a nerve-racking call, as getting too close to the north side could make for an abrupt stop, but thankfully no one was left high and dry.

Photos from Race by Jan Anderson

Top of page: Kahuna in the fast lane with Rock, Paper, Scissors just ahead and Crossfire speeding away in the distance. Bottom, Left to Right: Smaller contestants Solitaire and Cherokee slipping through the cold water; the sun briefly splashes Intrepid.

Once around, the wind began to pipe up as the fleet worked around Eagle Point and back down the Sound towards the finish line. The outflow of logs and deadheads continued as heavy tide lines made ducking and weaving them a considerable focus for crews.

At the end of the day, John McPhail on the venerable Jam, took the win in the big boat fleet, while Tolga Cezik and the crew of Lodos took the win in the highly contested PHRF 4 fleet racing— twelve strong and with a three-second handicap spread.

While the race itself was a fantastic way to spend a winter Saturday, I would be doing a disservice to not tell one more story.

Midway through the race, a call came over the radio from San Juan 24 skipper Melissa Davies of Miss Mayhem, a call that no one wants to hear; a sailor was in the water. The call went out on the radio for assistance and while the crewmember was still attached to the boat, the cold water had taken its toll and was taking everything that he and the crew had to hold on.

Hearing the call, Marek Omilian put the racing aside and turned his TP52 Sonic towards the distressed sailors to help. Once alongside the distressed boat, members of Marek’s crew boarded and began helping the crew to recover the sailor from the water.

Thanks to their training and experience, the crew of Sonic quickly made and executed a plan. Bryan Davies, the bowman onboard Sonic, went for the ultimate bear hug as he clipped into a halyard, went over the side, and was hoisted up onto the deck with the exhausted and very cold crew member in his arms.

Once everyone was back onboard, the sailor was transferred to Skip and Jan Anderson’s high-speed photo boat and taken ashore to warm up while the Sonic departed, hoisted their spinnaker, and rejoined the race.

This type of quick action combined with proper preparation and training is not an accident. It is something that all sailors and racers should strive towards.

As the real Pacific Northwest winter begins to take hold, it’s going to be a while before short-sleeve sailing is a reality, but there is still plenty of sailing to keep the absolute diehards busy. With the Iceberg, Frigid Digit, Goosebumps, or Snowbird races happening, there is no shortage of excuses to get together with your friends and do something silly on a Saturday this winter.

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