If I had to pick one regatta for the season finale of the Puget Sound racing calendar, it would easily be the Seattle Yacht Club’s Grand Prix. As the name implies, it is an all-out, winner-take-all event, with the participating teams leaning on a summer’s worth of racing experience to be in shape and dialed in for this exciting weekend of racing. As an invitational regatta that requires qualifying in other events throughout the summer, the regatta is relatively small with only 40 boats, but gathers a group of sailors who worked hard to be the best at racing.
Held at the end of October, the Grand Prix regularly sees heavy breeze and often emotionally trying conditions that certainly add to the race’s complexity. This year’s forecast was downright terrifying when we began looking at it several days out: A large offshore system was establishing and scheduled to make land fall right as the racing was to get underway. Thankfully, with a bit of patience, this worst-case scenario settled down as the regatta got closer, and while the big system was still blowing out on the coast, it was not moving inward with much pace, resulting in our favorite northerly versus southerly “convergence zone” conditions all weekend.
The three-day event required racers to sneak out of work Friday afternoon for a fun half-day on the water. While the major storm stayed away, we were gifted with a decent southerly breeze and a fair bit of moisture. Racing got underway just after 1 p.m. with the traditional course that’s a quick “distance” race utilizing preset marks scattered around Puget Sound. In the ORC fleet, the TP52 fleet was sent south to Blakely Rocks to get us out of the way, while the PHRF and one design fleets were sent on shorter courses within Shilshole Bay. All the fleets finished their races right on schedule so sailors headed without delay to the bar, so it was a great start to the regatta.
Unfortunately, the steady wind of Friday did not carry over into Saturday, and the fleet was greeted with a light air northerly that quickly gave way to a shifting westerly just after the first race was started. The committee was dedicated to making something happen and the fleet stood by, watching the wind and squalls swirl around. Eventually the wind began to shift towards the southwest as a large rain cloud moved its way from over the Olympic Peninsula towards the fleet, drenching everything and anything not in a dry bag. Amidst the pelting rain, the race committee hoisted the “follow me” flag and brought the fleet towards the north as they reset the course to capitalize on the new wind shift, but it was not meant to be. After the rain squall passed, the wind began to drop just as the ORC fleet was sent on its way. After many hours of battling with the wind gods, the race officer finally reluctantly hoisted the abandonment flag and sent the soggy fleet to the dock where warm pizza and cold beer awaited them at the Corinthian Yacht Club Shilshole station.
Sunday welcomed a steady southerly covering the Sound, and an eager fleet of sailors made their way out to the start line. Things got underway just as planned and racing was picture perfect for a fall regatta. While not quite the heavy air, gear buster of years past, it was terrific to get a full day of racing in after the long struggle Saturday presented. In the ORC fleet, we were able to crack off three races while the PHRF and one design fleets settled with two longer course to round out the weekend on the water.
The regatta was wrapped up with the traditional awards dinner at the Seattle Yacht Club main station where they pull out all the stops and put on an amazing celebration of the weekend’s exploits. Always a highlight of the season, it is often the only time that racers see one another in collared shirts and dresses and sipping Champagne, as opposed to bundled in Gore-Tex coats and drinking warm beer found in the bilge. A fun way to end a tough three days of racing, this year’s event gave us the chance to celebrate one another and look back on a summer of fantastic sailing in the Pacific Northwest.