The summer racing series on Puget Sound began with the longest competition of Seattle Yacht Club’s annual Tri-Island Series. The course takes the fleet north and alternates between two turning marks, Protection Island on the odd years, and Smith Island off the north end of Whidbey Island on the even years. The race, once an overnight affair for even the fastest boats, now sees most boats finishing with decent wind in the early hours of the morning. This year, however, was not one for the record books with light wind and strong tides, and most of the racers threw in the towel after hours of struggling to stay moving.
Several boats even found themselves anchored along the Bainbridge Island shore to keep from moving backwards, and with no wind anywhere in the weekend’s forecast, crews had plenty of time to discuss other activities they would rather be doing. While most of the fleet returned home under engine power, there were those that were prepared for the long haul and made their way around the course, scoring points for the first in the series of three races.
Following up Smith Island Race opener, sailors had the tough decision of taking part of Seattle Yacht Club’s Opening Day festivities or taking part in the legendary double-handed event of the season, Race to The Straits. Hosted annually by The Sloop Tavern Yacht Club, RTTS is a double-handed, pursuit-style race, meaning that boats have a set start time based on their handicap, and whoever finishes the race in first place wins the day. The course heads north to Port Townsend where the fleet rafts up for the night, staying onboard the boats and waking up Sunday morning to race back to Shilshole Bay Marina. Registration is limited to 125 boats due to moorage restrictions at Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend,
not to mention the arrival party Saturday night. The race is quick to sell out and for good reason.
This year’s race gave sailors something to remember, with steady wind and sunshine both days, making for picture-perfect racing. By the end of the weekend, gold went to former Olympic champion Carl Buchan out in front onboard his custom racer Madrona, setting the bar high by finishing nearly 15 minutes ahead of Ben Glass aboard Ocelot.
Wrapping up the handicap keelboat racing was part two of the Tri-Island Series, the Vashon Island race on May 12. Contrasting from Smith Island, the forecast was for sunshine and a stiff northerly breeze; and racers were not left disappointed. A downwind spinnaker run with winds touching 20 knots made quick work of getting the fleet down to Commencement Bay off Tacoma.
With the northerly fighting a light southerly, the leading boats ran into a wall of still air off the south end of Vashon that shook up the positions. Some boats that fell behind in the first leg caught the leaders by playing the shifty puffs to their advantage. Rounding the south end, the wind filled through Colvos Passage leading to some intense tacking duels as leaders defended their spots against boats trying to close in from the rear. The wind held through the afternoon bringing the fleet home with the sun shining.
Once again it was Carl Buchan on Madrona with the game-winning shot, taking Blake Island to the west, traditionally a death sentence, and in doing so jumping ahead of the fleet by a wide margin to win the day for the PHRF group. Up in the big boat ORC fleet, Steve Johnston’s recently acquired TP52 Mist ended the day on top. With the work the team is putting into the boat, I expect to see them in that spot more often.
As the various weekly evening racing series continue, the big boat fleet is getting all the safety gear sorted out to head north for the Swiftsure International Yacht race. Hosted by Royal Victoria Yacht Club, the 75th edition of the Northwest classic is sure to deliver with stacked racing teams all the way through the fleet list. Look next month for a full wrap-up of the weekend’s festivities along with reports from the final Tri-Island series race.