PITCH Perfect

by Doug Hansen

Racing Sheet

Words: Doug Hansen // Photos: Jan Anderson

The one-and-only Pacific International Ton Championship, known as PITCH (September 1 to 2 this year), is two days of short-course buoy racing in Bellingham Bay, Washington, hosted by none other than Bellingham Yacht Club. The origins of this event date back to the days of International Offshore Rule (IOR), with its aluminum boats and mustached tacticians. These days, the fleet is a strong mix of sport boats, racer/cruisers, as well as some purebred racing machines mixing it up. Setting the bar high for host clubs, Friday night got things kicked off with a skippers’ meeting with beer and hamburgers provided by Bellingham Yacht Club’s now infamous Dead Pirates Society. With crews from the 25-boat fleet in attendance, it was standing room only at the bar and a fantastic atmosphere as friends reconnected over dark ‘n stormy drinks as only sailors can.

Saturday morning welcomed racers with a stiff breeze at the dock. Blade jibs went up and boats began tacking upwind in the flat water of the bay. The wind held in the high teens for most of the morning, making for some high-intensity starts as boats got settled into some wind after a summer of light air racing. Towards the end of the day, the race committee sent PHRF 1 on a long-distance course around Eliza Island at the entrance to Bellingham Bay.

The three-boat fleet left the other racers behind and headed for the island, only to be greeted by a light, fading wind around the back side. The race became a game of connect the dots from puff to puff. While Eliza Island is beautiful, it was a challenge to stay focused while struggling to keep moving along the rocky shoreline as seals swam around the boats.

Boats in the races

Left to right: Stephanie Schwenk continues her defense of the top spot, landing first place in PHRF 5 aboard Wild Rumpus; Wicked Wahine once again led the way to a top finish in PHRF 1.; Crews were tested with shifting breezes, keeping boats powered up in the light spots and on their feet in the puffs was crucial to staying competitive throughout the weekend.

The breeze began to slowly fill as the fleet neared the gybe mark at Post Point, but it was here that the race committee declared that the course was just too ambitious for the fading breeze and sent everyone towards the club. Meanwhile, back on the racecourse, the rest of the fleets continued to sail in the light breeze inside the bay and finished a couple more races before the committee made the call to send everyone to the bar. That night, Bellingham Yacht Club treated everyone to a fantastic tri tip steak dinner and an expertly staffed bar, much to the lament of several racers who needed to stay under weight limits for an upcoming championship.

Sunday morning brought another day of steady winds, though this time it was accompanied by a heavy marine fog that made Bellingham Bay feel more like San Francisco for the early parts of the morning. The forecast called for light wind, but like clockwork, the weather proved the weatherman wrong. A very raceable 10-15 knots settled on the course as the first race of the day neared. The cold air bit into crews, and people scrambled for warm gear before the first start.

Things began to warm up as racing continued, and it was not long until fleets were tearing around the course in T-shirts as the sun punched through the fog. A mid-race wind shift tested the committee, but thanks to race officer Charlie Rathkopf’s experience and calm, they were able to lock down a new upwind mark before anyone even noticed the change. Racing continued into the afternoon, allowing most fleets to get in a total of eight races in just two days.

Although any regatta could benefit from another 20 or 30 boats, those that showed up to PITCH 2018 came to race and every fleet had its battles. PHRF 5 had a tie for first, while PHRF 1 only had half a point difference between second and third. While everyone still talks of the glory days of hundreds of boats at every regatta, it is nice to see that there are those who choose to be part of the solution by racing rather than complaining from the sidelines.

Showing up to race is what keeps the sport alive and promotes others to do the same. Steady wind, great racing, and a fantastic town make PITCH an autumn highlight for anyracing schedule. I hope and expect to see more entries in years to come.

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