Photos by Jan Anderson
The spring holds a special place on the Seattle racing calendar. Not only does it tease the beginnings of summer, but finally we can race sailboats every weekend from March straight through until June. Kicking off this marathon of saltwater spray and frustrated life partners is the Center Sound Series, annually hosted by Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle.
The traditional kickoff for the season is a quick race down around Blakely Rock, which sits at the entrance of Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor. Being the first race of the season for much of the fleet, the starting area was full of friendly waves as everyone got set up for the race. The wind forecast was for light air dropping to nothing, but with 10-13 knots of wind at the start it was anyone’s guess as to what the day would bring. Sticking with tradition, the course for a northerly wind took the fleet upwind from the start line to a temporary mark, set 3 miles north of Meadow Point, then downwind to Blakely Rock, and then back upwind to finish.
Racing got underway with a reverse order starting sequence that had smaller boats starting first with the big ORC monsters last in line. This format lets the slower boats get a head start and hopefully, everyone arrives back to the clubhouse to wrap up the day together.
On the water, things began to get sporty as the fleet compressed at the first turning mark and prepared to set spinnakers for the run down the rocks. Finding a lane of clean air as the bigger boats overtook the tight fleet was easier said than done, and several boats lost a lot of ground by over standing the mark in search of clear air. Spinnakers went up and the breeze began to build into the high teens as the fleet worked their way towards the rocks.
A handful of wipeouts in the higher breeze and the tight, leeward rounding between the rocks and the beach grabbed everyone’s attention. The changing currents took the fleet across to the Magnolia Bluff in search of relief and finally around West Point to the finish. Things wrapped up with a great party at the yacht club, and the breezy conditions made for a quick race, allowing plenty of time to swap stories over cold beverages.
Back-to-back with Blakely Rock, Scatchet Head is the next race in the Center Sound Series and traditionally takes the fleet north towards the south end of Whidbey Island. Unfortunately, this year the wind forecast was dismal, calling for one to two knots dying to absolutely nothing as the day carried on. To the amazement of everyone, the morning of the race a steady, almost warm northerly breeze greeted the fleet.
With the looming threat of the unforeseen wind shutting off, the race committee decided to change the course to keep everyone closer to the marina in the event of a shutdown. Fleets would head north towards a mark set just off Edmond’s Point Wells, then south to the West Point buoy, back north to a temporary mark north of Meadow Point, back to West Point, and then upwind to the finish.
Racing got underway on schedule, and it was a hard-fought battle upwind off the line in a race that had suddenly shifted from a medium distance to a long buoy race. Arriving at the weather mark, we found the same situation as the week before with nearly all fleets converging at the same time, leaving plenty of opportunity to stub your tow, but also a great chance to make gains with a clean spinnaker set. The race began to spread out during the kite run, but the fleet racing was in full swing with close finishes throughout.
In Class 5, the top three boats corrected out to within three minutes of one another, and in PHRF 7 Carl Buchan’s Madrona beat out Charlie Macaulay’s Absolutely by a mere twenty seconds after four hours of close racing. Although not the race that was planned, the buzz at the yacht club was that racers enjoyed the change of pace of the more technical racecourse.
The Center Sound Series wraps up with Three Tree Point on March 24 and then the big boat fleet rolls right into the Seattle Yacht Club Tri-Island Series as well as the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, hosted by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. Check back here for reports from those series in months to come.