The small neighborhood of Leschi sits along the western shore of Lake Washington in Seattle. To most, it is an unassuming cluster of parks, great restaurants, a modest marina, and droves of people enjoying the waterfront, but on weeknights from mid-April to mid-September, it also plays host to the heartbeat of summer sailing in the form of Corinthian Yacht Club’s evening racing series.
Leschi Marina itself has long been a mainstay of the Northwest sailing community (it is actually formally named Leschi Sailboat Marina, although you might not guess that by looking at it lately, as all types of boats sit in moorage). Back in the 1980s, it played host to many fleets and even PHRF handicap racing, complete with a Thursday night series specifically for female skippers. In recent years, it has been the playground of some of the most prominent one-design fleets in the region, and the tricky conditions of the lake have certainly helped hone many a sailor’s craft.
The big show in terms of weeknight racing is, hands down, the J24 one-design fleet and the Tuesday night series. Designed in 1975 with the specific goal of fitting inside the Johnstone Brothers’ shed, the J24 launched the household name J-Boat and over 5,500 J24s are now racing worldwide. The rules around the boat have hardly changed in the 50 years since its introduction, and as such, there are a ton of resources for new sailors to get up to speed on the water. This is undoubtedly the most attractive aspect of the boats; they all go about the same speed, which makes for clean crew work and dialed-in tactics, both critical in winning races.
The Tuesday evening racing regularly attracts local legends to the start line, and it’s normal to have a few Olympic medalists and a world champion or two lining up. With so much talent to watch and learn from, you would be hard-pressed to find a better fleet to sharpen your skills and push yourself to the next level. If you can consistently finish at the top of this fleet, you can confidently go anywhere in the world to race sailboats.
(Recently, rumors have swirled that Seattle is the favorite to host the 2024 World Championships at the Corinthian Yacht Club’s Shilshole clubhouse. This would be one of the most significant events in the area in a very long time as historically, the world championships attract well over one hundred boats traveling from all over the globe. While there are some more hoops to jump through, the interest is high, and would cement the J24 races this year as the go-to series for anyone considering themselves a serious racer.)
While the J24s will command the lake on Tuesdays, Wednesdays are slightly more mixed. Topping the night’s registration list are the Thistles, a 17’ two- or three-person dinghies. Their popularity is impressive as they are often regarded as one of the most uncomfortable boats on the water, which is saying something when you also consider the J24. What the boats lack in creature comfort, they more than make up for with a decently powerful sail plan and an amazing community that welcomes all who want to race in the fleet.
Still holding strong from the old days, the San Juan 24s and Thunderbirds also consistently show on the start line. While most have migrated northward to Port Townsend, the Thunderbird is still a Northwest staple as sailors could build the plywood kit boats themselves and race with their families. At their height, they were one of the largest fleets on the West Coast and still make a strong showing at the wooden boat regattas throughout the region. Northwest natives as well, the San Juan 24 was designed and built just south of Lake Washington in the Kent valley. Designed with the old IOR rule in mind, many of them continue to enjoy racing in the Leschi one-design fleet and handicap regattas throughout the area. They also fit nicely in a 25-foot slip.
A newcomer to the Wednesday night lineup this summer will be the J70s. A growing fleet globally, the Northwest contingent has been building for a few years on Orcas Island and has now jumped down to the lake with nearly a dozen boats. They are modern designs compared the rest of the lake fleets and are attracting a lot of interest from first-time boat owners to world championship contenders. A competitive yet welcoming community surrounds the fleet and the focus is for everyone to become better sailors. With all these ingredients, it is almost guaranteed that this fleet will continue to grow in the coming years.
From personally sailing on the lake for years, I would state that these evenings are truly a highlight of the summer and should not be missed. If you are interested in getting on the water, head over to the Corinthian Yacht Club website and get signed up on the crew finder list or just head to the docks with a life jacket and a willingness to sail.