Home Racing Sheet Unfurling the Sails

Unfurling the Sails

by Doug Hansen
Racing Sailboat Image

The Northwest racing scene is in full swing as spring has fully sprung in Seattle, and summer is nigh. Welcoming in the warmer weather and marking the true end of winter, the Seattle Yacht Club Tri Island Series is an always anticipated, three-race series that takes place over the months of April and May. This year, the first installment definitely did not disappoint.

At just over 85 miles, the Smith Island Race is a thrilling marathon on the Seattle sailing season calendar. The challenging racecourse takes the fleet on an epic journey northward, through the central Puget Sound, into Admiralty Inlet and past the churning waters of Port Townsend and out into the Straits of Juan De Fuca, and then all the way back. It’s a racecourse that can be absolutely glorious, but it’s also seen more than its fair share of light air affairs, with currents pushing boats far faster backward than they are able to sail forwards.

The windy forecast for the day’s race was sure to make for a fast day on the water. The early 9 a.m. start got the fleet underway on the traditional long course and the 35-mile short course for the smaller boats. Racers came out and into the southerly wind, which was lining up with the forecasted conditions. The current flowed to the north in the morning. Some boats worked along the Bainbridge shore, while others stuck it out in the Sound and found themselves in some tremendous windy puffs that took them down the racecourse in a hurry. Winds rose into the low twenties as the fleet passed Point No Point at the northern end of Bainbridge Island, and super calm flat water made for fast and fun racing, with close crosses and some flat-out drag races as boats skimmed along the water, hitting impressive top speeds.

The wind began to drop into the low teens as the leaders worked their way up into Admiralty Inlet off the southeast end of Marrowstone Island. The wind never went away completely, and the fleet continued along with the current that pushed them towards the Straits of Juan De Fuca. The wind began to fill from the south, nervously shifting and filling in back into the mid-teens. It continued to build steadily just as the racers reached the shallow waters of Smith Island, which is more of a sandbar at this point. As the kites came down and jibs were hoisted, things quickly accelerated as the wind rapidly rose from the mid-teens into the twenties in a matter of minutes. Along with the wind, the current was right on schedule and rapidly switching to a flood tide midday, just as the first boats in the ORC fleet began to round the island. Wind against tide made for a wild ride with five-foot standing waves throughout Admiralty Inlet. Large tidal rips began to form off the lighthouse at Point Wilson, making for impressively violent slamming for any boat that found themselves in the churning waters. Fast boats found themselves having to balance the need to stay in the strongest flowing water with the reality of being able to drive the boat through the intense short chop.

The huge current rips, however, did give the advantage of being able to see where the positive water was. Tactically, it was simple enough to aim the boat at the rough patches; no need to guess.

As the fleet worked its way south, they built and dropped every few minutes, at times touching into the 30-knot range and then dropping back into the low twenties. It was a major challenge for trimmers and drivers to get things dialed in and work on shifting gears in the volatile conditions. Alan Lubner and the crew of the RP55 Zvi took home line honors with an impressive performance. They pushed the boat hard on the upwind slog back to Shilshole and finished in 9:29:49, which is absolutely ridiculous considering that only a couple of decades ago, this race was normally considered an overnighter. The overall ORC win went to the meticulously prepared and sailed J122 Joyride, skippered by John Murkowski. Murkowski had a comfortable and impressive six-minute corrected lead over second-place Carl Sheath onboard his J120 Shearwater. On the short course, the J105 Moose Unknown sailed by John Aitchison and his crew finished the 35-mile course in just over six hours.

A major shoutout to the TP52 Mist, which came across a distressed vessel on the upwind sail to the finish. They quickly dropped their sails, began to stand by, and kept in contact with the small motorboat, which had its engine swamped by the waves and was getting tossed around just off Port Townsend. Mist coordinated with the Coast Guard and worked to get the boat under tow, standing by until the Whidby Island Fire Department arrived onboard a rescue boat and took over the scene.

You may also like

Leave a Comment