On December 7, the South Sound Sailing Club hosted the first race of its annual winter sailing series out of Tacoma Yacht Club. Winter Vashon invites handicap keel boats south for a medium format race around one of King County’s most beloved but misunderstood islands. The course is simple, Vashon Island to starboard with a mark set off the north end to keep the fleet away from the ferry dock. Being the last race of the year for most of the Pacific Northwest sailing community, the race tends to attract a decent fleet of people who are stubbornly holding onto summer vibes all the way to the end.
This year’s fleet was separated into nine classes, ranging from the non-flying sails cruising fleet on up to PHRF big boat fleet boasting two TP52s and the venerable RP55 Crossfire at the top of the list. After a short delay due to the start mark dragging in the current, the racing got underway in a less than exciting manner. The start followed the now routine reverse sequence, in which the slowest boats start first in the hopes that everyone can get back to the bar at a reasonable hour. This system works well for its intended purpose, but can make for some excitement as larger and faster boats are forced to work their way through the slower fleets.
Drooping spinnakers and strong currents spelled disaster for some boats even before they had a chance to race. They were swept past the start line before their start, then forced to sail in nearly no wind against the current as they attempted to get onto the proper side of the start line.
Onboard Charlie Macaulay’s Farr39 Absolutely, we got things going with a slow start at the buoy end of the line to avoid the inevitable pile-up and dirty air that comes with winning the boat end. Trying to maximize our light air performance, we had over half of the crew on the bow hiking to leeward to get as much of the boat out of the water as possible.
Much of the fleet headed for the Point Defiance beach to maximize the current push toward Colvos Passage. In a nearly comical scene, the entire fleet drifted at incredibly lackluster speed all within shouting distance as two dogs on opposing shorelines barked back and forth. We were working hard to stay on the inside of the turn into Colvos Passage, without getting into the counter current off the south end of the island, and it paid off as a slight zephyr came from the south and spinnakers began to fill.
It was short lived and within a few minutes, we were changing to the drifter and began looking for the next puff. Things continued much the same for the bulk of the day with the occasional boat heading home.
While we discussed the idea of packing it in, every time we nearly did, the breeze swirled and we found ourselves moving along in the front of the pack. Just after noon as the rain began to fall, in what may have been a moment of genius, the two fastest boats on the course dropped their sails and headed to the bar, leaving many of us wondering what we are doing with ourselves out on the water. But once again, the wind began to fill and distract us from reality.
The battle continued into evening without much in the way of change, and if it wasn’t for the hot buttered rums coming up from down below, we would have had a significantly different experience. Marek Omilian and his team onboard Sonic, the remaining TP52, crossed the shortened course line just after sunset and was quickly followed by Ben Glass on board Ocelot.
We were third across the line after a closely fought battle and were somehow able to take home the win for what was easily one of the longest trips to a shortened course finish that I can remember. Twenty of the 48 boats who started the day got to the halfway point with at least one boat heartbreakingly getting swept passed the finish by the current after a hard-fought day of controlled drifting.
The Southern Sound Series continues January 11 with the Duwamish Head Race hosted by Three Point Yacht Club of Des Moines. Being the closest race to Seattle and the first race of the year, the event normally attracts a solid attendance and is always a fun time on the dock as everyone sports their new gear that they received from concerned family members for the holidays.
Following the annual sailor fashion show, the fleet will head south to Olympia for one of the best kept secrets of South Sound racing—Toliva Shoal Race. Be sure to keep looking here for the latest updates on the Pacific Northwest racing scene as we move into the new year. The year of 2020 is sure to be an interesting one.