One Weird Swiftsure Race

What do you call a Swiftsure that is really neither a “Swiftsure” or a “Driftsure?”

Weirdsure? Fogsure? Can’tbelieveyoucamefromthatfarbacksure?

The universal comment after this year’s Swiftsure Race, sailed Saturday-Sunday, was that it was “interesting.” Given the wind predictions, one could easily interpret that to mean it sucked. But suck it did not. It really was interesting. In the end the big winners were White Cloud and Longboard on the Hein Bank ORC course, Rage and New Haven on the Lightship course and Dragonfly, Absolutely, Dominatrix and Last Tango on the Cape Flattery course. Results here.

A tired Bruce Hedrick reported that the J/35 Talequah had a great Cape Flattery race, finishing second. But he admitted his predictions were a bit off. “It was one of the weirdest ones ever,” he said. And since he’s been doing these since the 1960s, that’s saying something. “At 0530 there was no gradient, and the wind was SSE at the start with a westerly at Race Rocks. We caught and passed Glory, which is how weird things got.

Bruce Hedrick gave a presentation at the Strathcona Hotel at 1630 Friday

Eventually the westerly filled. Sort of. “The Strait was like Swiss cheese, full of holes that you couldn’t see on water.”

But the weirdness was just beginning. As boats sailed into a thick fog bank, then turned for home, they were sailing fast through a thick night fog. With a clear sky directly overhead and no moon or light pollution, the night sky stood in stark relief. ” We could even see the space station,” Hedrick said. Even the Northern Lights made an appearance.

Ah but Swiftsure returned to character as the wind died in the morning. “With the ebb starting, we took the great circle route, getting as far to the east as we could,” Hedrick explained. It worked and with some aggressive sail changes and intense trimming Tahlequah managed to nab a few boats fighting the ebb at the finish. “Many boats were parked up. It was very painful for some people.”

Hedrick pointed out that his alma mater’s forecasting models were close. “It proved once again that the University of Washington’s MM5 1 1/3 kilometer model was more accurate that any of the other GFS services.”

Here are a few of Jan Anderson’s photos. Please visit her site and support her work.

Onboard the mighty Crossfire on the Hein Bank course it was the best of times and the worst of times. Her track shows the long tack to the U.S. shore, which paid dividends. Smoke hit it even harder and had a nice lead, but Crossfire was giving chase, leaving Glory (temporarily) behind.

Crossfire‘s navigator Brad Baker explained the chase during the first half of the race, “Smoke, literally, smoked everyone by going hard left, and sailing into the current and a left shift, doing an end around and nearly a horizon job.  It took us the entire leg to Neah bay to reel them back in. We were about a third of a mile behind them by the time we rounded.”

Crossfire’s track courtesy of Rick Donohue.

Smoke stayed with Crossfire gybe for gybe until Hein Bank, when things started to go horribly for her, not good for Crossfire and brilliantly for Dark Star and Glory.

Baker explained, “For the Hein Bank Race the key moment was Hein Bank to the finish. From my perspective timing was everything and if you got there at the wrong time, I don’t know that there was much you could do.  That was the case for us aboard Crossfire. Though we could have managed that last leg better by making a quicker tack to the left, I don’t know that it would have mattered much as far as the overall finish goes. The wind died and we parked, allowing other boats that we’d done a pretty good job of putting away, a chance to catch up.

Baker wraps up, “Overall it was a spectacular race, about as nice a Swiftsure as I can remember. Yes there were some challenging moments with light air and the current certainly was generally not favorable. That all said, oh man it was beautiful out there. We had amazing weather and the spectacle of nature was abundant. We’re talking porpoises and seabirds. We sailed in and out of fog banks on the American side near Pillar point. It was surreal as we crossed tacks in clouds with Hamachi, Westerly, and Neptune’s Car. The sunset at Neah Bay was beautiful. The new moon setting on the horizon, wow.  During the night there was not a cloud in the sky, bringing out the stars and milky way in full force. We watched as the space station crossed overhead. Oh and did I mention the Northern lights?”

And that ferocious little Riptide Mk II Longboard spent some time in third place on the water, mixing it up with those TP 52s and the like. And in the end, she won Hein Bank Division 1 handily but lost to Division 2 boats White Cloud and Jack Rabbit on overall corrected time. The ever humble Longboard skipper Peter Salusbury explained, “We got lucky on the way out favoring the long port gybe in the SE to the US shore along with Hamachi and Smoke and at one point were third in fleet! Very weird sailing in that thick fog bank all the way to Race Rocks – thank goodness for AIS plotters! We had to gybe around a number of commercial ships. And for the Hein Bank fleet the corrected standings were largely influenced by what time you got to the finish line. The big boats on our course got completely shafted, we faired much better, and White Cloud and Jack Rabbit won the lottery by sailing in without ever stopping in a freshening westerly. Guess that is Swiftsure for you!”

It’s worth pointing out that, luck or no luck, the first two boats in Hein Bank Division 1, Longboard and Dark Star, were from the talented screens of Paul Bieker.

There are as many stories as there are boats in Swiftsure, and it’d be great to share some more. Photos too! Send ’em in and I’ll post them. Also check out (and of course “like”) the Facebook Page if you’re into that social network. When I come across relevant Facebook posts (there are a lot of worthy videos and photos) I’ll share them there.


Kurt grew up racing and cruising in the Midwest, and has raced Lasers since the late 1970s. He has been Assistant Editor at Sailing Magazine and a short stint as Editor of Northwest Yachting. Through Meadow Point Publishing he handles various marketing duties for smaller local companies. He currently is partners on a C&C 36 which he cruises throughout the Northwest. He's married to the amazing Abby and is father to Ian and Gabe.

2 thoughts on “One Weird Swiftsure Race

  • May 31, 2017 at 10:38 am

    You left off one of the courses in your list of big winners! Bat Out Of Hell was the overall winner on the Juan de Fuca course.

    • May 31, 2017 at 10:51 am

      So true! Sorry about that. Bat Out Of Hell indeed sailed a great race. I’d love to hear more about your race!


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