“Got That Out of the Way.” Carl Buchan and the Transpac

“Got That Out of the Way.” Carl Buchan and the Transpac
Merlin closing in on the finish with Bill Lee at the helm. Sharon Green photo.

There were plenty of big stories in this years Transpac Race. Comanche‘s 5-day, 1 hour record, Mighty Merloe‘s stunning victory and the return of Merlin are probably the top three.

The Merlin story includes a part that’s very near and dear to us in the Pacific Northwest. It was Carl Buchan’s first big offshore race of the kind. Pacific Northwesterners are eager to claim Carl as one of our own, and with good reason. He’s won an Olympic Gold Medal (with Jonathan McKee in the Flying Dutchman) an America’s Cup – sort of – (with Dennis Conner in 1988) 505 North Americans (with Carol Buchan) Tasar Worlds (with Carol) and last but not least the Star Worlds (with Hugo Schreiner).

On Madrona, a 40-footer to his own design, Buchan is a perpetual force on the PNW race courses including events as diverse as Round the County and the Race to Alaska.

Most importantly, through all of it, he has retained both his humility and energy for the sport. Both came in handy on Merlin this year. As one might expect, Merlin‘s crew was rife with experience led by The Wizard himself, Bill Lee. Buchan may ooze boatspeed and racing smarts, but he was the offshore newbie aboard Merlin. Staying in character, he did his job and learned a lot.

Lessons Learned

Transpac sunset – not necessarily time to sleep. Buchan photo.

Sleep The first learning curve is one of the most important and challenging. “I was starting to get into a rhythm the day before we finished. I was a basket case before that sleep-wise,” Buchan explained. I’m not sure how he did it, but accepting that you have a problem is always the first step.

Knowing the Boat “One of the things that became clear was the importance of knowing the boat, in particular the polars and (sail combination) crossovers. You usually don’t have other boats around to get that performance feedback. It was great to have Pyewacket out there. They were always pushing us. We were expecting to fall behind early, but our goal was was to be within about 20 miles when the high speed running conditions started to favor us.” In the end, Merlin beat Pyewacket into Hawaii by a couple of hours and only trailed the much higher rated Runaway on elapsed time. On corrected time, the Alan Andrews-designed Pyewacket won, followed by the Santa Cruz 70 Catapult and the Merlin.

Merlin While it may have been tempting to think of Merlin’s 2017 Transpac as a trip down memory lane for a 40 year old boat, it was obviously a lot more that that. Over the years she’s been modified and upgraded many times, and since buying the boat a year or so ago Bill Lee has put in a number of other changes. Here’s a Scuttlebutt post with more on the program. “Once in a while Bill would say something like ‘at this point in the race back then’ but he’s really forward thinking,” explains Buchan. “It’s not clear what the next phase will be for the boat, perhaps chartering or selling.”

Offshore Tactics Buchan is used to finding the fastest way upwind, downwind or to a point somewhere along the course that will take advantage of current or expected windshift. In the Transpac, the usual course of things is to be lifted on starboard gybe as you make your way to Hawaii. The big decision is when to gybe to port. “Things happen more slowly out there on an ocean race. You set a waypoint into your plans and maximize your speed to that point. But conditions are always changing, so you’re constantly updating that information and updating the game plan. You have to be set up to take in that information.”

Madrona lighting it up in Round the County. Sean Trew photo.

A Transpac for Madrona? Watching Madrona take shape locally in carbon, with many helping hands, was fascinating for many of us. At the time we heard Transpac mentioned. “Even when I built the boat it was on my mind,” Buchan says. Madrona‘s moderate beam and relatively full ends not only look like it would go fast downwind, it does. A couple of memorable Round the County runs revealed Madrona as not just a really fast 40-footer, a blisteringly fast 40-footer in the right conditions. “In many ways, the Transpac would be right up Madrona‘s alley,” Buchan said. Hmmm.


In the end, Buchan’s understated summary was “I got that out of the way.” Tellingly, he also said “I certainly enjoyed the longer distance race. I came away seeing it’s a very interesting challenge, especially for the navigator.” My guess is he did a lot more than check something off a list – I’m pretty sure he absorbed a tremendous amount of Transpac know-how, and we’ll see it again, processed and upgraded.



Weaver Wins US Women’s Championship!

Weaver Wins US Women’s Championship!

Let’s see, Abbie Carlson wins the Leiter Cup (just like Hanne Weaver did a couple years ago) and now Weaver wins the US Singlehanded Women’s Championship! Go PNW! This just came out. I’ll try to get Hanne to give us the lowdown and find some really good photos. In the meantime let us all congratulate our amazing young women sailors!

Please share this, not just with your sailing friends, but your non-sailing friends. The Pacific Northwest remains a hotbed of outstanding dinghy sailors, both men and women. Any young people who are into racing can gain some motivation from these recent successes, and any young person thinking about an exciting and challenging life-long sport should take note! –KMH

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (July 24, 2017) – Following four days of exciting racing in the sparkling waters of Lake Tahoe, Marek Zaleski (Norwalk, Conn.) became the 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Men’s Champion and Hanne Weaver (Seattle, Wash.) became the 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Champion on Sunday. Held in conjunction with the Laser Class U.S. National Championships and hosted by the Tahoe Yacht Club, the fleets were comprised of experienced and proven singlehanded sailors and an influx of new talented young men and women.

Zaleski’s performance was good enough to claim the overall title out of 43 boats in the Full Rig fleet for the Laser Class U.S. National Championship. Although Jake Vickers was a game competitor all week, Zaleski won five of the seven races and was the clear-cut top performer.

U.S. Singlehanded Men’s Championship: Final Results – Top 5

1. Marek Zaleski, Noroton Yacht Club, 1-5-1-1-1-1-[7]- ; 10

2. Jake Vickers, Severn Sailing Association, 3-[6]-4-2-3-3-1- ; 16

3. Caleb Robinson, Sail Maine, 2-[22]-5-13-5-7-5- ; 37

4. Cameron Feves, Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club, 6-9-8-9-[16]-4-13- ; 49

5. Peter Phelan, Santa Cruz Yacht Club, 7-11-7-6-7-14-[44/DSQ]- ; 52

Complete Standings

“The altitude and the water quality are two things that are different about this venue,” explained Zaleski. “I’m glad I got here early, because I was struggling when working out on my bike and the water is so clear, the Lasers float a little lower in the water, not a huge difference, but it’s noticeable.”

“I am campaigning for the 2020 Olympics non-stop,” said Zaleski. “I have over 200 days on the water since I graduated last year and a lot of time in the gym working on my fitness. So, it’s nice to see good results and that my work  is paying off.”

Weaver won the U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Championship by a 16 point margin over Charlotte Rose. She placed second overall to Chase Carraway out of 55 boats in the Laser Radial fleet.

U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Championship: Final Results – Top 5

1. Hanne Weaver, RVYC, SYC, 3-12-4-2-10-[18]- ; 31

2. Charlotte Rose, Houston Yacht Club / GCYSA, [23]-14-2-4-14-13- ; 47T

3. Kelly Cole, OCBC, 7-13-5-14-[56/OCS]-8- ; 47T

4. Lillian Myers, GCYSP, [18]-11-17-6-6-9- ; 49

5. Annika Fedde, Ventura Yacht Club, 13-26-16-27-9-[39]- ; 91

Complete Standings

“The wind and how it comes off the mountains and spreads out over the lake is the most challenging part of this sailing venue,” explained Weaver. “You really have to keep your head out of the boat.”

The race committee completed three races for the Lasers on Thursday and Friday and three races for the Laser Radials on Thursday and two on Friday. The conditions were similar both days with winds in the 6-10 knot range, primarily from 225° with violent shifts making it difficult to maintain “squareness’ on the inside-outside trapezoid course.


Lack of any breeze on Saturday forced the race committee to abandon all racing. Sunday looked like a repeat of Saturday, with a slightly better, yet inconsistent, forecast model. A 10 knot westerly burst through the racing area later in the afternoon. The shifts became radical and inconsistent resulting in a postponement and general recall before getting off the Lasers just seven minutes before the warning signal deadline. The wind was brisk resulting in a shorter than expected race duration for both fleets. They completed an important sixth race for the Radials (allowing for their discard) and a seventh race for the Lasers.

Sailors eligible for the U.S. Singlehanded Sailing Championships in the men’s Laser Full Rig and women’s Laser Radial Fleets must be U.S. citizens and at least turn 17 in the calendar year of 2017. These eligible sailors raced in their respective fleets as part of the Laser Nationals competition.

Prizes were awarded to competitors meeting the eligibility rules for the U.S. Singlehanded Championship:

  • George D. O’Day Trophy to the overall highest placing eligible male in the Laser Full Rig for the U.S. Singlehanded Men’s Championship.
  • Helen Willis Hanley Trophy to the overall highest placing eligible female in the Laser Radial for the U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Championship.
  • US Sailing medals were awarded to the top three positions in each fleet.
  • Peter J. Barrett Sportsmanship Trophy will be awarded and posted by Monday morning.

For complete results and standings and more information about the 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Sailing Championships, please visit the event website.

The 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Championships is sponsored by Gill North America and Hobie Polarized. This US Sailing National Championship is participating in the Sailors for the Sea’s Clean Regattas program.

Harken Club for Kids

Harken Club for Kids

I’m lifting this post straight from Scuttlebutt. I’m sure neither the good folk at Scuttlebutt nor the good folk at Harken will mind. It’s for the kids after all, and the future of sailing. I signed up my son Ian right away. In an industry that is focused way too often on that extra 1/100th of a knot of boatspeed (and Harken is really really good at finding that speed) it’s great to see an eye turned to the important stuff. Please share with all the little sailors you know. Bill Faude of Harken explains:

What exactly is a Blockhead?

What’s the genesis of the Blockhead program?
Harken CEO Bill Goggins and myself have young kids getting into sailing (four kids between us between the ages of 6 and 12 with younger Goggins kids to age in soon) and so were logically remembering what kind of great sailing experiences we had growing up.

We remember drilling and pop riveting…moving cam cleats and changing between cam cleats and clam cleats and rigging twings and then going back to guy hooks…moving hiking straps around…flipping boats and wet sanding…really taking care of our boats to make sure they fit us better and in the balance learning to be self-reliant.

In the midst of this, we came to the realization that kids don’t do that now. The boats they sail are MUCH better than a generation ago. They all come well rigged, and not much breaks. Even second-hand Optis and 420s work beautifully.

As Harken employees, we are charged with growing our Brand. So we’ll never disguise the fact the existence of a sailing generation growing up without learning to screw or pop-rivet an eye strap to the deck, looked like a potential business risk. We felt the obligation to expose the next generation to the link between high-performance rigging applied effectively and better results. That link was not well understood.

All told we both wanted and needed to launch a program like this.

And what kind of program have you launched?
We want to help the next generation of sailors love sailing as much as we do. Sounds like BS when I say it, but it’s true. Personally, I like sailing because it lets me go ‘off the grid’ for a few hours. There are no curbs and gutters and lines on the racecourse, so I can call my own shots.

I actually still remember what it felt like when I first took my Laser (13095) off the dock and out of hearing range of my instructors. On my own. We think once kids feel that, they’ll imprint on the sport better.

Emotionally, we want kids to feel the confidence sailing can uniquely bring. Rationally, we want there to be less Helicoptering for parents to do. Sailors should know how to maintain their own boats…the earlier they start this the better.

We’re looking to engage the kids in the media they choose. So Blockheads is an old school fan-club model bolted to a video-infused website with social media opportunities for them to share their experiences and results.

Importantly, we’re really conscious of staying in our lane, so the content we’re trying to create is all about boat care, rigging, go-fast ideas and shared experiences. We’re working hard to curate it so we don’t get into areas where others are already excelling.

So there won’t be tactical discussions or sailing technique lessons. That’s not Harken’s niche. We explain how rigging works and how to upgrade for performance.

Who can join the program?
Anyone can join and it’s free, but we’re writing for a target between the Opti Green Fleet and the end of College Sailing. There’s free SWAG when you become a Blockhead. And we hope the program will grow so we can offer the benefits of becoming a member to more kids. Right now, we’ve budgeted for 1000 new members kits for this year.

• Additional details in this fact sheet or at www.harkenblockheads.com.
• Contact at blockheads@harken.com

Pacific Northwest Sailors Take on a Tough Chicago-Mac at 23 knots in Blue

Pacific Northwest Sailors Take on a Tough Chicago-Mac at 23 knots in Blue

This year’s 333-mile (289 nm) Chicago Mackinac Island Race sailed last weekend was, once again, a tour of extreme conditions. Two life-saving rescues had to be performed in the fleet. From very nearly deadly to drifting, the crews from all those boats competing, whether they finished or not, have tales to tell. The Paul Bieker-designed 41-footer Blue was more than a Northwest design; a good portion of its crew was from the Northwest including Brian Huse, Kathryn Meyer and Kris Bundy. Brian graciously offered up a report between Macs (they’re doing the Port Huron Mac as well), and at the end of this post I’ll include some links to hair-raising rescues from the race. Here’s Brian:

The 17-boat Tartan 10 class was one of six one-design classes in the Mac. Photo courtesy of Miste Photography.

We had a great sail. The forecast was for a building SW breeze ahead of a cold front which would intersect with around midnight Saturday. We were in section 1, the third to last start, at 1:40 on Saturday. We had a great start and quickly set the fractional code-0 and were on our way. An hour or so later we changed to the A3 and then a few hours later we settled in to the A2. We sailed out of Chicago toward Michigan until the breeze settled into what we thought was the max right then gybed onto port and headed north. The goal was to get as far north as possible ahead of the pending cold front, which was forecasted to be strong cold and northerly.

I was off watch with another hour before my watch started when my watch was asked to come on deck to peel to the A4. It was 11:00 Saturday night. It was dark with no moon yet and was blowing 18-20. We were expecting a increase in the southwest breeze ahead of the cold front so we wanted to be ready with the A4 for some nice 20 knot+ true wind speed sailing. We successfully got the A4 up and the A2 down. It was now blowing 25 and our bow team was still tidying up from the change with all others in the back as we were now planing at 18 or so. In less than two minutes the breeze built to the high 30’s and we had 1-2’ of water over the deck. Finally all the crew were able to move to the transom and we ripped! Twenty-three to 25 knots of boat speed. The breeze built to over 40 knots when we noticed wind speed was 44 knots. It was the 44-knot puff which did the damage. While we were working out how to get the kite down the decision was made for us. The kite halyard pulls through the clutch. The spinnaker in the water and the boat broaches a little as the kite fills with water…

No significant damage but we have to cut the halyard as all though it pulled through its still attached to the sail and the boat somewhere. We damaged the kite a little, did some more significant damage to the new staysail as it did some serious flogging half furled. It took about 20 minutes to get sorted out. Unfortunately due to the way we peeled both topmost halyards were lost, leaving us with only fractional halyards. By the time dust settled and we were ready to set the fractional code 0 the breeze had swung to about 30 degrees and we were into a headsail. We would now be beating to Mackinac Island. We started with the #3. A couple hours later we reefed and a couple hours after that we changed to the #4. We sailed with a reef and a #4 all day Sunday. Our masthead electronics were a casualty of the incident so we don’t know what the breeze was but I would say more than 25 and less then 30 and super choppy and sloppy. The waves 4-6’ and close together. The boat was awesome with no issues at all in that stuff. The crew handled well too. Everyone worked hard and even thou it was not a glamour day of sailing, the mood was upbeat and keen. The wind started to die down at the south end of Manitou Passage closer to Sleeping Bear. We started to power up. Shook out the reef and went back to the 3. We had good breeze all the way to Grays reef. The wind freshened a bit but nothing extreme.

We ended up beating in moderate northerly’s to Grays Reef. At the time we got north of the reef it was ~3:00 am Monday. It took 10 hours to sail the ~20 miles to Mackinac in light to no breeze…it was mostly a beat but we ultimately finished with an A1.5 at 1:00ish in the afternoon on Monday.
Michael Schoendorf is the owner of “Blue”. He is a great sailor and puts together a great team. The crew was a mix from the PNW, Midwest and one from the east coast. All great sailors and tough! Mike does an excellent job of preparing the boat and keeping the gear and sails current. I feel quite fortunate to be a part of it.
Brian Huse (broker at Raven Marine)
Ed. Note: The trimaran High Priority 2 capsized and the crew had to be rescued by the USCG. There’s a first person account on Sailing Anarchy. In another Sailing Anarchy story, the survival and rescue of a sailor who spent an hour in the water is chronicled. The Chicago Mac throws it all at you in extremes, from the infamous black flies to furious squalls. It’s humbling. On a personal note, I’ve done seven long ago and miss it terribly. 
The Volvo 70 Il Mostro was the first monohull to finish, and one of the many “gold platers” in the fleet.

Abbie Carlson is Yet Another Rising Seattle Sailing Star, Wins Leiter Cup

Abbie Carlson is Yet Another Rising Seattle Sailing Star, Wins Leiter Cup

The Seattle area seems to churn out champion sailors at a impressively steady pace. The latest is Abbie Carlson, who’s been quietly making her way through the ranks of local, regional and now national sailing. Abbie is part of the Seattle Yacht Club team, and the latest in a line of very successful junior women singlehanders including Hanne Weaver and Talia Toland. We did run the US Sailing press release, but took a shot at asking Abbie to come up with a few words – hopefully they’ll inspire more junior women, and sailors of all types and ages, to join the fun. We’ll keep tabs on all the men and women who are “out there” in the big regattas. Results. Here’s Abbie: 


Abbie Carlson and the Leiter Cup

I had an amazing time winning Leiter Cup this year at the Houston Yacht Club. After placing third at Leiter Cup last year in Seattle, my goal for this year’s regatta was to be first.

The first two days consisted of a clinic to adjust to Galveston Bay, the racing venue. The other three days were race days. Overall, this regatta had very light wind conditions with the occasional thunderstorm. On the first race day, after being postponed on the water for several hours due to no wind, we were finally able to sail one shifty and light wind race. I had a great start to the regatta winning this race by half a leg. We started a second race that day although it was abandoned due to an oncoming thunderstorm that brought 20+ knot of wind. The next day we weren’t able to get on the water until 5pm due to thunderstorms and the absence of wind. During these long postponements, it was challenging to remain focused. I found that staying patient and hydrated were essential in achieving this.

However, once the wind came up a bit, we were able to sail two more races in very light wind conditions. Due to the lack of the desired number of races, the race committee moved the start time from the daily 11am time to 9:30am for the final day of racing. By the last day, we had sailed a total of six races meaning that we were able to drop our worst score. The race committee considered starting a seventh race, however a thunderstorm started approaching us so they decided to call it off.

The girls that placed in the top five were all really close in points so I had no idea that I had won the regatta until I got to the dock. I was so excited to achieve my goal. I had such a fun time meeting new talented sailors from across the country and reconnecting with old friends. It’s exciting to know that the Leiter Cup has now been won by three sailors in the Northwest form the Seattle Yacht Club in the last six years. Without the help and support of my coach, Cameron Hoard, Brian Ledbetter, West Coast Sailing, and many others including US Sailing, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  I can’t wait to attend Leiter Cup next year in Connecticut.  

San Juan 24 NAs Draws 12 Boats to Beautiful Oak Harbor

Photo by Ryan Nowicki of Captured Moments Photography

Ekono Juan from Orcas Island Repeats as San Juan 24 North American Champion

Bruce from Bellingham and Return from Seattle Are Second and Third

Returning for the seventh straight year, the San Juan 24 Fleet raced in the waters of Saratoga Passage and Penn Cove on June 24 and 25 to contest for the 2017 SJ 24 North American Championship. Twelve boats from around Puget Sound, including 7 from CYC-Seattle (and , came to contest in shifting and variable winds – as in past years, good starts, sharp weather leg sailing, clear air sailing downwind and consistent crew work proved the difference amongst the closely-packed fleet.

CYC’s Return leads Snappy Tom (39608) of CYC, Ehu Kai (710) of Oak Harbor and eventual winner Ekono Juan (442) of Orcas Island around a leeward gate. Photo by Steve Hucke.

Oak Harbor Yacht Club was the center of activity, and the Race Committee, headed by PRO Byron Skubi of Oak Harbor, got off 9 races (one discard) over the two days in challenging wind conditions, with 6 races on Saturday and 3 more on Sunday. The volunteers of the Oak Harbor Yacht Club, including OHYC Commodore Avis Berney, were assisted by Chuck Skewes and Bryan Paine of Ullman Sails, prime sponsor of the regatta.

Saturday’s racing started in Saratoga Passage just outside of Penn Cove in a northerly that started to die as the boats headed downwind against a building adverse current. Thee race was shortened to finish at the leeward gate, but even so only five boats crossed the finish line, with Grauer Geist from Seattle, Ekono Juan from Orcas Island and Renaissance from Oak Harbor, finishing on a spinnaker, and Seattle’s Fancy and Return on a jib; the 7 remaining boats were not able to cross the finish line within the time limit, with five boats frustratingly within one or two boat lengths of the finish line (Oak Harbor’s Ehu Kai was a yard away before being flushed back by the tide and the time lime expired!). After a delay, the westerly finally began to fill in Penn Cove and the action moved there for the rest of the regatta.

A long difficult second race, with many wind shifts and varying wind patterns across the Cove greeted the racers, won by Ekono Juan, followed by more consistent westerlies as the day progressed for races three through six. Mike Klep’s Bruce from Bellingham handled with day best with an unprecedented four straight dominating wins in the last four races – this was a bit of a surprise as Bruce did not race in the 2016 event and finished 13th in 2015 and 7th in 2014 – but its yellow spinnaker was clear ahead in each of those races.

After Saturday’s six races, Bruce and Ekono Juan were tied for first, with Bruce ahead on a tie breaker, each with 10 points (after the discard), with Return and regatta organizer Dave Steckman’s Renaissance 6 and 8 points, respectively further behind.

While Ekono Juan, Return and others were often starting at the pin end, Mike had Bruce generally the RC

Photo by Steve Hucke

Boat side of mid-start line. “We concentrated on having room to leeward so we could put the bow down and power up the boat,” said Kleps. *We have a 10-year old jib and main from Return that don’t go fast in crowded situations, so we need clear air. We would tack to get to the right side of Penn Cove early, and then tack back to starboard before we got to the lay line. It seemed to us that many boats overstood the starboard lay line. Generally the current and a lift at the windward mark would get us around the mark. Then we gybed early so we had clear air downwind, and it seemed to stretch us out. Most other boats went further south before gybing, but we need the clear air.”

In the first Sunday race, Ekono Juan, in its typical pin-end start at the gun with speed, was able to tack to port, clear the fleet, and led for the rest of the regatta. Ekono Juan stayed ahead of Bruce in the last two races with a first and third, to claim its second straight and third overall SJ 24 North American Championship. Sailing with Ryan Forbes on Ekono Juan were Ian Wareham (helm), Chris Kaufman and Scott Wallace. Mike Kleps on Bruce was joined by Scott Wilson, Jeff Goodman and Tom Anderson.

The fleet was highly competitive, with close racing throughout with the trailing boats not far behind the leaders. Eight of the 12 boats had one or more top-three finishes, and four different boats claimed at least one first place. No one club dominated the results, with the top four finishers coming from four different yacht clubs.

As one first time Seattle participant summarized, “What a great place to have a regatta! I have cruised but never raced here before. Good close racing, interesting currents and winds, snow capped mountain ranges to the west and east, a fine hosting yacht club, great regatta organization, and lots of fun people. I am so glad I made the effort to participate!”

–Ken Johnson, Grauer Geist

2017 Final Results:


Place Boat Skipper Yacht Club Points
1 Ekono Juan Ryan Forbes Orcas Island 15
2 Bruce Mike Kleps Bellingham 21
3 Return Mark Bradner Corinthian Seattle 23
4 Renaissance Dave Steckman Oak Harbor 32
5 Contact Andrew Fitzgerald Bellingham 42
6 Fancy Jeff Kendall Corinthian Seattle 50
7 Ehu Kai Bill Walker Oak Harbor 55
8 Sweet Jesus Sean Busby Corinthian Seattle 56
9 Snappy Tom Gil Lund Corinthian Seattle 61
10 Grauer Geist Ken Johnson Corinthian Seattle 64
11 Miss Mayhem Melissa Davies Corinthian Seattle 66
12 Wiki Wiki Zachery Warren Corinthian Seattle 78


Fujin Invades the East Coast

<em>Fujin</em> Invades the East Coast

We are very lucky to get some reports from Brad Baker onboard Greg Slyngstad’s Fujin in the NYYC Multihull Regatta. Designer Paul Bieker’s post on the design has been one of the most popular pieces on sailing.com in recent weeks, and with good reason. A lot of thought has gone into this design that serves as both a cruiser and impressive racer, and Bieker gives us some keen insight. But back to the matters at hand, Brad is a renown navigator but a newbie to catamarans. We’re counting on the Northwest crew no doubt to be in the thick of things. Here’s Brad’s report from the start of day 2: 

2017 NYYC Multihull Regatta

The first day of sailing is now finished, at the 2017 IRC East Coast Championships and 2017 NYYC Multihull Regatta.  I’m aboard Fujin a Paul Bieker designed 53 foot “cruising” catamaran.  Yeah, right, “cruising!”  It’s a cruising cat if you like to go upwind flying a hull at 14 knots with boat speeds at over 20 knots.  We are racing against 6 Gunboat cats and a new HH 66 cat. 

My wife PJ and I arrived late on Monday. Tuesday was a practice day and a big eye opener as to what it is like to sail on a very fast catamaran.  Designer Paul Bieker knows all about designing fast boats with a long succession of performance oriented revolutionary racer cruising monohulls. Fujin is Paul’s first shot at a catamaran, and as far as I can tell he hit a home run! To better understand Paul’s genius, his second catamaran design was the Americas Cup 50 for Oracle. 

It’s currently the second day of racing. We are currently postponed and at the dock. A perfect time to fire off a race update! Yesterday’s forecast was for light to moderate winds out of the S to SW, with a reasonable chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. The reality was heavy fog in the morning with very little wind. The race ended up being postponed for about three hours. The NYYC race committee did a nice job finding wind on the bay. Though we shared a starting line with the IRC fleet our race, we sailed different courses, with the IRC boats doing shorter buoy races while the multis sailed a “Navigator’s Race” which turned out to be a race around Prudence Island. The course length was about 17 NM.

It was an upwind start in about 14 knots of breeze with higher gusts. It was impressive to see 7 other big powerful and very fast cats on the start line. We started nearer the pin with a highly modified Gunboat 62 named Elvis winning the pin just below us. My job was main trimmer. All I can say is thank goodness for electric winches. The loads on the powered up cats are surprisingly high. Fujin is the smallest of the catamarans at 53 feet. The size range in the fleet is 53’ up to 66’.  Fujin might be the smallest, but she is one of the fastest, being nearly half the weight of the Gunboats and a radically different design, which includes C shaped foils.  The foils don’t completely lift the boat out of the water, but they do provide lift and reduce the wetted surface.  In 14 knots of wind we were achieving 14 knots of boatspeed upwind. The race quickly turned into a match race between Elvis and Fujin, with Elvis leading around the first mark on the south side of Prudence Island.

Fujin is sailing with a very talented all Pacific NW crew, with the bonus of having her designer Paul Bieker on board along with his son Leo.  We work the boat hard and shook out the first race jitters.  About 1/3 of the way around the island we managed to pass Elvis going downwind on a shift and legged out on a short reaching leg around the top. Our top speed was 22 knots. Keep in mind I don’t think the wind speed exceeded 16 knots. Though the wind got shifty at the end, we managed to hang on and stay ahead of Elvis to save our time for the win. The wind and sun held for the entire race, which took us maybe an hour and a half to complete. The intention was to complete two races, but with the late start the committee decided to call it a day. I learned a lot on that first race, but have a ways to go. These fast cats are a different animal, but super fun!

 After racing, the multi crews gathered at the New York Yacht Club Newport outstation. Cognizant of dress codes I made sure to wear a collared shirt and did not wear jeans.  The Fujin crews rubbed shoulders with the likes of Cam Lewis and Nigel Irens. Not to be out done, we had our own rock star yacht designer Paul Bieker along with his son Leo.

 The forecast for today is for light winds from the south in the morning. A cold front is forecast to make it’s way south probably crossing the race course sometime between 1300 and 1400. The wind should make a switch to the North and the temp will drop 10 to 15 degrees. Oh, and there might be strong thunderstorm activity. Should be interesting! 

 Update, the AP flag has been lowered, game on!

Ed. Note: Brad Baker is an owner at Swiftsure Yachts in Seattle. Hopefully we can hear more about this regatta and, fingers crossed, our PNW crew can make it’s mark. 

Whidbey Island Race Week in Full Swing

Whidbey Island Race Week in Full Swing
Photos by Jan Anderson

Whidbey Island Race Week is in full swing, and entering Thursday with nine races in the books. Sixty-two boats are racing, and from the photos there appear to be great conditions. Borrowing from Thursday’s edition of the Race Week News, which Liza Tewell and Vicky MacFeidh are putting out:

Can you feel it? Have you experienced that transcendent, middle-of-Race-Week feeling where you remember that you’ve forgotten about the world beyond the beautiful borders of Penn Cove? That decompression isn’t the marine layer dissipating in the late morning above Puget Sound, just over the fescued berm to the west, it’s Whidbey Island Race Week. And it’s why we come back every year. Hard to explain to coworkers, hard to let go of, it’s kept nonetheless in a treasured spot deep inside. When folks ask how you make it through yet another relentlessly gray PNW winter, you smile to yourself, reach down and think, Race Week is coming. Day three of WIRW 2017 was as magical as the past 11 and a half months that our our memory had glorified it to be: blue skies, 8 to 10 knots, 72 degrees (Fahrenheit, for you Canadians). The CYC race committee shot off three races, and when we crossed that finish line for the third time on Wednesday we were happy knowing that we’d get to do it all again the next day. Thursday evening the Oak Harbor Yacht Club is serving up bbq ribs for dinner. Yum. Sorry about that for you vegetarians, though they also offer field burgers at the grill. Thursday is also the CSR party featuring the reggae music of Yogoman, so break out your aloha shirts and stretch before and after racing—the dance floor will be standing dancing room only. Crabbing for the week is also open—enter your recipe in the Haggen Northwest Fresh Crab Cake Cook-off.

While I’m not on hand to check out the competition (or bands or ridiculous amounts of fun), from the results a few things are apparent. First off, the J/105s have a huge class, and the racing must be great. With the downwind angles on the asymmetrical chutes, playing Penn Cove must get really interesting. Kathy Kushner’s Melges 24 Cool Beans out of Canada is going very well. Wicked Wahine may topple the mighty Shrek in the “big boat” class. The two Farr 30s in class 3 are having a mighty battle and there’s a fascinating duel between the Beneteau 35s5 Bodacious and the Martin 242 Crazy I’s. The tightest class of all is the small/slow boat with the two J/24s Amuse Bouche and Roshambo and the San Juan 24 Ehu Kai all within two points.  

Congratulations to Schelleen Rathkopf for successfully putting on the event once again! The event continues to evolve into much more than just racing, with a Kids Camp and other fun activities.

2017 Lasers Masters US Championships – One for the Ages

2017 Lasers Masters US Championships – One for the Ages

“Someday, when we talk about windy regattas in the Gorge, this may not be the windiest one ever but it will definitely be in the conversation.” That assessment alone makes the Lasers Masters US Championships one for the ages.

That’s saying a lot when it comes from Bill Symes, who has sailed and organized as many Columbia River Gorge Association (CGRA) events as anyone. Symes also said it was the windiest conditions he had ever sailed in. Kaighn Smith, who made the trip from Portland, Maine, explained that in his neck of the woods “in those winds it’s just survival. Here guys are racing.”

The event was the Laser Masters U.S. Championship, so it wasn’t a bunch of strapping kids out there. Masters events start at age 35 and end at, well, who knows. In this event there were a large number of Great Grand Masters (65-74) and a “Legend” (75+).

Fleets were divided into the Standard (aka full) rig and the smaller Radial rig. There were 18 full rigs and 28 Radials, with serious international contenders in both fleets.

If anyone was on the fence as to which fleet to sail in, the choice was obvious. The wind looked to be in the 20s already when registration closed. After the usual Gorge warnings (“there’s no shame in coming in if it’s too much” and “don’t get in the way of commercial traffic, you may die”) about three quarters of the boats headed to the starting line. Over the course of the day boats limped in, some with shell-shocked skippers, others with broken parts. Nick Pullen, for instance, came in with what he thought was a broken rudder. It turned out to be a broken gudgeon. When does that happen? By the end of the third race there were only 8 full rigs and 10 Radials on the course.

All photos by Christy Usher of Christine Robin Photography. You can see all of them here. Thanks, Christy!

The leaders at the end of the first day carnage were no surprises, Charlie Buckingham in the full rigs and Bill Symes in the Radials.

The second day started much more sedately, in the low teens, which allowed several sailors to get back their Laser mojo. Just as things started to look like a normal regatta with just about everybody finishing and a good mix of finish places, the Gorge started “nukin’” again. The fourth and final race of the day was on a par with the day before, and once again the DNSs and DNFs started mounting. Epic stories abound. Bill Symes, after having an up and down day, was enjoying a great race when he broke his aluminum top mast section just yards from the finish.

At this point the races at the top were clear. Ernesto Rodriguez was giving Buckingham everything he could handle in the full rig fleet, and Jorge Luis Yanez del Castillo of Vancouver, BC and Andrew Holdsworth of San Francisco were duking it out atop the Radials.

On Sunday the wind then decided two days weren’t enough. From the moment boats left the beach to that final push to the finish, the wind was the 20s and gusting into the 30s. It always seems windier in a Laser, but they were truly epic conditions, and it’s a testimony to the quality of the Lasers master sailors (and fitness) that they could compete in those conditions.

As in most masters regatta there were plenty of awards to go around. Rodriguez topped Buckingham by just a point for the full rig win. Del Castillo and Holdsworth traded firsts and seconds the entire second half of the regatta, but del Castillo had a clear victory in the end. There were awards for the various divisions in each fleet including apprentice (35-44), masters 45-54), grand masters (55-64) and great grandmasters (65-74) and the new category “Legend” (75+, won by Jay Winberg).

Upon being awarded the championship trophy, Rodrigeuz said “I came here hoping for a lot of wind, and I got more than I even really wanted!) It’s interesting that Rodriguez and del Castillo sailed together on the Cuban national team in years past.


Nick Pullen gave a moving speech about the origins of the Tony Dahlman Memorial Trophy (named after a most enthusiastic Laser sailor who passed away years ago doing what he loved – Laser sailing. For many of us, this sportsmanship award embodies what Laser sailing is about), after which it was awarded to mid-fleet finisher Simon Bell.

Any coverage of a Lasers Masters event would be incomplete without talking about the camaraderie. First of all, even in a national championship it’s an international event. With sailors from the Dominican Republic, Australia, England Canada and Israel, it felt a bit like a tiny Worlds. And from the moment one arrives at the site, through the racing and meals and while packing up the boats to leave, the mutual respect and support is superlative. Masters sailors know what skills and perseverance to sail the Laser. In conditions like there were for the 2017 Masters US Championships, that respect and fondness grow exponentially.

Ed. Note: You can read my more personal account of the event, and what I think I know about sailing on the Gorge, here. Whew.


–Kurt Hoehne

Sensei and The Gorge

Sensei and The Gorge
Here I am, 200192, very happy in a Laser Masters race on the Gorge. Photo by Christy Usher.

My Laser Masters US Champs last weekend didn’t go as planned. I’d convinced myself that I could sail well in a breeze, didn’t need to practice and my toughest call would be the choice between sailing a full rig or a Radial. I was going to be in contention. In reality my toughest call was quitting the first day, in my Radial, without finishing a single race. I’m the guy who stays out there no matter what, so heading for the beach was, shall we say, painful to the core.

Both decisions were the right ones.

My regatta, however, was yet another instance of Sensei Laser reminding me in no uncertain terms that to sail him one must be humble and work hard all the time. I can almost hear a disembodied voice, soothing yet forceful, saying “Grasshopper, you are not yet ready. Thirty eight years of Lasers is but a teardrop of a marmot in a mountain lake. You must carry the boulder up the mountain 10 more times and then we will begin again.”

As it turned out my agonizing over full vs Radial was pointless. The last time I’d sailed a Radial on the Gorge, the winds were atypically light and it was no fun. But this weekend, with the wind already in the high teens and building, predictions for even more wind in the coming days and the window for choosing closing, the Radial was the clear choice.

I made the run to the starting area without difficulty, watched the full rigs take off, and then started to work up-current from the start line. One weird 20-degree shift-puff hit and over I went. No big deal. Then again. And again. I was nearly pushed into the committee boat. And again. I still can’t tell you how I managed to capsize 4 times in the starting sequence, but I did. I wasn’t even late for the start. However, the die was cast for the rest of the regatta. I managed to stay upright until the gybe mark on the second downwind. And again I flipped and reflipped until I lost track of my total capsize count at 14. There was a chase boat nearby, no doubt wondering when they should stop the carnage. I finally said “no mas” and headed back to the beach.

Fortunately, there were plenty of folk already there. Many had not gone out, some had come in for similar reasons as I, and there were a few broken bits and pieces. Moreover, there were some excellent sailors on shore as well.

We watched as the 18-boat full rig fleet dwindled to 8 by the third race and the 28 boat Radial fleet dwindled to 10. My boat put away, I found my tent and nearly fell asleep in the afternoon.

Having thought through all the things Sensei Laser had taught me over the years, I came back humbled and devoid of expectations. I got on the course early, tacked and gybed and gybed and tacked. The wind was down around the low teens, perfect for remembering how to sail. As the wind built during the day, everything made sense again. By the fourth race of the day the wind was up to where it was the day before, well into the 20s with puffs probably into the 30s. I stayed upright and climbed out of the results cellar.

From the outset Sunday, the breeze was on about as it had been Friday. And while I threw in a couple harmless capsizes for good measure, it was a great, exhausting day of sailing. And the final race of the day was epic. I don’t care what the anemometers say, that wind had to be in the 30s much of the time.

The results were never as good as I’d expected, but it was probably the most satisfying regatta I’ve sailed in 20 years.


A Gorge Primer

For those who’ve never sailed a dinghy from Cascade Locks on the Columbia River Gorge when it’s “nukin’,” here’s my best shot at describing what it’s like. These are my impressions – not meant to be gospel. Much better sailors than I can describe the ins and outs of how to sail in a breeze in the unique Gorge conditions.

Heading to the start.

You launch from a somewhat sheltered beach at Cascade Locks, and its about a 20 minute sail to the starting area. Hug the shore and it’s relatively benign, though the occasional wind blast will come through. Stick your nose out into the river more and you’ll get a a bigger taste of the huge puffs, combined with waves. More than one sailor has found themself upside down on the way to the start and considered whether he/she should even be out there. Regardless, feeling the breeze on the way to the start can be deceptive. That is, until you turn up.

The Start

With the current running at a couple knots or more, you don’t line up 3 boatlengths upcurrent of the start, it’s more like 8. You find pretty quickly that when folks pull the trigger, they’re pretty much on the line at the start. Those first 30 seconds are critical, and you want to pay particular attention to the monster waves. Hitting one wrong can stop you dead and send you to the back of the fleet in a hurry.


If you go right off the start, you get into good current and the washing machine on the Washington side of the river. It’s as raucous a beat as you’ll ever tackle with the wind-against-current standing waves regularly enveloping your hiked-out form while bringing you to a stop. Then you look over to the left and see a bunch of the fleet on a port tack lift along the Oregon shore. But wait, you’ve been carried so far up-course with the current it doesn’t matter. Then there’s the matter of commercial traffic. Barges and their pushboats coming along at around 12 knots over the bottom can be a very scary thing if you’re upside down.

If you go left off the start, you get into the nice flat water and get knocked as you come in, delivering a beautiful port tack lift as you come out. You look up, and all those boats have been carried waaay down current and up the course. But wait, you’re headed at the mark and they’re not. All is good. Even while playing the shore at some point you’re in those big standing waves clearing out your sinuses.

Not only are the puffs often in the 30s, they seem to come randomly in 20-degree shifts. When this happens, there’s only trimming and easing to prevent capsize. There is no cleating. Ever. And tacking is something you plan for. Ease your overtightened vang, pick your trough, and don’t hesitate.


All that current is now against you and the standing waves are waiting out in the middle for you to practice your S-turns on. And, there’s generally more breeze. In fact, sometimes boats will head out into that current and head to the gate or leeward mark in a cloud of spray ahead of everyone.

It is very difficult to describe how remarkable these downwind legs are. The adverse current makes them long, thrilling affairs and it’s a truly unique challenge to both stay upright and keep the bow from submarining. Combine that with the Laser’s responsiveness to body language and there’s really no experience quite like it. If you capsize, the water’s warm.

Set up for the puffs, because when they hit they hit hard. If your vang is eased the right amount, you’re overtrimmed just right and you don’t get itchy fingers on the tiller extension, you’ll just end up going faster than you ever thought possible.

Along the Oregon shore and there’s less current and plenty of wind. And that wind seems to bend around and give you a knock later in the leg so you can bear off around the weather mark and then hold that starboard gybe all the way to the mark. More often than not, the Oregon shore pays. But it’s not nearly as fun.

Coming back to the Beach

I see as many capsizes on that 25 minute beat back to the beach as I do on the races. We’re spent. Hiking out is often just sitting and leaning out – a little, while dumping the sail. Reaction time isn’t what it once was, so a bad shift will flip you. But as you come into the beach, there’s almost always someone to take pity on you to haul your boat, and your sorry carcass, onto dry land.

Final Thought

Finally, there’s this: While planing on a Laser in a 30+ gust and spray invading every orifice on your body, you can’t think about health care, your mortgage, your kid’s report card or even Donald Trump. Even one bit. Thank you, Sensei and the Gorge.