Round the County, Part 2, with Beef Stew

Round the County, Part 2, with Beef Stew

After our initial Round the County coverage, we were called out by Vin Colgin in the comments section: “More small boat results. Local super yacht results are interesting, but not relatable. I want to see more < 30′ news to increase participation.”

Hey, Vin, when you’re right, you’re right. I didn’t get a <30′ skipper or crew to report here, but your comment did inspire a tale from another classic that many could relate to. For the <30′ tale, I suggest you go to Ben Braden’s story of the race.

Alert reader Jarred Swalwell chimed in with his tale of crewing with Megan Kogut on the RTC on the Carter 37 Arrow: “Yes, it’s tempting to wax poetic about big, pretty expensive boats. Did anyone notice the ’73 IOR one tonner out there rocking the BBQ, radar tower + solar panels and 30 year old dacron? For a period, I had a lovely time with one elbow casually hooked around a shroud while eating hot beef stew and admiring a Moore 24 off our starboard bow plane a little on the downwind run on day 2. This just before I went back to admiring my beef stew. We finished near to the top third in both class and fleet. We had cushions to sit on, a diesel heater, substantially Moore than a pot to piss in, and of course cold beer. I did enjoy watching the sporty boats, they are pretty. At times, I even enjoyed passing the sporty boats. But seriously, it would be nice to see a few more comfortable plain white sloops out there having a good time, RTC is a terrific event. BTW, props to the Cal 34!!”

(It’s worth noting that Ben Braden ate a hot lunch on his own Moore 24 Moore Uff Da in the same race from his well-known barbecue while finishing eighth overall)

But more than that, Jarred’s and three other boats utilized raceQs to track the race, and compare notes afterward. racQs is new to me, and pretty interesting. I haven’t figured out how to embed the video but if you follow the links below you’ll see the tracks play out for the entire race. The screenshots are from raceQs. This would definitely be fun to set up with your favorite enemies on the race course to have something to talk about afterward.

Megan and I were on Arrow, an IOR boat.  We use raceQs to track and analyze what happened, a few other boats do as well so it’s a pretty interesting watch.  

The “fleet” going around Patos.
The screen as it looks in the helmsman’s view.

Saturday is here.  You can see the shut down at the end and where a few boats (Bravo Zulu and Lodos) figured out the counter current on the other side of Battle Rock which paid off pretty big for them.

Sunday we stayed out and walked away from the short tackers in faster boats.  On the downwind we had to fly a smaller storm kite as our big kite had a tear.  But staying to the east on the course kept us away from a hole that a number of other boats got stuck into on the west.

–Jarred Salwell

 

 

There are a lot of us who can look around just about any harbor an identify “former” raceboats that still have a lot of fun and a few wins still in them.

Ydra

Take Arrow. In 1973 Dick Carter was at the top of of the design game, with the help of none other than the Northwest’s own Bob Perry who was working for Carter at the time. This pinched-end, wide-beamed boat was the bomb, and still sails very well, even with Dacron. The design derived from the world One Ton champion Ydra. The faults with IOR boats of that era are well known, but they’re voluminous and usually fitted with decent galleys, heads and berths. They’re not going to keep up with a modern well-designed racer-cruiser, and they’re never going to plane (at least you don’t want to be on them if they do), but they definitely have style and sail well.

There are of course, plenty of other non-IOR boats that can be talked about (and raced) as well. So while it’s often easier to write about the expensive end of the fleet, get us the tales and pictures and we’ll certainly tell the stories from the heart of the fleet too.

Round the County Wrap, Glory and Wicked Wahine with the Wins

Round the County Wrap, Glory and Wicked Wahine with the Wins

John Buchan’s Glory won the ORC Division of the Round the County Race, despite a smokin’ first to finish on day two by Steve Travis’ Smoke. The “newest” member of the big boat fleet made its first racing appearance as Steve Johnson’s Mist.

Crossfire’s Day 2 Track

Of course Mist is already known in the area as Braveheart and then Valkyrie. Crossfire definitely has her hands full with all these TP 52s flying around. Nigel Barron of Crossfire reports, “We hooked some kelp halfway down San Juan Island that didn’t help, and really had some issues keeping the boat going in the lumps.”

The PHRF podium was filled with Division “0” boats, led by Darrin Towe’s Melges 32 Wicked Wahine. Carl Buchan ended up 10 minutes back in Madrona and Shorett/Burzycki’s Farr 395 Ace finished third with a particularly strong first day.

It’s worth noting that two Moore 24s cracked the top 10 overall with Bruzer in fourth and Moore Uff Da in eighth. That design never ages.

All photos by Jan Anderson, and of course there are many more. Please support Jan.

Local regular Bob Brunius won his class with the J/120 Time Bandit, but it wasn’t without a bit of self-reflection. “After having a disastrous race last year because of two faulty tactical decisions I made, I was thinking toxic thoughts about my ability to do this racing thing anymore. This year was different. Each day this race I made a call based on local knowledge that separated us from the fleet significantly and paid hugely. Confidence restored.”

The mighty Santa Cruz 33 Muffin hit an unmarked spire northeast side of Patos and retired under her own power to Anacortes, with no threat of sinking. Skipper Garry Greth said about the incident, “It is faster go in there for current relief and pressure in a southerly, but you can’t go in that far!” Note we’re hoping to do a full on piece on Muffin‘s remarkable renovation over the last few years here on sailish.com.

And finally, the results of the RTC Youth Sailing Challenge are in with Wild Rumpus earning $2131 for youth sailing, followed by Crazy Salsa with $1872 and Time Bandit with $1335.

Bruce’s Brief 11, 12 &13 November, Round the County 2017

Bruce’s Brief 11, 12 &13 November, Round the County 2017

There’s a reason why Round the County (RTC) is one of the most popular races in the Pacific Northwest and this weekend will only continue to further that reputation. The course, in addition to being just beautiful, is always a challenge with interesting rivers of tidal current and winds that do their best to be unpredictable. As we get closer to the start the different models are not very much in agreement and it’s easy to see why, just check out the current surface analysis and then the forecast chart for tomorrow.

We currently have a weak, 1009 MB, low-pressure system off of the central Oregon coast trying to move inland. There is a deepening low-pressure system off of SE Alaska which is riding the jet stream (500MB chart) towards the Pacific Northwest and will start to impact us Sunday night and into next week. Delivery skippers heading south may want to park the boat after the race. If you’re headed north and back to Vancouver, be prepared for some breeze. I’ll update this on Sunday.

Tidal Currents

Peapod Rocks

0538      Slack

0912      Max Flood            2.14 knts

1255      Slack

1515      Max Ebb                 1.66 knts

1950      Slack

Turn Point

1252      Slack

1537      Max Ebb                 1.38 knts

2011      Slack

For Saturday that weak low-pressure system will be gone and we’ll have a pair of weak high-pressure systems inland slowing the approach of that low from SE Alaska. In addition, we’ll have a weak low-pressure trough off our coast ahead of that approaching cold front. So what does that mean for racing? Be prepared for just about anything. Since most of the time, we race in windward-leeward format, the reaching equipment is usually buried in the gear locker. Get out those barber haulers, snatch blocks and reaching sheets and make sure they are readily available along with the drifter. Those crews that trim and change gears aggressively will be the winners. While the forecast may be for small craft advisories on both Saturday and Sunday, the timing of the breeze is very much in question. Also, the wind will be from the southeast however where it will be is still a very big question.

Click to enlarge image:

For the start expect light air, downwind conditions with the wind building slightly as you get north of Lawrence Point on Orcas. From Lawrence to Patos you will essentially be dead downwind so you’ll be watching the gybe angles and your SOG with the flood tide. Also be aware of the limiting marks found in the SI’s. The really interesting part of the race will be from Patos to Turn Point as the southeasterly is going to have a hard time getting over Orcas and back to touching down in Boundary Pass. After 1300 hours you’ll at least have the tide with you. This is where the models are very divergent as to when the steadier breeze might fill in. One model has Crossfire finishing at around 1300 hrs while another has them in around 1430 hrs.

Sunday will be quite a different story as that low gets closer to the race course. This shouldn’t be a gear busting thrash to Davidson Rock however you could see puffs to 20 knots from SE the closer you get to Davidson. Unfortunately, the problem may be the starting line and where the committee decides to set it. You may recall in 2015 that after a wild Saturday, the Sunday start was set in a real hole and a number of contenders were unable to even make the start line. Those that made it had a nice beat in a southeasterly after they got past Lime Kiln Point.

Tidal Currents Sunday

Haro Strait

0812      Slack

1036      Max Flood            1.61 knts

1315      Slack

1656      Max Ebb                 1.61 knts

2242      Slack

Rosario Strait

0900      Max Flood            1.5 knts

1300      Slack

1630      Max Ebb                 1.94 knts

2048      Slack

In addition to the challenge of getting away from the starting line, you’ll also be sailing into a building flood tide until you get past False Bay. Keep track of COG and SOG until you are solidly into the current that’s going your way. Ideally, you’d like to finish before 1300 hrs. The current GRIB files have Crossfire finishing just after noon. Think about starting with the headsail in the port groove so you’d hoist the next headsail while on starboard tack, then do a short hitch to port away from the Island to drop the old headsail.

Besides getting all the reach gear ready make sure safety comes first. Have a great weekend and if you’ve got AIS please leave it on for the race so I can armchair race along with you! Thanks

 

Bruce’s Round the County Delivery Brief

Seems like everyone not already up in the Islands, is going to leave on Friday, which should work just fine. Tides will not be great however what wind there is will be from the SE.

As you can see from the surface charts there is a weak low-pressure system off the coast that is moving to the SE with an attached frontal system. This will dissipate on Friday and will result in unstable conditions for the Race over the weekend.

For delivery on Friday, if you’re leaving from Seattle, expect 10-15 knots from the SE which will lighten to 5-10 from the SE by noon or about the time you’ll be crossing the Straits. If your mast is short enough you can go up the inside and through the Swinomish Slough, just be careful of the shallow spots in the Slough.

Tides at Bush Point

0606      Max Flood            2.76 knts

1118      Slack

1406      Max Ebb                 1.57 knts

1648      Slack

1918      Max Flood            1.35 knts

Tides at Rosario Straits

0430      Slack

0712      Max Flood            2.06 knts

1112      Slack

1430      Max Ebb                 1.44 knts

1824      Slack

1918      Max Flood            .25 knts

Preliminary Race forecast

Who can forget two years ago when we had a downwind start and Crossfire made it from the starting line to Alden Point in 45 minutes. It won’t be that good this year but it will be similar. Remember to follow the SI’s and report your time at the Alden Point because from Alden Point to the finish could get very light and flukey.

I’ll have more on Friday.

RTC Youth Sailing Challenge – Final Leg Starts Now!

RTC Youth Sailing Challenge – Final Leg Starts Now!

The Round the County Race was, in my opinion, already the best big boat race in the Northwest. Race organizers just made it even better. As part of this year’s race, there’s a fundraising program (and competition!) to benefit junior sailing in the region.

Longtime racer Bob Brunius is the driver behind the Youth Sailing Challenge. He’s seen what some support can do for junior sailing. As much as the Orcas Island YC would like to support youth sailing, there really needed to be a separate entity capable of receiving 501c3 tax deductible donations to provide meaningful support to youth sailing. “In our region we set up Sail Orcas, and were able to hired the very talented coach Hannah Tuson-Turner part time. That has really helped our program. Orcas’ girl’s team went to the championship in California and our team racing group went to the nationals. It’s really building, as is youth sailing in the Northwest.”

So, what about the Youth Challenge? Well, if you go to this link, you’ll find a short description, a link to donate (choosing the specific program – if any – to which you want to contribute and choosing under which boat you want to contribute). There’s also a link to “Challenge Standings.” Challenge Standings? Hey, why not make a race of it. It’s kinda like boats meeting on the water…..

Currently Wild Rumpus is leading, followed by Crazy Salsa and Brunius’ Time Bandit. Hey, a lot can change on the final leg of a race, and the gun doesn’t sound on this challenge until Sunday night at 2000 hrs.

Here’s the link to the program. Donate!

Kids LOVE Lasers

So, while you’re prepping for, sailing in or putting the boat to bed from RTC, think about the exciting and enthusiastic youth sailing that is emerging all over this region. They’re the RTC sailors of the future, Olympic representatives etc. If you haven’t seen the high school sailing scene lately, you’re missing out. It’s really exciting. Also, more funds means more access for a lot of young sailors who might not have the chance otherwise.

And don’t forget, Bruce Hedrick is going to come up with delivery and race weather outlooks for RTC over the next two days. Check back often.

And the Survey Says….

The response to the post and survey I put out there October 19 was excellent. Now it’s time to start doing something with the results!

It’s no surprise, you Northwest sailors LOVE sailboat racing. 250 of you took the saving handicapping racing survey, and over half (!) came through with additional written comments and suggestions. So, not only do you love it, you’re interested in getting more boats out there!

Blog posts obviously aren’t the solution. Ideas and action are.

But before any of this, listening is always a good idea. Reading through 24 pages of single-spaced comments may seem intimidating to Joe and Jill Racer want to do, but I think race organizers, handicappers and yacht club officials might find it interesting and a great well of ideas. Very well worth the read. There are some rambles, but there’s truth in those as well. (A glass of wine or a beer might help wash it all down. Not all of it will be easy to take for race officials and handicappers. As one commentator said at the end of his rant “I have more but my drink is empty now.” So it’s fair, if they’re drinking when writing, you can drink while reading.) I taken out names unless they have an official role (YC Commodore, owner of a business etc.) and in a couple places edited a little to keep us clear of personal attacks and on course for solutions.

Following are the survey results. No, they’re not rigorously scientific but some trends are certainly clear. Please share with your club or event organizers.

While the results and the comments are all here, if you have a Google account you can go over the results as Google presents them here. That provides better access to the precise survey data. Note that the comments pdf includes comments from the blog and emails I received, which are not on the survey.

In a subsequent post I’m going to come up with a hit list of actions (in light of this survey) that sailish.com can take, as well as yacht clubs, race organizers and racers.

Click on any image to enlarge.

As far as who took the survey, there was a bit of encouraging news. I was afraid it would all be “old folk,” but a full 40% of respondents were between 18-49. Sadly, but not surprisingly women made up only 12%. Most were skippers, most were very experienced and only 14% sailed dinghies. The audience was predominantly from the Central Sound, though we had input from all over, even out of the area. The big pie chart here is racer’s attitude toward the sport – i.e. whether or not it’s lack of participation is a big concern. The resounding answer was yes, to varying degrees, including a sizeable portion (12.7%) who feel “I love racing so much I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Here’s where we’re hopefully starting to get some valuable and surprising data. The usual suspects, cost and handicapping issues, were certainly there but perhaps not to the degree one might expect. Rules, physical demands and the seriousness of racing were all non-factors. The clearest message from this graphic, and one echoed in the comments, is that getting and maintaining a crew is a major issue. Not surprisingly, few people found something better to do than racing sailboats.

As we go into the meat of the survey by asking them what would get them on the water, clear trends seem to emerge. More casual events, a better handicapping system, more shorthanded classes, new courses, an organized season championship and better socializing arrangements are desired. Late afternoon/early evening racing on weekends intrigued a few people. (Several people commented that Sunday – instead of Saturday – racing would be better) There are a lot of racers who want to split the lightweight sport boats from the heavier boats. The graphic that really caught my eye is that many people wanted a more welcoming atmosphere.

The really good news with all of this is that the things people want are truly achievable. A more welcoming atmosphere, new courses and an organized season championship are all doable.

The handicapping issue? Well, that’s one of the things we’ll pick up in a future post.

Grand Prix Wraps up the Season with a Whisper

Grand Prix Wraps up the Season with a Whisper
Crossfire’s Race 1 Track

As Bruce Hedrick predicted, the best (and nearly only) Grand Prix races were on Friday. The Seattle Yacht Club race committee got off two good races, but didn’t find enough wind for racing Saturday and only one light affair on Sunday.

Crossfire’s Race 2 Track

That said, the racers enjoyed a dock postponement which was a chance for nap or catching up with old friends and foes. Some sailors just went around and enjoyed the fall sunshine while others enjoyed it on the water.

In the final ORC results, Glory corrected on Crossfire by a bit over a minute in the final race to get the victory. In the one design and PHRF classesMoose Unknown bested the usual suspects in the J/105 class and the Uno added another walkaway class win in Class 4.

Crossfire’s Race 3 Track

The J/80s finished with a three-way tie for first, which was broken in Jolly Green‘s favor. And Charlie Macaulay won the “big” PHRF class 2 with Absolutely. More on that in a minute.

Jarred Swalwell of the Aphrodite 101 Elixir wasn’t sure what to expect in Class 4 before the series began. As he explained it beforehand, “The SYC Grand Prix Class 4 is a real curiosity. Lined up by size, each boat is about half the displacement of the next including: a modern cruiser racer, the family man’s meter boat circa 1978, the very first ultralight, a sport boat, and a dinghy which I think weighs in at 948 lbs. Yikes.” Uno certainly answered those expectations, as she usually does. She won Sunday’s race by 42 minutes. That all said, Swalwell had a great time throughout the weekend, even when the race was cancelled:

Well, unfortunately Bruce was nearly spot on with the forecast this weekend. Friday turned out to be a bit more wind than predicted I think, maybe closer to the high end of 10 knots. We had two great races and given what happened with the rest of the weekend maybe should have gotten off a third. Saturday was a series of postponements with the RC making the calls from the CYC dock (or bar?). The wind picked up just a tiny bit after noon so we shoved off the dock to enjoy a spectacular day on the water, particularly for the end of October. We coasted out to the middle of the sound, then up past Meadow Point, and as the evening breeze filled in we sailed Elixir back into her guest slip at around 5:30. There were a few boats out there with us, but it seemed that the bulk of the GP participants missed out on an excellent, if a bit relaxing, day on the water despite there being no races. Sunday was definitely a trying day on the water with several tests of patience. After floating in the fog for a bit on postponement, the northerly seemed to start to fill and the RC called a distance race, which for most of us was up to Meadow Point then down around Blakely Rock and back. Classes 1-3 started on a fairly decent breeze that slowly eased as the rest of us started. If there were a few more tenths of a knot of current I don’t know that we would have made the Meadow Point Buoy. After that it felt like we were chasing the edges of puffs all the way down and back up until it completely shut down for a spell in front of a fog bank sitting just to the North of Shilshole.  Boats that had made it to the eastern shore early seemed to ride a shore breeze back up and did quite well… we were not among them. We got the gun as the last across (several other boats retired), but as consolation received compliments from the RC for the show we put on with spinnaker against the Olympics and a beautiful late fall PNW sunset. BTW, did the delivery back home to Edmonds this morning in perfect 7-12 knots of northerly breeze… of course.

Jarred’s wife and Elixir’s co-owner Megan Kogut echoed the positive vibes from the weekend. “I thought the Grand Prix weekend was great.” She also added that she wished the Race Committee would have given it a try later in the day on Saturday or at least come when there was enough wind to be play around in. She said “We got to the CYC clubhouse at sunset and no one who was racing that day was still there. I think the RC could have done more to create a sense of enjoyment of the day and community rather than encourage people to go to the bar at 2 pm. It was fun on Sunday in the fog with all of the boats waiting for the wind to kick up, and I would have liked more of that on Saturday.”

(Those of us who bolt home at the moment we can should maybe take note!)

Jarred and Kogut ended up with one notable feather in their caps, a third place, winning the tie-breaker with Vela Volta.

And then there was Charlie Macaulay and the smooth running Absolutely. Since acquiring the Farr 39, Macaulay has been racing a lot, and winning nearly as much. His happy crew notched another victory, this time over Ace and Wicked Wahine, which were only a point apart in second and third. Here’s Charlie:

It was a great weekend and we sailed pretty well (except for a few light air frustration calls by me on Sunday that, luckily, didn’t hurt us too bad).

I certainly have no great insight on what happened on the water. All I can do is restate that obvious that Friday afternoon was one of the great sailing days of the year.  Sun, breeze, relatively warm, and great competition.  What more could anyone ask for?

The great work the folks at SYC do to put this regatta together should be emphasized. The regatta chair, Regan Edwards, did a fabulous job putting everything together – even cooking pizzas at CYC on Saturday.  SYC really does this one right – and all those skippers and crew who didn’t come out missed a fabulous event! Hopefully, they’ll reconsider next year and enter the regatta and make it even better.

And if I hear anyone complain again about the high entry fee, I’m gonna lose it. There’s no better way to thank your crew for a great season of sailing than by sailing in this regatta and which also buys them all dinner and beer for two nights!

Now there’s a skipper who’s thinking about his crew! Congratulations to Charlie, Jarred and Megan, SYC and everyone who raced on Puget Sound through the summer and fall seasons.

Glory 

And to those of you wondering where the survey results are, they’re coming this week. 250 of you sailors took the survey and about half of you came up with original comments and ideas. They’re so fun to read and they show just how much we love racing. I’m going to go through them, clean them up and post them along with the survey results. I’m confident that this will be a springboard for discussion and ideas, hopefully increasing participation and making the sport better for everyone.

Bruce’s Briefs, 27, 28, & 29 October Plus Grand Prix Regatta

Bruce’s Briefs, 27, 28, & 29 October Plus Grand Prix Regatta

For a while this week it was looking like Grand Prix might, once again, be a total washout. Luckily, the weather changes and while Saturday looks pretty grim, today looks like the best breeze and Sunday might have some breeze by early to mid-afternoon. In other words, win all the races you can today as that may be all races you’re going to have.

There won’t be much tidal action this weekend so that’s good when the breeze is going to be light.

Friday 10-27

1048      Slack

1400      Max Ebb                 .39 knots

1706      Slack

1942      Max Flood            .52 knots

Saturday 10-28

0748      Max Flood            .98 knots

1142      Slack

1412      Max Ebb                 .37 knots

1754      Slack

2036      Max Flood            .53 knots

Sunday 10-29

0848      Max Flood            .91 knots

1236      Slack

1430      Max Ebb                 .33 knots

1842      Slack

2200      Max Flood            .60 knots

 

Looking at the surface charts you can’t help but notice the strong offshore flow coming from the 1034MB high-pressure system situated to the northeast of us. This is generating easterly winds through the Gorge, the mountain passes, and the Straits. In the central Sound, this will cause 5-10 knots of northerly with occasional shifts to the northeast. Tacticians will have fun with that today depending on where the RC sends you. The puffs will tend to be more northeasterly the more you are to the east side of the Sound and as the day goes on, there will be less wind over the entire area and especially on the east side of the Sound.

Saturday looks like a great day for powerboating with temperatures approaching 70° and 0 to 3 knots of breeze from all over the compass. The Husky game is early for once so we should all be back in time to watch that.

Right now Sunday looks like it could be very light in the morning with a weak northerly filling down the Sound by early to mid-afternoon. As you can see from the charts there simply won’t be much gradient over the area after today. Remember, however, that this could also result in a very nice thermally induced northerly, so keep your fingers crossed.

The chart for Tuesday, the 30th, is interesting just because of the monster low-pressure systems we have lurking out in the Pacific. Note the words “hurricane force” and “rapidly intensifying”, eventually one of those is going to find its way into our area.

Wear your sunblock, have fun and enjoy the weekend.

Survey and Big Race Week News!

Survey and Big Race Week News!

The response to last week’s handicap racing survey have come in very strong, despite the fact it looks like I messed up (checked the wrong box) and made it available only to those with gmail accounts. So, for those of you who pointed out the difficulties to me (and those who just haven’t gotten round it yet) please take the survey! And get all the Northwest racers you know to do so as well. Some yacht clubs are already clamoring for the info, and the more responses the more relevant the info will be.

So far, about 200 people have responded to the survey. More importantly, it has people talking in positive ways, both in the comments section of the survey and on the waterfront. The response, and ideas being generated, blow me away. We sure do love our sport. I’ll give it a couple more days, then publish all the results, everyone’s comments and some of my own thoughts.

In the meantime….. One very interesting comment along with big news (from the blog) came from Schelleen Rathkopf, who has made some exciting changes to Whidbey Island Race Week and is unafraid to make more! Here’s Schelleen:

Thank you for opening up this conversation. It’s a topic being kicked around at most yacht and sailing clubs around the country as racing numbers continue to decline. Many of us remember participating at Whidbey Island Race Week, PSSC and PSSR back in the day when there were always over 100 PHRF boats (with many new rookies in the mix). At Race Week, we’ve definitely seen a decline in PHRF and a rise in OD participation, but have remained steady around 60 boats for the past few years now, (despite efforts to build participation by enhancing the post-race experience and making the event more family friendly.)

What I think it comes down to is time and money: People only have so much vacation (and personal) time and there is significantly more demands on people’s discretionary incomes – especially in Seattle.

Race Weeks across the country are all but gone. Many that are still afloat and attracting new sailors have adopted a shorter format that includes weekend dates. This is why we have shifted Race Week to a 4-day race event for 2018 that will run Thursday through Sunday in an effort to make it easier for people to participate. In addition to shifting from 5 days of racing M-F to 4 days of racing Th-Su, here are some other features in store for Whidbey Island Race Week in 2018: 

1. In addition to PHRF and OD racing options, we’re introducing a NFS/Jam Performance Cruising Class for people who want just one casual distance race per day. We’re hoping this attracts our cruising friends and people new to racing who want to be a part of the Race Week experience.

2.  We’ll be presenting the First Annual Molly Kool Cup trophy that will be a perpetual overall award available only to women skippers. 

3. We’re inviting sailors to tell us what THEY want to do. If 6 or more boats commit and come to us with a fleet idea (ie: fleet championships, a double handed class, etc), we’ll work with our PRO and Race Committee to give the fleet their own start. 

So, we keep tweaking things in an effort to build participation and are hoping that some of the changes above bring new players to the sport. I’ll be really interested to see the results of your survey and appreciate all the great work you do to enhance the local sailing community.

–Schelleen Rathkopf, Whidbey Island Race Week

How Can We Save Handicap Racing in the Northwest? Take the Survey

How Can We Save Handicap Racing in the Northwest? Take the Survey

Several months ago I got a call from my friend Andy Schwenk. Andy rolls up his sleeves and spends a lot of time increasing racing participation from “within.” He’s active in Anacortes Yacht Club, the Santa Cruz 27 fleet and, much to the point, as Secretary/Treasurer for PHRF-NW. In the unlikely event you don’t know Andy, he makes his living rigging boats with his Northwest Rigging, so he’s got a vested interest in seeing the sport thrive.

But spend five minutes talking to him and you won’t doubt that it’s not all about business: He’s a true believer in the sport. Many “in the industry” are.

Andy’s concerned. “How can we get more PHRF participation?” he asked. As PHRF treasurer, he was concerned because the number of rated boats has been waning dramatically and has been for a long time. More importantly, the number of sailboats actually leaving the dock to race around here has been nosediving.

Is there a problem?

Yes. If you doubt that, take a look at this past spring’s PSSR (CYC Seattle) registration list. Fifty boats. Twenty eight were in one-design classes, leaving 22 racing PHRF. All that positive spin in the world is not going to change that. PSSC a couple weeks ago had better one-design participation, but two of the handicap classes were three boats each, and one of the other two classes had a rating spread of 126 seconds/mile!

To those of you who have come to sailboat racing lately (bless you by the way), you may be wondering what’s the big deal. There are boats out there, clubs are finding ways to get races off and people are having a good time. But for those of us looking through the rose-tinted and somewhat smoky glasses of the 1970s and 80s, what we see out there now is a shell of what was. Yes, I know that was 40 years ago. But even 20 years ago we’d see ~130 boats.

We old-timers KNOW it’s just a lot more fun with more boats. And more boats also means the sport is sustainable.

Compare the Blakely Rock Races of the late 1970s with todays’. Imagine 300+ boats instead of 60. Imagine re-measuring and re-rating right up until the night before the race. At the beginning of the season, new boats would be on hand in nearly every class, every year. Imagine the number of crew involved as the benefits of stacking the rail became apparent as the boats became lighter.

It was energized.

To many in those days, racing was everything. Now it’s something people squeeze in between hundreds of other obligations. Scaring up even a bare bones crew is often a steep challenge.

And when clubs around the country are desperately trying to maintain solvency, and PHRF certificates drop in numbers, it IS a problem.

Are there positive signs?

You bet there are positive signs.

First of all, handicap is not dead elsewhere. In England, the Fastnet registration limit was reached in a matter of minutes. The Chicago-Mackinac race has about 330 boats, most of which race handicap. Racing is still cool for a lot of people. In our own area the biggest handicap events are races like Round the County, Race to the Straits and Blakely Rock Benefit. Swiftsure still has a healthy entry list but it’s been declining markedly. Southern Straits seems to be holding its numbers.

The ORC racing is a really bright spot. Several years ago many owners in the Puget Sound Big Boat Fleet took serious issue with changes in the PHRF-NW handicaps, and decided to institute the IRC rule at the top end of the fleet. This worked for a while, but not completely. In the meantime the ORC rule was taking root in Vancouver. In the end, the IRC fleet has embraced ORC. This has been cause for great celebration. Racers from both sides of the border can now race against each other without having to deal with any PHRF-NW vs PHRF-BC differences and politics. Moreover, as a measurement system used worldwide, there are no local influences that can be perceived as prejudicial.

At the casual end of the spectrum, one positive sign is the rise of fun races. Obviously, Seattle’s Duck Dodge is the original and greatest fun race, but there are others. Elliott Bay Marina’s Downtown Sailing Series provides nearly 100 crews with free racing, hot dogs and beer. At Charleston they had two “pursuit” classes, where I assume handicaps were figured in the starting times, and only one race per day was sailed.

But there are others that aren’t too casual or too serious. Sloop Tavern YC’s Race to the Straits and Blakely Rock Benefit Regatta are well attended but for many sailors are more about participation than competition. If you turn up with a headsail that would be better utilized as a tent, you don’t feel like you’re out of place. You’re out there and everybody is happy to see you out there.

Finally, the increasing activity in some one-design fleets like the J/105s, Santa Cruz 27s et. al., shows there’s still interest in keelboat racing.

Better Racing, Better Boats and Oldies but Goodies

The quality of racing, both handicap and one-design, has improved at the top end of sport. Certainly the level of proficiency in a national J/70 regatta is huge. If you look at the serious big boat programs nationally and internationally, the degree of professionalism is amazing. Pro level sailors are paid well, and as some have pointed out to me, well worth it when amateurs might not have the chops to sail the new high-powered beasts or even stay safe.

There’s a rise in adventure races, the most prominent being the R2AK. While not exactly adventure races, the Van Isle 360 and Round the County are nothing like out-and-back or windward-leewards. On the international scene, the Golden Globe Race next year will feature 30 sailors in small, full-keel throwback boats racing non-stop around the world.

Another positive sign is the boats themselves. At that high-octane end of the spectrum, the race boats are ridiculously cool. The TP 52s are really great boats. Just watch Smoke , Glory, Kinetic and Mist (nee Valkyrie) speed past. And take the Fast 40 sportboats that haven’t quite made it to the Northwest like the Melges 40, Carkeek 40 etc.

It seems a shame that there aren’t more modern cruiser racers out there. Really good dual purpose boats have been coming out the last couple of decades. J/Boats has the formula pretty well figured out for a boat that can both race and cruise, but so do several European builders like Beneteau, Wauquiez, X-Yachts and Dehler, to name a few. There are plenty of really nice options out there with both more comfort and more speed than was possible a couple of decades ago.

And used boats? Oh my. There are so many good used boats out there that are comfy and competitive it can boggle the mind. And with some sweat equity or cash infusion they could become absolute queens.

Around the world there’s a lot of enthusiasm still for the classics. Around here the 6-meters have a nice pocket of activity, while internationally the J/Class is back in force. 12-Meters are still some of the most beautiful creatures on the water and several lead active and pampered lives on the east coast. And, in what has to be the weirdest trend, in Europe the old IOR quarter-tonners and half-tonners are getting complete overhauls and optimizations costing many times their initial cost and being raced very actively and competitively.

Let’s Change the Culture

So, there ARE positive signs. But the fact remains not enough boats are racing handicap in the Northwest. Will writing about it help? I don’t know. Ignoring the obvious and putting positive spin on everything isn’t helping. Jumping into online forums in places like Sailing Anarchy can be very interesting and informative, but I’m not sure they move us toward solutions. 

I have some ideas about what’s wrong, and I’m sure you have even better ideas, which is why I’ve put together a little survey to see what you think are the problems. It’s not controlled or scientific, but hopefully it can provide some insight which I’ll share with the yacht clubs and race organizers. If you have something more to contribute than a few sentences, email me about presenting them as a separate post.

Click Here to take the Survey.

I’ve tried to make it quick and easy, yet cover the big stuff. A couple of notes – there is a big PHRF meeting this Sunday and Andy was hoping to get some preliminary numbers from this survey to initiate discussion at the meeting. So sending it before Sunday would be helpful to him – I’ll get those numbers to him. Also, please forward this post or the survey link to the racers you know, even the ones that don’t race anymore. (We want to get them back in the fold, right?)

Also, I’ve set up a sailish.com forum to talk about these things as the relate specifically to the Northwest. There’s a signup process that I hope isn’t too burdensome.

Cruiser-racer handicap sailboat racing is one of the coolest things we can do. It gets us outside. We can play on a team with folks of the opposite gender. We can include our kids a lot of the time. We can challenge ourselves mentally and physically on an ever-changing playing field. It allows us to use an older boat that might otherwise be just growing a furry bottom.

It’s a shame more people aren’t racing. Let’s see if we can change that in the Northwest.