Friday, November 20, 2015

Fresh & Frosty Seattle Round County Race!

(Friday Harbor, Washington)- There were 114 entries for the 28th running of the Round the County race, hosted by the Orcas Island Yacht Club and Friday Harbor Sailing Association.  That was a record number for the beginning of winter race around some of the most stellar cruising grounds the world has to offer; racing took place over last weekend.

Two days of racing, under 35 miles each day, with an overnight in the amazing accommodations of Roche Harbor Resort.  To get there the fleet sails through conditions ranging from protected channels behind islands with tremendous adverse currents to wide-open straits that can bring everything that good Pacific Northwest winter sailing can offer.  Here are two reports fresh after some barbecue, brats and beer- one from Ben Braden from Sail Northwest and the other from a J/145 DOUBLE TAKE crew- Andy Cross.

J/105 sailing Seattle Round County raceBen Braden report
“An old, wise (and possibly slightly inebriated) sailor once mumbled out of the side of his mouth the classic phrase – ‘If the wind speed is approaching the temperature it may not be the best time to head out for a sail.’

Temperatures hovered around 44 degrees as the fleet zipped up their lifejackets, fired up their motors and snuck out of the harbor under the morning darkness Saturday, November 7th. The forecasted gale warning had been extended into the early afternoon and with the darkness giving way to that wonderful Pacific Northwest fall twilight, the fleet converged quickly on the starting area off Lydia Shoal in the Rosario Strait for the 8:35am starting gun.

Winds weren’t into gale force yet as the first 3 classes reached off the downwind starting line, but with the winds out of the Southeast and rushing over the islands the wind quickly built up as the boats worked northward down the course through everyone’s favorite little rock islands (the Peapods). Most all the boats in the first start left the Peapods to port, all except Bob Brunius’ J/120 TIME BANDIT slamming the hammer down with their chute up and pulling hard towards the Orcas.  They struggled up around the headland at Orcas with a bit of flogging and round-ups but as soon as they could put their bow down they were lit up! That big J/120 was launched and kept the throttle down all the way around the course, correcting into the Overall 1st place PHRF finish for Saturday. For the rest of the fleet the chutes began popping up as the J/120 turned down around Orcas Island and everyone had room to run out under spinnaker – that is when the real fun began for those that put up their colorful sails.

The winds began pushing over 30 near Clark Island, the waves built up with the current and as sterns lifted at just the wrong moment or at just the wrong angle the wipeouts began.  Some of the bigger boats ended up flying pendants off their mast tops that looked distinctly like the top few feet of their spinnakers and the real big monster trucks, those flashy boats in the IRC fleet motored through the fleet with their A4’s pulling rock hard and their helmsmen with eyes as wide as their leg stance, 25 knots of boat speed was a common number laughed about after the race.

The entire fleet was around the halfway mark on Patos Island well before the clock struck noon. Chutes down, reefs in and small jibs pulling everyone West through Boundry Pass on a long port tack tight jib reaches that never seemed to end. Reefing in breeze always is a risky bet, but a necessary maneuver.  Some boats didn’t and paid with broken booms or bodies tossed accidentally overboard (everyone retrieved comfortably and a bit wet, I might add).

The fast boats made quick work of Saturday’s race and were able to make the turn at Stuart and finish under strong winds in just under 3 hours from Lydia Shoals around Patos Island to Roche Harbor. For the slower boats, the gale warning ending at 1pm was more serious than they realized. It not only ended, but mainsail reefs were quickly shook out at Turn Point, then Genoas were hoisted minutes later and the back of the pack settled in for the long slow upwind sail against the current for the last few miles with the finish in sight! How aggravating.  The last boats were able to cross the line just after 3pm, and that was it, the wind was done and a handful of boats were left on course side and motoring in to harbor after such a windy day!  Just our typical PNW craziness with such fast moving frontal systems peeling off the chilly Gulf of Alaska.

Sunday’s post frontal forecast didn’t look good, light winds and drizzly rain, but as the fleet gathered once again off Snug Harbor for the start – there was actually wind out in Haro Strait! But, getting to it proved to be the demise of almost a third of the fleet – yes, fully one-third of the fleet. The pin end was obviously favored to the course and closer to the wind but with the current pushing the fleet at an angle back and away from the pin it wasn’t the place to be as the start gun went off. Only a third of the boats in the first start made it across the line – just 19 boats in start 1 did not get swept back away from the line in the current and made it out into the wind in Haro Strait. Ultimately, over 34 boats did not get to start on day two of Round the County, turning tail and motoring home after the 30 minute start time grace period ran out.

For those that made it out into the wind they found a very pleasant mid-genoa range southerly wind that made for one seriously long port tack lift as the winds continuously clocked around to the southeast and ultimately easterly as the day went on.

Once into Rosario Strait boats were able to crack sheets a little on the easterly breeze, a few code zeros came out early but it wasn’t until almost Cypress Island before spinnakers came out on the central group in the fleet. But, that didn’t last long- - while the sun lowered to the west and the rainbows came out to the east the winds began their normal fickleness for the finish placed way back in under the big bluffs of the islands and the majority of the boats still trying to finish jumped from puff to puff trying desperately to make headway on that last mile to finish. Every once in a while a random wind lane would develop and a couple boats would shoot out and cross the finish. Not everyone made that last few yards to the finish and with darkness falling and the time limit running out it was time to throw in the towel and motor back to port.”

J/145 Double Take sailing Seattle's Round County RegattaAndy Cross report from the J/145 DOUBLE TAKE
“As I walked through Cape Sante Marina in Anacortes early on Saturday morning, halyards slapped in a chaotic harmony and a steady rain tested my foulies. Those conditions would prevail throughout the morning and into the early afternoon for leg one of Round the County 2015. And when the wind finally subsided, a different challenge awaited the wind-worn crews from the 115-boat strong fleet during leg two on Sunday — start and use every ounce of wind you can find to get to the finish.

Like the name suggests, Round the County is a 76-mile race around San Juan County over the course of two days, with a stop in Roche Harbor on Saturday night. The course around the San Juan Islands alternates between clockwise and counterclockwise, and 2015 was a counterclockwise year. Put on by the Orcas Island Yacht Club and the Friday Harbor Sailing Club, Round the County has become an immensely popular event for Northwest sailors and this 28th edition was a good one.

A strong southeasterly wind whipped Rosario Strait into a frenzy as racers descended on the start line at Lydia Shoal, just east of Obstruction Pass on Saturday morning. The Race Committee was diligent in getting three starts and eight divisions off between 0840 and 0907 to send all the competitors northward in a breeze that crews reported seeing top out in the upper 30s.

Aboard the J/145 Double Take, we started nearest Lydia Shoal buoy and took off in leaps and bounds under our blue and white number four spinnaker. The big boys, including the TP 52s Smoke, Glory, Valkyrie and the Reichel/Pugh 55 Crossfire, rocketed northward like they had been shot out of a cannon and many boats reported setting new personal speed records during the first half of this leg.

The wind and seas seemed to kick up with vigor as we left Clark, Matia and Sucia islands to port and wipeouts were seen throughout the fleet with a few spinnakers blowing up in the process. In this same stretch, the five sailors aboard the catamaran Dragonfly pitchpoled and were all plucked out of the cold water. It was an ominous looking scene to pass by the overturned cat and we were glad to learn that everyone was ok and that the boat has been righted. Also, kudos to the boats that stopped to assist.

We had a few hairy moments of our own aboard Double Take, but kept the boat largely in control while topping out at nearly 18-knots of boatspeed. A big change awaited as we rounded Patos Island and sailed a close reach towards Turn Point on Stuart Island to the west. The wind was still up and a steady rain fell, soaking foul weather gear and creating some truly cold sailing conditions. It didn’t matter, we were sailing fast and having a great time.

After rounding the lighthouse at Turn Point, it was a beat to the finish just outside of Roche Harbor. The wind finally seemed to lighten up a bit here and we passed a few boats while completing this final stretch of the race. Overall, Saturday was a heck of a lot of fun in the big breeze. Sunday would be a different story, though.

The second leg started just outside of Mosquito Pass south of Henry Island and a light to nonexistent wind awaited the fleet. Boats from the first two starts struggle to get past the line and just enough wind filled in for the third start boats to get out and move southward. The boats that were close to San Juan Island only got to move so far, though, as a large windless whole greeted them just north of Lime Kiln Point. We sat for what seemed like hours and watched the boats ahead and to the west of us leg it out in the last of that breeze. With limp sails and an adverse current, frustration mounted for boats stuck in this position, but the wind eventually trickled in from the southeast.

When the breeze did arrive it built to a stead 6 to 10 knots and we took off. Double Take sails upwind well in those conditions and we did decent against the competition that had lagged with us in the windless zone. The boats who were able to make it out ahead proved hard to catch for the rest of the day as the fleet worked its way around San Juan Island, past Salmon Bank near Cattle Pass and then past the bottom of Lopez Island. Others were not so lucky; many first and second start boats were forced to retire as they couldn’t quite pull themselves out of the hole, and when and if they did, it would have been difficult to finish before the time limit expired. Such is life in a sailboat race.

As we moved around the bottom of Lopez, we could see that another transition was going to take place farther up Rosario Strait. It looked as though a reach was going to turn into a beat and that is exactly what happened just north of James Island. Holes in the wind appeared as it moved forward on the bow, but we were able to claw our way through and pass a few boats in the process. By the time we reached Blakely Island and neared the finish line, the wind had filled in out of the north for us and we covered the last few miles in short order to complete leg two alongside the well sailed Evelyn 32-2 Poke & Destroy.

In the end, Round the County 2015 was a challenge in contrasts — big breeze on leg one and little to no breeze on leg two. That’s all part of the fun of racing, as each set of conditions presented unique tests for the competitors. A great time was had by all aboard Double Take, and we look forward to battling clockwise around the islands with everyone in the 29th edition next November.”  Thanks to blog for Andy’s report.

Overall, the J crews faired well in the demanding conditions.  In fact, it’s the highly variable weather that throws in reaching, running, beating and all types of different wind/ current scenarios that favor good all around boats (provided of course they go the right direction most of the time!).  In the IRC Division it was rough going for J/Teams this year, with the J/145 DOUBLE TAKE (Huseby & Baker) placing 7th for the weekend followed immediately by two stablemates, the J/160 JAM (Tom Mcphail/ Fox) in 8th position and the J/145 JEDI (John Tenneson) in 9th place.

In PHRF 0 Class, the J/122 JOYRIDE (Murkowski & Miller) sailed a solid series and took 4th place overall.

The PHRF 1 Class was simply dominated by J/Teams, especially Bob Brunius’ J/120 TIME BANDIT!  Winning the class by a landslide by their virtuoso performance on Saturday.  Third was Picco’s J/120 WILD BLUE and 7th was Hansen’s J/109 MOJO.

PHRF 2 was a battle of vintage 35-36 footers from the J/Design team.  Leading the way home for the four teams was the Haflinger’s J/35 SHEARWATER in 4th place, then Dougherty & Andrews’ J/36 MONKEYBONES in 5th place, then two J/35s in a row- Butler’s INTREPID and Meagher & Vanderveen’s SUNSHINE GIRL- 6th and 7th, respectively.

Continuing their overall excellent performance all season long has been Jim Geros’ J/105 LAST TANGO, sailing a solid race Saturday and escaping on Sunday to be able to place 3rd overall in PHRF 3 Class.

Finally, in PHRF 4 the three J/Teams all finished as a group. Scott Ellis’ J/92 HIJINKS took 4th with Bottles J/30 CELEBRATION in 5th place and the Denney & Denney duo on their J/29 HERE & NOW in 6th position. Sailing photo credits- Sean Trew and Jan Anderson  For more Seattle Round County sailing information