58 boats made it out on the race course for this year’s Kick-Off race, a race many see as the first race of the season in the Puget Sound area, and in the now balmy conditions, well above the forecast 24 degrees, easily pushing almost up to 29 (that’s not Celsius...) and with winds out of the NE at 10-12 kts the crews dug around in their bags for their sunglasses and left that last layer, the 7th or 8th, in their bags. Without a cloud in the sky some even searched in vain for the sunscreen they had long ago put into winter storage. Things were “windy and warm!” says Stephanie Schwenk, sailing aboard Nimbus. “Warm-ish, wearing 7 layers but I am warm!” But not everyone was as well dressed as that smart girl Stephanie . . . according to Patrick Gibbs “Winter Vashon - Spanish for ‘I can’t feel my toes!’” Considering the only 9 hours of sunlight this time of year up at the 48th parallel, the first two cruising classes got off the line early at 8:30am followed by the racing classes at 9:00am hoping that the wind forecast was wrong and that the fleet might finish the 30 odd mile course before sunset (4:30pm).
Off they went through the reaching start line onto a tight jib reach through Dalco Passage, trying to cut the corner at Neill Point close enough to sail the shortest distance but not so close that they find a wind hole under the bluff. Some took the longer route outside in better breeze but a few boats played the gamble well and got just the right puff at just the right time to make it through close to the point and off they went up Colvos Passage. The puffy winds rolled over the Island from the NE giving an opportunity for the higher boats to sail close hauled almost straight up Colvos Passage.
None did this better than the J/160 JAM. John McPhail’s big blue machine charged up the middle of Colvos with their small jib up, plowing through the miles sailing higher and faster than all of their competition. The small jib became the trick here, some of the boats started with their small jibs, initially falling back from the boats with genoas at the start, now came into their own as the winds piped up over 20 knots and took a smart advantage over the boats making tough sail changes in cold windy conditions in the narrow confines of Colvos Passage.
The winds settled down and shifted a bit Northerly as the fleet entered the East Passage for the long run back to Tacoma Yacht Club. This is when crews began to worry as the forecast for the afternoon included diminishing breeze, eventually dying by night fall. The fleet tactics split in the East Passage with many of the A-sail boats pushing East towards Des Moines and some of the Sym boats sailing low along Vashon hoping for some positive current and sailing the shorter course. Dan Wierman’s J/35 GREAT WHITE, after sailing an amazing weather leg, led his class low along Vashon, rounding Point Robinson tight and continued close along Maury Island but in the end didn’t have enough of a lead to stave off the advances of the quick J/109 TANTIVY and the waterline speed of the G&S 1 ton Absolutely as the three finished within a minute of each other after the long 30 mile course.
But - the winds held, and not only for the monster truck class that rolled across the line just over 3 hours after they started but for the slowest rated boats in the fleet as they rolled across the line just as the sun was setting off their bows behind the Olympics. An epic Winter Vashon race, and a beautiful kick off for the new and full year long season of PNW sailing. Not without its carnage on the race course, this year’s event also brought the demise of a well loved and avidly raced Olson 30 Lunch Box. When hoisting in for the event their hoisting gear on the boat failed as the boat was being swung out over the water. She dropped into the bay from up in the air but she wasn’t in deep enough water yet and her keel found the bottom compressing it up into the hull, cracking her right down the middle from keel to rudder. A very sad moment for one of the best Olson 30’s out there.
The fast boat Class 2 was dominated by the J/160 JAM, owned by John McPail. Correcting almost 5 minutes in front of the quick Custom 40 Madrona sailed by the famous Buchan family (Carl steering) with the Ker 46 New Haven just a few seconds back in third. The J/133 CONSTELLATION sailed by Ron Holbrook took fifth in class.
Battling to the end, Class 4 was deservingly won by the J/109 TANTIVY owned by Stuart Brunell, a class dominated by J/35s and the 109. Not giving up and settling in ‘til after they crossed the finish line TANTIVY got ahead on the second half of the race just far enough on her competition to correct into first, followed by Absolutely just seconds back and then J/35 GREAT WHITE in third. Rounding out the top five were the J/35s SOMETHING SPECIAL driven by Glenn & Joanna Cowling and MELANGE sailed by Jerry McKay, finishing 4th and 5th, respectively.
Class 5 was easily won by the nimble and quick little “Dos”, owned by Brad Butler. Over 10 minutes back in 2nd was the J/105 DULCINEA sailed by Matthew Gardner-Brown.
Class 6 was stolen by the smallest boat in the class, the beautifully rebuilt J/27 RICOCHET owned by Dennis Clark. RICOCHET sailed an amazing race able to stay in touch with some larger and very fast upwind boats, rocket downwind and finish abeam of a J/29 to correct into first in class by almost 4 minutes over the always well sailed Santa Cruz 33 Muffin and another 4 minutes over Madame Pele back in third. Taking fourth in class was Mayfield & Nelson’s J/29 SLICK.
The “Commodores Flying Sails Cruising” class, was cruised away with by the J/35c WILDFLOWER, owned by Tom Mitchell (note- the required “gas cooker” covered in blue on the stern pulpit!). Correcting almost 15 minutes behind them in second was the beautiful Cal 40 White Squall, with the big Steamy Windows another 10 minutes back in third. Huge “thanks” for the contribution from Ben Braden at Sailboats Northwest in Seattle, WA! Sailing photo credits- Jan Anderson/ Janpix.smugmug.com Full sailing results can be found at the Tacoma Yacht Club website