Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vashon Island- “Hippie” Drag-Racing in Seattle!?

J/122E and J/160 sailing Vashon Island race(Vashon Island, WA)- Ahh Winter Vashon – lovingly sitting at the forefront of sailors minds as they think longingly all year long about this balmy jaunt around the last stronghold of “hippiedom” in the Pacific Northwest- Vashon Island.  At just over 30 miles, it’s an easy 6 hour sail with those consistent south sound winds the area is known for and with our 8 hours of light this time of year finishing in daylight is even a possibility!  Right?  Well it was this year!  Here is the report from SAIL Northwest’s Ben Braden:

“Sailors began arriving into the super-fund cleanup site, previously known as Tacoma Yacht Club, soon after sunlight began filtering through the cloud layers, increasing everyone’s sight noticeably, well everyone except the delivery crews that arrived late Friday night under the veil of darkness that needed to be kicked out of their bunks and told to clean themselves up and try to smell a little better, but that’s another story.  For those of you that haven’t been down to TYC recently its now a huge clean-up/construction site complete with every kind of large piece of equipment, gravel and construction mud are the new parking lot surfaces along with some new rock outcroppings both in the entrance of the marina and outside near the starting area that grabbed ahold of at least 2 different boats (watch out for that).

Winds were forecast in the normal south sound 6 to 11 range but as the cruising classes started down the course at just after 9am it quickly became apparent that the fore-guessers were wrong once again; but for the first time since man learned to cure cod with lye they had under-guessed the wind speeds!  The waiting boats watched as the cruising class boats began rounding-up in the puffs while reaching across the south end of Vashon towards Colvos Passage with a few chutes opening up in the middle to help de-power the rounding up boats. Not good, but lovely for sailmakers!

Not deterred by the out of control behavior of some of the cruising class boats the rest of the fleet began crossing the line as their class start horns blared away with chutes pulling hard. The bigger faster boats had their fun, too, as the puffs continued to build over 20 knots and took their toll on a few more boats.

Once around the point, and into Colvos passage, the drag race was on. The J/160 JAM barreled her way through the slower boats that started well ahead of them.  Even though the wind was behind the fleet, the excitement wasn’t over yet as the sailors were treated to views of a few keels and nice shot of the bottom of a 30 footer before sailing past the north end of Vashon Island, the turning mark in sight.

A full mix of boats came charging into the anchored turning boat just north of Vashon island and to make things even more interesting, and unbeknownst to almost everyone in the PNW, shrimping season was open and in full effect when the big J/133 were seen slowly and painfully grinding their spinnakers back aboard after dunking them in the water looking for those tasty little buggers, I’m sure!!  Small jibs pulled in tight, crews on the rail, it was time for the starboard tack drag race all the way down the island to the light house on Point Robinson – all the way on starboard tack with boats footing or pinching for clear wind lanes and mainsail trimmers praying for just one tack after the point so they could switch to their other hand.

The winds stayed consistent in the 12 to 16 knot range on the drag race to the light house and once around the point it even backed down into the 9 knot range causing many to peal down to their big jibs, warming their crews and testing their abilities – if the sail change was done smoothly boats made huge gains on their competition. With gear or crew problems boats were left bareheaded for a short time as the J/109 TANTIVY got to experience.  Then, less than 20 minutes later, the winds were back over 20 knots and those happy crews got to pull that little jib out of the always too small foredeck hatch and make that change all over again for the windy final stretch into the finish off the Tacoma Yacht Club clubhouse grounds.

Boats from out of the area did the quick touch and go’s, folding some sails, discarding some of their crews and throwing their dodgers back on before heading back out into the dwindling sunlight and building breeze for the trek back up to Shilshole that many in the fleet were making that night.  Boats reported winds up to and over 30 knots as they set record speeds on their deliveries from Tacoma to Seattle with at least one blown up spinnaker and broken pole.”

J/crews, in general, faired pretty well in the randomness of Pacific NW weather conditions.  Endlessly entertaining, always challenging!  In the world of big boats in PHRF 2 Class, the top J/Jockey was John Murkowski’s gorgeous navy blue/teak-decked J/122E JOY RIDE taking 2nd in class.  They were followed by one of PNW’s most famous offshore boats, John McPhail’s J/160 JAM, happily taking a 3rd in the freaky conditions.  Despite their new “shrimping” technique, Ron Holbrook’s J/133 CONSTELLATION placed 5th in class.

It was tough going in PHRF 3 Class, hanging on by a thread for an uncharacteristic 6th place was the J/109 TANTIVY skippered by Stu Burnell.

The PHRF 4 Class was all J/35’s.  A boat that is still going strong and just killing it in PHRF events nationwide, if not in IRC/ ORR/ ORC rated events around the world.  After all, it still is the “classic” rating standard for many of those handicap rules!  Winning class was Glenn & Joanna Cowling’s SOMETHING SPECIAL.  They were followed by Dan Wierman’s GREAT WHITE in 2nd, Jerry & Chona McKay’s MELANGE in 3rd, Jason Vannice’s ALTAIR in 4th and Karl Haflinger’s SHEARWATER in 5th.

PHRF 5 Class was a massive battle for the overall leadership, pretty much defined by the “wind/ current gates” as described above.  In the end, Matt Gardner-Brown’s J/105 DULCINEA took 2nd against all odds; recognizing that race conditions were aligned against them. Despite having a number of opportunities to hop into “the chocolates”, Christine Nelson & Eric Johnson’s J/29 SLICK took a 7th in class.

The Commodore-FS Class is “cruising world” and is greatly enjoyed by its laid-back participants.  In the end, it’s not known which is the higher priority, “hot rum cinnamon cider” on the weather rail or simply something HOT, period, like tea or hot chocolate!  Appropriately enough, it was Bill Harter’s J/37C MERRY MAKER that took top honors for J/crews, finishing 4th in class.  They were followed by Tim Cleary’s J/35 JUMPIN JACK in 6th and Ed Pinkham’s J/109 JEOPARDY in 7th.  Good times were had by all!!

Thanks  for contribution from Ben Braden from Sail Northwest- who is best known in the Pacific Northwest for his unique racing style: winning races with a BBQ on the transom!  Jan Anderson’s beautiful pictures of deranged sailors that think sailing around Vashon Island in December is a good idea can be found here.   For South Sound Sailing Society’s Vashon Island Race sailing information