Monday, May 12, 2014

Windy Race To The Straits Regatta!

J/35 sailing Vallejo RaceJ Teams Excel in Blustery Weekend Sailing
(Seattle, WA)- The event chair, Ashley Bell, along with the many volunteers, did an outstanding job this year. Definitely one of the best run Race to the Straits ever according to one of the sailors participating in the race.  Ashley is also the current Vice Commodore of Sloop Tavern Yacht Club (the host of the event); the force behind bringing the Pink Boat Regatta to Seattle last year raising around $50,000 for breast cancer research; she’s Founder of the non-profit charity "Sound Contribution" that will run the Pink Boat Regatta in Seattle and Bellingham this year and other sailing related benefits in the future; and she’s a scientist by day!

What is Sloop Tavern YC?  Well, to clear up a common misconception, the club was founded by a group of Sloop Tavern regulars over 30 years ago. The Sloop Tavern Yacht Club is not affiliated with the Sloop Tavern in Ballard. Although the owners and employees of the tavern have nothing to do with the yacht club, they graciously provide room for a trophy case, event space, and so forth.  It also happens to be just a great place to meet other sailors and have huge "sloop size" beers!

In past years, the STYC Race 2 The Straits has seen its fair share of next to no wind and ripping currents.  This year that was definitely not the case, with real, honest-to-goodness “fresh to frightening” weather conditions for the weekend.  For many, it was a refreshing break from past traditions of drifting around.  As one sailor observed, “based on trips up and down Admiralty Inlet the last two weekends, the actual currents are not exactly obeying what the books and apps are saying they should be doing.  Last weekend there was a 2+ knot differential predicted flood and actual current, with the ebb running more than an hour past "slack water" prediction.  Plus, two PredictWind models are currently calling for 10-25 both days. Look for a change in the current NOAA forecast, NOAA is showing 10-15 both days, Sailflow is lighter, and PredictWind is showing 15-20+ both days!”

This was the weather report from Bruce Hedrick @ Northwest Yachting:  “Once again it appears the gods are smiling on the Sloop as not only is there a record turnout of 122 boats, it appears that the wind may co-operate as well. Regardless, the RTTS is always a hoot because as they say, “What happens in PT stays in PT!”

Anytime you race through Admiralty Inlet it’s a challenge because of the micro-weather systems that can be spawned in the lee of the Olympics including the infamous convergent zone. Not that we’re likely to see the CZ this weekend it is still probably valuable to divide the Race into three segments: 1. Start to Double Bluff, 2. DB to Marrowstone Light, 3. Marrowstone Light to the finish at PT. The reason is that each of these segments has unique geographic features that in combination with their proximity to major bodies of water (Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca can have profound effects on the wind, especially in times of frontal passage. This becomes even more challenging as we go through the transition from winter to spring or fall to winter. Then there’s the tidal current in Admiralty Inlet…

Just about perfect for Saturday, not so much on Sunday but that’s always the case. Calculations are for Admiralty Inlet off of Bush Pt.  We had gorgeous weather this week now it’s time to pay the piper. We are now under the influence of a very weak 997mb low off the coast that is weakening as it moves onshore. The good news is that it is moving slowly which will keep the wind out of the south all weekend. It’s a little early to call this however with a weak frontal passage over Saturday night and Sunday morning, the wind south of Pt No Pt and Kingston will tend to have a southwest shift to it. Combine that with the fact that the flood starts first on the west side of the Sound and should tell you which side to work on Sunday as you beat your way to the finish.”

Hedrick also offered some insight on appropriate tactics for the sailors: “With so many boats spread out over such a long starting period this will be a very general discussion. The best part is that with the reverse start there will be all kinds of wind velocity indicators all over the course. Sure it’s a short handed race however you really have to keep your head out of the boat and watch what’s going on around you especially on the leg from DB to Marrowstone Light.

From the start at Shilshole it will be a rhumbline run to Double Bluff, with there tending to be more wind and tide to the west particularly as you get north of Jeff Head. The Double Bluff Buoy can be a challenge particularly as you get closer to it and if there has been any clearing or thinning of the cloud cover the wind will lift off of this cliff-faced bluff as the land on top of the Bluff heats up. With the big ebb of the day, the velocity of the ebb will increase as you get closer to the buoy and in combination with the wind velocity dropping if you haven’t put enough in the bank sometimes getting around the buoy can be a challenge. Remember also that this is not one of those “soft” race course marks. Once you clear Double Bluff use as much of the ebb as you can and sail straight to Marrowstone Light. If you’re not going to make Marrowstone Light in the ebb, you need to at least get over to that side of the course. Even though the flood starts first on that side, there is also a back eddy that runs counter to the flood from the about the mid-point of the island all the way up to the lighthouse. You have to be right on the beach, waving at the clams and crabs to take advantage of this and like so many places in the Sound there are some very large glacial erratics that live below the water that would just love to have a bite of fresh lead, so keep the charts handy and know precisely where you are to avoid one of those nasty bumps.

If it’s light at Marrowstone and the flood has started you need to work around the Point in the shallows and once you see your SOG improve, go across the Bay to the finish.

Sunday will be a different story as it will almost certainly be a beat from the start back to Double Bluff. If you are starting early, get across to Marrowstone and then hold the long starboard tack to get across the ebb and over to Whidbey beaches. There are back eddies behind Lagoon and Bush Point as well as behind Double Bluff so you’re going to be watching the depth sounder, and SOG as you short tack down the shore.

After you round Double Bluff it will be time to take the long hitch back across the Sound to get over to the Pt No Pt shore in anticipation of the flood starting and the wind clocking from the south to the south-southwest. Again, you’re going to work the beach almost all the way to Jeff Head before you tack to starboard for that final long tack across the Sound to the finish at Shilshole.”

Having said all that, it was clear all weather forecasts and predictions were off by a fairly significant amount (like a country furlong amount!).  Instead of moderating winds, it blew like hell all weekend long!  As one sailor so aptly described the first day of racing:

“Well, it was a ‘Sailmaker Benefit Day’. Lots of shredded nylon hanging from masts. The early boats benefited from a more westerly breeze and were able to rhumb line it to Double Bluff (for the most part). The breeze filled to the low 20's at that point and most boats had either finished donating spinnaker parts to the wind or exercised perhaps more prudent judgment by flying white sails to the finish. The breeze was nipping at 30 knots toward the end. Somewhat humbling day, but it was a good party (as usual) and nobody got hurt.”

The report for the second day didn’t change much either, other than the fact the fleet had to beat back into a light gale!  As described, “it was blowing again from the south between 14-26 knots. The ebb seemed to be much stronger and later than predictions.  The fleet split at Marrowstone and it appeared that staying west was a gain. One boat dismasted (Wild Rumpus) and they appear OK. They were being towed to Seattle by ‘Fast Tango’, who should get bonus points for that. Very sloppy waves. A lot of retired boats. The fleet split again at Point No Point and it appears that going east paid. Many boats were still sailing when the time limit ran out.”

The J/Teams reveled in the heavy winds and choppy waters, eating it up, sailing fast downwind on the first day and powering to windward like nobody’s business on Sunday.  In fact, the downwind sleigh-ride, many J’s took just under 3 hours, but doubled that time on the way back.  Taking Class 5 Double-handed were the J/120 HINZITE sailed by Mr James followed by the renowned J/109 TANTIVY skippered by Stuart Brunell.  These two crushed a gaggle of well-sailed Farr 30s in the conditions.

In the Double-handed Class 6 division, the J/36 MONKEYBONES sailed by Shawn Dougherty and Jason Andrews took third, just in front of the J/37c MERRY MAKER helmed by Bill Harter.

Class 7 Double-handed was made up of seven J/105s, what a hoot they must’ve had!  The winner was “Erik” sailing JUBILEE followed by Matt & Tessa Gardner-Brown aboard DULCINEA.  In third was Paul Henderson & Ramona Barber on DELIRIUM, followed by Bob Blaylock & Mario Laky on USAWI in fourth and Ian Wesley-Smith on CYRANO in fifth.

Class 8 Double-handed division saw Tom Mitchell’s J/35c WILDFLOWER take a well-earned second overall.

Class 9 Double-handed had three J/29’s participating, top of the heap was Paul Hanson’s PLAN R taking third overall.

The Class 11 Double-handed fleet had three J/27s, one J/80 and four Santa Cruz 27s.  Guess who won the battle of the 27’s?!  You bet.  The J/27s took first and second overall, with “Dennis” on LXII in first and Andy Mack on TRUE NORTH in second.  Interestingly, while the SC27’s enjoy a reputation for being a “baby sled” off Santa Cruz, the top J/27 was second to finish on elapsed time, only 72 seconds behind after 2.5 hours of racing downwind!  Needless to say, the J/27s powered back upwind to win by a huge margin.  The SC27’s?  They motored back home!!

There were four J/30s vying for class supremacy in Class 12 Double-handed division.  Taking the win and second in class was Adrien Felon’s CONRAD J, third was Ulf Gwildis’s IMPULSIVE and fifth was Theo Singelis’s TAKU.  For more Sloop Tavern YC Race To The Straits sailing information