Thursday, November 17, 2016

Notoriously Tough Round County Race

Round County start (Seattle, WA)- Seattle Yacht Club’s Round County Race has become a tradition in the fall that attracts hundreds of sailors.  It is also quickly gaining notoriety as the NRTC (Notorious Round the County).  As famous Pacific Northwest photographer, Jan Anderson explains, “it can be drift to swift, mild to wild, slump to bump, wet to slightly less wet, cold to cooler, always shifting, always work, always challenging, ALL WAYS fun, never boring!  The fleet is huge, invariably the scenery is stunning, and predictably, the racing is like a chess game in a murky blender!” You can enjoy some of her spectacular photos her.

This year, there were great clusters of boats banging the beach in the breeze going up Blakely shore, and gybing up Stuart.   The fronts came in waves and bombs.  Going for breeze over current seemed to pay both going north up San Juan and then Stuart on Saturday. And, the high road above the rhumb line in Boundary Pass to Patos certainly paid big-time this year.  Said one sailor, “it was certainly an interesting race this year. It had a little bit of everything. From 0-33 knots of winds, big currents and amazing gybing and tacking duels between the top boats!”

The 29th edition of the event circumnavigated San Juan County in two legs. The combined legs were approximately 66nm, starting and finishing at the rendezvous point- Orcas Island YC, in the West Sound at Orcas Island, then racing to an overnight stop in Roche Harbor, San Juan Island.

One of the sailors, Ian Andrews, shares his experience: “What started as a fairly straight forward forecast for Saturday became much more difficult and challenging as the day progressed.

J/120 sailing Round CountyConfusion, along with a 20-25 knot gusty south easterly and a ripping ebb tide, prevented a lot of boats from making it to the upwind start in time. There were late headsail changes and reefs being taken all while 100+ boats were fighting to get across and start their race.

The beat out of Rosario Strait favored the teams that could handle some weather while other teams struggling in the big breeze had a difficult time connecting to the more casual conditions that lingered in the straits of Juan de Fuca.  Almost inexplicably, after getting fire-hosed and powering through 8-foot current rollers, we turned the corner at Davidson rock and parked it up with most of the fleet in what became dead calm conditions and a building, negative current.

We fought it out as best as we could with the guys around us but after hours of going nowhere we pulled the plug. The realization that some boats in our class had already finished the long course while we were still drifting past the halfway point with the time limit looming near was frustrating to say the least.

But there is more to this race than the race, and with the temperature warm amid the setting sun, the motor around the west coast of San Juan Island is always beautiful. That night we enjoyed barbequing in the marina at Roche Harbor and de-briefing the day amongst our team and some of our fellow competitors.

J/111 sailing Round CountyDay two started out a lot better for us. The sun was breaking through and we felt ready to redeem ourselves from the previous day’s lack of a finish. The start line was tucked up well between Posey Island and Barren Island and there was a very light southerly just creeping into the area. Unfortunately, with the mass of boats pacing just to weather of the start line with their sails up, the idea of a downwind start would not go so easily.

It took a total of three start attempts to get our fleet on the way. Our goal had been to start at the committee boat end of the line and try to get out to a small wind patch that was lingering not that far away. The first two attempts went well for us but a general recall meant we had to drop the kite and get back to the line and try again. On the final and supposedly “All Clear” start, we got totally hosed as more boats decided to go east off the start line.

We got stuck under some bigger boats and failed to accelerate properly, but that bad start made us realize that a sizable puff was moving in behind us. A quick gybe with our A-1 and we locked into that pressure and immediately jumped back into the lead pack. The whole fleet played the shore along Stuart Island, short gybing as close as they dared to the rocks to avoid the negative current only a couple hundred feet off the shore.

J/120 Time Bandit sailing Round CountyWe played it very aggressively as we were the small boat in our group and could take advantage by staying in longer. Getting around Turn Point was a challenge but we were able to squeak around it cleanly while some boats found themselves in swirling eddies and zero knots of wind.

It was then a tight fetch to Patos Island; with our team opting for the high road to the south as we felt the pressure would be better. Luckily, that paid off. We could see boats to the north off Pillar Point on Saturna Island completely stopped and windless. We made it to the halfway point in a very solid position and from then on it became a beat in building pressure all the way around the rest of the tiny islands and over to the Orcas Island finish line.”

In the ORC Class, John McPhail’s J/160 JAM ended up sixth, with Shawn Dougherty & Jason Andrews’ J/125 HAMACHI in 8th place and John Tenneson’s J/145 JEDI in 9th position. 

J/160 JAM sailing Round County raceJ/crews faired better in PHRF Class 0, with Kevin Welch’s J/111 RECON taking fourth place, followed by Andy & Jamie Mack’s J/122 GRACE in 8th, and Brian Duchin & Kelsey Sheldon’s J/133 TANGO in 11th.

In PHRF Class 1, Mark Hansen’s J/109 MOJO took the silver, followed by John Peterson’s J/109 LEGACY in sixth.  Most of the fleet failed to finish the first leg on Saturday within the time limit!

PHRF Class 2 had six J/35s battling for class supremacy, but the only one to make it through relatively unscathed was Karl Haflinger’s SHEARWATER, getting a fourth in the Sunday race to secure 5th overall for the weekend.  Just like their compatriots in PHRF Class 1, two-thirds of the class had to score a DNF on Saturday.

Similarly, the same scenario played out in PHRF Class 3 with a bunch of J/105 mercenaries taking on 20+ other competitors.  In this case, it was Jim Geros & Mike Campbell’s LAST TANGO taking second in class with the trio of Eric Hopper/ Schenk/ Davis on FREE BOWL OF SOUP hanging on for fourth overall!  Again, behind them all other boats took a DNF in Saturday’s race!

In the “battle of the classics” in PHRF Class 4, Pat Denney’s J/29 HERE AND NOW reigned supreme, taking the silver for the weekend.  In fact, no one finished the full course on Saturday, so the “half-course” times were used in the final standings.  It was truly a game of “chutes & ladders” for this group sailing around the islands!  Ian Andrews report courtesy Scuttlebutt NewsSailing Photo credits- Jan Anderson   Round the County Facebook page  For more Seattle YC Round The County sailing information