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A Raucous Race To The Straits

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  • A Raucous Race To The Straits

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    Ed Note: We're lucky to have this report by Andrew Nelson, skipper of the Olson 30 Scoundrel. As the Youth Sailing Director for The Sailing Foundation, he's getting kids' butts in boats. A noble cause, indeed. Thanks, Andrew.

    Race to the Straits is one of my favorite races, because it brings out a lot of good sailors and cool boats, especially retro ULDB’s! Everyone is faced with the challenge of being short handed. This presents itself in a lot of ways… Sail changes can be arduous, just about everyone feels overpowered way earlier, and there’s practically no down time during the race- you’re either driving or getting ready for the next thing. Maybe you get to pee or eat a sandwich (I didn’t do either on Saturday). I also like that everyone plays a little nicer doublehanded. Port-tackers get waived across frequently and everyone lines the dock at Port Hudson Marina to help others land safely (sometimes the hardest part of the race). Getting to Port Townsend feels like a big accomplishment, regardless of place.

    This year, I teamed up with Josh Larsen. He took my wife Ashley’s place at the last minute when our childcare for the weekend fell through. Josh and I last did the race together in 2011 on his Olson 30 Lunch Box. We did really well that year and Scoundrel had her 2019 (the last “real” RTTS) class title to defend. Our class was stacked with good boats and sailors, so we knew it would be tough to repeat. Looking at the forecast, our mindset was to make sure we were in striking distance after Saturday. Josh summed it up perfectly, “You might not win RTTS on Saturday, but you can definitely lose it.”

    All photos by Jan Anderson. More here.

    Saturday was almost exactly as Bruce Hedrick predicted. We had a nice spinnaker run until just before Foul Weather Bluff. Then it got wet and weird. No wind, hail, and then an almighty downpour. We lost our breeze completely for a few minutes in the transition and then did an alternating series of sail changes between the No 2 genoa and A2 until we were around Foul Weather Bluff with a modest northeasterly breeze. This race is often about managing the transition zone gracefully. I feel we did about as well as we could have, but made the mistake of staying too far out in the middle as we approached the south end of Marrowstone. As predicted the breeze built and shifted Northwest. The boats to our left picked up some big gains. It was a slugfest from there on out. We changed to the No 3 early and we were glad we did. We don’t have wind instruments, but heard others reporting 25-30 knot gusts near the end of the race. With the strong ebb, that made for some pretty big and confused seas.

    The bulk of the fleet finished within 30 minutes of each other in the early afternoon. We were four minutes behind our class leader Scheme. Mission accomplished, we didn’t lose the race on Saturday and knew that anything could happen on day two. The early finish time meant there was plenty of time to dry the boat out and trade stories on the dock before dinner.

    We knew Sunday would be a different kind of challenge, and it was. The day started slow with a very light northerly, which turned northeasterly. This would be a day of big gains and losses. We made the most of the light air and did lots of reaching with the A2 and No1 Once past Marrowstone Light we stayed out in the middle with better pressure. By the time we were halfway down Marrowstone the A2 was pulling hard and we had made up that 4 minute difference on Scheme with 6 Feet More in our sights. However, when we got to the south end of Marrowstone the breeze started to dry up and the ebb was really beginning to kick in.. We made a beeline for Kinney Point to find some current relief.

    Some boats stayed out in the middle still clinging to spinnakers. After what seemed like an eternity, we found a little puff that we were able to ride around the point, while watching our depth sounder get down in the single digits. With the No1 we sailed deep into Oak Bay. It was the only place we could find current relief. Soon we were short-tacking the beach past Mats Mats and Port Ludlow, hoping that we could then cross back across the mouth of Hood Canal using the current to sweep us to Foul Weather Bluff. With the Foul Weather buoy as a new course mark, this was really uncharted territory and something I hadn’t expected doing. Full credit goes to Josh for making the call.

    We passed the Cal 24 Water Street, who had a similar idea, and soon noticed the Moore 24 Petty Theft was also chasing us. We gobbled up tons of ground on the boats outside as we snuck up the beach. Just past Port Ludlow we sailed out of our little zephyr and decided to cross the mouth of Hood Canal. We fought hard for almost an hour trying to get across and then around Foul Weather Bluff with almost no wind and ripping current. Right alongside us was the Moore 24. After consulting the Sailing Instructions and looking at our GPS track we realized that we had reached the halfway point much earlier than we realized. I called Ashley Bell on the radio and after some discussion she called race chair David Rogers. After more discussion, we all concurred that both boats had reached the halfway point as defined in the Sailing Instructions, which stated to record halfway times when “due west of the mark.” We had no intention of finding a loophole and every intention of rounding Foul Weather Bluff, but the ambiguity of the SIs were problematic, especially since we were approaching the mark from a westerly position and had crossed a line due west of Foul Weather Bluff Buoy several times over the previous hour and a half. Good thing we had the GPS tracker running!

    With a delivery to Tacoma still ahead of me, we fired up the outboard and hightailed it south. I immediately felt a sinking feeling as a northerly began filling. We saw 6 Feet More on the other side of Foul Weather Bluff making nice headway under spinnaker. Mathematically it looked possible they could finish the whole course, especially with the pressure building. Our choice was made however, and we wouldn’t know until later that evening whether or not they got us. As it turned out, Hula, the Westsail 32, was the only boat to finish the long course on Sunday. What an incredible accomplishment by Bill and Darlene Stange!

    It was a tough weekend and an especially dissatisfying way to end Sunday. I hope future SIs define a more precise halfway point, but since it’s the first year running this modified course, it was a very hard thing for race organizers to predict. Regardless of the weird ending, it was a great weekend and STYC did a fantastic job organizing the event!


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