First Friday Scallywag Race

Submitted by the Sailing Club.

We were doomed.

Our club’s top racer and all-time challenger called to inform me that the current would sweep us to Port Townsend. He wasn’t feeling up to the race because of a recent dental appointment, and there wasn’t a breath of wind at Shipyard Cove.

But, I was standing on the dock and could see flags gently waving, wind gauges twirling, and small wavelets moving. Our boat was in the water and a crew was on their way, I remained optimistic.

Down to our racing boat S/V Odin I marched, lifted the sails, coiled the lines and met the crew, today it was Natalie Johnston and her best friend, Micheal Henderson. A happy surprise was that one of our new members, Roy Kauffman made it down and asked to join the crew. Of course, you can.

With a breeze out of the NW, we didn’t need our motor to head out and get into the game. We quickly began talking about position advantages, points of sail, and the need to take quick action during tacks and gybes. Out on the course, we met Rhys Balmer single-handing his Soverel 33, S/V Elsewhere, looking quite shipshape and formidable. Out of the corner of my eye was another lovely site, S/V Sleeper with skipper Jack McKenna.

We were reaching to port, tacking, reaching to starboard, letting the boat inform us of the wind direction and strength. We were also very interested in the wind patterns on the water between Brown Island on the north and Minnesota Reef on the south side of our first leg out to Reid Rock buoy, the mark.

Each contestant chooses a position. Elsewhere selected a most northerly position, Sleeper landing more a bit south of the middle. But Odin, using his one good eye, was decidedly south, way south, in what felt like the best wind and intending to sail close to the wind and close hauled. And, the gun, well actually it was a quiet start with GPS watches, radios, and stopwatches guiding each skipper.

Elsewhere in a strong port tack swept out and tacked early to starboard, aiming directly at the windward mark. Odin held onto a strong starboard close reach to follow Elsewhere closely out into the San Juan Channel. Sleeper worked hard to capture as much wind as possible, moving into a starboard tack early and following the field.

All the way to the mark we each worked to use the wind, but heading up as much as possible. We each used the 10 to 15 knot wind, a fast race, but then the BIG decision. The mark was coming into view, all on a port tack, Elsewhere chose to pass the mark downwind, tack into the NE wind and the southerly current. She needed to return north of the mark using a starboard broad reach. Odin needed just a litle break to pass into first place and watched in amazement as Elsewhere waited to tack, making sure she could safely pass the mark on her return given the southerly current. Reminder: Besides crossing the starting line after the gun goes off, and crossing the finish line sometime the same day, the only other Scallywag rule is ‘rounding the mark’. We all know what that means.

Odin, working hard using every sail and blade we were attempting to gybe, keeping the mark to our starboard. Wind and current would whip us around the far side mark and accelerate us toward the finish line. Certainly heads would turn, the crowd would ‘Oooo’. But what was that? The mark stood tall and menacing directly in front of us, we were using the wind, but the current was closing the door to our quick gybe plan. NO GO! We ducked to the windward side of the mark, now requiring us to jibe the same as Elsewhere, but she was 50 feet out, a small and tentative window, possible? Every second that door was also closing, PREPARE TO TACK, the crew knew the command, heads ducked, tiller over hard, wind came across the bow. Once the turn was complete only two problems met us face to face, 1. The mark was close and the current was taking us closer, and 2. Elsewhere had tacked and was a half boat length ahead of us. We had to hold coarse, no room for a mistake now, boxed in. Then it happened, Elsewhere in great wind fell off just a bit, Odin momentarily searching for the best heading and setting sails for the best tack, just about kissed. Elsewhere averted disaster by heading up, just a bit. Odin headed down, just a bit. We both straightened up and the final leg took shape. Shake it off….

It was a great starboard broad reach, wind had to be 15 knots. We discussed our secret weapon, well most race boats have them, not everyone knows how to raise, use, and douse them to their advantage (around here). But what’s that Captain Rhys is on the foredeck, who’s steering? A beautiful, colorful, gigantic

spinnaker takes shape. I shift positions from tiller to foredeck and quickly lift our spinnaker halyard to find a clew also going up the mast, whoops. Keeping our point of sail rock steady, Natalie allowed the wind to amazingly flip the sail out of a twist to a filled position and up it went.

Never looking back to see what Sleeper had decided, we could only hope for a miracle (and it’s coming, just wait). We were and continue to be rock steady in second place. Our hope for some kind of advantage tacking around the mark as only a veteran crew could do, didn’t pay off completely, it was nicely executed, bought us some great distance, but didn’t get us out in the lead. What could we possibly do?

The line was getting close the winner was predictable, Elsewhere crossed and took a victory lap. Odin slid across with a deep low throbbing emanating from her keel (16:25:56). Sleeper made steady progress and executed a lovely finish in grand style. We headed toward Elsewhere now heading back to Friday Harbor. As we exchanged congratulations, Capt Balmer informed us that he had jumped the line and should be disqualified. Aaaa! The miracle! No wonder he was ahead of us! Could it be? But the race outcome might need to be discussed further.

We sailed back to our slip, grabbed the end of the finger dock, slid Odin into her slip next to S/V Alethea, stern first, and rolled up the sails. Jason and Emily from Jensens sponsor a Friday BBQ at 5 p.m., so off we walked to enjoy the Friday evening. We meet Jack from Sleeper on the dock, him walking our way. Hey, Elsewhere was clearly over the line at the start. Eureka! It hit home! Elsewhere was disqualified and could not place in the race. Second place moves to first and third moves to second. Odin finished first because of the solid honesty and uncompromising integrity of our fleet. There is nothing to be gained by deceiving others when it matters (and it always matters). But we might also remember, the actual race is in your head and heart, you’ll always win if you accept the challenge, stay in the game, always.

This race ended, our hopes are of more races and cruises this summer. Join us next Friday…always something to celebrate.

Captain Rhys on S/V Elsewhere