What an event, it’s taken days to digest everything from the race. A four day event – 30 to 50 mile deliveries for 2 days of racing, 30 miles each day for only 60 miles total and then another 30 to 50 mile delivery home in some of the most beautiful waters this country has to offer, AND doing it in November, of all months, when many of the East Coast North American boats above 39 degrees North have been put on blocks for the winter.
Round the County, hosted by Orcas Island Yacht Club, has become a fixture here in the PNW and is easily one of the premier point to point rally races that North America has to offer. Known for its majestic views of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, Mt. Baker fixed to the east and the rugged terrain of the San Juan and Canadian Gulf Islands, Round the County, in her 27th year, has become a thing – an entity of her own – and she keeps bringing out the numbers in an era when participation has declined all across the board. They cap the entries at 100 boats and reach it a month before race day!
Is it the often frigid temperatures? The early morning, well before sunrise, dock calls? Is it the spectacular currents or the unique geographical wind holes and shifts? What is it that brings out the Olympic class sailors and Professionals (many sailing their personal yachts), the Local Talent, and even the 6 old guys at the yacht club bar that are always complaining against everything that happens? People fly in from California and the mid West, boats come together from Canada and the United States all to spend countless hours and dollars racing just 30 miles a day in the cold, wet, snowy, rainy, windy, drifty, sometimes sunny, current riddled waters of the San Juan Islands. It’s just the type of racing sailors love to do and sometimes things just make sense, right?
And what really made sense was the Race Committee postponing the start Saturday morning at Lydia Shoals until enough wind came up that they could “hit a homerun” (their words) and get the first starters off of the line far enough that the next start had a clear lane. It then became a game of linking the puffs to work your way south in Rosario Strait. One minute you looked like the hero as you linked from one lifting puff to the next and even found a little escalator ride in some good current and the next you were assed out the back watching the fleet sail by and around the corner out of sight.
The first boats to reach Davidson rock, the Evelyn 32 Poke & Destroy and the Davidson 29 Madame Pele had the tough choice of heading for the halfway point along the bottom of Lopez or sailing off over the horizon offshore. Poke & Destroy got there first and headed offshore leaving the inshore lane to Madame Pele and it quickly, very quickly, became apparent that offshore was the way to go as the classic Evelyn began to disappear from view off to the west. It didn’t take much more time before the TP52’s, having started last, worked their way past the Davidson rock and Iceberg point with the big SC70’s hot on their heels. The wind began to pick up and things looked great as the leaders crossed the bottom of Lopez, passed the Cattle Pass lighthouse and began turning up towards the entrance to Haro Strait. But it didn’t last long and as the wind crapped out again the currents became the battle for the fleet.
Many didn’t make it past Davidson Rock into the Straits of Juan De Fuca and of the boats that did make it out and past the halfway finish off Iceberg Point only two boats eventually made it across the full course finish line at Roche Harbor. Battling it out ‘til the end, the TP52 Valkyrie edged out her nemesis Glory, a TP52, by seconds leaving everyone else motoring in across the line to the evening festivities graciously hosted by the Friday Harbor Sailing Club & the Roche Harbor Resort. Heated dock tent, BBQ’s and libations meet the sailors every year now for the biggest and best dock party the month of November has to offer.
Sunday arrived with a stellar forecast of 20 to 30 knots, clouds, a bit of rain and a bit of sun and by 8:30am all 100 boats were pacing back and forth waiting for their turn at the downwind start and charge to the first corner at Turn Point Lighthouse and into the predicted breeze. The J/105 Last Tango led the way around the corner with the SC33 Muffin & the J/92 Hijinks hot on their tail and it wasn’t long before Boundary Pass looked like a 70’s shag carpet with all those colorful spinnakers pulling hard on port pole, but without the forecast big breeze. Enough to keep the boats moving well but not the small craft advisory predicted by the foreguessers. Canada to the left, America to the right and the fleet split between the middle and the left with each choice working for some and not working for others as the finicky breeze rolled through from the Northwest.
The old Baltic warhorse Pangaea bulldozed her way down the middle of Boundary Pass while a large portion of the fleet worked the Canadian shoreline until shooting down towards Patos Island in the current heading south out of the Straits of Georgia. And man was the current running hard at Patos! The boats that worked too low along Boundary Pass found themselves slipping to leeward at over 30 degrees while they strapped their chutes in and flogged their way up and around the point while giving up every gain they had made by sailing the shorter course.
As the majority of the fleet turned their bows South towards the finish near Lydia Shoals, the big fast IRC boats and Multi-hulls had already found the finish line and were motoring off to their corners to drop off their crews. Moves could still be made in the drag race south and often boats would jibe out away from the group on what looked like a horrible VMG angle and then jibe back and smoke by everyone as they found their own personal current or puff. But, no matter what year it is, no matter what direction the race goes (it switches every year) it always comes down to the decision on going inside or outside the Peapods to make or break someone’s race.
The large majority of the boats chose the low road towards Cypress Island and around the Peapods but then one boat turned hard right, then another, then the puffs began rolling down the hills, one surprisingly creating a small water spout, and the next thing you saw was the inside boats rounding up in the puffs and then dropping their bows down and charging inside the rocks towards the finish. The closer to Obstruction Island they got the better the wind became and soon their spinnakers were out again and the inside boats slid across the line passing many of the outside boats utilizing the shorter inside course.
Finally, finally, the forecast breeze began to roll in over the hills and as the finishers turned their bows towards their respective ports the winds piped up into the 25 to 30 knot range. The sun was still out, the views were still stellar, the winds had picked up and the smiles were once again, from bow to stern on every boat out there. Thank you, once again, OIYC for putting on a crazy fun event. Full results can be found at roundthecounty.com but the big honor, Overall PHRF, goes to Longboard, that amazing Paul Bieker design and Jim Betts built Riptide 35 MKii. They took home the hardware with over 6 minutes to spare on the J/92 Hijinks and over 10 minutes on the SC33 Muffin – 3 distinct generations of boat designs taking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd overall.