I think we need a smaller boat…
by Andy Schwenk
Often when I am discussing the local sailing scene people comment that their boat isn’t big enough or fast enough to compete, but if they got a larger boat how would they ever find crew? I try to explain to them that their boat doesn’t have to be big or even a new design in order to be competitive. The PHRF rating system, although not perfect, is generally fairly accurate and most sailors feel it gives them a decent chance of winning if they sail an excellent race. Of course sailboat racing is not all about winning to everybody, but it’s nice to know you don’t have to have a wallet the size of Larry Ellison to compete.
It is likely all the boats in this article, with the exception of a few, are less than 20k market value and a few could be had or were purchased for less than 10k. That’s not to say there won’t be a substantial investment in sails, rigging and boat prep in order to do well, the point I am trying to make is that many folks think yacht racing is just too overly expensive to be competitive when, in fact, the truth is just the opposite. Competitive used boats can be had relatively cheaply and if you’re looking for a new boat getting something smaller can not only save you money up front at the time of purchase but can save you tens of thousands in long term moorage, upgrade and maintenance costs.
Let’s take a closer look;
The important message here is sailboat racing is fun, if you have a small boat or are thinking of purchasing one, maybe this article will provide some inspiration for you. Smaller boats equal smaller costs – for moorage, sails, haul-out, hardware and the like – but can deliver big fun just the same. Most of these small boats sail with as few as three or four and occasionally with 6 if big winds are predicted or you just have too many friends that want to go sailing! Of course you could just double-hand a Thunderbird but that would be too easy…
Let’s take 2014 as an indicator and see how some boats at the smaller end of the scale faired. The sailing season kicks off with the South Sound Series – Winter Vashon, Duwamish Head, Tolivia Shoals and the Gig Harbor Islands Race. Four medium distance races that can have winds from just about any direction, any speed and with plenty of current to boot. Placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd overall were boats 28′ and under. Okay, at 26′ the Sierra 26 Dos is small but not particularly new. For this article Dos is a bit of an outlier in that she is not really set up for overnight cruising as the rest of the competitors are.
Congratulations to Brad and the boys and she does support my “small boats are where it’s at” argument, nonetheless, she is one of a kind and a pleasure to sail. Nimbus is an Evelyn 26, over 30 years old, not particularly light, has a high freeboard and voluminous interior. With a fractional rig her foresails are easily handled by women and children and most spinnaker trimming can be done without winches. XLIII is a J-27, designed in 1983 and again a fractional rig, simple sail plan, fun for a family of four or 3 amigos to sail.
To be clear, a fractional rig is one where the forestay goes a fraction of the way up the mast, say 3/4 or 7/8 of the way. This puts more power from the sail plan in the mainsail and means smaller headsails and fewer headsail changes and often, it’s fun to sail under just main alone.
The next big series on the schedule is the CYC Seattle Center Sound Series. In this case three medium distance races sailed up and down Admiralty Inlet in a traditionally windy month. Division P8 featured boats from 25 to 42 feet. Again the smallest boat in the fleet came out on top. Capt. Creitz, racing with his wife and pre-teen son, helmed the Olson 25 Three Ring Circus to 2 wins out of 3
The Olson 25, designed in 1984, has also celebrated its 30th birthday and are accommodating and comfortable for over-nighting with family & friends. The Olson 25 is a masthead rigged boat but can be sailed with single speed winches. Again a J/27, True North, stepped up to the plate and was on the overall podium for 2nd and another J/27 was in 3rd (Wizard).
Now you big boat guys, don’t get me wrong, I’ve won plenty of races on a Cal -40 and I love them too, just representin for the under 30 crowd for a moment!
Let’s mosey up North for the month of April and see how everyone did in the notorious Southern Straits Regatta hosted by West Vancouver Yacht Club and sailed in the Southern Straits of Georgia. This race is roughly 50 miles and starts on Good Friday each year. Division 7 had boats from 25’-35’ and was once again taken by the 25′ Dusty Mauch, a Peterson design nearing 40 years old. 2nd was a 27’er and finally a 30’er got up for third.
May is the first chance for most PNW sailors to truly compete offshore. Hosted each year by the Corinthian Yacht Club of Portland, the Oregon Offshore course goes from the mouth of the Columbia River up the Washington Coast and down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to finish in Victoria harbor – 196 miles – shouldn’t it be called the “Washington Offshore”? Anyway, the fleet ranged from 27′-70′ and as you can guess by now, after enjoying this article, Blade Runner, a SC-27, finished in just 22hrs for overall honors, followed by a 34ft J/105 and another SC-27. Winds to forty knots and reaching and running the entire way against large modern boats designed to excel in these conditions with large crews and extensive sail inventories, still, the 27’er with 4 people aboard prevailed, I think the J-105 had 5 in the crew…
Once May and June roll around there are just so many regattas to choose from so I’ll pick a couple of my favorites Race to the Straits a single and double-handed affair, Seattle to Port Townsend on Saturday and return on Sunday. The Big boats sailed away with the spinnaker division but let’s make it real easy here and leave the spinnaker at home, it’s called NFS for No Flying Sails and boats are obligated to compete with just a genoa or jib up front. 11 boats ranging from 53 to 24 feet, congratulations to Nigel for inventing this race and winning this division on the 53’er, but 2nd was a Newport 28 and 3rd a San Juan 24. These two boats are both around 40 year old designs along with the Catalina 27 and the Thunderbird and are among the best values for an entry level racer/cruiser on the sound that are fun to sail and you can comfortably overnight in.
The Big Daddy of PNW sailing over Memorial Day weekend is the Swiftsure Regatta in Victoria, BC. The Juan de Fuca race course takes boats from the Victoria Harbor around a temporary mark in Clallam Bay and back. There are three classes light, heavy and double-handed on the Juan de Fuca course. The light class dominated the course as they are the faster boats and finished before the wind really lightened up, even with that, each class was won by a boat 30′ or less. The Quest 30 Koru took the win in the light class, another small sporty outlier similar to Dos, a modern rocketship and a well deserved win for the Quest 30. Behind them in second was the relatively inexpensive Flying Tiger 10m My Tai. Yeah she is just over 30’ but the FT10m is a boat that has performed as well around the buoys as she has in the distance races – up to and including the Van Isle 360 – and is an inexpensive boat for the amount of speed potential she has. There are a few for sale around the area that can be had for a song!
For the heavy class an Olson 911SE Bulletproof took home the honors – careful here, not an Olson 30 – the 911SE is a much different boat. Built in the 80’s for an old rating system called MORC, it has regained popularity in the PNW sailing in the P-30 fleet against the S2 9.1, and the Santana 30/30’s. Bulletproof took the win by well over an hour in front of two Beneteau 36s7’s. And then the double-handed class had to be won by a SC-27 because, well, all three competitors were Santa Cruz 27’s, Blade Runner prevailed.
I’m going to do this analysis school teacher style and take a 3 month break for June, July and August, except to note that the double-handed Pac Cup Race to Hawaii was won by a little Moore 24. The mighty SNAFU held off a fleet of 40’ers and the hard charging SC27 Blade Runner to seal the victory and finish in just over 13 days posting an average speed of over 7kts! As a sidebar, that means she exceeded her hull speed on average, night and day, for two weeks!! A small capable little sailboat with her first lines put on paper way back in 1965 the Moore 24 continues to sail hard in the windy venues like San Francisco and Hood River, tackles the offshore races to Hawaii, performs well in the varied light, medium & heavy conditions found in the PNW and one is even on her way around the world with Webb Chiles aboard on his 6 time around. 24’ of capable fun.
The PNW racing season heats up again as the weather cools down in September with the PITCH regatta in Bellingham. In class P-4 the smallest boat in the class another SC-27 prevailed, the Wild Rumpus, ably helmed by my first wife. Yeah, ok, the entire class was 30’ or less, but it was won by the smallest in the group! October features the Puget Sound Sailing Championship again hosted by CYC Seattle, in P-7, the smallest boats in the class a pair of J-29’s chased by another 911 beat out the 36′ and 39′ boats. Finally November rolls around and it’s time for good ‘ol Round the County! 100 boats 27′ to 70′ 70 miles around San Juan County sailed over 2 days with a restful night in Roche Harbor sandwiched in between. The 35’ Longboard, a Bieker/Betts creation, think Dos and Quest, only a helluva alot faster, brought home the pickle dish. They were followed by the J-92, @ 30.1′, and my Pa’s old boat, a Santa Cruz 33, now lovingly cared for by Gerry Greth and crew holding on for 3rd overall.
All in all this doesn’t prove anything and is anecdotal at best – but – it is written to encourage those of you with boats 30′ or less, those of you looking for a new boat 30’ or less or those of you thinking of purchasing and upgrading a good old used boat to consider coming out to join the fun in 2015. Get a-hold of your club handicapper and get set up with a PHRF rating. Talk to your crew and maybe practice a day or two (people do practice). But most importantly realize you can have fun in a small boat, you can win in a small boat and you can create lifelong stories and memories for your crew, family and friends, even for yourself, in a boat 30’ or less.
Come on down to the Big Seattle Boat Show next to Century Link Field, running Jan 23rd to Feb 2nd, and visit all the sailboat dealers, sailmakers, riggers and boatyards that are there to answer all your questions, show you the new boats, gear and techniques. Take the time to step aboard the new under 30’ J boat, the J/88 and experience a modern giant killer. Talk to the brokerages about used boats they may know of that could fit your needs. Learn about the New C&C30OD grand prix style race boat. Visit the riggers to learn ways to prepare your boat for the upcoming race season. Spend time asking questions.
I will also be having a seminar on Saturday, January 31st @ 7pm on the Red Stage describing in more detail how to get into the local sailboat racing scene – even if your boat is over 30′ we would still welcome, encourage and love to see you!
Andy Schwenk, Owner
620 30th Street
Anacortes, WA 98221
360 293 1154 (shop)
360 770 7035 (mobile)
360 293 1837 (fax)
Photos by Jan Anderson – janpix.smugmug.com