I would have titled this article “Ladies First” but you can never overestimate the genetic material of a boy growing up within 5 miles of the race track. Okay maybe it’s not that Gavin Brackett has salt water flowing through his veins and has probably one of the strongest resume’s for a mid distance racer his age but nailing the overall on a borrowed boat by less than a minute is just like Marshawn Lynch not gettin’ da ball…But I digress… I’m just here so I won’t get fined so here is how it all went down.
Nineteen racing yachts gathered off the the Ocas Island ferry dock on Sunday, February 15th for the 11th Annual Shaw Island Winter Classic. This slugfest, sponsored by Orcas Island Yacht Club and the Orcas Island Hotel, is generally a frozen parade of yachts chosen by their optimistic owners to compete in a 14 mile race around a God forsaken rock in the Northern Salish Sea.
This year was a little different – the venue was the same, but thanks to global warming or just some good old fashioned pineapple express the fleet set sail off the Orcas ferry landing under a 10kt Northerly and spinnakers with the Beneteau 36.7 Bird of Prey getting the jump on the fleet under a cloud of colorful spinnakers. The mighty Chinook, skippered by the local former sailing great Jimmy Roser and another luminary from races past, just showing up so he wouldn’t get fined, Arne “King of Ballard” Hammer, was the second slowest boat in their class kept the Hammer down, not passing the ball at the one, and did their happy dance at the end of the parade.
The puffs and lulls were steady and sometimes, as the fleet bunched up, things got a little sketchy when the ferry blew it’s horn soon after the start. Mas Kaos, the Schock 35 representing from Bellingham, showed some legs and charged to the front with an entire gaggle of SC-27’s fighting valiantly to hitch a ride on her not so insignificant quarter wave. Naviguessers and paid tacticians tried magnanimously to find the right time to gybe South into Upright Channel. The fleet took chances in the smooth Westerly wind as to how close to play towards Shaw Island on the romp South – but the bottleneck at Low Point sorted out the have’s from the have not’s. Zipper surged to the front in the SC-27 one design fleet ably helmed by the young and precocious Alexia Fischer.
Birthday girl Stephanie Schwenk was close on Zipper’s quarter ably assisted by her first husband and second child. Sooner than expected the race entered the clubhouse turn off Friday Harbor and for the fleet naviguessers it was root hog or die for those choosing their light #1 – the waves built and the wind strengthened.
On starboard tack was nothing but sunshine, beautiful views and happy crews, but then port tack seemed to deflect the larger waves even though you were in the shade. Avalanche, skippered by eventual overall winner Gavin Brackett, was never far behind the leaders, then again, Wasp Passage, where many a mariner has met their match, was close on the bows. The over 30 years old under 30 feet fleet, Div 3, where each of the podium skippers were younger than their craft, slugged it out under the adverse current and recalcitrant breeze of Wasp Passage. Emoyeni and Sabra had plenty of time to fire up their BBQ’s as they waited for a positive puff in the passage. Then, suddenly, the race was over. It seemed to the fleet that they had just started and gotten comfortable sailing in the San Juan Island’s, enjoying the views, laughing with fellow sailors and then the finish lined loomed ahead – are you sure it was 14 miles around this rock?
It was ease sheets and Katy bar the door as the winners set port poles and the spinnakers filled for the final push to the finish. The sun shone hard from the South as the RC stationed on the balcony of the perennial race sponsor, the Orcas Island Hotel, fired their guns and horns as each boat finished and anxious ferry line waiters tried to calm their upset pets. First in Division one went to the age and treachery crowd on the Cal 39 Chinook. Finishing 1st in class and correcting over 14 minutes in front of the second place boat, the Catalina 42 Journey, skippered by Andy Damis. Just minutes behind them in third was Jim Johannessen’s Benneteau 36.7 Bird of Prey. Division two placed as they crossed the line with 1st going to the Santa Cruz 27 Zipper, skippered by Alexia Fisher. Less than a minute behind them in 2nd was the Santa Cruz 27 Wild Rumpus, skippered by Stephanie Schwenk leaving third to the Hot Foot 27 Blackfoot, skippered by Mick Corcoran, exactly 2 minutes back in third. Division 3 was dominated by the C&C Avalanche, skippered by that young phenom Gavin Brackett. Taking first by exactly 15 minutes over the San Juan 28 Hoerndog, skippered by Brian Lawrence leaving the C&C 24 Wind Warrior, skippered by Nathan Kelly, less than a minute back in third.
If you’re the type that likes to have fun and are interested in down home island hospitality, the Shaw Island Winter Classic is for you. To end the day the working sailors aboard the Washington State Ferry Hyak greeted the walk on weekend sailors bound for the return to the land of 9-5 workaday world with the traditional warp and two woofs. Goto oiyc.org for all the details don’t forget the Summer Shaw sponsored by FHYC where you get to choose CW or CCW!
Owner, Northwest Rigging
Photo’s by Rick LaUrsen
Full results can be found here