An old, wise (and possibly slightly inebriated) sailor once mumbled out of the side of his mouth the classic phrase – “If the wind speed is approaching the temperature it may not be the best time to head out for a sail.”
Temperatures hovered around 44 degrees as the 114 boats entered in the 2015 Round the County race zipped up their lifejackets, fired up their motors and snuck out of the harbor under the morning darkness Saturday, November 7th. The forecasts Gale warning had been extended into the early afternoon and with the darkness giving way to that wonderful PNW fall twilight the fleet converged on the starting area off Lydia Shoal in the Rosario Strait for the 8:35am starting gun.
Winds weren’t into a gale yet as the first 3 classes reached off the downwind starting line, but with the winds out of the Southeast and rushing over the islands the wind quickly built up as the boats worked northward down the course through everyone’s favorite little rock islands (the Peapods). All the boats in the first start left the Peapods to port, all except that little yellow fast is fun Santa Cruz 27 Wild Rumpus and they were followed in the second start by the J/120 Time Bandit slamming the hammer down with their chute up and pulling hard towards Orcas. Wild Rumpus took things a bit conservative and didn’t put up their spinnaker right away, but that J/120 whipped it out and sent it. They struggled up around the headland at Orcas with a bit of flogging and round ups but as soon as they could put their bow down they were lit up! That big J/120 was launched and kept the throttle down all the way around the course, correcting into the overall PHRF finish for Saturday. For the rest of the fleet the chutes began popping up as the J/120 turned down around Orcas Island and everyone had room to run out under spinnaker – that is when the real fun began for those that put up their colorful sails.
The winds began pushing over 30 near Clark Island, the waves built up with the current and as sterns lifted at just the wrong moment or at just the wrong angle the wipeouts began. The little SC27’s began flashing their keels at the fleet, some of the bigger boats ended up flying pendants off their mast tops that looked distinctly like the top few feet of their spinnakers and the real big monster trucks, those flashy boats in the IRC fleet motored through the fleet with their A4’s pulling rock hard and their helmsmen with eyes as wide as their leg stance, 25 knots of boat speed was a common number laughed about after the race.
This is where things got exiting for those who chose to push their boats hard and the solid and fast formula 40 Dragonfly pushed it just that little bit too hard in the big wind and waves, stuffed their bows and ended up ass over tea kettle, pitch-poled, and lying upside down in the deep cold waters east of Matia. Neptune smiled on those crazy pickle fork sailors Saturday morning and all aboard were seen standing on the bottom side of the boat, unharmed and waving as the fleet sailed by, astounded. The big schooner Martha was standing by to render assistance if needed but it was soon apparent everyone was ok and the fleets wonderful photo boats were there to help the stricken crew, right the multihull again and get them off to safety, so Martha rejoined the race.
The entire fleet was around the halfway mark on Patos Island well before the clock struck noon. Chutes down, reefs in and small jibs pulling everyone West through Boundry pass on a long port tack tight jib reach that never seemed to end. Reefing in breeze always is a risky but necessary maneuver and Wild Rumpus found out just how risky when something let go on their boom and the sailor reefing lost her balance. With eyes wide and arms flaying to the wind, over she went for a short swim in the pleasant waters between Patos and Waldren Islands. Wild Rumpus’ crew was able to scramble about and sort out their partially reefed main, get out of irons and recover their crew member within a few minutes of her falling overboard while a J/92 and Benneteau stood by to render assistance if needed. Rule #1 at its core and it’s so good to see our wonderful fleet paying attention to each other just as much as their own situation.
The fast boats made quick work of Saturday’s race and were able to make the turn at Stuart and finish under strong winds in just under 3 hours from Lydia Shoals around Patos Island to Roche Harbor. For the slower boats the gale warning ending at 1pm was more serious than they realized. It not only ended, but reefs were quickly shook at Turn Point, then Genoas were hoisted minutes later and the back of the pack settled in for the long slow upwind sail against the current for the last few miles with the finish in site! The last boats were able to cross the line just after 3pm, and that was it, the wind was done and a handful of boats were left on course side and motoring in to harbor after such a windy day.
Sunday’s post frontal forecast didn’t look good, light winds and drizzly rain, but as the fleet gathered once again off of Snug Harbor for the start – there was actually wind out in Haro Strait! But getting to it proved to be the demise of almost a third of the fleet – yes, a third of the fleet. The pin end was obviously favored to the course and closer to the wind but with the current pushing the fleet at an angle back and away from the pin it wasn’t the place to be as the start gun went off. Only a third of the boats in the first start made it across the line – just 19 boats in start 1 did not get swept back away from the line in the current and made it out into the wind in Haro Strait. Ultimately over 34 boats did not get to start day two of Round the County, turning tail and motoring home after the 30 minute start time grace period ran out.
For those that made it out into the wind they found a very pleasant mid genoa range southerly wind that made for one seriously long port tack lift as the winds continuously clocked around to the southeast and ultimately easterly as the day went on. The old Evelyn 32 Poke & Destroy nailed the light air start and slipped through the wind shadow out in the strait, leading the fleet south around San Juan Island, and was one of the first group of boats across the halfway finish line off Cattle Point.
Once into Rosario Strait boats were able to crack sheets a little on the easterly breeze, a few code zeros came out early but it wasn’t until almost Cypress Island before spinnakers came out on the central group in the fleet. But that didn’t last long…while the sun lowered to the west and the rainbows came out to the east the winds began their normal fickleness for the finish placed way back in under the big bluffs of the islands and the majority of the boats still trying to finish jumped from puff to puff trying desperately to make headway on that last mile to finish. Every once in a while a random wind lane would develop and a couple boats would shoot out and cross the finish. Not everyone made that last few yards to the finish and with darkness falling and the time limit running out it was time to throw in the towel and motor back to port.
The Multihull class was won by Freda Mae, owned by Vincent Depillis, with Blue Lightning in second and O’BenAnnas in third. The IRC class was barely taken by the TP52 Glory owned by John Buchan, with the TP52 Smoke in second and the RP55 Crossfire in third. Class 0 was taken by those amazing sailors on the old Riptide 35 Terremoto, owned by William Weinstein, with Madrona in second and Mischief in third. Class 1 was dominated by the J/120 Time Bandit, owned by Bob Brunius, with the Farr 30 Bat Out Of Hell over 30 minutes back in second and the J/120 Wild Blue in third. Class 2 was equally dominated by the Express 37 Ptolemy, owned by Eric Moulton, with the Schock 35 Excalibur over 30 minutes back in second and the Beneteau 36.7 Intuition almost another 30 minutes back in third.
Class 3 was easily dominated by the Evelyn 32 Poke & Destroy, owned by Alex Simanis, with the Farr 1020 Kiwi Express over 30 minutes back in second and the J/105 Last Tango just minutes behind them in third. Class 4 was handled by the Cal 39 Chinook, owned by James Roser, with the Nevi 49 Pacifica over 30 minutes back in second and the Santa Cruz 27x Limey Bastard another 13 minutes back in third. Class 5 was won by the Santa Cruz 27 Wild Rumpus, owned by Stephanie “I like swimming” Schwenk, with the world’s fastest Catalina 36 just over 25 minutes behind them in second and the big Freya 39 Freeflyte behind them in third.
There are some amazing photos and videos out there on the googleweb, look up Jan Anderson or Sean Trew for their shots or swing on by roundthecounty.com or the round the county facebook page for more exciting talk, memories and memorabilia from the 2015 running of Orcas Island Yacht Clubs and Friday Harbor Sailing Clubs Round the County rally race.