I love Round the County. You love Round the County. We all love Round the County. The circumnavigation of San Juan county has become the “it” race in the Puget Sound region. I have already written about why I think that is. The reasons that motivate people to show up in droves were on display this weekend, and the 115 boats on the course had a little bit of everything, and a boatload of fun. Each day offered the full spectrum of wind conditions, and gave the crews opportunities for sail changes galore. My hat goes way off to those industrious bow women and men, who more than earned their Hot Toddies this weekend.
Round the County 2016 found me onboard John Buchan’s TP 52, Glory, as I typically am, turning the grinder handles and listening intently to all those good sailors on the boat. Unique to this year’s race was four (count ’em FOUR) TP 52s in the ORC Class that also included the Santa Cruz 70 Neptune’s Car, the thee big J/Boats (Jam: a J/160, Jedi: a J/145, and Hamachi: a J/125), a modified Farr 40 called Strait Marine, and the Andrews 53 Artemis.
It wasn’t blowing stink at Cap Sante Marina when we cast off docklines in the early morning darkness. As we motored out, the breeze built, and by the time we were off the eastern shore of Orcas Island, it was pretty full-on. Boats were a bit out of control in the starting area, and it was all the trimmers could do to keep the flogging sails from shaking the boat to bits or shredding. Our anemometer read 33 knots when boat manager, Evan Sjostedt, said to me, “the boat is not happy right now.”
We did what amounted to a big Vanderbilt start, digging in deeply toward Deer Point before tacking around on a final approach. We crossed the line in clear air and pretty much on time. The next bit of excitement came only moments later – a quick tack off of starboard to avoid a boat on port tack that, in the big breeze, hadn’t seen us coming. Our Seattle-based TP 52 competition, Smoke, was already onto port and headed for the wall inside of us, so we were content to go with them.
We passed a number of boats as we made our way in. The breeze decreased into the 20s. The boat was a little happier. Approaching the wall, we got ourselves to leeward of a boat that was in the middle of an in-line jib peel. A “sea room” call did not please the other skipper… sorry about that, Time Banditos.
We were trading short-tacks with Smoke, slightly ahead of the two Canadian TP 52s, Valkyrie and Kinetic V. The breeze continued to drop, and in no time, we were trying to wring every little bit of power out of the #4 jib that was still up.
In what would prove to be the move of the day, we tacked out away from the wall and peeled to the #2 jib. A lot of smart money was staying in, including Smoke. Unable to see the course-over-ground and speed-over-ground (SOG and COG) from my position, it’s hard for me to say whether there was much current advantage inside (there should have been, based on the time of day). Regardless, the breeze benefit, both pressure and shift, was all outside and we made big gains on that one move out into Rosario. The breeze built and went left. We got headed and tacked with a big lead.
As we beat south in Rosario Strait, the breeze began to increase again and by the time we were approaching Davidson Rock, the it was back above 20 with some hefty rollers. Before bearing away at that right-hand turn, there were diverging opinions about whether we would find the wind far enough behind us to carry a kite. The call was made to give it a go. We got the A4 on deck, plugged it in, and “set, set, set!” My grinder buddy, Aaron Bronson (a.k.a. Heavy), and I, with Dwayne King and Leif Fuhriman on the aft pedestal, gave it all we had and sent it up. I heard the “made!” call and switched winches, ready to help the trimmer bring it in, but… wait a second… where’s the kite?!
We had rigged a martin-breaker on the tack shackle, which allows the bowman to strike the tack of the spinnaker without going to the end of the prod. This is good practice in big breeze and waves, but martin-breakers are a finicky system. It’s hard to say whether the inboard end got snagged on something or whether the kite had gone up twisted, torquing the shackle so much the martin-breaker broke. Either way, the kite went up, and then it went back. We managed to bring the kite back down via a letterbox douse over the boom. We got everything set back up, and “set, set, set!”
The A4 was up and full, the boat was rocked up and humming. 17 knots, 18 knots of boat speed. “Whoo!” Heavy and I were spinning the handles, now from the aft pedestal. Boat manager, Evan, who was our downwind trimmer asked, “can you guys shift to the higher gear, it would be great to get this kite in faster in the waves.” We gave it a try, and though it basically maxed out our effort, we could still get a few turns before it loaded too much. “It’s easier when it’s closer to 20 than when it’s closer to 25 knots,” I said. Heavy replied under his breath, “No sh*t.”
The boat only hummed along on a plane for a few minutes until the breeze started to abate. Smoke, Valkyrie, and Kinetic V were all making some gains in our direction as we took our halfway time near Cattle Pass. The last portion of the race had a lot less excitement, and building anxiety as the boats behind continued to seem bigger and bigger in the ever-lightening breeze. The breeze went under 5 knots. The biggest thrill in the second half of Saturday was seeing a pair of humpback whales between our boat and the shore of San Juan Island.
We drifted across the finish near Roche in first, but were concerned about correcting over the Canadian TP 52s. We flaked sails near the finish with a clock running. I’ll tell you, even sailing the coolest boats isn’t very fun if there’s no wind. Eventually, as the minutes ticked by, and we had first for the day locked up. We motored through Mosquito Pass. No beer on the boat had been the call in the morning. But, our midbow guy, Patrick Doran, had a stowaway – an illicit (though now very welcome) bottle of Jack Daniels, which got shared among the 15 of us on board as we debriefed the day.
The party in Roche never disappoints. Our generous shore-crew, Jennifer Mathis, met us on the dock with Hot Toddies. The party continued as we overloaded the balcony outside Leif and Jennifer’s hotel room at Hotel de Haro. The good folks from Smoke hosted us for dinner. We soaked in a hot tub. We sleepily sat at a bar to watch the first half of the Husky game. And we got an extra hour of sleep because of daylight savings. Life is good at Round the County!
Day two started with picturesque sunshine through marine layer of mist. Light wind, a little current push, and enthusiasm earned the first class to start two general recalls before they had fewer than 12 boats over early. We started all clear, but in a bit of bad air. In TP 52s, the gains between light (or bad) air, and an nice five knot puff is five knots of boat speed, so there was a lot of yoyo-ing in our fleet as we headed toward the shores of Stuart Island. Once we got there, it was about as exciting as light-air jibing duels could be! Trading jibes and places with all three other TP 52s felt like real fleet racing; in other words, awesome! A multitude of maneuvers is typical of this section of Round the County, and with the chase start, everybody gets to see everybody. It’s just plain fun.
Turn Point stayed true to its name, and was the turning point in the race for the Glory team. Inside with swirling current and light breeze, we watched the boats just outside make out big-time. We started to free up a little, and thought we saw both current and breeze advantages inside. As we made that ill-fated tack in, we watched as all three TP52s outside were suddenly lifted in a big, building puff. It happened that fast. In the blink of an eye, we were stuck inside, taking our lumps, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The rest of the day, we did our best to play catch-up. The jib reach out to Patos had us footing a little more than the others, hoping for separation and even marginal gains. All four 52s tried Code Zeros for a few minutes. All four of us dropped them pretty quickly.
Once around Patos Island, we started to gain slightly in the building breeze. Our navigator estimates that we made up 3 miles on the other three on that beat, which is impressive, but also gives you a read on how far behind them we were. We peeled to the #3 jib as we passed Matia Island, slowly but surely making more gains.
Approaching the right turn at Lawrence Point and the Peapods, Valkyrie led, with Smoke in second and Kinetic V in third. We were in touch, and had a chance at the overall on corrected time! Or, so we thought. We were focused, active with trimming, hiking hard. We were alive! Then… What’s Jason doing? Valkyrie made a hard left turn. Smoke footed. Kinetic stopped. We stopped. We watched as everybody crossed ahead of us drifting in no breeze or a magic puff from nowhere. They all kept solid margins ahead of us on time. It was eerily similar to how we had finished the day before – the other boats close, but way behind on time. This time, we were the ones pleading with the wind gods for that final, helpful little puff… to no avail.
Valkyrie took first on Sunday and overall, Kinetic V was second overall. Smoke beat us on Sunday, but we got them in the overall to take third place in the ORC class. It’s a little hard not to be disappointed after such a solid Saturday, but it’s even more difficult not to step back and bask in a glorious weekend of boat racing in a place so beautiful, it’s like I’m seeing it all for the first time, every time. My congratulations extend to everybody on the other 52s, the ORC Class, and all 115 boats for a fabulous weekend of sailing variety and fun. And of course, thank you to John Buchan and the whole Glory team!
The enthusiasm surrounding this race makes it an absolute joy to participate in. Truly, I’m grateful to skippers and crew who made the trip, as well as to the Orcas Island Yacht Club and the Friday Harbor Sailing Club who put the race on. And, it has been just as fun to review the pictures, videos, and stories being shared by everybody who was out there. It’s a year away, but it’s not too early to be excited for Round the County 2017!