This article was originally published in the August 2021 issue of 48° North. 

Race Week 2021 in Anacortes had so many unbelievably good parts — it is a grand Pacific Northwest tradition in a great new venue and lots of us sailors agreed… we had some of the best racing conditions ever.

And still, from the racer’s perspective, I must admit that it is difficult to sum up the week after the unimaginable tragedy our fleet experienced at Race Week this year (more details on page 44). From talking with our crew and many others, I felt it was important to begin by honoring Greg Mueller’s memory, and by doing what many of us did as we processed such sad news: reflect on what sailing means to all of us.

Sailing is about teammates who become your family and seeking out the good times. It’s about experiencing all that the ocean has to offer and challenging yourself race after race. Losing one of our own was a sobering reminder of how quickly things can go sideways. Something that struck me is that, for most of my friends, this was not their first regatta where the unthinkable had happened. With heavy hearts, we’ve been going over our safety drills and briefings much more often. My heart goes out to the family and crew of With Grace, and I know the entire community echoes my heartfelt condolences in this difficult time. Greg will not be forgotten.

Anacortes was a strikingly beautiful venue, and sailors will surely be talking about this inaugural year there for years to come. With the San Juan Islands in view and a prevailing westerly, this course absolutely delivered. Every afternoon, almost without fail, it turned warm and windy. Monday and Friday more so than the rest, but every day offered a different challenge and something new to learn about the racing area northeast of Guemes Island. It was all about getting to the favored side first — in constantly shifting conditions, it could be either side — and clean roundings. The windward and leeward marks were guaranteed to be busy with almost 70 boats registered across 11 different classes. We were so excited to be exploring a brand new racing area, and I think we had all been looking forward to being a part of the very first Anacortes Race Week.

Like so many others, Race Week had taken a year off last year, so it was wonderful to see some of the stalwart Race Week boats and fleets back for this regatta. There were four one design classes: Melges 24s, J/105s, J/80s, and the growing fleet of J/70s from the San Juans area — each of which had very close racing. The PHRF classes had a predictably wide range of boats and ratings. The cruising class returned this year with two boats. And new this year was an ORC class that drew three TP52s and the Riptide 41, Blue.

I’m the bow person on the Farr 30 Nefarious and our class (PHRF 3) was super competitive this year. We were in fun and fast company with quite a few asymmetrical spinnaker boats on the water (the Farr 30 typically uses symmetrical spinnakers flown off a traditional pole) and some really smart local sailors in the mix. Big congrats to J/111 Recon for sailing an excellent regatta and catching every shift. They were the boat to watch, and some of the crew are dear friends from my Melges racing days. We shared a finger pier with One Design 35, Shrek, and spent a lot of time vying with them and Time Warp out on the water. One of the highlights of my week was the afternoons spent on the dock socializing, with all the awesome competitors together in one spot. We saw so many friends we hadn’t gotten a chance to catch up with since a covid, and we thoroughly enjoyed swapping race stories over cold beers and water gun fights. It was a blissful week of bonfires on the beach, crew dinners, and even a Gertrude’s Hearse concert.

Our crew included skipper and owner Dan Randolph, Scott Peterson as main trimmer, Sean Cox, Ray Hines, and Jeff Snell rotating on jib and spin trim, Alan Johnson as tactician, Jeannine Mackie in the pit, and me. My other half, Jarod Fisher, was sailing on the other Farr 30 Bat Out of Hell in the fleet — we prefer to race against each other.

Every morning we’d meet at the boat around 9 a.m. to rig up, go over the weather reports, and get out on the water. The 45 minute commute to the racecourse was mostly spent doing our team debrief, getting our sun game together (it was 80 degrees most days, so sunscreen was a must), and vague attempts to respond to work emails. Once we got out there, we’d set our practice sails, tune with some nearby boats, and take observations from different sections of the course. Learning a new racing area was half the fun — the current was really interesting alongside Guemes, and it took us all a while to figure out the typical wind shifts to expect from each direction.

Monday turned into a nice northerly of 16 to 18 knots, and we managed to fire off three races, in which we got two 3rd place finishes and one 2nd. It felt like a busy day, with some tight racing and only a very brief AP flag between them to adjust the course. In the second race of the day, Shrek edged out Recon for a bullet — the last time anyone other than Recon would win a race in our class all week.

Since the Farr 30s were the smallest and slowest-rated boats in our fleet, throughout the week, we did our best to get clear air at the starts, follow the local boats, and stay prepared with the right sails up and the proper rig tune for each race. We stayed focused and in the zone and really seemed to gel as a team.

It was some tough sailing though — by Wednesday, I had more bruises than I could count. We had a light air day later in the week that warranted turning our symmetrical boat into a setup that can hoist and fly an asymmetrical spinnaker. To do so on a Farr 30, you turn the downhaul into a tack line, attach both guys to the downhaul, and then connect the sheets to the clew. What gets disorienting is switching between the symmetrical and the asymmetrical sail and setup when you’re already approaching the windward mark, and God forbid you have to switch to a port pole at the same time. Ahh, the life of a bow woman!

Still, we had an awesome team for this regatta which helped, and I actually picked up a couple new tricks along the way. I really enjoy the bow because there’s always so much to do and learn and the crew depends on you for clean maneuvers.

In many of the classes, the racing came down to the final day, even the final race, to determine the outcome. After a week of refining boat speed, tactics, and maneuvers, Friday came around with the most breeze we had seen yet. The day had a really exciting “this is for all the marbles” feel around the fleet. We were eager to defend our place and try for a third place podium finish, but just before the start we had a serious injury onboard and decided we couldn’t compete. It was the proper safety call being so far from the dock, but absolute torture on such a breezy day. It was a steady 20 knots out of the north and we stuck around to watch the first leg. Our twin sister Farr 30 took 2nd place in Race 9 and we were thrilled to see that. It was a week of camaraderie, competition, and good old fashioned fun.

Big thanks to PRO Jeff Zarwell and the Race Committee who made sure we got plenty of races off and didn’t waste any time resetting the marks to keep up with the many wind shifts. They were timely, organized and they did a fantastic job, which made for a great week of sailboat racing. I think our only complaint was that out of 20 different potential courses outlined in the SI’s, we ran course #2 (windward leeward, two laps around) almost every single race — to the point where on the second-to-last day, we heard a couple anonymous competitors over the radio requesting “anything but a #2 please!” Their sentiment was, in a PHRF fleet, boats of different ratings within each class will perform differently based on the length of course, upwind versus downwind finish, and so on. Nevertheless, the changing conditions and excellent competition made for plenty of variety. The organizers also debuted on-the-water judging to reduce the amount of protest hearings, which was very cool but not without some controversy regarding competitor’s rights to request redress.

All in all, it was such a memorable week, and we are so thankful to Schelleen (Race Week’s Event Producer), the volunteers, the race committee, and the judges for everything they did to put together an epic Race Week 2021. Let’s do it again next year!