Good times, team work, and a focus on the journey for the women sailing J/105 Creative in the storied November distance race.

Round the County (RTC) is an iconic race in the Pacific Northwest, covering approximately 76 miles of prime sailing territory in the San Juan Islands. The dreamlike setting mixed with squirrely weather and currents combine all the best qualities of racing and cruising — the challenge and the zen. This year’s race, which took place November 13-14, drew 109 boats from around the region carrying 733 participants. Only one boat in the race fleet had an all-women crew: J/105 Creative

Creative charging down Boundary Pass toward Stuart Island. Photo courtesy of Dennis Pearce.

As crews go, Creative is a relatively new team. The boat’s owner, Al Hughes, offered use of the vessel to team skipper Shauna Walgren to support her efforts encouraging women to sail, which began with Corinthian Yacht Club’s Introduction to Sailing clinics for Women in 2015. Walgren wanted to create a learning environment where women took on every aspect of sailing, including the more physically demanding tasks and tactical decisions often deferred to men. Three of Creative’s core crew, Monica Dodd, Lindsey Rosen, and Sarah Mims were among the first group of women to sign up for that course when Shauna began assembling a team in 2018. Other women have joined the crew along the way with varying levels of experience, for a few races or a season. Laura Johnson, an experienced racer but newer team member based in Anacortes, encouraged Walgren to register Creative for Round the County for the first time this year. Ginnise Comstock (with 3 RTC races under her belt), Courtney Wingard, and Melanie Masson rounded out our race crew for a total of seven, and the planning began.

Many racers know this drill: the skipper calls the shots, and the crew shows up prepared to take orders. Creative’s crew diverges a bit from that typical paradigm. As an all-women crew, we lean more heavily into a collaborative ethic than most to physically manage a powerful boat under the same rough weather conditions as our male counterparts. By the same token, we broadly distribute responsibilities that generally fall on the skipper, just as we work together to manage sails under load. In prepping for Round the County, Laura took on trip logistics, Monica studied the currents while Lindsey and Courtney dug into nautical charts and weather, and Ginnise and Melanie kept the crew fed, allowing Shauna to concentrate on boat prep and transport. That same sense of cohesion had us singing shanties together before dawn on the long motor ride to the start line at Lydia Shoal, sharing dry layers when the rain seeped through, and passing mugs of hot tea and coffee to teammates on deck throughout the race. Lindsey and Courtney worked the bow, Laura pep-talked and served as point person for the crew while overseeing tactics and pit, Ginnise and Melanie were on jib trim, Monica on main and spinnaker trim, and Shauna was at the helm. Creative was in Division 4, with 13 boats registered, nine of which were fellow J/105 competitors.

 Saturday brought great but varied sailing conditions. There was almost no wind at the first start, which was shared by boats from Division 4, 5, and 6. More than 10 boats were over early and had to circle back. Creative had a strong start and we were able to get our spinnaker up and filled with a clear lane. Moose Unknown, Free Bowl of Soup, and Double Trouble were ahead of us and were able to show us the way. To our delight, it looked like our foulies would stay dry for the morning. With a favorable current building behind us, we cruised along smoothly and swiftly. Looking aft somewhere near Matia Island, we were cheered on by 100+ brilliant spinnakers that chased us in the spirit of competition.

The Creative crew thought their foulies might stay dry, but when that was not the case, the collaboration and contentment continued.

We had some trouble with the douse at the halfway point (Patos Island) and, seemingly at once, the currents and the weather conspired against us. Winds died and the classic PNW drizzle blanketed the islands. By mid-afternoon winds had picked up and clocked astern, allowing us to raise our beloved rainbow spinnaker once again. The doldrums were behind us and we were humming toward Stuart Island with plenty of wind and some heavier rain to add to the excitement. The winds built and we had trouble getting out an hourglass after doing an emergency jibe. We were able to carry the spinnaker to the south side of Stuart Island, where we had a nice douse and a reach to the finish. We finished the Saturday course at 3:16 PM in a total of 6 hours, 36 minutes, ranking 8th in our division. Creative pulled into Roche Harbor marina well before dark where we met our shore support, settled into our Airbnb, and toasted a successful first day of the race.

J/105 Creative Crew for Round the County 2021.

Sunday’s conditions proved more variable and challenging. Starting with a building current against and a 12-15 knot breeze on our bow, we battled off the start line along with other boats in Divisions 4-6. Hugging the shore to minimize the adverse current, we made our way around the bucolic coastline of San Juan Island. Winds died mid-morning, and we struggled to keep the boat moving forward in waves that rolled our hull and left our sails flogging. From experience, we knew this would pass and we laughed as we watched the windicator spin aimlessly.

As we neared the halfway point of Iceberg Point on Lopez Island, the wind gods once again blessed us with a nice breeze. Thankfully, we were far enough from shore that we could turn tail downwind and hoist the spinnaker. The breeze climbed to 14 knots for a short time, and those same waves that once tormented our progression began carrying us at speeds we hadn’t seen all weekend. It was a celebratory moment and we were excited to be entering Rosario Strait.

Zipping downwind again after the wind returned.

We opted to stay out closer to the center of the channel, hoping to avoid the wind shelter the islands created. To our dismay, the winds dropped again to 1-3 knots. We trudged along taking advantage of every little puff, but after many hours, spinnaker hoists and douses, Swedish fish and tea, our optimism ended. With 2 hours left to finish and fog rolling in, the crew collectively agreed that continuing to inch towards the finish line in those wind conditions didn’t make sense. Shortly after 4 PM, our skipper called the race committee to declare that Creative was retiring from the course, and we set our sights back on Anacortes.

On the return to Anacortes, we discussed what highlights stood out for each of us from the 2-day race, and how we’d grown closer and more in sync as a crew from taking on the challenge of Round the County. We later learned that we’d finished in the top half of the fleet, ranking 50th out of 109 participating boats. Despite not finishing the course, there was a jubilant spirit on deck. We did not have to remind each other that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. We knew it collectively; no words were necessary as we looked back on a great weekend and forward to all that lies ahead.