Sunshine, blue skies, fluky winds and a flood current set the stage for the 53rd annual Shaw Island Classic yacht race hosted by the San Juan Island Yacht Club on August 12.

This race is unique in that Shaw Island is the only mark and can be rounded in either direction. It is only a 13-mile course, but shifting winds, variable currents, narrow rocky channels, and ferry traffic often turn it into a nautical chess game. 

Most of the fleet of 33 boats took a counterclockwise course betting there was enough wind at the start to overcome the flood current in San Juan Channel. Theoretically, this course would allow riding the flood through the notoriously windless Wasp Passage. This bet paid off with nearly all counterclockwise boats finishing the race. 

With boats ranging from a Formula 18 multihull to a Concordia 50 monohull, the racing advantage can shift quickly. “This year’s race was especially taxing, battling it out with Hydra [a King 40] in light winds, conditions that do not favor us,” said Ben Colwell, skipper of the Formula 18 Rum Line and first-place finisher in the multihull division and first on elapsed time. “We eventually caught Rum Line,” said Sam Richardson, skipper of Hydra and third-place finisher in the PHRF-A division, “but it didn’t last as they sailed impressively through the last third of the race with good speed and tactics.”

The Shaw Island racers know their competition as most have entered this race for many years and in some cases, over multiple generations. “I thought it was the coolest thing to see my dad’s [Bryan Colwell] name on the multihull trophy,” said Ben Colwell, “I remember thinking to myself, as a kid, someday my name will be on that trophy.” He was right. Ben Colwell has placed first in the multihull division 11 times since 2006.

Richardson added, “It was a great honor to lose to the team who introduced me to this fine event 23 years ago, Gil Lund and family on the same boat, Interface,” a Dash 34 skippered by Mark Bunker and first-place finisher in the PHRF-A division.

A shout out goes to RIFF, a J/70 with the doublehanded team of Boris Luchterhand and tactician Ryan Forbes for placing first in PHRF-B division and first overall on corrected time. “Ryan made the bold decision to hoist a kite at the start that got us away quickly,” said Luchterhand. “We love this race and had fun every moment just like every year!”

Spirits were high and spirits were enjoyed as racers once again gathered at the lovely SJIYC clubhouse overlooking the harbor for post-race banter and a hearty lasagna dinner served by the First Mates. 

The Perseverance Award, in honor of Wally Lum, who skippered Marquita in the first Shaw and has competed in every race since, goes to the last boat to cross the finish before the deadline. This year’s winner was Juans2B, a San Juan 21 skippered by Paul Von Stubbe, one of only two clockwise boats to finish the race. “Crossing the San Juan Channel to the finish line we were battling currents and the clock and knew the 6:00 p.m. cut off was not far off. Luckily, we finished with time to spare. Now all we needed was a bottle of champagne to celebrate, little did we know that was the prize for being last to finish!”

Complete results and photos are posted on the club’s website at  

Note: So, what happened to the 51st and 52nd Shaw races? Those were the pandemic races, with a timed start, no race committee boats and no awards dinner; designated as the 49½ and 49¾ Un-Shaw races. After celebrating the blow-out 50th Shaw race last year, the race committee decided to skip over those lost pandemic years and get back on schedule.