Port Madison Yacht Club’s spring trip to Port Ludlow and back delivered good times to boats of all sizes and speeds, along with a few tactical puzzles to solve.

What a stellar weekend for the annual late spring overnight race from Port Madison to Port Ludlow, Washington! Named after one of Port Madison Yacht Club’s Founding Members Falcon ‘Fal’ Joslin, in remembrance of not only his history in this small campy yacht club but also for his love of sailing — both racing and cruising — but also the required tinkering on boats and motors that always goes along with it. 

The 2021 Fal Joslin served up some perfect conditions for the fleet of 20 shorthanded and family crewed racing-cruise boats and the handful of power and sail boats that simply made the trip to Port Ludlow for the potluck bbq with the small salty crowd.

Run virtually through the Kwindoo Tracking app, sailors set up off Point Monroe Saturday morning, just south of the virtual start line waiting for their starting slot to open up in this pursuit style race. No Race Committee or pin in sight! It’s odd but, hey, it works and it gets boats out sailing with minimal effort while also setting up a non-confrontational starting area. A win all around.

Winds were out of the south at about 5 to 7 knots with what was left of the ebbing current pushing north up the sound. Chutes or jibs set up on a starboard reach, and each boat left the line in search of the best way to get north. The early starters could be seen out in the middle of Puget Sound, heading towards Edmonds and the strongest of the remaining ebb current in the middle. Later starters pushed down the western shore towards Kingston as the currents changed with the flooding tide.

Aboard the funky old UN30 6 feet More starting mid-fleet, the tactics were to push out towards the middle of the sound for better wind and the last of the ebb, and then jibe over towards Apple Tree Point and run the beach to avoid the building flood. It worked well at first, but here is where the fleet learned about the sand traps on this weekend’s course — tugs with barges in tow.

As the sun began burning through the morning’s marine layer, the UN30 was seen reaching up hard on port to cross a tug and barge rather than getting pinned out in the new flooding current to the east. This effectively negated their gains from earlier in the day, but at least they weren’t stuck to the east in the bad current. 

Ace, charging under spinnaker, between frequent jibes.

Now, the advantage shifted to the speedy lightweights that started later in the chase. The Farr 395 Ace, sailing doublehanded, was jibing their hearts out to stay in the less adverse current along the western shore; while the Hobie 33 Pip — entire family aboard — did what Hobies do best and gracefully slipped through the water almost dead downwind along the current line and took over second in the fleet halfway between Apple Tree Point and Point No Point.

Just behind the leaders was 6 feet More, the Santana 30/30 Bravo, the J/97e Indigo Horizontal, the Sabre 362 Anna Marie (sailing NFS), the Bavaria 37 Plover — all within striking distance if the conditions changed, which they often do when turning that corner around Point No Point….

Santana 30/30, Bravo, in the pack just behind the leaders.

Yet, those smooth halcyon days of spring shined down on the fleet and, while they hugged the Skunk Bay shore along Hansville to avoid the worst of the current, the winds shifted behind them, following the fleet all the way around Foulweather bluff and across the Hood Canal to the virtual finish line at the mouth of the harbor at Port Ludlow. And if your auxiliary needed a bit of Fal’s famous tinkering, the conditions remained cooperative and got everyone safely to the dock. 

Hobie 33, Pip, glides swiftly downwind toward second for the day on Saturday.

The top four for the day, each finishing about 5 minutes apart, was the Farr 395 Ace, the Hobie 33 Pip, the UN30 6 Feet More, and the J/97e Indigo Horizontal. Even the late finishers and those simply motoring up for the evening made it into the harbor in plenty of time to enjoy the amazing shoreside potluck/BBQ in this beautiful little harbor, and the sailor story time around the firepit that followed.

Sunday dawned hazy, and not just from the previous evening’s fun, with a thick marine layer and moist mist surrounding everything. Sunday’s start was an hour later than Saturday to accommodate for the morning’s inevitable haze and timing of the flood current. The early starters pushed off the dock, well, early — we’re talking about boats like a Fisher 35, Falmouth 30, Araminta 35, C&C 27, and Nonsuch 30, among others. These are boats with ratings and characteristics that deserve a big lead off the line.

It was an upwind day with a good solid southerly being reported at West Point, yet the winds hadn’t reached down across the bluff to Port Ludlow. The fleet was thus blessed with a light air southerly to start, odd shifting current, and reports of building breeze around the corner that had many shorthanded crews struggling with sail choice. Was it best to start underpowered to avoid losing time changing jibs later, or start with a genoa and deal with changing later if the wind reports materialized? Tough choice, really. Most went big and regretted it later.

For the mid-starters in the 130 PHRF range, the winds really began to fill in across to Whidbey Island and, with the incoming flood, it was a drag race to get out into it and enjoy its benefits all the way across to the Double Bluff buoy. Where the early starters had to hug the Hansville shore to avoid the ebb, the mid-fleet and later starters could shoot out into the middle and realize the full effects of the new flooding current — that is if you could avoid the sand traps…

Tugs with barges with cranes heading south, fuel barges heading north, even a tug with both a crane barge and a fuel barge worked through the fleet. It was tough going and super easy to get locked on one side of the course, unable to cross or even duck a tug and barge. At times, boats were even tacking between two parallel tugs and barges for a while until they could escape and focus again on their actual tactics. 

Winds continued to build into the top of the genoa range, and one of the early starters, the Araminta 35, took full advantage of these great upwind conditions holding onto the lead all the way to Apple Tree Point before the UN30 and J/97e crossed a few tacks with them and finally pushed through. 

Those two now-leading boats had a true tactical battle all the way from the start to the finish. The UN30 started first with a small lead on the slightly faster J/97e, but it proved able to stay in front of the J/97e by trying every tactical trick in the book. Perhaps the most important one was carefully watching the waves for positive current. Riding the front of the flood didn’t make this easy, as little lanes would shoot out in odd directions facilitating quick changes in tactics while also avoiding the pesky sand traps that were going about the same speed and covering the competition all the way to Jefferson’s Head. Throw in the Kingston-Edmonds ferry crossing and things get really interesting! Off Kingston, you could see the Santana 30/30 and Hobie 33 splitting tacks between two tugs with barges and the J/97e just able to cross the incoming ferry and avoid getting picked off in their lee. Fins to the left of me, fins to the right, and you’re the only girl in town….

The winds were up and down at this point, necessitating backstays to be intermittently completely loose and then strapped tight with crews pulling with all their might to flatten things out. It was a challenging day for sure. Rounding Jefferson’s Head, the UN30 had the lead with the J/97e now slowly reeling them in on the drag race to the finish across Port Madison Bay at the mouth of Hidden Cove. Just behind them, and coming on fast, was the last starter, the big beautiful Sweden 45 Imagine. Truly barreling through the fleet in breeze and point of sail that were perfect for them, the Sweden overtook the J/97e halfway across Port Madison Bay and had the UN30 thinking there was way too much racecourse left to hold off this beautiful boat. 

With the virtual finish at the mouth of Hidden Cove, which generally has shifty and puffy winds, it was a challenge for both boats to get there and across the line. After a few shifty crash tacks to finish, the UN30 6 Feet More, crossed (barely) first on Sunday. The big and fast Sweden 45 Imagine was just seconds behind them, followed by the very well sailed J/97e Indigo Horizontal. 

It was truly a stellar weekend for Port Madison Yacht Club’s annual Fal Joslin race/cruise — complete with wind and challenging course conditions, amazing sailors in a myriad of boat types, and full potluck fun with great friends and stories. We are lucky to have the fancily renamed “Jib and Jug Club” to not only get us through these difficult couple years but bring us out of it with such amazing grace. Thank you Langley Gace and Ty Abrams for all your time and effort to put this together – 2021 was one for the record books both on and off the course.