The winding Toliva Shoal course. Green line is the outbound route, red is the return trip.

Co-hosted annually in mid-February by the Olympia Yacht Club (OYC) and the South Sound Sailing Society as the third of four races in the Southern Sound Series, the Toliva Shoal Race can deliver anything from snow on deck to a sunny 60-degree day of gorgeous winter sailing. The scenery of the South Sound makes for a great experience on the water regardless, but especially when the mountains are out. All of this combined with strong currents makes this a challenging race.

The course makes its way in an ‘S’ pattern out and back—north from Budd Inlet, turning south leaving Johnson Point to starboard to a government mark near Nisqually Flats, then essentially circumnavigating Anderson Island as you make your way back—so you change points of sail several times.

On Friday, the delivery of our Cal 33, Cherokee, was pleasant and started early to catch some of the flood tide through the Tacoma Narrows. We made good pace to Fox Island and entered Budd Inlet around noon. Inspiring views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier were on display at sunrise. Along for the ride was Lonny Marble, a long time crew member and friend going back to grade school. We settled in and helped send our friend JJ up the mast of her Hobie 33, TC, before heading to dinner and then making an appearance at the club.

We got a good night’s sleep, and in the morning made a trip to the store before getting breakfast at OYC, which was provided by some great volunteers. By this time, our crew started showing up to the docks. After a few tasks, we were ready to go racing. Even after the half hour ride out to the starting area, we were pretty early. The forecast models had some variation, from northwest winds at 5-10 knots to northeast 5-10 with another one being a complete mixmaster.

The fleet beats up Budd Inlet looking for breeze, current relief, or both.

Milling around the start, the winds oscillated west-northwest to northwest at 6 to 8 knots. Starting near the pin end below the Ranger 33, Aurora, we sailed up Budd Inlet toward Dofflemyer Point. I estimated we would have some current eddy to help us get up the east shore of Budd Inlet. We footed toward the east on port tack and the eddy did pick up, but we were also sailing into a header and were lower than Aurora. Tacking back to starboard, Aurora easily crossed in front of us.

Olson 40 String Theory came first overall for the day, extending their lead in the overall series scoring.

Sailing into Dana Passage, the wind got light, then went to zero. We used the drifter and then the A1 to move through the crowd of boats filling Dana Pass. Exiting Dana, there were signs of breeze coming down Case Inlet. The boats that stepped into that wind first legged out on those behind. Now with a genoa up, sailing into that new breeze as we headed toward Johnson Point, we plotted the next leg. It would be a run to the government mark at McAllister Creek.

With our S2 kite up, we made big gains on Aurora, rounding a few minutes after them and jibing at the mark. Reaching cross-current towards Lyle Point, we had a staysail up for a while as we reeled in Aurora.

Since we were on the fastest leg of the day, I called for a toast honoring my old friend Darrin Towe, a beloved sailor who was tragically lost in a plane crash earlier this month. My friend and crewmate, Gordon, went down to ready the spirits. We made an abbreviated salute to DTX, cups held high as we paid respect to a life well lived pursuing so many passions and adventures.

The transition in the race was upon us, so down came the staysail as conditions changed. Winds were lighter, but as we sailed past Oro Bay, we could see boats ahead out in the middle that were really slow. We kept sailing high, keeping the boat moving as we rolled past the parking lot between Sandy Point and the south end of Ketron Island. Sometimes being shown where not to go helps the boats behind. Up near Balch Passage, we could see boats starting to move.

Everyone was glad to hear the announcement of a shortened course come over the radio, since the 14-foot ebb was not going to be very fun in the light air. Finish times were taken at Toliva Shoal—20.3 nautical miles of racing was just right for the day.

The overall win for the day went to Bob King’s Olson 40, String Theory, who extended the lead they already held in the overall series scores.

Cherokee gets rolling after a jibe, on the way to second in class for the day.

We never managed to get past Aurora and they earned the win for our Class 7 slow boats. We always have great competition, and congratulations to Derek DeCouteau and crew. Cherokee held onto second in class in tricky, changing conditions. That is sailboat racing in the Pacific Northwest and the Toliva Shoal Race for you. But I’ll admit, it was a relatively pleasant day out there.

Full results at

Photos by Sean Trew.