Temps pushing 80 and lovely sunshine doesn’t always bring breeze, but it sure did for this year’s excellent SYC Vashon Island Race. 

As the week wore on prior to May’s annual SYC-hosted circumnavigation of Vashon Island, the forecast looked so good that I couldn’t tell if I should keep reloading the page to make sure it was actually for the Seattle area, or if I should close the app once-and-for-all so as not to jinx it. I’ve seen sun before on a summertime Vashon Island Race, but seldom is it paired with breeze. Considering that the first race of Seattle Yacht Club’s Tri-Island Series, to Protection Island and back, had been a blissful, mostly-downwind affair in warm sun with record-early finish times, it was not hard to feel as though the other shoe had to drop. Not so. Maybe somebody at SYC sold their soul, because the Vashon Race got unimaginably good conditions too, keeping a great thing going in this year’s Tri-Island Series!

In total, 53 boats joined the race — 25 of whom were doing the full 47-mile circumnavigation of Vashon, 21 boats would sail the 34-mile short course to Point Robinson and back, and 7 sailed in the Cruiser/Racer Class on a 15-mile course.

Riptide 35 Terramoto, J/111 Hooligan, and Farr 36 Annapurna maneuver for clean air and an advantage over competitors early in the race.

The northerly launched us off the line under spinnakers with lovely pressure around 12 knots. The smart routers had predicted that the Elliott Bay side would pay in the first portion of the run south. Indeed, they were correct, though the middle of the Sound wasn’t too bad either. With full running conditions, the northerly built as the geography compressed the racecourse between Alki and Vashon.

TP52 Smoke flies south in a beautiful northerly.

Breeze pushed into the high teens, but the water stayed flat as the wind and tide ran together toward the South Sound. We were very pleased to have boat speeds in the low to mid-teens on the TP52 Glory as we chewed up the miles at the front of the fleet. I’m not sure if racing gets more pleasant. Good wind was on offer all over the course, but it was definitely variable in pockets. Al Hughes, sailing Creative in the J/105 fleet, noted “gradient holes between breeze lines coming from the north and northeast.” It’s always striking when 10 knots of boat speed suddenly feels slow, but they weren’t the quicksand some wind holes can be around here.

The fleet diverged at Point Robinson, with the short course boats returning north, and the long course boats turning southwest and continuing on. For those on the long course, this is always a critical decision point — the most direct course would follow the shore, but there is seldom breeze in there. On the other hand, how great a circle is too great? This year added yet another key decision: roll the dice carrying the kite at a hot angle as you head up, or douse and sail the more direct course with the jib. Each had its risks, and between the 52s, Glory was ahead and kept the spinnaker up, while Smoke was just behind and opted to try the more direct route with the jib. Keeping the kite up was nervy for a while, as monster puffs found their way over the bluff and required a massive sheet ease and a big soak away from the desired course when they hit. Pretty soon, though, we started to feel better about our decision. Our navigator had hoped the breeze would shift behind us, and boy did he wind up looking smart. Before long, we were sailing an angle parallel to Smoke, with more wind because we were father from the Vashon shore and more speed since we were reaching with the kite. Woo hoo!

The Glory team enjoying fast sailing under spinnaker.

The south end of Vashon always seems to have a big wind hole, and it did get proper funky in the transition down there between the northerly on either side of the island. After successfully putting some distance on Smoke, we got headed and switched to our jib. Then… huh? Some puffs from the Tacoma side? Weird. Then back from the north coming out of Quartermaster Harbor. Ok. Then back to the south off Point Defiance. For more than an hour, we waded through these murky zephyrs, always trying to keep the boat moving first and foremost. Thankfully, the tide was still nudging us along even when the breeze didn’t. 

Approaching Tahlequah, we could see the dark water of the northerly in Colvos Passage, but sheesh it took a lot of machinations to get to it. It seemed just boat lengths away for ages. We even put a spinnaker up to ride the minuscule Point Defiance puffs trying to get there. 

Finally, we made it and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Smoke had closed a bit of distance in the transition, but unless the northerly trickled down to them much more directly than it had for us, we knew they still had some convergence hoops to jump through. We cruised home in a gusty northerly hovering in the low-to-mid teens. We enjoyed the sun, wind, and the surroundings as we zipped up Colvos, eventually realizing that we had a couple of miles on the nearest competitors. Racing doesn’t pan out like this most of the time, so you’ve got to appreciate it when things go your way. 

Jeanneau Sunfast 3600, Rush, leads J/109, Spyhop, on their way to wins in their class and the PHRF Long Course Overall.

Near the north end of Colvos, the breeze built, hinting there was more to come. The final stretch of the beat got very windy with wind steadily in the low 20s — a bit more than forecast. We tacked around West Point to find the committee boat only a few hundred yards farther north. Crossing the line, the sound of the finishing gun was the final reward of a truly extraordinary day of boat racing on Puget Sound. We were fortunate on every level! 

As is so often the case, the south-of-Vashon restart had been a major determinant in the final results, but a number of the classes had very tight racing, nonetheless. In Class 2, Carl Buchan’s Madrona just edged out Iain Christenson’s Annapurna crew by 18 seconds on corrected time for a class and long-course ORC overall win. In addition to Glory and Madrona, long course class honors went to Riptide 35 Terramoto, Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 Rush, and Swan 441 Gusto. The short course boats had a great day too, and made superb time since they avoided the south-end dead zone. In the nine-boat J/105 fleet, there was a hot four-way battle at the front, with lead changes throughout the beat. Jaded finished atop the J/105 podium, and won the short course overall. Other short course class winners were Wauquiez Centurion 40s, Different Drummer, and Cal 33, Cherokee. The C&C 115 Lola and Olson 911 Kowloon each took Cruiser/Racer class wins. 

It was an epically good Vashon Race — the best ever, in my history anyway. After all-timers for these first two Tri-Island Series Races, who can predict what the final event, the Blake Island Race, will be like?! Maybe it’ll rain fresh donuts and hundred dollar bills, or at least round out the series with more summery weather and excellent breeze.

Full results here.

All photos, including the title background photo courtesy of Jan Anderson.