“Come for the wind, stay for the party!” Bellingham’s PITCH gave sailboat racers exactly what they’d hope for over Labor Day Weekend.

PITCH has been a favorite Labor Day weekend regatta in the North Sound for nearly 50 years and is Bellingham Yacht Club’s premier event in the North Sound Party Circuit. Predating PHRF, its name harkens back to the tonnage days when it was the Pacific International Tonnage Championships. Its slogan, “Come for the wind, stay for the party” was certainly accurate this year!

In addition to being a great regatta, this year’s event served as a Pacific Coast Championship for a growing J/70 fleet, with 11 boats from California, Oregon and Washington. The winner earned a slot at the 2023 J/70 World Championship. In addition to the J/70s, 16 other boats registered across three PHRF divisions and a non-flying sails (NFS) division with boats coming from Seattle, Whidbey Island, Anacortes, and Orcas Island.

The J/70 fleet was very competitive as sailors contested the Pacific Coast Championship. Photo by Arden Rathkopf.


The party got started Friday as racers arrived and were greeted warmly with welcoming smiles, complimentary BBQ and beer, and live music. The clubhouse was hopping with everyone enjoying themselves, catching up with friends and sharing stories. 

With a solid breeze forecast of 15-20 knots out of the south, Saturday’s starting time was moved up to 1030 to maximize racing opportunities. The wind was fairly consistent throughout the day with Principal Race Officer (PRO) Charley Rathkopf getting five races off for all fleets. A mild chop and sustained breeze kept boats powered up all day. After racing, the party got going again as BYC welcomed competitors back to the bar with live music by Yogoman and dinner by Back East BBQ. All this made for seriously happy sailors.  

Kai Vurno’s J/70 Smoke and Mirrors puts in a jibe. Photo by Arden Rathkopf.


Sunday’s forecasts were variable with the consensus being that the breeze may die off in the afternoon. Our start time was again moved up to 1030. As it turned out, we were again treated to a breeze-on day with 10-15 knots out of the south. 


Since we were racing our J/70, Aha!, I can mainly report on the happenings in our fleet. It was fun and highly competitive. It’s always a good time with the start line the right size and a fleet of 11 boats vying for position and a spot in the first row. We had good starts on Aha! except for one when we were over early, but had space to do a whoop-de-do immediate 360 so we limited our losses.

Despite terrific conditions, the days were different from a racing perspective. Saturday’s consistent breeze meant that the most practiced teams did well, and starts and boat speed were paramount. Sunday brought bigger shifts and pressure variations, and was more of a tactician’s day. On both days, there was enough breeze that crew weight played a role — we sailed with three on Saturday and four on Sunday, and our results improved on the second day.

In a fleet as tight and well-sailed as the J/70s, pinwheel roundings can be unavoidable. But the fleet is very respectful of one another. Here, a group of J/70s douses spinnakers as they prepare for a leeward rounding. Photo by Arden Rathkopf.


The fleet was tight, and there were a number of pinwheel roundings with some occasionally raised voices, but the J/70 fleet is very respectful and we have a motto “no boats touch.” Our coach, Ron Rosenberg is constantly reminding us to be looking 10-15 boat lengths ahead to ensure we don’t position ourselves in a bad spot for a rounding.

A special highlight for our team on Aha! was in the last race when a big left shift laddered us up to 4th place. Those who anticipated the shift (or got lucky) made out well. Thanks to the good breeze, we got four races off on Sunday — a total of nine for the weekend. 

In addition to the J/70s, there were three PHRF Flying Sails fleets and one Non-Flying sails class. Photo by Arden Rathkopf.



In Division 1, Vitesse won 1st place, followed by Freja in 2nd place, and Still Hitched in 3rd place. Division 2 winners were Flying Circus in 1st, Purple Martin in 2nd, and Rubicon in 3rd place. In Division 3, Juan Solo took 1st place, with Aquavit taking 2nd and Obi Juan taking 3rd place.

The J/70 division was won by California competitor Orange You Glad, who was also crowned the 2022 Pacific Coast Champion. Behind 1st by just one point, Taz took 2nd place, followed by Awkward Turtle in 3rd place. Greg Zimmerman on Wildfire won the NFS division.  

The Swackhamer family in their new-to-them Melges 24, enjoying a plane ride. They finished 3rd in their class. Photo by Arden Rathkopf.


Orcas Island Yacht Club was also awarded the Kelly O’Neil Cup for the best overall team of boats from the same yacht club. This award was established in 2005 to honor Kelly O’Neil Henson (1957-2004). A much-beloved sailing photographer and boating enthusiast, her boat “Smile” was a fixture at local and international sailing events. Her photographs regularly appeared in 48° North and other sailing publications. 

Thanks to BYC Sail Fleet Captain Sarah Drotning, the BYC Race Committee, and all the many volunteers who made PITCH such an amazing event!

Title background image by Arden Rathkopf.