Nine races over two days with very different conditions, super fun parties, and generous hosts… That’s what PITCH is all about!

The Pacific International Ton Championship (PITCH) is a time-honored Pacific Northwest tradition on Labor Day Weekend. Forty-nine years and counting, sailors of the Salish Sea have come for what the regatta’s tagline advises, “come for the wind, stay for the party.” In a world full of so much change, it’s a happy thought that so many traditions of PITCH are holding steady. For a lot of us, it’s the go-to choice for back to school sailing fun times.

The J/70 fleet was out in force, even getting on the water a day early for a coaching clinic. Photo by Ron Rosenberg.

On Friday afternoon September 1, sailors rolled into the marina at Bellingham Yacht Club. The little boats all rafted up at the reciprocal dock right in front of the yacht club deck. There were ten J/70’s this year and they added in an extra clinic day of coaching and sailing before snuggling up at the dock with the rest of the other 20-somethings. The Port of Bellingham also generously opened up their side for free moorage for race boats and their support teams, and there was room for everyone. As tradition holds, the BYC volunteers motored out into the bay to greet visitors as they arrived. Meanwhile up on the deck, sailors and friends enjoyed some delicious complimentary beer and bratwurst until it was all gone.  

Full docks at BYC. Photo by Ron Rosenberg.

PITCH is the last big event of the North Sound Party Circuit. Oak Harbor, Anacortes, Orcas Island, Bellingham Corinthian, and Bellingham Yacht Club have been competing and supporting each other all season and we came back together for one more big party of the race season — or almost-last, since the smaller Round Lummi Race officially rounds out the series  in October. True to the series vibe, PITCH was definitely a party, and each of the yacht clubs represented. At the skippers’ meeting, each yacht club was tasked to come up with a plucky team name to compete for the coveted Kelly O’Neill Memorial yacht club team trophy for the weekend. An institution since 2004, the Kelly O’Neill Cup honors the best performance of a three-boat team from the same yacht club, while also honoring the memory of a good friend.

Saturday morning, the forecast was a bit uninspiring, but definitely made for great socializing! There was light wind from every direction while Jimmy Buffett tunes ruled the airwaves — it was a gentle start to the weekend. 

By noon, there was a southwesterly just strong enough to make a race happen. We kept thinking it would fade away, but in the end we got in four races and enjoyed the sunshine all day. The name of the game on Saturday was to get off the starting line first. In the light breeze, there was a strong consensus to go left upwind and then turn around and go left downwind. The goal was to get out of the gate and get there first!  

Pleasant light air conditions for day one of Racing. Photo courtesy of Bellingham Yacht Club.

With a pig roasting, hungry sailors were in a big hurry to get back to the dock at 5:00 p.m. By the time we got there, the band was already rocking, the Dark and Stormys were flowing, and dinner was ready. BYC truly rolled out the red carpet, and rolled out everything else they had on hand. Such fun!  

Sunday was supposed to be breezy in the morning with winds in the upper teens, fading away to a mellow afternoon. The old tired little jib on Wild Rumpus was overdue for retirement long before the day even started. There were white caps on the bay, but I figured it was at least partially due to the tide. If I had a #2 jib, I would have been all about it, but since I don’t, we hanked up the trusty #3. Some sailors left the dock in shorts that morning. Bellingham Bay veterans know that it’s a tad splashy leaving the marina on a southerly, so we put on our full foulies and life jackets because that’s the Rumpus rule when we put up a little jib. Let me just say that it never got mellow that day. It really only built as the day went on. 

With a true southerly wind, we did get to bang the Fairhaven beach for the world-famous Happy Valley lift. Starts played a big role once again, as it was key to get to shore first. There was always more breeze on the shore, sometimes more than you really wanted! Generally, a lift that took you right up to the windward mark. It was a big bonus to be all crewed up with plenty of people to keep the boat flat, and plenty of hands downwind to help grind the kite back. Eventually people got, tired and broke things. Fewer boats were hoisting kites, and fewer boats were still on the water.  But, if you went big and kept it right-side-up, life was good.  

In PHRF2, it was a tight battle in the top four boats.  Eric Yaremko’s S2 9.1, Flying Circus was rated fastest and always finished first, followed by Wild Rumpus, More Uff Da, and Purple Martin. On Sunday, I believe we all finished in the proper rating order and at about the distance.  When we came in, I had no idea what position I was in for the day!  It’s always a great regatta when it’s too close to call. 

By the end of Sunday ,my #3 jib was officially resigned to becoming a set of gear bags. We also gave some of our competitors a good view of the keel during one spectacular jibe-turned-broach. Shockingly, the windex remained attached to the top of the mast — giddy up! 

Breeze on and bang the beach on Sunday! Photo courtesy of Bellingham Yacht Club.

Sunday was a rodeo. We got in five great races and finished with big smiles. PITCH delivered on all accounts, and hit their tag line in style with wind to match the party.

By the time we tucked away all the boats and made our way to the yacht club, the rain came. Perfect timing! Somehow there was yet another delicious meal to go with the trophies and raffle prizes. In the J/70 fleet it was Dime, skippered by Andrew Loe and in the top spot. Vitesse killed it once again in the PHRF fleet with 7 points total in an 8 race series. The venerable Betsy Wareham of Orcas Island won PHRF 2 in her Martin 242, Purple Martin; and our fun friends from Oak Harbor on the San Juan 24 Juan Solo continued their winning ways in PHRF 3. In the end, it was Anacortes Yacht Club who brought home the Kelly O’Neill team trophy for the weekend. Go Team AYC!  

Here’s to the Golden Anniversary of PITCH next year — bigger, better, and more Bellingham-ish! See you there.

Full results here.