Norn’s Report: Two Sailors and a C.O.B. Rescue

The first weekend in May brings Sloop Tavern Yacht Club’s immensely popular doublehanded romp from Seattle to Port Townsend and back, Race to the Straits (RTTS). This year was Norn’s second one in a row under the new ownership group of which I’m a part. Our Santa Cruz 27 Norn is well known around Puget Sound and gets smiles, thumbs ups, and shakas from many in the community. While sometimes we try and pack the boat full of great sailors, this weekend it was about dialing her in doublehanded with one of my boat partners, River Iannaccone.

Santa Cruz 27 Norn ghosting in ultralight air. Photo by Sean Trew.

Sailing conditions in May can bring sneaky surprises, with the full menu of PNW weather moods on offer—sometimes bringing beautiful days full of rays, and other times feeling like mid November. This year leaned more towards the latter, with plenty of breeze and liquid sunshine.

In typical fashion, Race to the Straits starts are chase-style with time designations based on PHRF ratings. Hypothetically, if all 102 boats on the course sailed perfectly to their rating in identical conditions, we’d get to Port Townsend at the same time. We had breeze from the north for our 8:47 a.m. start. Throughout the morning, the wind built with a nice ebb kicking up a fair share of chop. Finding the bigger chop was like getting on the treadmill north. Norn got into the zone, and by Point No Point, we were just behind the leaders, three of whom were in our class.

It wouldn’t be a RTTS with a good anchoring session and, as the wind slowly turned off, we threw lead down just off Point No Point. Looking south, we soon learned that the entire fleet snuck up behind and a few of the larger boats ghosted by us and around the point—a déjà vu moment from RTTS 2023 around Marrowstone. The boats that snuck away quickly seemed to go course right (Whidbey) to take the shortcut up the Sound and through the gate. Once off our hook, we followed suit, realizing over time that the universe always tends to find balance—it didn’t seem that either side made out much more than the other.

Once through the gate, the breeze steadied out, only dying past Marrowstone. We used Norn’s strength of quick tacks to chase small increases in pressure. As the breeze shut off, the first day became that much more interesting, with a hefty ebb sometimes pushing 2 knots of current, only balanced by only a half-knot of breeze. We fortunately had a good 20 boats ahead that had gone the not-great circle route (a common RTTS strategy) and ended up down-current trying to get back south to the finish. We picked an angle that we thought was money, and just about 200 feet out from the finish hoisted our A1, sailing it for a slow-motion minute. We lapsed for 20 seconds and missed the finish by less than 20 feet, hearing “NO NORRRRN” from the top of the committee boat, before falling into the crowd of boats aligned just north of the finish going uphill against bad water trying to get back to the line. Gutted, we stuck it out and, within 5 minutes, we snuck around the boat end in the vicinity of many others—10 other boats finished within one minute of our time.

STYC did a fantastic job putting on an amazing gathering in Port Townsend, and we all were able to share our trials and tribulations of the day. The food and company was top notch, as always.

Sunday morning, we awoke to a steady southerly that was forecast to build as we headed south. Norn slipped up Marrowstone well and we began to engage with the Moore 24 Hummingbird by placing small bets on who could get closer to shore, crossing tacks many times. With the breeze decreasing but the tide shifting from ebb to flood on the south end of Marrrowstone, we opted for a quick dip close to Hood Canal where almost all the lead boats went. As we tacked over to starboard, the breeze shifted left in Mutiny Bay, and we lost much of our gains to the lefty.

Breeze and sea state increased dramatically into the gate and we were in the midst of the fleet in a washing machine of 2 to 3 foot rollers. Most of the group, including Norn, again took the small shortcut down the Sound, heading for Point No Point in dense fog/cloud cover, squeezing out in front of a 800-foot monster with Chinese goods heading to the Port of Tacoma at a good clip. (Thankfully we had our class on how the fleet avoids any issues with marine traffic in our skippers meeting!)

As the breeze built and Norn again began to steadily get into a groove up the west side of the sound, we slowly started to reel in the leaders of our class, the Olson 25 Three Ring Circus.

Just outside of Apple Tree Cove and the Port of Kingston, we had watched as a boat lee bowing us shot ahead and went through a maneuver that confused both of us on Norn. Though we needed to tack and sail east to take advantage of a header, we both decided something didn’t seem right and it was more essential to take a look at the situation in front of us. We noticed an object in the water and, as we came closer, we quickly realized that it was a PFD and, thus, likely a human. We both went into a quick recovery mode, dropping our headsail, readying our throwline, and getting the outboard down (but not in gear). It took two passes to square up the throwline, but we got our fellow competitor on board Norn within 5 minutes. The crew still on board the other boat had dropped their jib, and we had them follow us into Kingston, dropping off our temporary third crewmember to get warm on shore.

For obvious reasons, we suspended our race from there. We motored home safely, happy to have been a part of the solution in a difficult situation. We’re hoping for redress, but the main thing is that we had a great weekend of doublehanded sailing on a boat we love with a bunch of great people.

Overall honors for the weekend go to Jonathan McKee’s Riptide 44, Dark Star, followed by Stephanie Arnold sailing J/112e Mystery and Michael Karas on the Gougeon 32 catamaran, Incognito. Thanks to Sloop Tavern Yacht Club for another great Race to the Straits—this will be one for the memories and future stories at The Sloop.

Sir Isaac leads the fleet up the shoreline looking for eddies. Photo by Sean Trew.

The Norn Crew’s Lessons from the COB Recovery

It’s nice to review a Crew Overboard (COB) situation when everything turned out fine, as it did in this case. I’m not a safety expert, but having just enacted a crew overboard rescue, here are a few of my observations from that experience:

  1. The requirement to wear PFDs went a long way that day—for the person in the water to stay afloat obviously, but also for our ability to see that person. Both of us on Norn feel extra incentive to wear them, especially if the breeze picks up, whether we have two or six sailors on board.
  2. Getting a person out of the water is a process that takes effort and strength. The modified open transom on Norn was particularly helpful in bringing the COB onto our boat. If your vessel doesn’t have an easy way to get someone or something out of the water, I suggest buying a quick ladder to aid with a conscious able-bodied COB, in addition to the LifeSling which could be hoisted from a halyard.
  3. Recovering a real person out of the water is so different from what we do in a drill. I highly suggest that we work to develop better, safe ways to practice this—in everything from a J/70 to a 70-footer. I believe there are some sessions available with a weighted dummy. In my experience, we practice getting to a COB much more than we do (or can) practice recovering something much heavier than a fender or a lifejacket, and I feel that more people would benefit from practicing the second and potentially more strenuous part of the recovery.
  4. We need a better first aid kit on board Norn. The COB had minor cuts and we didn’t have what we should have. A solid investment on any boat!
  5. I want to especially commend both sailors aboard the vessel we assisted that day. They did an incredible job of keeping cool in a frightening situation. It’s difficult to imagine what any of us would do if we lost half our crew over in a 20 to 25 knot blow. In this case, both the crew on the boat and the crew in the water were excellent at maintaining composure. It really helped us all find a quick path to a relieving outcome in this situation.

*Editor’s Note: 48° North is in communication with the person who was overboard, and this person will be sharing their personal story via 48° North in the coming weeks.

Full results at:

Title background photo courtesy of Sean Trew.