Since 1981, the wily bunch at the Sloop Tavern Yacht Club has been running what has turned into a Puget Sound classic — the Blakely Rock Benefit Race.

Impressively, 94 boats registered in 2021 and competed in what was another notch on the yardarm for this iconic benefit race. The race itself — which is now lovingly named in memory of long time member, past commodore and club historian Carol Pearl — was a blast as always  

Winds lined up on the coast at that perfect west-northwest angle that places Ballard smack in the center of the eddy behind the Olympic Mountains. Predictions were for a northerly in the north sound and a southerly in the south sound with little to nothing in the central until mid-afternoon when the northerly was to push through. 

Well, obviously Carol was gonna have none of that for her fellow Sloopers and must have sat down with those friendly Norse Wind Gods, hoisted a few frosty ones and convinced them to push that northerly in early for her namesake fleet on the Puget Sound. By the 11 a.m. start time, the first class pushed slowly off the line on a building northwesterly and, by the fifth start, the solid northerly had finally pushed down to the edge of the start line.

The first mark in the course was Meadow Point and the large fleet had just a few tacks upwind before it was time to set the chute and pick a lane for the long sail south to the leeward mark, Blakely Rock. Here is where things got interesting. The flood was on so most of the fleet chose to push out towards the middle of the sound but with the building Northerly angle the winds were pushing in at the same time the fleet was working south but doing it from the left side, spinning off Magnolia into a northeast angle.

Pushing the front edge of the filing breeze, the early starters looked towards West Point and saw a couple boats hanging east for the wind – the Creitz family sailing their Olson 25 Three Ring Circus, then the J/27 LXII a little more east, then the UN30 6 feet More running in good breeze even more to the east. Near them the Baba 40 Airloom plugged along on that east side slant as well. Looking alone on a flyer to the east, these boats lived that age old adage — It ain’t a flyer if it’s the right way to go — and all four took first their classes. Challenging that adage was the J/80 Reckless who even though sailed the westerly side of the course, reached up to the east at just the right time to round the rock first in their class.

The author’s UN30 going well upwind.

The later starting boats, all those fast sleds behind the regular Joe’s, came on strong with the building northerly with the fastest of them, the R/P 55 Zvi, rounding the rock with the J/80 Reckless. Even with a 30 minute head start on the course that fast machine was able to join the early starters while rounding the rock and was able to complete the 14 mile course in just 1 hour and 58 minutes, compared to the over 3 hours it took their competition in class 5. Incredible speeds on an amazing day.

Top of the #1 conditions for the rest of the fleet as they worked back across to the Magnolia side. Many doing the standard flood tide tack up along Bainbridge before flopping over to port for the long tack to Four Mile Rock — a drag race to the lift really, while setting yourself up with a lane to short tack along the shallow muddy shore, round West Point and then play the wind/current game. If you come into Magnolia below the rock and often the winds get fickle near the bluff, come in above the rock and hey man, watch that depth sounder!

Everyone was now short tacking and looking for lanes. The fleet had congested with the early starters, the slower rated boats, swapping tacks with the late starters, those faster rated boats. The J/105’s battled against J/27’s, and J/111’s found lanes around J/80’s. It was truly a blast and one of the best parts about sailing in a pursuit style race, making those chess moves in your head to set your boat up with a clear lane and protecting it against both faster and slower boats — doing it all on a beautifully sunny Pacific Northwest day with great breeze and a spring time balmy 47 degrees — it doesn’t get much better than this. Thank you Carol Pearl! Who knew hoisting a frosty with the Wind Gods would have such an amazing result.

Once around West Point it was another battle to find a low lane. Low enough to avoid the flooding current, high enough to not run aground AND with clear air. Boats could be seen running that 9-foot deep line right up to the restricted locks ship canal zone and then shooting out with the fresh water spilling from the locks before clearing the channel, flopping back over and getting lifted up the breakwater almost to the finish line before one final tack on this amazing day.

It was a beautiful day for racing on Puget Sound.

Ninety four boats in any year is a stellar accomplishment anywhere, to do it after this year, in a spring we all so desperately need it is nothing short of amazing. Combine that with great memories of an outstanding sailor lady who loved her Sloop friends more than most things and the beneficiary, The Center for Wooden Boats, being a sailing focused, inclusive and historical organization that also encourages access to the water on amazing wooden sailing vessels touches the hearts of the hundreds of sailors that enjoyed that incredible day.

By the way, if you are reading this out of the Pacific Northwest — it rained the whole time, was miserably cold and wet and everyone just drifted around in no wind:)

Note: All photos courtesy of Lisa Mize Photography.