The springtime distance racing classic around the Strait of Georgia provided varying conditions for a competitive fleet. Here’s the story from the winners of the medium course.

65 Red Roses catching some of the long course boats. Photo courtesy of Robert Torok.

The 2023 Southern Straits Race began in typical fashion, with pouring rain and no wind. The forecast had predicted that light winds at the start of the race would steadily increase throughout the day and culminate in 30-plus knots early on Saturday. Our team races the 36-foot J/111, 65 Red Roses II, out of West Vancouver Yacht Club (WVYC). As we were leaving the club, we were treated to a surprise — four orcas — a sure sign of good luck!

The race start presented the same conditions that had challenged us in previous years. Two knots of current pushing us over the line in light wind punished those who were aggressive on the line, so this time we hung back and nailed it, more or less. We were 30 seconds late to the line, but in clear air, which allowed us to overtake our competitors and catch the long course boats that were ahead. This is where the real race began. 

With our light wind jib and a full main, we glided down current towards Point Atkinson, chasing patches of wind out of English Bay until we had enough to fill our spinnaker. Playing with the big boats now, we carefully jibed back and forth to find the wind between Point Atkinson and Bowen Island. Some boats, such as the J/109s and the other J/111, Valkyrie, dug deeper and found success along the shore, eating into our lead. We chose to position ourselves farther into the strait as we raced toward Halibut Bank.

Sun and breeze followed the morning rain and light air. Spring! Photo courtesy of Robert Torok.

With the wind ranging 5 to 8 knots, we were able to maintain our A1.5 spinnaker all the way to the mark. As a crew, we have come a long way since our first Southern Straits when every jibe felt like a liability. This year, as we approached the first mark of the course, we opted for a jibe drop, also known as a “Mexican”, to ensure that we didn’t lose our position. As the first medium course boat around, we were determined to maintain our lead.

For those unfamiliar with a “Mexican,” it is like a weather takedown, but it is done when approaching the mark on starboard and a jibe is needed while then rounding the mark to port. During the turn, the spinnaker is over-trimmed, pulling the foot up to the deck. As the skipper completes the turn, the spinnaker inverts and lies on the new, windward side of the jib ready to be dropped. The name “Mexican” was coined by Buddy Melges during the 1992 America’s Cup trials in San Diego where prevailing winds would often point the bow towards Mexico during port roundings.

After rounding the Halibut Bank buoy, we hunkered down for the long leg to the new ODAS mark located at the southern end of the Strait of Georgia, west of the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. We chose to stay close to the Vancouver Island shore until we hit a wind shift near Thrasher Rock that forced us into an auto-tack. At this point, things started to get sporty. The breeze built and we were excited to see winds hitting 15 knots with gusts to 20. It was going to be a fun downwinder. 

Here, our focus shifted to Valkyrie, who was cruising down the Vancouver Island shore and seemed to be gaining on us. Meanwhile, Ultraman III (S-40 MOD) and Joy Ride (J/122e) were just off our stern. As we approached ODAS, we frantically calculated wind angles to see if we could hold a kite back to Halibut. As it didn’t look promising, we decided to try something new, a combination of the A3 and staysail, which allowed us to hold a high lane in 22 knots. As the wind lightened, we were able to peel to our A1.5 and lay the mark. It was interesting to observe the sail configurations behind us, with our competitors Valkyrie and Ultraman III flying spinnakers, each boat having moments when the conditions allowed them to gain and other times to lose ground.  

As we approached Halibut Bank in the dark, we had a new problem to contend with. Phoenix (XP44), a long course boat, was coming up from leeward with rights. We had to ensure we established overlap with the faster boat 200 meters out from the mark, or we risked having to slow down and let them round 40 meters ahead of us, as per Appendix RV (Reduced Visibility Racing Rules) IRPCAS. Overlap established! 

Another Mexican drop, this time in the dark. We hoisted our J1 and sailed to Entrance Island, rounding PE and PO to port while wondering which set of bow lights behind us was our competition, and how far back were they? Impossible to tell. The wind went aft once we rounded PO and we decided to try our A3 again, but it wasn’t the ticket this time. The local pressure forced us too far south with big puffs knocking us down and we couldn’t find a groove to take us home. We tried adding our staysail but eventually decided to hoist our J2 for the final stretch. 

Dinner time aboard 65 Red Roses. A well fed crew is a happy crew!

Aside from technical aspects, another key in successful racing is keeping the crew in good spirits. We are a relatively bare-bones operation with all non-essential items offloaded for racing. Nevertheless, we are a happy crew. With a plentiful offering of sandwiches and wraps, hot pasta for dinner, fresh fruit, homemade cookies, and a wide assortment of snacks including crew favorite, Mr. Noodles, there is never a risk of mutiny. Kudos to fellow crew, Nicole, for keeping us so well fed!

Back on the course, it was around 11 p.m. and we had started a long starboard tack slog — a drag race home — with cold crew on the rail and cold hands in the cockpit. We all agreed we were glad we weren’t on the long course! Despite seeming like a one tack approach to the finish, somewhere south of Roger Curtis we encountered a big knock, begging us to tack on it. Our tactician said no, we’re going to sail up behind Point Atkinson and ride the lift around the corner like we’ve done so many times before. A critical final call that we think gained us some crucial minutes on the boats chasing us down. 

And so, a couple short tacks in our home turf and we were across the line, feeling confident in our performance, happy to be finished, and ready for Mike’s hot soup at WVYC! At this point we knew we’d won line honors for our course, but it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that we’d learn we won our division and the overall for the medium course. Another spectacular Southern Straits is in the books, and congratulations to all the sailors who accepted this annual challenge!

Full results can be found at

Title background photo courtesy of Robert Torok.