A perennial favorite, STYC’s Women at the Helm returned with great competition in light conditions, and so many incredible women sailors having a ball. Here’s the report from Synergy 1000, Valkyrie.

I’m happy to report that this year’s Women At The Helm “Going the Distance” regatta hosted by Sloop Tavern Yacht Club was quite well attended. Thirty one boats came out to play across eight classes and mother nature provided some excellent champagne sailing conditions. The event has quickly become popular, as one of the region’s races that stipulate a woman must drive the boat. 

The forecast was calling for predictably unpredictable Pacific Northwest summer sailing conditions, with a convergence zone between Edmonds and West Point somewhere from noon to 3 p.m. The morning was gray and unseasonably chilly, with the threat of rain, but this gave us wind that we weren’t expecting. 

The gray start to the day brought a bit of unexpected breeze.

A southerly wind I’d estimate around 7 knots was a welcome sight. I say estimated because Valkyrie, the 1999 Synergy 1000 we were sailing, has no electronics beyond an electric bilge pump, nav lights, and a charger for the handheld VHF radio plugged into the battery. This isn’t my favorite way to race in a competitive class, but it was good to take a step back and really learn how the boat feels and changes with just weight, sail controls, and micro helm adjustments. 

Valkyrie is not new to Puget Sound, but has been in early retirement for the past five years. She was built locally from cedar strip and carbon overlay creating an extremely lightweight and powerful 30-foot boat. She has 1,800 pounds of lead on her bulb, weighs in (reportedly) at 3,800 pounds and her square top headboard measures four and a half feet. To say she is a powerhouse is an understatement and we are just getting to scratch the surface of what she can do. 

Right out of the gate, our class was clearly competitive. The pin was favored, we were lined up on starboard and it was clear some boats were either going to be early, or get pinned out. Fortunately for me, we were set up just above and out of reach of the Farr 30 Nefarious, skippered by legendary Regan Edwards, and the last boat to make the pin end of the line. We stalled slightly at the 10s countdown so we wouldn’t be OCS and as I put the bow down to gain speed, Valkyrie obliged and we crossed the line just on the starboard quarter of Nefarious. Rush (Sunfast 3600) skippered by Paula Bersie, had to come back around, and split with the pack out on port tack, heading away from the breakwater. It paid to go inside for us, but it was a good decision for them to split from the pack in hopes of catching a rogue lift. 

A round-about course brought the fleet through a convergence zone

The first mark after the start was located southwest of the Ship Canal entrance, and was a challenge to get to with the lack of wind. West Point was next, followed by Spring Beach, back to the start, then West Point, Meadow Point, and on to the finish (STYC’s course: NBWRNWMN). 

The massive Ebb was predicted to last until 3 p.m., making it challenging to get around West Point. If you stuck your nose out too far, the wind was very light and the current would push you sideways, giving off strong Race to the Straits vibes from a few months prior. We made it around West Point just before the wind died at the mark. Not long after, we settled into a beautiful downwind run with our brand-spanking-new kite, and the wind switched around early to a southerly. We transitioned smoothly to the jib and, within a minute or two, we were sailing upwind again to the Spring Beach mark. 

We stuck to the outside on our way north to take full advantage of the 2-knot current. Nefarious and the 1D35, Shrek, were leading our class by a significant margin at this point. Scheme, a Pyramid 30 owned and skippered by Taylor Joosten, was also on my radar. Taylor and I regularly sail together so I know her tricks. She is a phenomenal sailor, so it behooved me to know where she was. Tactically though, it’s never a good decision to follow someone around the course, you’ll never pass them that way. This leg was essentially a drag race now that the wind had switched. 

Flying the pretty new spinnaker.

The northerly filled in slightly and we scooted up the course in search of the ever-elusive Spring Beach mark. On a good day, this mark is hard to find; and even harder if you haven’t been to it yet this year for Monday night racing. It sits at the base of a cliff and is a singular off-white staff only about 6 feet tall. There are no reflectors or markings of any kind to help identify it from more than about a mile away. We got out the binoculars, an advanced technique, but even that didn’t help in finding the mark. We anticipated a heading wind shift as we neared the shore, so we maintained our close-hauled course. In doing so, we sailed a little too far north before bearing away to the mark, giving Nefarious a bigger lead. Unfortunately for Shrek, they sailed far past the layline and realized just as we were approaching the mark, requiring them to pop their kite to get back down course. 

Downwind sailing after rounding the elusive Spring Beach mark.

We set the spinnaker on port jibe with the intention of almost immediately jibing out. We headed south to Meadow Point and then into the start line, through the gate, and back out to West Point, carefully trying to link the patches of breeze together and stay out of the ebb current line. 

We rounded West Point and wound our way back north for Meadow Point. The current was still flowing steadily, so we took advantage of it instead of taking the traditional route of heading back into the breakwater.  

All smiles for the author and sailors across the fleet!

We rounded the final mark at Meadow Point to starboard, set the kite, and headed for the finish line. We took the middle track down to guard our position between the boats behind us and the finish line. The wind was now a steady 7-9 knots pushing us towards the finish. Our final jibe angle was spicier than we intended due to a slight wind angle change, so we came over the line at a quick pace. We were pleased to be second to finish, correcting out second in class and fourth overall, all while being rewarded with a pristine day of sailing. Valkyrie was very happy to stretch her legs again and be back racing on Puget Sound, too. 

SEASTR, the non-profit that owns the Valkyrie, is building the program and getting women, or people who identify as women, who don’t have access or don’t know where to start out on the water. See you out there!