After a bleak forecast, Winter Vashon surprises with some sunny skies and more than enough wind to make it around the course.

We went into the first weekend of December with a foreboding weather forecast of snow, more snow, cold, and more cold. Oh, and a wind forecast somewhere between 4 and 15 knots from the northeast, southeast, or northwest…take your pick. Racers wanted wind to get around the course, but weren’t too thrilled about the prospect of freezing wind chill.

When we woke up Saturday morning for this annual circumnavigation of Vashon Island, we were greeted (in Bremerton) with 3-4 inches of snow. The question was: “Will any of our crew be able to show up, much less WANT to show up?” We hit the road early for Tacoma Yacht Club (TYC) to give us extra time on the roads, and extra time to dig the boat out of the snow drifts we imagined piled high on deck.

Boy, were we surprised when we showed up at TYC with nary a bit of snow…and sunny skies! Was I dreaming? A quick pinch from my girlfriend, Sandy, confirmed I wasn’t dreaming, and we were off to the races.

The race started under sublime conditions — a 10 knot northwesterly. The fleet beat into and up Colvos Passage under sunny skies with breeze that built to a relatively steady 12-14 knots. There were a few dead spots along the edges. More than once, we saw boats digging into the shore a boat length or two too deep, eventually succumbing to the sirens as they wallowed for a minute before re-emerging.  

At the north end of Colvos, the wind picked up to 18 knots, with gusts to 20. With a strong ebb on (wind against current), things got sporty in the steep chop. Aboard my Farr 395 Time Warp, we elected to lay a reef in to see how the boat would perform. To our amazement, she settled down and took the chop like a champ.

A quarter mile or so north of Vashon, the committee placed a temporary mark that everyone fetched easily on the outgoing tide. Then the fun really kicked in!

Class 2 (the fast guys like Absolutely, Annapurna, Freja, Madrona, and Terramoto) led the fleet around the mark and chose not to hoist a spinnaker immediately. Either the angle was too tight, or, like us on Time Warp, they decided discretion was the better part of valor. We had a relatively shorthanded crew and were happy doing 8 knots under main and fractional jib.  

Maybe it was the liquid encouragement in the hot apple cider Sandy was passing up from the cabin, or perhaps it was the wind settling down into the 12-14 range with gusts up to 18…  Moments after rounding the weather mark, we decided that rigging for a spinnaker couldn’t hurt anything. Right? I mean, it wasn’t like we were actually going to hoist it.

You know what happened next. Not a minute went by before we decided it wasn’t blowing that bad, and we went for the hoist. The boat took off and we were suddenly hitting 9 and 10 knots consistently, and saw a top speed of 14.2. Yeehaw! 

We saw our closest competitor, and eventual class winner, John Leitzinger’s Kahuna cross our bow on starboard. We had closed the gap significantly and were back in the race. As we approached Point Robinson, we were unsure whether to take it wide so we were not sucked into the lee of Maury Island, or rhumb line it for the finish.  

Too late. Kahuna did an early jibe and that was the right call. We got our jibe in uneventfully which, for this shorthanded crew, was a success. Now we were on a tight reach and “Back of the bus, boys!” came the call from the helm as we tried to keep her on her feet. A quick look aft saw Dan Randolph’s Farr 30, Nefarious, planing under an S-kite with squared-back pole. Where did they come from? Nefarious went on to grab second in class — nice job!

We were gaining steadily on Kahuna, but John was protecting his windward quarter. We owe them 9 seconds per mile, and if we were going to make this a race then we needed to get around them. A quick bluff up, followed by a dive to leeward netted nothing. John is a veteran — heck, he probably invented that move! The only way around them was by going above them.

Our tactician, Jeff Janders, called for a controlled round up. He tells us it is ‘controlled’ because it is intentional. Now friends, I am here to tell you that there is nothing controlled about rounding up in 14 knots of breeze with 18 knot puffs. We were on our ear, with the lee rail in the water, while Jacob Janders worked to uncleat the vang.  

We are happy to report that no animals or humans were lost or injured in the round up. We got the boat back on its feet, and were racing again, this time several boat lengths to weather and behind Kahuna. By this time, I suspect Kahuna realized they had their time saved on us and let us by. Either way, we didn’t care — we’ll take our small victories where we find them. We roared over the top of them, and were now firmly positioned to take line honors in our class.

We wanted to keep our spot at the front, but suddenly the finish was coming up fast. It was windy, there were a lot of boats around, there wasn’t much leeway to the near shore, and we had a shorthanded (and novice) crew. By majority vote (with me dissenting!) I was elected to also do foredeck, a position I have not done in about 20 or 30 years — I mean, what could go wrong? You’d think we would have had a plan for the douse, and that the crew had carefully discussed it all in advance. Hell no! We didn’t need no stinkin’ instructions!

We crossed the line about one boat length in front of Kahuna, and immediately went into the douse, with the boat basically close-hauled. No one (including me) had a clue on how this spinnaker was going to come down. We released the tack…but only part way. Now the kite was 12-feet to leeward, pinning us on our ear with the lee rail deep in the water in a definitely not controlled round-up. It was sideways sailing at its finest. 

Photo of Time Warp’s epic douse courtesy of Tim Cleary.

To make this epic douse even more embarrassing, we had an audience! This all went down right in front of both the Tacoma Yacht Club and the Pt. Defiance–Tahlequah ferry terminal…with the ferry in the terminal. The ferry passengers in front of us and the entire race fleet behind had a great view of the ongoing calamity. We were on our ear for no less than ten minutes. You read that right, ten minutes. We were trying everything, but only half-wittingly. It got so bad that the ferry captain called our PRO Charley to ask him if everything was OK, or if he could send me/us a gift card to Sailing 101. In the end, we muscled the dang kite down without breaking or tearing anything. The only bruises were to my ego.

Overall, it was a great day of racing. And while our fun circumnavigation ended in a humbling “WTF douse”, things certainly could have been worse — it could have snowed! A big thanks and good job goes out to the organizers, race committee, and all the other racers.

Title background photo from Olson 30 Scoundrel courtesy of Andrew Nelson.