Duwamish Head Race 2017

We were promised snow. Instead all we got was fine day for the Duwamish Head Race 2017 out on the Puget Sound filled with teamwork, friends, exciting maneuvers, near collisions, plenty of insight and a thimble or two of Gig Harbor’s best Batch No 12 Bourbon (Heritage Distilling Company). But snow would have been nice. 

Team Stay Gold met at the Des Moines Marina on a cold, January 7 morning for the Duwamish Head Race 2017.

For several team members it was their first time meeting each other, and indeed for one, his first time sailing. This is part of the fun of sailing with Captain Brian on Stay Gold, however; sailors bound by their interest and passion for the sport, rather than experience and reputation alone. 

The team was able to get some hands-on experience pretty soon though, as we raised sail for a few practice tacks and to position ourselves for a timely start. The early morning wind was good and gave us hope for a speedy passage at race-time, but alas, this was not to be. Although we passed the 10am starting markers almost ideally, soon the wind died down to a few knots and plagued all but a few of the entire race fleet. Jibs came down, spinnakers went up (some upside-down, some twisted…) and every puff of air was exploited whilst trying to observe right-of-way within the clusters of sailboats. As the wind began to shift more frequently, spinnakers were exchanged for lighter and larger jibs and Genoa’s. Stay Gold opted for a light-air #1 Genoa (130%), which stayed aloft the remainder of the northward journey. 

Slowly, but steadily, with an average of 3-4kts (SOG) Stay Gold team made its way up the Sound, past Three-Tree Point and Fauntleroy towards the Alki Point Light. We managed to hold a fine course throughout, not veering too far out into the western Sound or coming too close to shore. This was only made possible by constant vigilance and attention to point of sail…the whole team was up to the challenge of making every small correction possible. While we had sailed at the tail-end of the pack up to now, suddenly we caught up to middle of the fleet, who had to lay in long tacks from the west to get back over to the next marker. As exciting as this was, the wind practically came to a stand-still and we had to inch our way towards the marker. Luckily we had nice (and lengthy) views of downtown Seattle and the Space Needle as a backdrop to the many deeply philosophical discussions that ensue on a windless passage (“Put the chips away before I end up eating them all”). 

Finally the turn around the Duwamish Head Light was made and the wind fell into our good graces again, driving us WSW on a fun 7kts spinnaker run towards the next mark, Blakely Rock. After reaching our top speed of the day of 7.7kts on the reach across the Sound, plans were made for dousing the spinnaker and exchanging foresails for the turn around the marker towards the south. Although the course was held tightly, we had difficulties getting the foresail up smoothly and ultimately we had to come to the quick conclusion that we had opted for the wrong sail, the aforementioned Genoa instead of the #3 jib. In the somewhat stronger SSE winds, our maneuverability suffered as we got onto a starboard close haul tack.  

To add to our self-caused stress, Wind Wizard, a fellow competitor, was approaching our port side head on from the East at a dangerous pace! Efforts were made to steer away from a pending collision.

As the Wind Wizard swooped past Stay Gold a crew member from the vessel loudly announced the root cause of their unpredictable course…”We’ve lost our steering!”. Tight on a close haul and still fighting to reconfigure our headsail, the out-of-control sailboat remained a very real threat to our vessel. Once again Wind Wizard appeared, this time in front of us. Almost driving right up onto their stern Stay Gold was able to fall off at the last minute and get on a decent powered tack to get some distance from the other boat. Support was offered per radio to the sailors, but fortunately their team managed to find some interim solution and avoid further mishap. 

In the meantime, Stay Gold had lost some valuable speed and therefore time. We had to watch any lead we had on fellow racers dwindle and disappear, but spirits remained high as we found a steady course and sped south towards our goal, the Des Moines marina. As night started to fall (around 17:30-18:00) we all worked to stay warm and kept a firm lookout for other vessels in the Sound. Headlamps were a luxury on board (only one, to be exact)…hence, mental and verbal notes were made to be better prepared for future night sails. After all, not a day goes by we don’t all learn how to further optimize our infinite path. 

Sailing southwards on a close haul in the dead of night, we were able to maintain a fairly steady SOG (speed over ground) between 4-5kts, sometimes holding at 6kts for lengthy periods. The crew had become much more proficient at laying in a quick tack after a good 7hrs of hands-on practice. Snacks and thimbles ensured enduring high spirits and warmth as we approached the final stretch.

To our wonder, there were other racers still underway and (behold!) behind us…good job team.

Tactical plans were made to lay in a final tack or two to get Stay Gold across the Sound and into the finish zone without losing precious wind or sailing past the actual finish line. We picked up some speed and changed to a starboard tack. Ben, standing at the pulpit with binoculars, searching the night for the markers caught sight of the unlit floating buoy and we had our confirmation…we’re right on target for a final maneuver. “Helms-a-lee!” and we’re there! We did it! Crossing the finish line to a horn-blast from the committee team at 20:06:37 we had been underway for 34.62NM and over 10 hours. But there were no complaints…on the contrary, we agreed it had been a mighty fine day of sailing and camaraderie. 

Stay Gold came in last in our class for the race, but you’d never have known it from the smiles plastered on the team’s faces…then again, the cold wind may have frozen them in place earlier.

Race Track (including return trip to Gig Harbor)