Nine Years of Race to the Straits (3/26/2010)


I was reminded the other day while reviewing the Notice of Race that the upcoming edition of the Race to the Straits is the ninth. That moment was for me one of those events where the recognition of the acceleration of time was acute. Nine years - it astounds me it was that long ago that the first fleet hurtled toward Port Townsend in a big southerly. Nine years of Race to the Straits has, for the most part, been a great deal of fun for me. As such, I have a storehouse of memories connected either directly or indirectly with the race. Perhaps you might be interested in a few of these anecdotes.


The Origin: Even longer ago, 1990, I had started the Vashon Challenge via CYCT with the help of Ken Fine. It was successful for a South Sound race, but nothing compared to the Race to the Straits. I thought that the formula might work in the North Sound so I went about finding an avenue. At that time, Green Card was tied near to Bob Bonney's boat. I had told him about my idea of starting a race similar to the Vashon Challenge, but much longer and more fun. I had originally thought about going to the San Juans, but I would eventually be dissuaded from this idea. Bob Bonney, a member of STYC, put me in contact with the board (I wasn't a member yet) to make the pitch. So, pitch I did!


Under the leadership of Commodore Laurie Turay, I was given the green light to put something together and then get back to them. I, with the enduring conspiracy of Nigel Barron, set out to establish a race with virtually no budget, but with maximum returns (and minimal liability). I decided after conferring with the powers that be that Port Townsend was the most likely stopping point. (The San Juans were just too far for the average weekend racer - I had to agree). I was already very familiar with Port Townsend and had some good ideas as to where to go, but would the necessary proprietors allow us to do it for free?


Since the operative word in STYC is “Tavern,” I thought that the fleet might feel at home in a bar. So, I contacted Sirens with the premise that I would bring them sailors with money and thirst if they allowed me a meeting space - the deal was struck. All we needed at that point was a location for the Friday night skipper's meeting - West Marine Shilshole stepped in to fill the void. (Quantum Sails now handles that task). We were ready to go - we had about 60 entries for the first race! I had high hopes.


The First Start and the First Finish: Nigel and I were planning on competing in the first edition. However, fate would have it that Green Card was to be t-boned in the Blakely Rock Benefit Regatta by a boat that shall remains nameless. GC was severely damaged, but would live to sail another day. But, we had nothing to do.


As some of you remember, the first few editions did not have waterborne race committees. In fact, we started the first two editions from Meadow Point. (This worked pretty well, but signals were sometimes hard to see and hear). So, I headed down to the Point to watch the first starts. The weather was ripping and Icon, the Perry 65, was racing. Laurie Turay figured that there was no way that her team could start Icon and then drive to Port Townsend fast enough to finish them - could Nigel and I drive to PT to act as the finishing committee? Well, . . . certainly!


Nigel and I infracted most driving laws on our way to PT. We presumed that the Edmonds ferry was that fastest, which it was, but barely made it - last car on! The trip to PT was otherwise uneventful and made it with just enough time to stop at the Port Townsend Safeway for the requisite half rack of beer and headed down to Point Hudson. Sure enough - the first boat was appearing. We scrambled down to the beach, found the longest manageable stick, tied a piece of red cloth to the skinny end, hoisted it, opened some beers, and called ourselves a race committee. Just as we established ourselves, the boat approached the finish. If memory serves, it was not Icon, but the Santa Cruz 27, Marionette - the very first finisher of Race to the Straits.


Parties: The first party, as noted, was at Sirens. It was very successful, but was clear from the start that Sirens was not going to be large enough. From the get-go, Race to the Straits had proven itself to be popular so I had to find a larger place. For the second and third editions, we went to the Chinese restaurant at Point Hudson Marina. I do not recall the name of the place, but I do recall that the proprietor loved having us there and provided the best he could under the increasingly impracticable circumstances. Perhaps the future was foretold when, during the third edition, there was a wedding party next door to us - disaster in the making. Somehow, the bridal balloons (they were purple and silver) made their way from the wedding party to ours. I think a guy named Scooter was responsible. Soon to follow the balloons was a seriously upset bridesmaid hot on the tail of Scooter. Mayhem resulted. By the next morning, the balloons had made their way to numerous rigs throughout the fleet. Since the Chinese place, and one stop at the Port Townsend Yacht Club facility, all of our parties have been at the faithful American Legion Hall.


The Name: We had considered numerous sorts of names: “Super-Mega STYC Double-Hand Race,” (never really considered . . . ) “Port Townsend Challenge,” “etc., etc.” It was during a phone conference with the early co-organizers that I suggested that we call it what it is (though it sounds rather pedestrian). We haven't since thought of anything better, but its probably too late to change. I have heard some criticism over the syntax of the name - “there is no 'Straits' there is only a 'Strait,'” some people have exclaimed. Well, this is strictly true, but “Race to the Strait” just doesn't sound very exciting. Besides, there are other straits nearby such as Haro Strait, Strait of Georgia, among others.


Green Card: The first time Nigel and I raced Green Card in the Race, the second edition, the Saturday was perfect for a boat that rated 241. With another big southerly and a huge outbound tide, we completed the course in almost exactly four hours. Remember, Green Card was an Ericson 27 . . . We were beaten out of first to finish by a matter of seconds by our glorious Past Commodore, Neil Bennett, on his Freedom.


Another memorable instant was from a few years ago when shortly after starting we passed a Rawson 30 that seemed to be missing its skipper. We sailed by closely to have a look. As it turned out, the owner was below doing his breakfast dishes! He popped up to take a picture of us and give a wave as we surged by. For me, this instant typifies one of the great elements of Race to the Straits - its a fleet that has consisted of a Transpac 52 and a Perry 65, but also a guy in a Rawson 30 who seems to take as much joy in doing his dishes as he does in racing, all while making his way to Port Townsend to party with his friends.


Weather: The first two editions were downwind both ways - really. But, about five editions ago, the weather on Sunday was pretty big from the south. Shortly after rounding Point No Point, we saw a waterspout just to the north of the point. Fortunately, we were upwind of the spout, but it still caused some alarm. Later that same day we witnessed the hardest rainfall I had ever seen. It rained such that there was only fresh water on the surface. Green Card left no saltwater bubbles in its wake! In another (infamous) edition, the weather was very light thus necessitating shortening the course at Double Bluff with the ensuing scoring problems.


The Port of Port Townsend: This organization has been great to us. Without its assistance, much of what is great about the Race would not happen. They ensure that we have nearly exclusive use of Point Hudson every year. And, when Point Hudson was not available during reconstruction, they pulled out every stop to get everybody into Boat Haven. Of particular note is Chuck Fauls. If during this year's race you meet him or anyone else from the Port of PT, please give them your thanks.


Other Sponsors: Some excellent sponsors have come and gone. In particular were Helly Hansen and Halsey Lidgard. Some of our recent sponsors, in no particular order, are Quantum Seattle (provides our skippers meeting location and beverages), Andy Schwenk at NW Rigging (beverages in PT), Ballad Sails and Rigging (beverages in PT), KAM Gear, North Sails, Ullman Sails, the Port of PT, West Marine, CSR, among many others. Thanks to all of them.


The Future: The race has settled in to a popularity that I hadn't imagined eight years ago. I think that we might have finally got the formula down (so much so, in fact, that we are expanding the idea to Down the Sound). We have a few small ideas that might improve the race, but I think that it stands alone pretty well - at least for the time being. Our largest number of entries was 98 - I expect that when the recession ends, we will see those numbers again. So, thanks to all of you for continuously showing up for and supporting the Race to the Straits.


See you all again on May 1!