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Winter sunshine and breeze in Seattle and a fast ride for the VOR fleet

by David Schmidt 12 Feb 08:14 PST February 12, 2018 08:00
Puget Sound on a rare sunny winter morning, as seen from Sunset Hill Park © Coreen Schmidt

While I’d love to write that Seattle gets an undeservedly bad rap as a rainy, cloudy place, the simple truth is that, well, Seattle is a rainy, cloudy place, especially during winter months when big systems roll in off the Pacific Ocean, smash into the Olympic Peninsula before jumping Puget Sound and delivering their moisture content onto our roofs and onto our heads. This “dark curtain” gets old, especially come winter’s halfway mark, which-by my count-is just about now. Fortunately for the moss- and lichen-covered souls living in this part of the world, the sun does occasionally shine, allowing the occasional burst of civilized boating (just be sure to pack a puffy jacket or three).

Such was the case this past weekend at the local Snowbird Series, which started and ended just off of Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Maria, as winter’s rain gave way to blue skies, sunshine (ahhhh, Vitamin D) and a steady 10-12 knot breeze that delivered exactly what the modest-sized fleet of perhaps three dozen sailboats gathered to enjoy.

Aboard my friend John’s J/80, our crew of three practiced a quick spinnaker set and gybe en route to the starting line before rolling into our sequence and beginning a long uphill leg that took us some three nautical miles from the starting line. A wide-and-tight rounding, a clean set and some careful crew weight positioning soon saw us making reasonable tracks towards the leeward mark.

Mark and John performed a great takedown as I swung the boat’s bow around the leeward mark for the final short uphill leg back to the finishing line. To the west, the sawtooth peaks of the Olympic Mountains wore a fresh coat of pure white snow, and the lofty summits of Mount Baker (10,781’) and Mount Rainier (14,411’) guarded our position to the north and south (respectively), while the white-capped tops of the Cascade Range provided the final boundary to the east.

While this view was beyond fine, perhaps most magical of all was the sight of even, flowing breeze spread equally across Puget Sound. While I love sailing on these majestic waters, I’ll admit that racing here can sometimes get a bit frustrating with regular wind hole-driven park ups that can heartlessly usurp hours of great strategy and tactics with pure luck of the draw when the breeze regroups, however this certainly wasn’t the weather pattern I was seeing as we finished our race and flaked our sails.

Heading back into the marina, I pinched myself: While there will no doubt be some sort of Karmic price to pay for this great day of racing (likely involving a lengthy park up and plenty of rain on an upcoming distance race…heck, Seattle-based sailors don’t even need to believe in Karma to know that one will play out as described!), the day’s racing was a wonderful reprise during a winter that has been rather stingy with its allotment of snow while more than generous with its allocations of rain (read: lame skiing conditions), wind and overcast skies.

Couple this with the fact that it stayed sunny and nice on Sunday, and you can bet your last shackle that your friends in the Pacific Northwest are starting the week off with a bit less moss behind the ears than usual for a mid-winter’s Monday.

Meanwhile, on sailing’s far bigger and grander stage, the six-strong fleet that’s racing from Hong Kong to Auckland, New Zealand, in the Volvo Ocean race are experiencing fast-but-uncomfortable conditions as they press south-southeast towards New Zealand, with some 3,800 miles (as of this writing) separating the leader’s bow from the finishing line. Also as of this writing, skipper David Witt and his Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag are leading the hunt, followed by Xabi Fernandez and his MAPFRE crew in second place and Dee Caffari and her Clean Seas/Turn the Tide on Plastic rounding-out the top three.

Witt and company, it will be remembered, won Leg 4, which brought the fleet from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong, thanks to some brilliant decision making compliments of navigator Libby Greenhalgh, and they now appear to be setting themselves up for a series of great schedule reports. Impressively, Scallywag was 100 miles astern of the fleet just a few days ago.

“They have been dealt a lucky card, annoyingly,” said Caffari about her rivals aboard Scallywag in an official VOR press release. “They made a mistake, really, but they’re going to stay in this cold front longer. They’re going to be happily sailing in 20 knots, while we’re dealing with this transition.

“But they will have a worse angle in the longer term,” continued Caffari. “We think it will pay to be further east and we’re hoping it does pay off for us eventually.”

Time will tell, of course, and with 3,800 miles still separating the crews from hot showers, cold beers and real food, Leg 6 is still anyone’s contest.

Finally, much closer to home here in the USA, and on a much more somber note, longtime sailor and industry professional Jim Hahn suffered a horrible ski accident last weekend in Vermont that has left him paralyzed from the waist down. Get the full report on Jim here (www.gofundme.com/JimHahn), and please consider helping the Hahn family as they negotiate this unexpected header. Having personally known Jim for almost 15 years, I can attest that he is one of the nicest guys in the industry and someone who truly loves sailing, the ocean, and his chosen community of salty friends.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt,

Sail-World USA Editor

Seattle, USA

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