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A Q&A with Matthew Wood about the Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle's 2018 Puget Sound Spring Regatta

by David Schmidt 10 Apr 2018 08:00 PDT 14-15 & 21-22 April 2018
The majestic Olympic Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the CYC Seattle's 2017 Puget Sound Spring Regatta © Jan Anderson

Spend enough time living in one spot and one's life tends to follow the rhythm of the seasons...or, in the case of us racing sailors, the annual calendar of regattas. Having spent almost a decade living near the shores of Puget Sound and competing in her various regattas, I've learned that the Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle's annual Puget Sound Spring Regatta (PSSR; April 14-15 and April 21-22) is a sure sign of spring's (usually reluctant) return to the Pacific Northwet [sic]. I've also learned that when it comes to great inshore racing, this two-part regatta (PSSR Small Boats and PSSR Big Boats) is tough to beat, especially if you love sunny-day views of mountains scaling horizons, plenty of brine and the occasional cameo appearance by one of the local Orca pods.

(Mind you, spring in the Pacific Northwet [sic] isn't exactly synonymous with blue skies, but that's a different story involving fleece, wool and Gore-Tex.)

Both of these regattas unfurl off of Seattle's Shilshole Bay Marine and feature short-course racing that puts crews through their early season paces, as well as fun onshore social events for après hours.

No sailing community is static and Seattle, with its fast-growing tech sector is no different. When I first found myself wiping Seattle's (in)famous rain from my face on a windward rail in 2009, the big-boat fleet was considerably more modest than it is now, thanks to the recent influx of several new TP52s and other hardware exotica. But while the fleet may have morphed and gotten longer, faster and lighter, the same welcoming community of sailors continues to make sailing in this corner of the country a great experience for all comers.

I interviewed Matthew Wood, Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle's (CYC Seattle) race fleet captain, via email, to learn more about the upcoming 2018 Puget Sound Spring Regatta.

Can you give us a bit of history about the PSSR—when did it start and has it always been held as two separate regattas (small boats/big boats)?

The origins of the Puget Sound Spring Regatta go far beyond any written record that I can find. Certainly it is has been run for at least 40 years, if not longer, on the waters off Shilshole Marina.

Regarding why [we run the event on] separate weekends, simply put, it is logistically impractical to have larger, displacement boats sailing handicap races on the same racecourse as performance dinghies. In order to keep [the racing] fair, safe and fun racing for all participants, we chose to divide the fleets up over two separate two-day weekend events.

Typically speaking, which regatta offers stiffer competition levels and why?

Difficult to say. It depends on which fleet you are in. A well-sailed RS Aero fleet can be very competitive, as can a 20 boat J/24 fleet. It really depends on which fleet shows up in number, and if the conditions are such to make it interesting for the competitors to stay close to one another.

Why does the Moore 24 class race with the big boats, while the J/24 races with the small boats?

This is at the discretion, and request, of the fleets themselves. CYC Seattle operate in a very transparent, and (hopefully) responsive way. If a fleet has a particular request (course type, fleets they start with, etc.) we work hard to accommodate them.

Typically fleets want lots of clear air and as many starts without traffic around them, so this tends to dictate which weekends the various fleets request to run on.

What is the regatta format? Lots of windward-leeward races, or will there also be some longer races or ones involving local islands and geographical features?

Historically, PSSR features closed course, windward-leeward courses, with as many starts as possible. On the RC, we are amenable to adding wrinkles such as gates, and reaching legs where practical, but the fleets have come to expect square, fair and fast windward-leeward courses, and lots of them, and we aim to accommodate that expectation.

I understand that the CYC Seattle conducts something like 500 races per year...can you put the PSSR in context for us? How important is it in the pantheon of Puget Sound and CYC racing?

We actually start several hundred more than that...[but] please note I said" start". If you add up all our Lake, Junior and Sound events, and all the individual class starts, it approaches 900. Lots of horns and whistles going off around here!

PSSR is a feature event, and is generally well attended for both OD and handicap racing. No doubt the numbers are somewhat lower than in the, say, the early 1980's, but recently participation is trending upwards, and that is bucking the overall trend nation wide.

Regarding how important [PSSR] is, that is clearly subjective. From a CYC board members' POV, it is a key part of our annual offering, and is resourced and marketed as such. How our events impact the overall Puget Sound "scene" is an interesting question, and one I will have to ponder. I guess we look good out on the water if nothing else!

In your opinion, what are the keys to winning the PSSR in one's respective class? Also, any advise to first-time PSSR racers?

One key, and all too obvious observation, is to "start on time" and at the right end of the line. Having started/observed the starts of many races over the years on the top deck of YC5, I can tell you that a majority of racers are late getting to the start line. Giving a competitor a two or three boatlength lead in the first minute of a race is not generally recommended. Likewise, racers tend not to cover downwind as much an observer would think you would.

First timer? Read the Sailing Instructions, pay attention to the current both on the start line and the marks first time around, and start on time!

How does the arrival of several TP52s add to or change the feel of PSSR from a few years ago?

The "Big Boat Fleet" has had it's share of darlings. There was a time when the OD 48's were the queens of the fleet, as were the 70-foot sleds. Currently there are three Seattle[-based] TP52's campaigning, as well as an RP55.

Those boats are very crisply prepared, and are usually well matched on the course. From a race feel perspective, I think everyone enjoys seeing the "big boys" line up on the start and fly downwind after the windward mark.

The one thing to note is they take a lot of crew, and thus may remove some smaller boats from the course, but the overall number of people participating, and having fun, stays the same.

Can you tell us about any steps that the CYC has taken to "green-up" the PSSR regattas or otherwise reduce their environmental impacts?

CYC Seattle has long been fully onboard with clubhouse recycling, and has long recommended and featured recycling practices for on the activities as well. Additionally we make specific reference to best practices pertaining to green behavior on the water, be it keeping trash from our valuable waterways, to using environmentally friendly containers, spinnaker band material, and related behavior.

We know we can do more however, and [we are] always looking for ways to leave a smaller footprint on the water and the land. We encourage this behavior from all our members and guests as well.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

We appreciate the opportunity to showcase CYC, and Puget Sound sailing to the broader sailing community. Racing on the Sound is an experience without equal, and we encourage sailors from around the country, and world, to visit us. We will certainly find you a ride, and it will come with a smile and good time.

Finally, we are a volunteer organization, and a relatively modest one in terms of infrastructure at that. Any and all help in planning, marketing and running events is needed, and greatly appreciated. Finally, in my role as PHRF-NW Handicapper and CYC Race Fleet Captain, please reach out to me if you have any questions pertaining to the club, PSSR or Puget Sound racing and sailing in general.

[Editor's Note: Many thanks to ace photographer Jan Anderson for the use of her images in this story.]

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