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An interview with Dennis Damore about the 2018 Oregon Offshore International Yacht Race

by David Schmidt 7 May 2018 08:00 PDT May 8, 2018
Free Bowl of Soup en route to winning the 2017 Oregon Offshore International Yacht Race © Image couyrtesy of the Oregon Offshore International Yacht Race

If you’ve ever looked at a chart of the Oregon and Washington coasts, you’re familiar with the fact that this gorgeous stretch of shoreline gets hammered with weather, both in terms of the long-fetch seas and the storms that barrel in across the open Pacific. These waters can be millpond-calm on some days, but things can get nasty quickly, and while this is true of many areas, the rugged coastline is largely void of harbors to dodge the weather.

Because of this, entering the Corinthian Yacht Club (CYC) of Portland's Oregon Offshore International Yacht Race (May 10-13, 2018) gives skippers and crews a great coastal and open-water adventure while also exposing them to the kinds of preparation needed to engage in bigger events such as a Hawaii race.

This 193-nautical-mile race starts in Astoria, Oregon, and finishes in Victoria, British Columbia, giving sailors a taste of everything from offshore conditions to the tricky currents that flow through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, while also treating them to one of the most visually stunning racecourses in North America (provided, of course, that the old-growth forests and glacier-capped peaks aren’t shrouded in cloud cover).

This year’s fleet includes boats from two countries and multiple U.S. states, and it ranges in size and sophistication from modest 30-footers to a 70-foot sled, and the race has set up a crew bank for sailors looking to catch rides from Oregon to Canada.

I interviewed Dennis Damore, Vice Commodore and Race Captain of the CYC of Portland, Oregon, via email, to learn more about the 2018 Oregon Offshore International Yacht Race.

The Oregon Offshore has a bit of a reputation as a gear-buster race that’s often defined by rough weather—is this fair and if so, is the Oregon coast always a washing machine?

Although the race is called the Oregon Offshore, it really only starts off the Oregon coast and then heads north along the Washington coast to the Straits of Juan de Fuca and then on to Victoria, BC.

Like any true offshore race, the conditions are extremely variable. We’ve had years of pounding up the coast contrasted with races, like last year, where it was a downwind ride with squalls setting the pace. We’ve seen dead flat calm off Destruction Island and almost everywhere in the straits at various times. We’ve finished in foulies and in shorts and T-shirts.

So, gear-buster? It’s not any more so than any other race. It’s a race of contrasts in scenery, weather, and tactics.

How are your numbers looking this year versus previous recent editions? Also, what percentage of your 2018 fleet is American vs. Canadian (or other international entries) and is this percentage typical of this event?

This year is gearing up to be a well-participated race. We average about 20-25 boats each year. Roughly 40 percent are Canadian, with several more from the Seattle area.

Right now we are feeling pretty good that 30 percent of this year’s entries are first timers from out of state. We have been focusing on a grassroots marketing movement that seems to finally be paying off.

Our best performance was in 2014 with 30 entries, and we happened to get epic wind conditions for that race. Icon, a Seattle-based custom Bob Perry 65-foot carbon-fiber racing sled skippered by Kevin Welch, finished the race with an elapsed time of 14:56:20. This beat the 2000 record set by Steve Rander's Rage by 4:50:21.

Are multi-hulls allowed to come and compete?

We are not allowing multi-hulls at this time.

Although we have had a steady stream of interest, there are a variety of risks to take into consideration. It is less about how experienced the crew is on those vessels and more about the risk associated with emergency response along the entire Washington coast in the event of a problem.

We would love to see some multihull participation, and we are continuing to look at the requirements necessary to allow multihull participation in the future.

Strategy wise, what are the biggest considerations of the race’s 196 nautical mile course? What about tactics? Are there any bits of the course that typically require all hands on deck, say for a 0200 hours tack or gybe?

This is a navigator’s race. What makes the Oregon Offshore a unique experience is that, from a tactical perspective, it is really three distinct races in one: the race up the coast, the race down the straits, and the passage through Race Rocks to the finish.

Each segment has very different tactical considerations. After the start, in a typical northwest breeze, there are current and wind-shift considerations that can be challenging. Some years, boats stay within miles of the coastline, carefully avoiding crab pots and jutting-out landmasses like Destruction Island. Other years, we will see boats out twenty miles or more.

After entering the Strait [of Juan de Fuca], knowledge of the tide conditions and being able to anticipate the direction, timing and strength of the typical Westerly [breeze], coupled with the critical decision of when to cross to the Vancouver Island side, require a whole new set of tactics to avoid shipping lanes and current, and to maximize wind angles.

Then comes Race Rocks with the decision to cut through or sail around that [waypoint] can make or break the race. This is most likely going to be your 0200 hours, all-hands-on-deck situation. Then you just pray the wind doesn’t shut off before you coast into the harbor.

Given that the “brochure” for Hawaii races typically calls for a rough first two or three days, followed by trade-wind sailing, is the Oregon Offshore a good stepping-stone event for bigger offshore passages, or do you see it more as it’s own stand-alone event?

We like to think of it as both. Despite being a relatively short race, the race provides valuable experience and practice in preparing a boat for offshore conditions, giving crew valuable offshore experience, building a crew into a cohesive team and, probably most memorably, giving participants a valuable and ever-expanding store of great stories to tell.

Moreover, it is a qualifying race for the Vic-Maui, and is also a means for Oregon[-based] skippers to get their boats north to participate in the Swiftsure International race.

While some might consider doing it only as a shakedown cruise for their Hawaii race, it really is its own adventure. There is a reason why we have multiple participants who have done the race over twenty times. You get the adrenal rush of offshore racing in the space of just a few days, rather than the week and half or more it takes to get to Hawaii.

Obviously an offshore race is just that, but has the event tried to do anything to “green-up” and reduce it’s environmental footprint?

Over the years there has been a growing understanding and respect for the responsibility all of the participants have to keep a clean footprint. [For example,] we have reduced the amount of printed materials we use to promote the race, and [we] have opted for face-to-face meetings and focused more on social media.

While [we] have not made a deliberate attempt to associate ourselves with outside organizations, there is always more we can do in this regard and partnering with a national organization is on our short list of things to do for future races (hint, hint national organizations).

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

There are two cool things that make this race unique. One is that we have someone blog through the entire race so friends, family and race supporters at home can get a more in depth understanding of what is happening in real time. In conjunction with the race trackers, this creates an edge-of-your-seat experience for even those who have never stepped foot onboard.

And two, we greet each boat in Victoria, BC with warm wet towels and champagne! To follow along [from] May 10th-13th, visit www.oregonoffshore.org.

Special thanks to the Corinthian Yacht Club of Portland's Commodore Craig Garrison and Rear Commodore Jenn Thompson for their help and input with this interview.

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