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Puget Sound racing, World Sailing's 'Back the Bid' campaign

by David Schmidt 26 Oct 08:00 PDT October 26, 2021
Puget Sound on a rare sunny winter morning, as seen from Sunset Hill Park © Coreen Schmidt

The quality of the upcoming weekend of racing became obvious as the Boeing 737-800 that I was flying aboard hit the first of several "memorable" bumps en route into Sea-Tac airport Thursday evening. The first of two massive fall storms was beginning to slam into Olympic National Park, to our west, and—before we began cloud skimming—I got a look at the sheer size and scale of the storm's clouds and started smiling. The couple seated to my left started holding hands and making air crosses, while other passengers gripped their armrests and probably did a little praying.

I did some praying, too, however I suspect that my prayers were aimed at different things than those of my fellow passengers.

Sure, we all wanted a safe (enough) landing, but my mind was far more focused on wishing for sustained winds all weekend for the Seattle Yacht Club's annual Grand Prix Regatta. Damn the turbulent airflow over the Boeing-built wings—I was thinking about good sailing.

And I sure wasn't disappointed.

While I had to skip Friday's racing due to work obligations, I heard nothing but great things about the day. The RC got off two races—one longer, one shorter—and the steady airs and flat waters made for some very tight racing, especially amongst the hopped-up 40-footers, which had four very well-sailed boats competing.

The drive down from Bellingham to Seattle on Saturday morning was probably a lot faster than it should have been, but the music was loud, and the espresso was strong. The windshield wipers were doing their thing, which wasn't exactly welcome news, but the treetops were blowing around and that, of course, was far more important than creature comfort on the rail.

Which is exactly where I found myself about an hour and a half later, as we approached the windward mark with three other fast 40-footers chasing us. We got the kite up perfectly, and the acceleration made the entire crew smile. Granted, we weren't seeing the biggest winds of the weekend yet, just steady 12-16 knots and flat water, which made for fast and tactically engaging sailing, given the evenly matched boats in our class. These included a Riptide 44, a Riptide 41, a J/125, and a Schock 40. Fast company, for sure.

Sitting on the rail in between hoists (I was working mast), I couldn't help thinking how absolutely fine it was to see so many fully crewed boats out sailing against rivals new and old after such a miserable 2020 sailing season.

I also couldn't help thinking how great it is to be part of something bigger than oneself; to race with a truly solid group; to hear the command "gybing in 10 seconds" and to be cleanly on the next board and accelerating quickly out of the turn 15-20 seconds later; to simply be out sailing on Puget Sound, under the steady watch of the Olympic Mountains, knowing that Mount Rainier, to the south, was buried under clouds and likely experiencing a hurricane-force winds on its lofty summit (14,411 feet) while those of us lucky enough to be racing were enjoying the softer spoils of the huge storm.

Sure, it rained. But it also cleared enough to reveal a huge rainbow during the day's third and final race.

All crews had a great time, and while it's possible that our crew especially enjoyed ourselves (winning has that effect), the day was a huge success by anyone's yardstick.

Talk turned more serious back at the dock as GRIB files were scrutinized and all skippers and crews realized that we could be sailing in a steady 25 knots of air, with considerably higher puffs, the next day.

Sunday morning dawned ominous in Seattle, with soft-box-style light and whipping winds out of the east, a direction that weather doesn't usually flow from in the Emerald City. For anyone familiar with Puget Sound, this of course meant wind and flat water.

The RC wisely postponed things for a half hour to let the weather stabilize before sending the fleets off for a single longer race. Blue, our main competition, got past us on the weather leg, as we charged into gathering airs off of West Point. We tacked around the mark, and made darn sure our kite filled fast.

That's when the rocketship ride began. Scott, our helm, did a great job of keeping our VMG fast, while Jonathan, our skipper and tactician, did his usual masterful job of ensuring we were exactly where we needed to be at the right time. The airs gathered; the speedos started reporting higher speeds as the grin-factor spiked. I saw 16.2 knots in a puff, however its entirely possible that we saw faster speeds when I was spinning handles (with my back turned to the mast) for our kite trimmer.

We managed to hold our kite for several minutes longer than the competition, which allowed us to fly by at about 14 knots. Our letter-box takedown was textbook, and Scott carved a nice turn into our chicken gybe at the leeward mark, allowing us to exit fairly wide and on our next target angle.

The biggest puffs of the weekend rolled in from the east as we charged south. While I doubt we ever saw more than 25 knots, we also probably never saw less than 16, with our mean likely around 18 knots.

While our crew was fortunate to receive the finishing gun for four of our four races, I can promise you that the rest of the fleet also had a great time.

But perhaps the nicest moment of the entire regatta came at the end, as we motored past Blue. Skipper Mike Schoendorf and Blue's crew graciously gave us a round of applause, which our crew returned. Corinthian-level sportsman ship doesn't come much finer than the respect that our two crews have for each other, and while we owned this regatta, there have certainly been plenty of races when we have had long moments to contemplate the geometry of Blue's powerful-looking chines and there undoubtedly will be in the future.

Driving home in the driving rain and spiking winds (and even louder music), I couldn't help but ponder how much richer our weekend was thanks to the great boats in our class and the respect that's shared amongst these skippers and crews.

And it also didn't escape my mind that the prayers that were issued aboard that 737-800 on final approach to Sea-Tac came true. (OK, fine, maybe I didn't request rain, but I'll take what comes with the wind!)

While this latter bit was personally rewarding, there are plenty of other prayers in sailing that have yet to materialize.

One of the most glaring of these is the fact that the International Paralympic Committee has yet to reverse their misguided 2015 decision to remove sailing from the Paralympic Games following the Rio Games in 2016. Worse still, the IPC reviewed their poor decision in 2018 ahead of the Tokyo 2020 but held course.

Luckily, a high-level bid led by World Sailing, the sport's global federation, is afoot to correct this wrong for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

In an official communication that was released this week (October 26, to be exact), World Sailing identified a set of strategic priorities that will help sailing meet the IPC's criteria for inclusion at the 2028 Games.

These include increasing the sport's global participation to 45 nations across six continents, increasing youth participation to 20% of all participating athletes, growing female participation to represent 30% of all participating athletes, and launching World Sailing's 'Back the Bid' (#SailtoLA) campaign.

"We know that other major sports looking for reinstatement are already drawing up their bid plans," said David Graham, World Sailing's CEO, in the official communication. "We know that IPC President, Andrew Parsons, has already publicly declared that the IPC will be looking a t potential 'new sports' following the successful introduction of new, youth-focused sports at Tokyo 2020. We are on track to achieve our strategic priorities by 2023 and we are taking nothing for granted.

"Over the past five years, the number of nations with Para sailors participating in international Para sailing competitions has increased by 30%," continued Graham. "Our international Para sailing athletes are some of the most accomplished sailors in the world who are inspiring the next generation."

We at Sail-World fully applaud World Sailing's efforts to see sailing reinstated to the Paralympic Games, and we sincerely hope that the IPC realizes—and corrects—the error of their 2015/2018 decisions for the 2028 Games.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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