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An interview with Regan Edwards on the 2023 Protection Island Race

by David Schmidt 25 Apr 2023 08:00 PDT April 29-30, 2023
Hamachi sailing in light airs on Puget Sound © Hamachi/Jan Anderson

Racing big boat on Puget Sound helps one develop character. For starters, it's usually cold. Not New England-in-the-winter cold, but certainly not warm. That holds for the air and the sea water. But, given the many great sailors who call the Puget Sound area home, coupled with the challenging racing (wind holes, shipping traffic, logs, and big tides) and the fact that summertime typically delivers high-pressure situations (and because people go cruising), most of the local racing takes place while the local ski areas are still drawing crowds.

One classic example is the Seattle Yacht Club's Protection Island Race, which is the first race in the SYC's greater Tri-Island series, and which is set to unfurl from April 29-30.

The race offers three courses, Long, Short/Sportboat, and Cruiser/Racer, all of which start off of Seattle's Shilshole Bay Marina and head north up Puget Sound before returning home.

The Long Course exits Puget Sound for the waters of Admiralty Inlet, rounds Protection Island, to port, and then usually finishes by the starting area. The Short/Sportboat Course stays in Puget Sound, with teams rounding the Double Bluff Lighted Buoy, off of Whidbey Island's Double Bluff, to port and then usually finishing off of Shilshole. The Cruiser/Racer Course, meanwhile, runs to Scatchet Head and back home.

While it's been a few years, I can personally report that the Long course is one of the area's best races.

I checked in with Regan Edwards, regatta co-chair of Seattle Yacht Club's 2023 Protection Island Race, via email, to learn more about this exciting Puget Sound big-boat race.

Can you please give us some history and backstory on the Protection Island Race, its history, competition levels, and the kinds of sailors and boats that it attracts?

SYC has a long history of hosting the Tri-Island series. Over the years, different courses have been included - and in different order: Vashon, Hat Island, Smith Island and Protection Island.

We dropped Hat in 2000 and added Blake Island in 2001. At one point, Protection Island was last in the series. People like to have time for parties and awards at the conclusion of the series. When Protection Island was the last race in the series, that wasn't possible.

As far as competition levels and the kind of sailors and boats that it attracts, I'd say we have a class for every keel boat. Cruiser-Racers really showed up last year! Two classes worth! Also, TP-52 [teams] like this race because the distance gives them a good opportunity to stretch their legs and train for Swiftsure and the Van Isle.

I understand that the SYC switches between the Smith Island Race (even years) and the Protection Island Race (odd years)—has this always been the case? Also, what's the reason for rotating turning marks? Variety?

Our tradition of switching courses on even and odd years began in 2004 because the committee wanted some variety.

Can you please walk us through the course and the tactical challenges that it presents?

The race begins at low tide this year. With a big flood, you might not want to be in the deepest water. I've done this race before when we short-tacked the western shore and did very well.

The Short Course takes sailors to Double Bluff and back. The Cruiser-Racers simply go to Scatchet Head lighted gong and back. All three courses are going to have a battle that morning.

I consider the commercial traffic a tactical challenge.

The racers need to be smart regarding tugs, ferries, and ships. The United States Coast Guard [USCG] is very serious about keeping the shipping lanes clear. When using AIS, you are easy to identify. Listen to the radio and communicate back to the pilots.

Generally speaking, what percentage of boats finish in a day (or that evening), and what percentage of the fleet spend the night sailing?

The time limits are 30 hours (long course), 14 hours (short/sport course) and 9 hours (C-R). Usually, 75% of the fleet is done during daylight hours. Spring breezes really help!

However, there are always those light air possibilities. You have to mentally show up on race day prepared to suffer for 30 hours. It can be tough to stay dry, warm and focused for such a long time.

But, when the attrition of the fleet becomes the name of the'll be happy you packed hot chocolate, Red Bull, a few extra layers and hand-warmers.

What's the current course record for the Protection Island Race? Also, are you seeing any boats on the registration list that could threaten to break this record?

I get the two courses mixed up. I seem to remember Sonic [a TP52] having a really fast Protection Island race three years ago, and last year Glory [also a 52] finished the Smith Island race in record time when they basically had a downwind both ways. They were home in time for dinner.

Let's talk about tides—what's their influence like over the span of this racecourse?

This year, the race starts at low tide. That's going to be tricky if the breeze is light. No doubt about it! The next low tide at Shilshole is at [1912 hours] too. So, there's a pretty good chance that it will be a factor all day.

Generally speaking, what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for weather on Puget Sound, Admiralty Inlet, and the Salish Sea in late April?

Best case scenario would be a repeat of last year: it would be a warm Southerly to carry you to your turning mark by the time the second low tide occurs. Then, you ride the flood home as a nice Northerly fills in. It can happen!

The worst case is always the same: no wind, adverse current both ways, and some cold rain for good measure. Sailors who find themselves in that "worst case scenario" are reminded of the shortened-course option. Per the NOR, Boats can take their time at a designated shortened-course option finishing line.

Boats using the shortened-course option will be considered finishers and will be scored in class and overall based on their time and the distance for the shortened course starting immediately behind boats finishing the full course.

Can you please tell us about any efforts that the club has made over the last year or two to green-up the regatta and generally lower its environmental wake?

SYC, in partnership with Sailors for the Sea, kicked off an initiative in 2022 to make all our regattas and waterfront activities more green.

SFS provided us [with] a list of activities that we, as RC, can do to be more green. They also provided a list of best practices for our participants.

Best practices for the race committee include: Awards should be practical items, eco-smart race management techniques (less printing!); serving food onboard RC that is locally sourced, and we will use compostable or reusable bags/dinnerware.

We also can provide a link to participants to SFS's extensive list of best practices for boaters. Everything matters! From the soap you use to clean your decks, to the paint applied to your keel. There are hundreds of ways to prevent pollution and reduce your impact on the environment.

I think an easy first step is to reduce usage of single-use plastic bottles and bags. Ask team members to bring their own water and pack their food in their own container so you have fewer Ziploc sandwich bags and packaging.

An additional effort of ours regarding the environment is educational in nature. Not only does our website post green-boating guidelines, but also reminders about wildlife. Pods of whales can be on the course. Please be aware and give them tons of space.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Actually, yes. There is a serious issue going on with Puget Sound sailors, yacht clubs, and the USCG. We are getting close to the point that the revocation of regatta permits is a very real possibility. I hope everyone recognizes this risk and takes every possible precaution to avoid impacting ship traffic.

See the Sailing Instructions for details about using your engine. As long as you aren't using it to make progress on the course, it's legal. Get out of the ship's way!

Make your evasive action clear and obvious, and always be listening to the radio.

[Also, the] Seattle YC has added to the Tri Island fun. In the past few days we added a pre-race party at our main clubhouse. All competitors are invited to come enjoy the camaraderie and learn from [double Olympic medalist, America's Cup veteran, and SYC member] Jonathan McKee. The program will begin at 1830 [hours] and will include a slideshow presentation that discusses tactical strategy for all three of our weekends.

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