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Warm and sunny Puget Sound sailing, The Ocean Race news, and passing of Buddy Melges Jr

by David Schmidt 23 May 2023 08:00 PDT May 23, 2023
Hamachi struts her stuff in light airs and sunshine on the waters of Puget Sound © Hamachi/Jan Anderson

A curious thing happened on Saturday, May 13, on the waters of Puget Sound: It was warm and there was wind for the Seattle Yacht Club's annual Vashon Island Race, which is the second event in the SYC's great Tri-Island Series. While this kind of weather report likely doesn't generate much editorial ink in most places, Puget Sound offers its own kind of magic, with most racing unfurling during the breeze-on winter months, while the warmer and dryer months are usually reserved for cruising (read: little wind).

But Saturday was special. Despite forcing my poor friend Fritz to meet me for an (as it turned out unnecessarily) early alpine start in Bellingham (0515 hours... I owe him one!) for the slog south down I-5 to Seattle's Shilshole Marina, the day dawned sans a single cloud in the sky. Better still, there was plenty of action in the forest canopy as I drove, and PredictWind's HRRR forecast model was saying all sorts of pretty things about the day's adventure and our prospects for good northerly flow.

It wasn't wrong.

While the SYC offered several different courses for the different assembled boats, our crew aboard Dark Star, Jonathan and Libby McKee's Riptide 44, were sailing the long course. This began just off the breakwater at Shilshole, and it took the fleet south, past Point Robinson Lighthouse (on Vashon Island's east-southeast flank), then counterclockwise around Vashon Island, passing north through Colvos Passage, then past Blake Island, and then up and across Puget Sound to the finishing line, which was in the same location as the start.

Fritz and Jonathan nailed our start as helm and tactician (respectively), and our trimmers made darn sure that we had good VMG for the downhill push to Point Robinson. The boat's new kite helped this effort, as did the perfect luff curl that our kite trimmer, Fritz (there were two aboard), brought to the game.

We enjoyed some fast sailing as the waves just flirted with the idea of exposing some white caps (the breeze was 12-20 knots), coupled with huge amounts of sunshine and warmth. I found myself tractoring the kite on our gybes wearing a pair of shorts, a thin jacket, and floatation — not the 47 layers of fleece, Gore-Tex, and puffy jackets that almost 15 years of sailing on these waters trained me to bring.

In fact, my biggest packing faux pas involved forgetting a UV-blocking shirt and some high-SPF lip protection... the sort of gear that most sailors pack first, but that we in the Pacific Northwest can almost always safely skip.

Our great breeze held almost all the way to the entrance of Quarter Master Harbor, on Vashon's southern aspect. Then, it became a short game of wind whispering and of being quick with sail handling and changes, plus a pinch of luck.

While the latter was largely elusive, we soon picked our way to a shaggy-carpet section of water, hoisted our J 1.5 (we soon peeled to a J 2.5), and filled the water-ballast tanks for the uphill push home.

Our race was roughly 60 nautical miles, but it all blew by way too fast. I sat on the rail, watching as the finishing line slowly hove into view, realizing that I'd be more than happy to simply keep sailing. Normal enough, of course, but I somehow drew the finishing line a few miles further north than it actually was... so, sadly, our perfect day of racing ended a handful of tacks sooner than I was expecting.

I'm not sure I've ever been so sad to finish a fantastic race. Call it the ghosts of my former self (I grew up sailing in New England), but there was something downright fine about being able to feel all ten fingers and ten toes, not to mention both legs and arms, all day long, while also enjoying solid breeze and a fantastic day of racing on Puget Sound with great people.

While I can only guess at the karmic bill that will come due soon (perhaps during June 3's Blake Island Race, which is the SYC's final Tri-Island Series race of the year), I promise it will be worth it, given that my smile still hasn't faded some ten days ex post facto.

Meanwhile, this past weekend in Newport, Rhode Island, was all about The Ocean Race, with a modified version of inshore racing and the start of Leg 5 both unfurling on Sunday. (N.B. the inshore racing had been slated for Saturday, but was postponed due to weather.)

Rather than a bifurcated inshore course, followed by a separate offshore start, teams instead sailed the inshore portion of the course and then crossed a "leaving gate" (life is full of new terms) that saw the RC record positions, before the fleet headed out into the open Atlantic Ocean.

Team Malizia was the first through this leaving gate, followed by hometown favorites 11th Hour Racing, and Team Holcim-PRB.

All five teams are now tearing across the Atlantic towards Aarhus, Denmark, and the end of Leg 5, which offers a prize plum of double points. This matters greatly for all teams that are competing. A glance at the scoreboard reveals that Team Holcim-PRB is in first place with 19 points, while second-place 11th Hour Racing and third-place Team Malizia are both sitting on 18 points.

Provided that one of these three teams wins Leg 5, they could well amass an unsurmountable lead as this edition of this storied race nears its conclusion.

As of this writing (Monday morning, West Coast time), 11th Hour Racing was leading the charge, followed some 10 nautical miles astern by Team Holcim-PRB and Team Malizia, but, with more than 3,000 nautical miles of racetrack remaining, there's plenty of action ahead before those double points are assigned.

Finally, sad news reached the sailing world last week when word broke that Harry Clemons 'Buddy' Melges Jr. passed away on May 18 at the age of 93. Melges came from a great sailing and boatbuilding family, and he built on his father's strong work at Melges Boat Works, while also winning many, many races.

Melges' highwater victories include winning a gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics in the Soling class, a bronze in the Flying Dutchman in the 1964 Summer Olympics, and helming America3 to win the 1992 America's Cup, in addition to being named US Sailing's Yachtsman of the Year three times (1961, 1972, and 1983, the latter of which also included a Rolex timepiece) and earning his place in the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

Melges will be remembered as one of the true titans of our sport, in addition to being a gentleman and a great competitor.

May the four winds blow you safely home,
David Schmidt North American Editor

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