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North Sails Performance 2023 - LEADERBOARD

Sailing with bears and bulls at the Seattle Yacht Club's Blake Island Race

by David Schmidt 6 Jun 09:00 PDT June 6, 2023
Searching for shag carpet and indicators early in the 2023 Blake Island Race aboard Dark Star, Jonathan and Libby McKee's Riptide 44 © David Schmidt

At least PredictWind's HRRR forecast was bullish about the afternoon. I kept repeating this mantra on Saturday morning as I drove south on I5, from Bellingham, Washington, to Seattle's Shilshole Marina and the start of the Seattle Yacht Club's 2023 Blake Island Race. The breeze had been actively stirring the tops of the 120-foot conifers near my house, but, as I pressed south, I could see that there was significantly less action in the forest canopy. That's because PredictWind's same HRRR forecast was equally bearish about the morning.

Fortunately, Dark Star, Jonathan and Libby McKee's Paul Bieker-designed Riptide 44, weighs less than 11,000 pounds, and our afterguard (of which I am decidedly not a member) is very good at staying intensely focused when the airs barely tickle the water's surface.

Bearish forecasts aside, we had the right boat and the right team for the day.

I barely had time to quaff a mug of coffee (my fourth) before the call was given to hoist a resurrected A1 and get in a few gybes before the starting sequence got serious.

Oddly, there were far more cat's paws on the water's surface than PredictWind had forecasted (of course coming from the wrong direction), and we could see areas of magic carpet extending a good ways down the course.

Alyosha was on the wheels, and he and Jonathan worked their mind-meld magic, along with input from Libby, who was trimming main, and Fritz, who was trimming the headsails, to nail a pin-end start. This wasn't simple flying, given that the starting line included multiple world-champion-level sailors, but Dark Star's blade isn't exactly dull when it comes to reading rapidly evolving situations and executing in real time.

Luckily for me, the real heavy thinking was unfurling about 12 feet abaft of my position hauling halyards and helping our bowman, Stasi (who usually trims main), with foredeck duties, so it was a heck of an opportunity to watch and learn.

We had a few tense moments, but we soon had laminar flow moving over the sails and foils, with our bow aimed towards Seattle's West Point Lighthouse. We also had two down-course "indicators", namely a TP52 and a R/P 55, both of whom carry significantly taller rigs than Dark Star, and we were able to enjoy some trickle-down benefit from these team's decision making processes.

One of the cool things about the Blake Island Race is that each boat gets to choose their own fate by opting to round either clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Historical wisdom abounds in both camps, but both of our indications opted to stay in the water's shag carpet section longer by taking a counter-clockwise routing. By now, the wind had started to clock from a southerly flow to more of a southeasterly, allowing the TP52 to carry a kite, while the R/P 55 hung onto their Code-O.

We followed and pressed our resurrected A1, and it produced some fine returns until the shag carpet gave way to rounded seaglass as we glided past Blake Island's northeast point.

Then, the restart began.

While we gleaned some down-course wisdom from the 50-footers, it was clear that the other 40-footers were looking to us as their canary in the (windless) coal mine. However we pressed further west than our pursuers. There were some moments of "steeping", but the day was warm and sunny, and life aboard Dark Star stayed focused and upbeat, no doubt lifted by the fantastic banana chocolate-chip bread that AnaLucia (Alyosha's partner, who was racing that day aboard Chris Lanzinger and Jay Renehan's well-sailed J/111 Hooligan) baked for us.

It was sticky sailing, but the combination of our braintrust finding the best pressure and our trimmers keeping the sails pulling eventually got us through the grind, which essentially lasted until we had completed our circumnavigation of Blake Island and were heading north.

This is when all conversation turned to the bull's much-anticipated arrival from the north.

Sadly, it took its time, so we kept stringing together breeze lines, holding more of a westerly course up Puget Sound than our indicators. Finally, the water started darkening ahead, and, by the time we rounded the final turning mark (just west of West Point Lighthouse), we were into probably 13-15 knots of breeze.

Libby, who was on the wheels for the last hour or two, nailed our final rounding, and our team wasted no time hoisting and filling an A1.5 and the staysail for the final run down to the finishing line, off of Seattle's Elliott Bay. A few quick inside gybes later and we took the bullet for our class.

Not bad for a day that looked like it was going to be all about hunting bears.

Meanwhile, on sailing's international stage, this weekend featured The Ocean Race's in-port racing in Aarhus, Denmark. This included the fleet of five IMOCA 60s that are circumnavigating the globe in this race, plus the five-strong fleet of VO65s that are being employed for inshore (and relatively near shore) racing.

Impressively, skipper Paul Meilhat and his Biotherm team took the win in the IMOCA class, despite having only finished Leg Five (from Newport, Rhode Island to Aarhus) the previous evening.

"We won the start and when you win the start in an In-Port Race it's easy after," said Meilhat in an official race communication. "We were a bit faster off the line than Team Holcim-PRB and that was it. We are really happy and I dedicate this win to our shore team who have worked so hard to get us out here. It's our first victory so it means a lot to us."

Biotherm was joined on the IMOCA winner's podium by skipper Benjamin Schwartz's Team Holcim-PRB, and by skipper Charlie Enright's 11th Hour Racing.

(Here, it should be noted that Kevin Escoffier stepped down as Team Holcim-PRB's skipper for personal reasons just before the Aarhus racing.)

In the VO65 fleet, Team WindWhisper Racing took the bullet, followed by Team JAJO and Viva Mexico.

The start of Leg Six of The Ocean Race is set unfurl on Thursday (June 8) and will take the fleet from Aarhus to The Hague.

Also in global sailing news, the J/70 Corinthian World Cup just concluded racing on the waters of Italy's Lake Garda, the Star North Americans just took place off of Vancouver, Canada, and—in Olympic circles—the Allianz Regatta 2023 just finished in The Netherlands.

Finally, this week marks the start of the Race to Alaska. This adventure race is near and dear to us at Sail-World, and we wish all teams and soloists who are Alaska-bound good luck as they negotiate massive tidal swings, logs, and potential grizzly bear sightings on the inside track, as well as possible weather and generally bigger (and more committing) conditions for those brave souls who opt to sail west of Vancouver Island.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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