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An interview with Erik Carlson on the Gig Harbor Yacht Club's 2023 Le Mans Race

by David Schmidt 14 Nov 08:00 PST November 14, 2023

Most sailboat races begin with a warning signal, followed by a starting sequence that's accentuated by plenty of jockeying for position—and the sometimes-agonizing bleed of the final seconds—before the starting signal sounds. Not so for the Gig Harbor Yacht Club's annual Le Mans Race, which is set to take place this Saturday (November 18) on the waters off of Gig Harbor, Washington.

Instead, all teams must start at anchor, all sails must either be lower or furled (read: secured), and all crewmembers must remain belowdecks until their class's four-minute warning.

Once a class's starting signal has been sounded, crews are free to weigh anchor and hoist (or unfurl) canvas, before then crossing the starting line. Weather depending, the RC can send the fleet on a short-course or long-course adventure on Puget Sound's southern flanks.

I checked in with Erik Carlson, regatta chair of the Gig Harbor Yacht Club's 2023 Le Mans Race, to learn more about this classic Pacific Northwest fall regatta.

What inspired the original event organizers to employ a Le Mans start, rather than a standard start? Also, what is it about this tradition that keeps the GHYC committed to this format, rather than switching to a standard starting line?

The "inspiration" was the brainstorming or something "unique". New and different would be interesting and more skills and action too. Row a boat, raise and anchor, raise sails.

Remember the original and early versions required rowing from a dock to the anchored boat.

Roller furling and electric winches did not yet exist.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing ahead of this year's event? How does this number stack up against previous recent editions?

Entries have ranged in the mid 20s to the 40s for as long as I can remember

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on Puget Sound's southern flanks in mid-to-late November? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

It is Puget Sound. Who has an accurate vision of the weather?

Light and variable and then cross your fingers. Last year we had zero wind at the skippers meeting. At the start - the wind built before boats crossed the start line and they were around the course and back in harbor before we were ready.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

Local knowledge is a big key at the start and finish. Knowing the odd wind and currents in the harbor is an advantage

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

Have fun. This race is all about fun. Don't get tangled-up at the start.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add about this year's Le Mans Race, for the record?

It is great for spectators. One can walk the harbor, see the start and the finish—everything is up close.

And watching the start when a spinnaker gets twisted or current has boat drifting backwards at anchor or sideways at the harbor entrance is a lot of fun.

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