We were all excited about our second straight Round the County race. Round the County (RTC) is a two day 76 mile course that starts and ends at Lydia Shoal near Obstruction Pass, and overnights at Roche Harbor. The popularity of this race is incredible and they had 113 registered boats, with everything filling up in a few days. Technically it was full at 100 and Shawn had to talk our way into it by working with the race organizers.
True to form Shawn and Peter took the boat north on November 1st to position it for Round the County in near gale conditions - we always have big weather for the ferry trips. This time they were going with the weather and set a new speed record, going from Elliott Bay Marina to Skyline in around 7 hours. With the boat sitting comfortably in Skyline, Shawn and Jason spent the few days before the race working logistics in the San Juans. We provisioned Johns Is, our Saturday night basecamp, and positioned the Almar in Roche Harbor to ferry the crew over the Johns Is. The forecast was for big air Saturday morning, easing off in the afternoon. Sunday was light, possibly turning into a drifter.
The crew of Shawn, Jason, Peter, Dan, Phil and Adam arrived at the boat at 6:30 Saturday morning with gale force winds and driving rain. We made it off the dock and set our main to push us along to the start. Coming around the corner by Washington Park, the wind was steady in the high 20s with gusts to 35 kts with big swells coming off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The boat was highly loaded right out of the starting block but taking it well, surfing down the waves. We could see boats converging from Anacortes, the San Juans, and other points of the compass. We decided to throw in a reef for safety sake, and for practice. As we made it to the start we thought the wind would slack off, and while it initially did, it built again as the start approached. It was a crazy downwind start with lots of boats weaving around at high speed. We started on the west (pin) side of the course alongside Time Bandit, and stayed west. We were flying a full main and #3 jib and had rigged for a spinnaker set. However, with the wind in the mid-20s and gusting to 30kts we decided to err on the side of caution. Further, the wind angle was a full reach at 120-130 AWA and it would be questionable if we could have flown our symmetrical spinnaker in those condition, especially with that much wind. We instead watched a few other boats attempt it with consistently disastrous results - there was a lot of broaching and a few blown chutes. Time Bandit put up an asym and was gone on a full plane (at least 10 kts), choosing to take the west side of the course and laying a rum line for Pt Lawrence. We followed their western line and did well on the fleet with boat speed in the 8-9 kts range. We all rounded Pt Lawrence and sailed a deeper line, but it was still high 20’s gusting to low 30’s. We toyed with setting the spinnaker, but with the boat already cranking along at 8-11kts and we weren’t sure how much more speed we could get (although we did consider putting up the #1 jib). We chose to stick with our gear selection, as did most everyone else, and enjoyed a nice downwind sleigh ride in building seas. Somewhere between Pt Lawrence and Matia Island we set a new Monkeybones speed record of 13.2 kts while surfing down the front side of a swell under full main and flogging jib. This was somehow all caught on GoPro. The big fast boats started flying through the fleet with full spinnakers at speeds that looked to be at least 20 kts. It was a sight to behold. Shortly after this we heard the may-day on the radio that Dragonfly, the 40 ft racing catamaran, had pitch poled (flipped end over end) a little farther up the course. Further there was still lots of gear getting shredded and boats getting knocked down. We were content to play it conservatively since our sail inventory is already small compared to everyone else’s.
We rounded Patos Is, the half way point, at 11:30 am and headed for Turn Point on Stuart Island in a driving rainstorm. We now had 25 kts on our beam and the boat was power reaching at 8 kts. We passed a good number of boats, including some in our class, and traveled the 12 nm to Turn Point in 1.5 hours. We rounded Turn Pt and headed for the finish off Roche Harbor. This turned into an upwind beat in subsiding wind and it took us a while to find our groove. Further, we waited too long to do a head sail change. The net effect is that we lost a lot of time to the competition on this short 4.5 nm leg. We finished middle of our fleet at 2pm. Everyone was extremely wet and tired after many hours of intense sailing. We put the boat away, transferred our gear, took a quick walk of the dock, and then headed to Johns for the evening.
The next morning we were off the Island by 7am and, after a quick boat swap, motored with the fleet out to Open Bay for the start of day two. It was forecasted to be light and we could see wind out in Haro Strait, but it was very light at the start. After putting up the sails and tuning the boat, we maneuvered into the start box outside of Snug Harbor. We initially wanted to start pin (west) side but saw there was a current setting boats that direction, so decided to go committee boat side. The winds were very light but we had some forward motion and this strategy served us well. The bulk of our fleet started pin side without enough speed and the current set them all, before they were able to cross the line. This happened to us last year and it took us 20 minutes to sail back up and around the starting mark. However, this year the wind was elusive and nearly half the fleet was unable to cross the start within the 30 minute time limit and were forced to withdraw. We were excited to be out on the water and racing, but progress was extremely slow. The wind was out in the channel and very faint on the inside and we did not have enough of it to cross into the heavier breeze. And then it went away altogether. We were forced to sit and watch other boats in the wind disappear over the horizon. While we were across the line we were within a mile or two of the start drifting with other boats until the wind finally reached us nearly three hours into the race. It was an extremely frustrating few hours but we were glad to be finally sailing, and once going MB got into her grove and did great. We were able to point high along the shore and stuck with faster boats Jam and New Haven on an inside track. We crossed the mid-point at 12:58 well behind those that got to the wind, but ahead of the group of boats we were in. We made smart tactical decisions and continued to pass boats on the inside up to Davidson Rk. We turned the corner into Rosario Strait at 2:30 in really nice sailing conditions with 7-9 kts over the rail and a bit of sunshine. After so much despair that morning, we were starting to feel good about our chances of actually finishing the race. There was a big rain squall over Anacortes that freshened the breeze from the east and we power reached up towards Cypress Island, surprised to see the fleet all bunched in front of us. The weather on Sunday was a weird convergence of northerly and southerly winds, with the convergence creating a belt of dead wind passing right through the middle of the San Juan Islands on an east-west track. We struggled with it at the start, and apparently is was also sitting atop the finish. We approached the finish in a strong easterly wind and could see boats stuck in a wind hole about a mile in front of us, many of them tacking on a northerly wind. There were boats parked on the west side along Blakely Is, while the east side along Cypress still had good pressure. We hugged the wind line on the east side and got to within a half mile of the fleet, and then the wind shut off. We waited and hoped for the northerly to descend down to our location but the rain storm shifted our direction and dampened the wind, essentially snuffing it out. We sat for an hour and watched all the boats we had passed sneak up behind us. Some of them took their cues from our despair and followed a slight breeze, now a westerly on the west side of the strait, and snuck around us in the dying light. As darkness fell, and the time crept towards the cutoff time of 6:00, the ebb tide started to build, pulling us back to the south and away from the finish line. A slight wind gave us some forward motion but it was never enough to compensate for the current. Twenty minutes before the cut off time we were sailing at 2kts north, but going 0.5 kts south because of the current, and were sitting 2.5 nm from the finish. We decided to cut our losses and head for Skyline.
When it was all said and done we finished fifth in class and 48th overall. One boat that snuck by us on Sunday actually finished with 10 minutes to spare, but we were never going to make it. It was an epic weekend of sailing and we already look forward to next year.