As I walked through Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes early on Saturday morning, halyards slapped in a chaotic harmony and a steady rain tested my foulies. Those conditions would prevail throughout the morning and into the early afternoon for leg one of Round the County 2015. And when the wind finally subsided, a different challenge awaited the wind-worn crews from the 115-boat strong fleet during leg two on Sunday — start and use every ounce of wind you can find to get to the finish.
Like the name suggests, Round the County is a 76-mile race around San Juan County over the course of two days, with a stop in Roche Harbor on Saturday night. The course around the San Juan Islands alternates between clockwise and counterclockwise, and 2015 was a counterclockwise year. Put on by the Orcas Island Yacht Club and the Friday Harbor Sailing Club, Round the County has become an immensely popular event for Northwest sailors and this 28th edition was a good one.
A strong southeasterly wind whipped Rosario Strait into a frenzy as racers descended on the start line at Lydia Shoal, just east of Obstruction Pass on Saturday morning. The Race Committee was diligent in getting three starts and eight divisions off between 0840 and 0907 to send all the competitors northward in a breeze that crews reported seeing top out in the upper 30s.
Aboard the J/145 Double Take we started nearest Lydia Shoal buoy and took off in leaps and bounds under our blue and white A4 spinnaker. The big boys, including the TP 52s Smoke, Glory, Valkyrie and the Reichel/Pugh 55 Crossfire, rocketed northward like they had been shot out of a cannon and many boats reported setting new personal speed records during the first half of this leg.
The wind and seas seemed to kick up with vigor as we left Clark, Matia and Sucia islands to port and wipeouts were seen throughout the fleet with a few spinnakers blowing up in the process. In this same stretch, the five sailors aboard the catamaran Dragonfly pitchpoled and were all plucked out of the cold water. It was an ominous looking scene to pass by the overturned cat and we were glad to learn that everyone was ok and that the boat has been righted. Also, kudos to the boats who stopped to assist.
We had a few hairy moments of our own aboard Double Take, but kept the boat largely in control while topping out at nearly 18-knots of boatspeed. A big change awaited as we rounded Patos Island and sailed a close reach towards Turn Point on Stuart Island to the west. The wind was still up and a steady rain fell, soaking foul weather gear and creating some truly cold sailing conditions. It didn’t matter, we were sailing fast and having a great time.
After rounding the lighthouse at Turn Point, it was a beat to the finish just outside of Roche Harbor. The wind finally seemed to lighten up a bit here and we passed a few boats while completing this final stretch of the race. Overall, Saturday was a heck of a lot of fun in the big breeze. Sunday would be a different story, though.
The second leg started just outside of Mosquito Pass south of Henry Island and a light to nonexistent wind awaited the fleet. Boats from the first two starts struggled to get past the line and just enough wind filled in for the third start boats to get out and move southward. The boats that were close to San Juan Island only got to move so far, though, as a large windless whole greeted them just north of Lime Kiln Point. We sat for what seemed like hours and watched the boats ahead and to the west of us leg it out in the last of that breeze. With limp sails and an adverse current, frustration mounted for boats stuck in this position, but the wind eventually trickled in from the southeast.
When the breeze did arrive it built to a stead 6 to 10 knots and we took off. Double Take sails upwind well in those conditions and we did decent against the competition that had lagged with us in the windless zone. The boats who were able to make it out ahead proved hard to catch for the rest of the day as the fleet worked its way around San Juan Island, past Salmon Bank near Cattle Pass and then past the bottom of Lopez Island. Others were not so lucky; many first and second start boats were forced to retire as they couldn’t quite pull themselves out of the hole, and when and if they did, it would have been difficult to finish before the time limit expired. Such is life in a sailboat race.
As we moved around the bottom of Lopez we could see that another transition was going to take place farther up Rosario Strait. It looked as though a reach was going to turn into a beat and that is exactly what happened just north of James Island. Holes in the wind appeared as it moved forward on the bow, but we were able to claw our way through and pass a few boats in the process. By the time we reached Blakely Island and neared the finish line, the wind had filled in out of the north for us and we covered the last few miles in short order to complete leg two alongside the well sailed Evelyn 32-2 Poke & Destroy.
In the end, Round the County 2015 was a challenge in contrasts — big breeze on leg one and little to no breeze on leg two. That’s all part of the fun of racing, as each set of conditions presented unique tests for the competitors. A great time was had by all aboard Double Take, and we look forward to battling clockwise around the islands with everyone in the 29th edition next November.