Spring Racing at Full Bore with the Seattle Yacht Club Tri-Island Series

In 1975, the Seattle Yacht Club Sailing Committee made the decision to put together a series of springtime sailboat events that would offer longer courses than buoy races. With a plethora of islands available north and south of the city, longer days on the water could really test the sailors’ stamina and strategic knowledge of Puget Sound, with its formidable tides and unforgiving winds. These races became a tradition, and other yacht clubs were soon invited as well. For many, the decision to purchase a new boat suddenly included strategy as to how she would rate in the Tri-Island series. This year the racing returned in-full, with participation levels akin to the pre-pandemic years. The racing was intense and competitive. As usual, the weather cooperated for some races, and then for others threw everything it could at the crews, making sail adjustments and course changes more than necessary.

Classes are assigned different distances and courses based on the boat’s rating, length and owner preferences. The long course race is for the larger craft, the short course for the intermediate boats, and there is always a cruiser/racer class in which all Members can be included. This makes for vastly different results as the boats on the shorter courses may encounter different tide and wind conditions than the mighty and fast long course boats. In every race there may be a few DNFs based on equipment failure, crew exhaustion or just plain old weather weariness.

Race One on April 30 was the Smith Island Race. An uninhabited small rocky turning point, Smith Island is situated in the eastern half of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, an 85nm round trip from the starting line at Shilshole Bay Marina. The race is run as an out-and-back event with the short courses aligned along the same route but rounding a navigational buoy closer to home and without entrance to the Straits. Every other year the long course alternates rounding at Protection Island, much closer to the entrance to Puget Sound and requiring significantly less time thrashing across the Straits.

This year, the fleet of 40 boats encountered light breezes and sunshine with a bonus of positive current, ebbing everyone down the course to the north. The fast boats rounded Smith Island in time to catch the flood home, as well.  The short course boats, as is often the case, encountered different winds and tides making for “less than perfect” conditions. But everyone finished and the race was in the books.

Race Two, the Vashon Island Race, was run on May 14 and saw 59 boats participating. This race begins in a southerly direction from the same starting line and is a total distance of 48 nm for the long course. Wind and tides are vastly different on the two sides of this long narrow island and “local knowledge” in this race can be critical. The short course is to Point Robinson at the middle of the eastern shore of the island, and includes an initial diversion into Elliott Bay where multiple encounters with car and passenger ferries makes for interesting course decisions! This year’s conditions were favorable and the racing was tight, including a drag race to the finish line.

Race Three, Blake Island, took place on June 4.  This 21 nm event offers space for some creativity since there is no rule for which way to round the small uninhabited island – port or starboard is allowed and it is truly a roll of the dice which route works better in the conditions. Though it is the shortest of the three races, it has a perfect reward for all participants. The finish line moves over to Elliott Bay Marina, and the series ending Trophy Party and Barbecue is held at the SYC’s outstation on the marina shore. A total of 58 boats were entered. Conditions included a light wind start, then a return of the rain and stormy winds Puget Sound is famous for. Stragglers were many. But the party was still going strong for the late finishers and another Tri-Island racing season was in the books.