Whidbey Island Race Week 2012

This year I competed in the 505 and the Melges 24 Fleets for WIRW. It was a wonderful event put on by Clear Ahead Productions and the man in charge, Gary Stuntz.

For me it was a bit of a last minute decision. I was in San Francisco training when I got the call from my good friends, they were taking the boat up and wanted crew. I was a bit hesitant at first, only because of the effort to fly up ASAP. But then I received another call from local sailing legend Dalton Bergan asking me to race with him in the 505 class for the pre dinghy event, also being held at the same venue, and that sealed the deal.

The next morning I was on the plane and flying north. For the unfortunate souls that have never competed in the WIRW you must understand the fun, laid back attitude towards the very intense sailing that takes place. A fun nickname for the event is “Summer Camp for Adults” with the always popular “tent city” located right in the venue where almost everyone pitches a tent or car-camps.

Ian’s floating hotel for the week heads North on Puget Sound
photo©Ian Andrewes

I’ve done this before and though I’ve enjoyed the party atmosphere of tent city, I decided this year to sail up and camp on my families 30 foot racer/cruiser named Madame Pele. So from landing at the airport Friday morning, I spent about two hours un-packing and then re-packing before untying in Seattle and motoring north to Oak Harbor. Because I was in such a hurry to head out and arrive before racing the next day, I failed to fully check the weather conditions forecasted for that evening. Well it turned out that severe lighting and thunderheads were rolling through directly in the path of where I was headed. It was a pretty intense solo delivery to say the least. I have to say, watching lightning strike the water only a mile off was enough to make me pucker up and put the helm hard over for the nearest port. I finally made it in at around 11 pm after many stops and starts and with some assistance in weather routing from my good friend Mats.


Oak Harbor Marina at sunset

The next day was sunny but with pretty marginal wind conditions. Dalton and I were fast on the 505 being one of the lightest teams. We scored a 1,2,2 that day with Carol and Karl Buchan winning the other two races. It was awesome competition and I had a blast sailing those boats for the first time. Even if some of the rigging setup seemed a bit superfluous. I was a bit bummed to not sail on Sunday because Fritz Landzinger, owner of the boat, was now able to make it up. I was okay with it as it gave me some time to catch up on back logged emails and to begin preparations for the full week of Melges 24 sailing coming up.

©gary stuntz/clear ahead productions

Day one on the Melges started off pretty well for us, we scored a 1st and a 3rd , which was great as we had essentially a new crew that had never sailed with each other before.
Day two was a bit of a shocker with a 5th place in the first race after a bad tactical call on my part in the shifty conditions and then another 5th on the second race due to finishing incident which resulted in a protest hearing and the offending boat getting penalized only 20% which didn’t help us at all and left us in a sour mood.
Day three we had a small crew change when our bow girl called in with an arm injury and couldn’t sail the rest of the week.

Luckily a friend of mine, Sandra Stark, happened to be walking down the dock right then and it didn’t take too much convincing to get her on board. We started well with a 2nd in the first race but then threw away a solid 1st place position when we got stuck on the wrong side of a current line in some fluky conditions to end up 4th. Crew morale was pretty low at that point with some blame being held towards me on tactical errors. Needless to say, I was frustrated.

Day four we were able to grab my best friend and fellow racer Mike ”el Barto” Barton to sail with us. We also changed jibs out from our current North setup to a new 2011 generation Quantum which Dan Kaseler, owner of the PNW loft was happy to loan us. We felt fast as the breeze was up and we had the weight to compensate. The new Jib was awesome and really helped us point a lot better with the fleet. We scored a 1,4,2, that day which was good but not quite what we were working for. This put us in 2nd place overall with 2 points above 3rd place and 8 below 1st.

Day Five was pouring rain with very little wind. We rigged up and followed the parade out to the race-course huddling for warmth. It took a while for the wind to come around but we finally saw about 3 knots and the racing began.

Our start was less then fabulous when a communication error between the skipper and I led to us fouling one of our competitors. After our circles we re-started and took off right towards the favored current and what we thought at the time would be the favored side with the wind clocking that direction. Unfortunately on that first beat, the wind went way left and only one boat in our fleet was up there and able to capitalize on it, the one boat that we really needed to beat. On the down wind run we gybed out early and made solid gains putting us back in 3rd and nipping at the heals of the number 2 boat. We sailed smart on the final beat with the number 2 boat dropping back as they tried covering us. At the same time though the fleet started to compress from behind and we now had a tight downwind run for the finish. We sailed a little wider to the south side of the leg, which produced some more consistent breeze but lacked quite as much current benefit. The boat that rounded behind us chose the opposite by gybing at the mark and sailing in less wind but better current. By the time we got down to the finish it was neck and neck but we were able to squeeze them off with a few well placed gybes that gave us room at the mark boat and gave us a 3rd place for the day.

Though it was not our best finish and the conditions were less then ideal, I would have to say that Day 5 was the best day. Our crew work was really nailed down and the chemistry on board was the best it had ever been.
So at the end of that long week we were tied for 2nd place but lost the tie-breaker. I feel pretty humbled by this. I learned a lot about what makes a good team go fast and how such small, simple things can throw that out of whack. I can’t wait for the next race in whatever boat it happens to be. Sailing is awesome and racing is even better. I’d like to thank John Rahn for having me on board and all the volunteers and supporters that helped make this event what it was, I’m already looking forward to next year.

Our war cry on board Pickled Beets!!

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