The Destination Wedding Principle

Published on February 23rd, 2016

48° North Magazine editor Joe Cline offers this commentary on what kind of racing is attracting the crowds in the Pacific Northwest…

For many regattas, participant numbers are a shadow of their former glory. However, there are two events with a similar racing format that have been selling out (SELLING OUT!) for the past few years in our area: Orcas Island Yacht Club’s Round the County and Sloop Tavern Yacht Club’s Race to the Straits.

Over one hundred boats participate in each event. Hundreds of sailors have an awesome time. The registration limit gets reached earlier and earlier every year. So, why do these thrive while others struggle, despite best efforts of good sailors and dedicated volunteers? My answer is something I call the Destination Wedding Principle.

I can remember watching a YouTube clip of Ken Read (top-notch American Volvo and America’s Cup racer) talking at a conference a couple of years back. He was beating the drum about prioritizing comfort, fun, and variety in racing. He was saying that a few hours of racing is the right amount.

He was also encouraging a move away from simple windward-leeward courses. I tend to agree with many of Read’s ideas. And, I’d say that Round the County and Race to the Straits align with his philosophy, and that it’s a big part of their success.

Our regional distance classics are races that require sailing into or through the night. Royal Victoria’s Swiftsure is the most notable, but West Vancouver Yacht Club’s Southern Straits, and the Seattle Yacht Club’s Smith Island/Protection Island Races are all in this mold, with distances between 80 and 120 miles. By contrast, both Round the County and Race to the Straits are two-day mid-distance races.

Each race departs from a sailing hotspot on Saturday, and sends the boats on a course through breathtaking Salish Sea scenery for a distance around 30 miles. Each race spends the night in the middle partying in a quaint and picturesque locale. Partying…as in nobody is going home, nobody has to take the dog for a walk, nobody’s checking on the kids, and nobody’s has to go to work tomorrow…partying.

That doesn’t necessarily mean alcohol fueled, though we are sailors and for many it does. On Sunday morning of Race to the Straits or Round the County, you pry your eyes open, and head right out on the water for another 30-mile sail home.

It’s kind of the dream, isn’t it? Have you ever left a destination wedding having had a bad time? All your friends are hanging out, and real life obligations are suspended while you’re in some temporary, far-off utopia. You get to see people you know in a different context. I’d say I seldom encounter someone who is anything but floored that they spent their weekend doing Race to the Strait or Round the County.

People eat it up – they get to catch up with more people from different boats, and they don’t muck up their sleep schedule as they freeze their way through overnight watches. I love those tough distance races and want to see them thrive, too. But, is it as fun as those with an overnight stop? The numbers are beginning to say no, and so do I. – Full story

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