Successful events succeed for good reasons
Published on June 16th, 2015
by Geoff Jarvis
The 2015 Martin Marine Round Bowen Race on June 13 was one of the best in memory for good reasons. A circumnavigation of an island (18nm racecourse), sunshine and breeze, free moorage on the island all weekend, and free beverages courtesy of Tito’s Vodka and Steam Whistle Brewing.
In all, 129 boats registered for what is the largest single start event in the Pacific Northwest.
Bowen Island is just 15 minutes ferry ride away from downtown Vancouver, and less than two hours away by sailboat from 25 yacht clubs littered around Vancouver and the Gulf Islands. In its 27th year this year, the event has become a must-do event for many.
Did I mention that 100% of the proceeds from the event go towards the Bowen Island Yacht Club Learn2Sail program? What comes around goes around.
The island is situated at the mouth of Howe Sound, which is surrounded by snow-capped mountains making for epic southerly thermals at the top of the sound, building to 25 knots just about every day all summer. The conditions out in the Georgia strait still had a NW’ly blowing in the mid to low 20’s with heavy swells, so the transitions from light to heavy and the ability to change gears was key this year.
The delivery on Friday was a little sporty for some, with 40kts blowing in the strait (the same breeze that has been pounding the R2AK and Vanisle360 boats), all were wondering if the breeze would continue onto race day. Alas, Saturday started like they always do in Howe Sound, with glorious sunshine and no breeze at all. After a sleepy dock start, boats started gathering at the start line in the light, but building breeze.
After some comedic radio chatter regarding the whereabouts of the start line (read the SI’s!!) all boats got off the line in a 7 knot Southerly. The tactics called for either short tacking the shore for tide relief (standard tactics for the Melges 24’s and smaller sportboats) or heading out into the breeze to get the boat moving (the standard play for the 50-70 footers).
As boats wound around Cowan point and entered the Strait, the breeze kicked in for real and headsail changes and the ability to punch through the big swells spread the fleet out along the south shore.
Rounding Cape Roger Curtis, the waves softened and the breeze backed, with kites soon emerging for a 10nm DDW run in flat water and 15 knots of breeze. With the sun out in full force, most lifelines quickly became clothes hangers and the crowds on the shore cheering everyone on, made for a glorious leg.
Then came the infamous hole at Finisterre, in the shadow of the island. Do you play the shore and try and skate through on momentum, or do you try and buffalo girls everyone by sailing the extra distance around the outside? The race was decided for many at this point, and fortune favours the boats with tall masts (ask me how I know!!)
On the last beat for home, the thermal kicked in for real, and the still flat water made for some epic tacking duels up the shoreline.
Cross the finish line, exhale, and seconds later, rafted up at the Union Steamship Marina, where the cold beer (thanks Steam Whistle!) and the band were just setting up.
Overall winner Mad Max (Davidson 40) seemed launched off the start, and untouchable for the rest of the day. First to finish was the TP52 Valkyrie, which had the crowds on the shore cheering as she ripped it up around the racecourse. As the rest of the fleet trickled into the dock, there was the stories, ubiquitous grumbling about ratings, and general camaraderie among sailors.
“This year’s Bowen race was the best I can remember in all aspects – and that is saying something as I think the only one I’ve ever missed was back in 1999,” noted Jason Vandergaag, whose Schock 35 finished third overall. “The on-shore party was fantastic and welcoming, the dock party was great as usual, and the race was everything Bowen should be. With 129 boats on the start line, there’s just enough chaos to keep it interesting, and great wind and sunshine. I was very pleased to note that even at the pointy end of the fleet, we were trading tacks with boats that had a cockpit full of kids – what other race can claim that?”