The Ultimate Sailing Test

Published on November 7th, 2016

The 29th annual Round The County on November 5-6 is a premier sailing event in the Pacific Northwest which circumnavigates San Juan County in two legs. The combined legs are approximately 66 nm with an overnight stop in Roche Harbor, San Juan Island.

Due to the great venue, the better winds of November, and the overnight stop in Roche Harbor, the race has become one of the more popular sailing events in the region.

The 2016 edition attracted 115 entrants which began with a Friday night (Nov 4) rendezvous at the Orcas Island Yacht Club, in West Sound at Orcas Island. Ian Andrewes shares the experience:

What started as a fairly straight forward forecast for Saturday became much more difficult and challenging as the day progressed. We were in the first start on the Davidson 29 “Madame Pele” and were lucky enough to cross the line reasonably close to the actual start gun.

Confusion, along with a 20-25 knot gusty south easterly and a ripping ebb tide, prevented a lot of boats from making it to the upwind start in time. There were late headsail changes and reefs being taken all while 100+ boats were fighting to get across and start their race.

The beat out of Rosario Strait favored the teams that could handle some weather while other teams struggling in the big breeze had a difficult time connecting to the more casual conditions that lingered in the straits of Juan de Fuca. Almost inexplicably, after getting fire-hosed and powering through 8 foot current rollers, we turned the corner at Davidson rock and parked it up with most of the fleet in what became dead calm conditions and a building, negative current.

We fought it out as best as we could with the guys around us but after hours of going nowhere we pulled the plug. The realization that some boats in our class had already finished the long course while we were still drifting past the halfway point with the time limit looming near was frustrating to say the least.

But there is more to this race than the race, and with the temperature warm amid the setting sun, the motor around the west coast of San Juan Island is always beautiful. That night we enjoyed barbequing in the marina at Roche Harbor and de-briefing the day amongst our team and some of our fellow competitors.

Day two started out a lot better for us. The sun was breaking through and we felt ready to redeem ourselves from the previous day’s lack of a finish. The start line was tucked up well between Posey Island and Barren Island and there was a very light southerly just creeping into the area. Unfortunately, with the mass of boats pacing just to weather of the start line with their sails up, the idea of a downwind start would not go so easily.

It took a total of three start attempts to get our fleet on the way. Our goal had been to start at the committee boat end of the line and try to get out to a small wind patch that was lingering not that far away. The first two attempts went well for us but a general recall meant we had to drop the kite and get back to the line and try again. On the final and supposedly “All Clear” start, we got totally hosed as more boats decided to go east off the start line.

We got stuck under some bigger boats and failed to accelerate properly, but that bad start made us realize that a sizable puff was moving in behind us. A quick gybe with our A-1 and we locked into that pressure and immediately jumped back into the lead pack. The whole fleet played the shore along Stuart Island, short gybing as close as they dared to the rocks to avoid the negative current only a couple hundred feet off the shore.

We played it very aggressively as we were the small boat in our group and could take advantage by staying in longer. Getting around Turn Point was a challenge but we were able to squeak around it cleanly while some boats found themselves in swirling eddies and zero knots of wind.

It was then a tight fetch to Patos Island, with our team opting for the high road to the south as we felt the pressure would be better. Luckily that payed off. We could see boats to the north off Pillar Point on Saturna Island completely stopped and windless. We made it to the halfway point in a very solid position and from then on it became a beat in building pressure all the way around the rest of the tiny islands and over to Orcas Island.

But alas, we had made a navigational error and unwittingly sailed on the wrong side of the Clements Reef Buoy #2 which is a mark of the course. It didn’t occur to us until we were informed of a protest by another competitor, and it was an unfortunate mistake after sailing so hard and winning the day. It was a good lesson about communication among other things and we are excited to get back and do it even better next year.

Thanks to Orcas Island Yacht Club for hosting such a fun and challenging race and to all the other teams out there that sailed hard and fought all the way to the end.

November 4, Friday night: Boats rendezvous at the Orcas Island Yacht Club, in West Sound, Orcas Island. Enjoy the no host cocktail party, free hors d’oeuvres, pre-race briefing , skipper’s meeting, and inflated/deflated stories from years past.

November 5, Saturday: The race starts at Lydia Shoal in Rosario Strait, just East of Obstruction Pass. The course goes south past Blakely Island, Decatur Island, around Lopez Island past Cattle Pass, across The Salmon Bank, up the west side of San Juan Island and finishes in Mosquito Bay. The course is approximately 31 nm. Saturday night the sailors party in Roche Harbor.

November 6, Sunday. Leg two starts by Battle Ship Island just outside of Roche Harbor, goes north toward Stuart Island, around the light house at Turn Point up Boundary Pass, outside of Patos Island, Sucia Island, Matia Island, Clark Island, south east along Orcas Island, and finishes at Lydia Shoal. The course is approximately 35 nm. The awards dinner follows at the Orcas Island Yacht Club at West Sound.

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