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Clipper Ventures

A conversation with Jason Andrews and Shawn Dougherty on the 2020 Salish 200

by David Schmidt 23 Jun 16:00 BST June 26, 2020
Hamachi en route to Hawaii © Image courtesy of Hamachi

While the current lack of regattas likely ranks relatively close to the bottom of the list of serious world problems right now, given the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of authoritative world leaders, boiling racial tensions and social inequities, and massive unemployment numbers—and that’s to say nothing about the pending environmental catastrophe—this still doesn’t make it easy for those of us, your scribe included, who truly love sailboat racing. Fortunately, there are green shoots emerging as different countries, states, and communities slowly and cautiously start emerging from their pandemic-induced hibernations. Here in the Pacific Northwest, one great example of this slow return to semi-normal is the Salish 200, a non-race that’s set to begin on June 26 on the waters off of Port Townsend’s Point Hudson.

But rather than an official yacht-club sponsored and administrated race, the Salish 200 is being organized by Jason Andrews and Shawn Dougherty, co-skippers of the well-sailed J/125 Hamachi, and will employ state-approved social-distancing recommendations to help keep sailors safe while also giving the sailing community a much-needed shot of fun.

The Salish 200 will see racing unfurl on three different courses. The first, the Puget Sound 100, will begin off of Point Hudson and will take boats down Puget Sound and around Vashon Island, with a finishing line off of Marrowstone Point Lighthouse (which is situated on Marrowstone Island, just south and east of Port Townsend).

The San Juan 100 will also begin off of Point Hudson and will take the fleet on a circumnavigation run around the beautiful San Juan Islands, with a finishing line off of Marrowstone Point Lighthouse.

Finally, the Salish 200 will take the fleet around the San Juans and Vashon Island, following a Figure-8 shaped course and finishing off of Marrowstone Point Lighthouse.

The rules are refreshingly simple: Each team can sail with a maximum crew of five sailors, and they can choose their own adventure in terms of what direction to sail around these geographical marks. Teams will record and report their GPS times (taking photos of their chartplotters) when they pass key geographical waypoints (e.g., Patos Island Lighthouse for the San Juan 100 and Salish 200 crews, and Vashon Island’s Neil Point for the Puget Sound 100 and Salish 200 crews) and the finishing line, which they will send to Andrews and Dougherty via email. Each team will have 50 hours to complete their mission. PHRF handicapping will be applied, and virtual trophies will be awarded to the top three boats in each division.

I checked in with Andrews and Dougherty, via email, to learn more about this exciting and organically grown distance-sailing “non-race”.

What was the impetus for the Salish 200? Also, how long did it take you guys to hit your 25-boat limit?

We are all about sailing adventures and were planning to do R2AK this year on Hamachi. It was early April and we were lamenting the loss of the racing season and hopeful that the Race to Alaska would still go. We were working with [crewmember] Matt Pistay to move Hamachi up to Port Townsend for the rest of 2020, and on one of our many calls the three of us started joking that we should just make up a race to get everyone out on the water.

Soon thereafter Jason [Andrews] got out Expedition and started checking distances around natural marks and we tallied distances. We always thought the PNW needed a 200-mile race, a multi-day race similar to the Chicago Mac. It would also count as a Transpac qualifier (there aren’t any in the PNW that do).

This event is about celebrating sailing in the Pacific Northwest and is meant to be a sailing adventure more than a sailing race. Initially, the event was going to start and end out of [Seattle’s] Shilshole [Bay Marina] but given the tides we struggled with “do you start going north or south” and what happens in future years if this becomes an annual event.

After studying the course options more, we discovered that the distance from Marrowstone [Point] Lighthouse down around Vashon Island was 102 nautical miles, which also happened to be the same distance as Marrowstone [Point] Lighthouse up and around the San Juan Islands using Round The County marks to define that part of the course. This seemed significant.

If you start in the middle you could allow captains/tacticians to decide [what] way they wanted to go: north, south, clockwise or counterclockwise. It’s a bit unconventional, but this approach is used in the Northern Century race, which is one of our favorites. As a result, we moved the start / finish to Port Townsend.

We wrote up the rules and the three of us debated the names, courses and finer points and eventually the Salish 200 was born. For example, the final piece was also borrowed from Northern Century: the Friday at 7pm start. We wanted to make maximum use of the weekend to allow as many sailors to get on the water as possible. Further, the event is one week after the summer solstice, so this element of the race showcases the incredibly long days here in the PNW. We set a cutoff time of 9pm on Sunday to end the misery in case it was a total drifter and it also made for 50 hours of sailing, a nice round number.

Given the fluid Covid-19 situation in April, we initially debated making this a doublehanded-only event. However, in hopeful anticipation of being in Phase 2 by late June, we set the maximum crew size at five to be compliant with the Governor’s plans.

Since we are not an “official race” we have limited the entries to 25 but hope that we can mature this event and make it available to all boats in the future.

Will there be an actual RC boat on the water to start and finish boats, or will the honor system be used in regards to starting and finishing times?

Given the crazy course geography, and the fact that the event organizers will be sailing on the course, all mark roundings and finishes are on the honor system. We may have a boat to mark the end of the line at the start, but the start will be on GPS time.

Can you given me a rundown on the different courses (PS 100, S100 and S200)?

Absolutely. Initially it was just the Salish 200. When we posted it on our Sail Hamachi Facebook page there was a lot of excitement, but also concern from smaller boats about finishing 200 nautical in 50 hours. As someone pointed out: “My hull speed is only 4 knots”. Given that the event starts and ends in the middle of the course, it was easy to create two 100-nautical-mile events. We initially called these courses the Puget Sound 100 and Salish 100.

Subsequently we learned that there was already an event called the Salish 100, so we renamed that course to the San Juan 100. Here’s a quick description of each:

San Juan 100 Course:

- Start in Port Townsend taking the Port Hudson marina pier to port and a mark to starboard

- Sail around the San Juan Islands using Round the County marks. This means you have to sail outside of Lopez, James, Orcas, Matia, Sucia, Patos, Stuart and San Juan islands, as well as outside several reefs and buoys, which are all described in the Round the County Race rules. - Record your time passing the Patos Island lighthouse (see www.salish200.com for specifics)

- You complete this course when you sail south of the Marrowstone Point Lighthouse, at which point you should record your time (see www.salish200.com for specifics)

Puget Sound 100 Course

- Start in Port Townsend taking the Port Hudson marina pier to port and a mark to starboard

- Sail around Vashon Island and record your time passing Neil Point on Vashon Island (see www.salish200.com for specifics)

- You complete this course when you sail north of the Marrowstone Point Lighthouse, at which point you should record your time (see www.salish200.com for specifics)

Salish 200 Course

- You must complete both the Puget Sound 100 and San Juan 100 courses and finish off of the Port Hudson marina pier, at which point you should record your time (see www.salish200.com for specifics)

To give crews maximum flexibility sailors do not need to choose/designate [what] course they are scored on. We will record all times and all boats will be automatically included in the results for the course they complete first.

Boats that intend to do the full Salish 200 will be scored on the 100-nautical-mile course they finish first. That way the slower boats that are only doing a 100-nautical-mile course are still sailing head to head with the faster boats doing the full Salish 200. It also served to use the 100-nautical-mile course as a shortened course for boats doing the full Salish 200.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that sailors will face on each of these courses?

There are many interesting challenges. First, this is a double overnight sail so crews will need to get into their watch rotations soon after starting. While the nights are short, sailing at night through shipping lanes is serious business and takes a focused and experienced crew. We hope all boats have AIS and we are going to mandate that it is on all the time. This serves a safety purpose, but it also allows online spectators to track the fleet. Maybe at some point we get official race trackers.

The currents will be incredibly challenging. Obviously, you want to get flushed up and down Puget Sound so planning your route to maximize current and wind is critical. Since there’s only 50 hours of racing, you need to complete each 100-nautical-mile course in around 24 hours. It will be interesting to see which boats are passing Port Townsend Saturday evening.

This is one of the few races that crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca and it can really blow if there is frontal weather or onshore convection. All boats need to be prepared with proper safety gear, comparable to the other big races such as Swiftsure or Southern Straits.

Is there a time limit for each boat to complete their course? If so, do you expect that most boats will be pressing that limit to finish their courses?

The start is Friday at 7pm, and we set a cutoff time of 9pm on Sunday to end the misery in case it was a total drifter. It also made for 50 hours of sailing, a nice round number. If there is wind all boats should finish, but it will be tight.

How stiff do you think competition levels will be? Or is this event(s) more about getting out on the water with friends and having a great time sailing?

For us, every race is about enjoying the adventure of getting around the course. We also enjoy the camaraderie of sailing with and against an outstanding fleet. We are super excited that the first edition of the Salish 200 has many of the best boats in the area and we know everyone is bringing their A-game.

If you mix distance and endurance sailing together, it’s not surprising that many of the region’s top boats will show up for a friendly match.

What course do you and the Hamachi crew plan to sail? Also, do you plan to make any modifications to the boat for shorthanded sailing, or is it already well set-up for shorthanded mode after all the Hawaii races that the boat has done?

Hamachi is a great shorthanded boat and we did consider doing it doublehanded. However, there’s been very few sailing opportunities this year so we wanted to get as many of our friends onboard as possible so will be sailing with five.

We will set out to complete the first Salish 200 and will figure out what direction we are going hopefully not too long after the start.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

We look forward to seeing how this first Salish 200 goes. We’ve spent a lot of time on all parts of the course, but [we] have never done it as one single event. It does a good job showcasing the beauty and geography of the Pacific Northwest, with great views of Mount Rainier rounding Vashon Island, as well as Mount Baker rounding the San Juan Islands.

We hope to make this a recurring event and—once we are in a post-Covid-19 world—attract boats from far and wide to enjoy an epic long weekend of sailing. Starting and finishing in Port Townsend, which has a rich sailing history and some great bars, is also unique and we have some ideas about how that could evolve in the future.

We hope sailing communities both locally and abroad get the itch to create a distance race in their local waters of 50 miles or more around the Summer Solstice.

Maybe next year we’ll hear about the Solstice “Svierge 50” over in Europe or the Solstice “Kansai 100” in Japan. Sailing communities creating adventure and endurance racing in their local waters, how cool is that!

Many thanks to Jason Andrews, Shawn Dougherty and Matt Pistay for tyheir help with this interview.

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