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An interview with Dennis Damore on the 2021 Pacific NW Offshore race

by David Schmidt 8 Jun 16:00 BST June 10-13, 2021
43rd Annual Oregon Offshore International Yacht Race © Event Media

The coasts of Oregon and Washington are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but they're not exactly the most hospitable shorelines. A massive amount of fetch and prevailing southwesterlies can make this a dangerous lee shore with few harbors to escape a proper Pacific Ocean pummeling, and the water isn't exactly bathtub warm. The Caribbean this is not, but what this area lacks in creature comforts, it more than makes up for in adventure, beauty and—when it comes to the annual Pacific NW Offshore race (June 10-13, 2021)—great racing.

The 45th running of this 193-nautical mile event, which was formerly known as the Oregon Offshore, begins at the mouth of the Columbia River (at Buoy 2) and takes the fleet up the Washington coast before navigators call for big righthand turns at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From there, crews will punch it to the finishing line off of Port Angeles, Washington.

The Pacific NW Offshore race is organized by the Corinthian Yacht Club of Portland and sponsored by Schooner Creek Boat Works, and—despite its sometimes-fearsome weather and conditions—it's an area classic that regularly attracts some of the region's best sailors and fastest boats.

I checked in with Dennis Damore, Commodore of the Corinthian Yacht Club of Portland, via email, to learn more about this classic West Coast distance race.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the race?

We currently (as of April 7) have 24 boats registered, 13 from Washington and 11 from Portland, with the 25th boat almost certain to register this weekend and with five weeks still to go until we cut off registration.

Our usual number is between 20 and 25, so we are ahead of projections and likely will hit 30+ [boats].

It really is amazing given that we don't have any of the Canadian boats that usually race because of the border closing. Can you say, "Pent up demand?"

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on off of Oregon and Washington in mid June? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

As you know, the Swiftsure was cancelled again this year because of the [Canadian/U.S.] border closing, and so we moved the date to allow for more Covid response including vaccinations and have established a new finish line this year in Port Angeles with the support and coordination of the Port Angeles Yacht Club.

In June the weather should have moderated a bit from the colder temperatures we normally get in early May. We may see some significant differences in the prevailing wind patterns given that we are a month later. Typical daytime temperatures in May are 45-55 [Fahrenheit] with nighttime lows in the 40s. We should be about 5-10 degrees warmer this year.

Rain is always possible. The usual prevailing breeze is NNW at around 10-15, but it can be drifting conditions around the corner at Tatoosh and we've had big blows in the past.

The record, 14 hours, was set in 2014 [by Icon] with a SSE [breeze powering their] spinnaker run all the way up the Washington coast that then veered to produce a run down the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

How important do you think local knowledge will be for this distance race? Also, if you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

Local knowledge is not terribly important except regarding tides and wind holes in the Straits.

Advice for any year: dress warm, stay hydrated, follow your personal sea-sickness precautions.

Advice for a typical wind/weather year (with a finish in Victoria): going north stay inside on the beach for the first day, pay close attention to tide projections in the straits knowing that the tide changes happen in the middle first and the shore change last. After you're in the Straits, go to middle and then decide which side you're going to follow but most often that's the Vancouver Island side. As you move down the island side, void the Sooke vacuum zone at all costs. Pay close attention to current and breeze at Race Rocks, both which can be brutal.

Finally, ask around about the "toilet bowl" effect, also sometimes called the "Great Circle" route, through the Bay between Race Rocks and the finish at the entrance to Victoria Harbor.

This year will be new learnings for everyone given that we finish in the bay in front of Port Angeles yacht basin and the border in the middle of the Strait is closed. All bets are off for that last 60 or so miles after the turn.

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you and the other regatta organizers planning?

We are continuing to monitor the progress of vaccinations and state regulations.

We will likely not have an in-person Skipper's Meeting but rather will do it virtual. There will likely not be the usual crew pre-race party and raffle, and instead we'll be asking that skippers follow Covid protocols and do dinners with their crew safely.

We are hearing from skippers that they are intending to sail only with vaccinated crew. Our inspections will be a combination of Zoom/Facetime, photography, and phone calls with checklists. Anything happening on the dock will require masks.

As we get closer, we'll know more.

What do you see as the trickiest bits of water to get right from a strategy and tactics perspective?

We say that the Pacific NW Offshore is actually three races in one.

The first is the run up the Washington coast from the mouth of the Columbia River to the turn at Tatoosh/Duntze Rock Buoy. You can have a great leg up the coast and then park at the corner for hours while competitors blast up behind you, go outside, get the incoming breeze, and then blow by you down the Strait (ask me how I know). It's tricky to find the right line.

The second is down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Race Rocks. Get on the wrong side of the Strait or get sucked into a hole or with current against you, and you're toast (see note above about Sooke triangle).

The third is from Race Rocks in to the finish. Too many times the breeze is honking at [Race Rocks] and by midway across the Bay, it just dies requiring sail changes and zephyr scouting. Plan accordingly and see reference to "toilet bowl" above.

As to this year, well, as noted above, all bets are off for the last two sections.

I know it's still early days in terms of entries, but are your eying any perennial favorites for strong finishes? What about any dark horses?

You're right, it's still early. Bob Brunius from Seattle on Time Bandit has won it four times, and he's back this year. Rage, the Wylie 70-footer [that was] built by our title sponsor Schooner Creek Boat Works, held the record for over a decade until Icon broke it, but they have been barn door [winners] many times and overall corrected four times. By publication time of this interview they will be registered.

We have a J/105 fleet that is shaping up as a One Design division, which includes Free Bowl of Soup who was overall corrected-time winner in 2017.

A first for us this year is a double-handed division that was promoted by the PNW Shorthanded Sailing Society. We also have our first multihull registered, Presto, a Chris White 48, that will act as our safety/chase boat and give us some insight to how we can include multihulls going forward.

There's a lot of action going on.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

We're a unique race. It's 193 miles and usually with an international finish. We don't have chase boats. Our safety boat will sail the course. We follow all the RRS as it related to pollution and trash. Our goal is always to keep the PNW waters pristine.

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

The Corinthian Yacht Club of Portland would like to thank Schooner Creek Boat Works for being our title sponsor for four years with two more years to come.

We'd also like to thank the skippers who have registered for this year's race, and who had trust in our ability to conduct a race safely during these trying times.

We'd also want to thank the folks in Ilwaco, including the Port and the Visitor's Bureau, as well as the Port Angeles Yacht Club and the city, without whom this year's race wouldn't be possible.

And finally, the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and our volunteers at CYC who have always stepped up to make this the premiere ocean race in the Pacific Northwest for the past 44 plus years.

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