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Scores of sails were filled with a most-welcome mid-winter breeze as nearly 60 boats navigated a course set on Port Townsend Bay during the 30th iteration of the famed Shipwrights’ Regatta.
“I thought it was fantastic, it was the biggest Shipwrights’ Regatta I’ve ever seen,” said Jim Heumann, an organizer with the Port Townsend Sailing Association. “I just don’t think it could’ve gone better.”
The event kicked off with a socially-distanced, but still in-person, briefing at the head of Boat Haven Marina’s A-B Dock, where officials from the Port Townsend Sailing Association addressed the crowd of sailors for the pre-race skippers meeting.
In years past, the meeting would have likely coincided with a breakfast and racing would culminate in a shoreside afterparty. Not in 2021, a year still plagued by the hindrances of a lingering global pandemic.
But COVID-19 may have had a positive side-effect on the regatta’s turnout this year.
Heumann said in spite of — or perhaps due-to — folks being cooped up for so long during the pandemic, the 30th annual Port Townsend Shipwrights’ Regatta saw a staggering number of participants, more sailors than he could ever recall before.
Relaying the origins of the race during the Saturday morning skippers meeting, Heumann shared with the audience a story of how a daring group of hardy shipwrights began organizing the race in the dead of winter.
“Since they worked outside 365 days a year, it wasn’t a big deal for them to have a regatta in the middle of winter,” Heumann said. “We really owe them a debt of gratitude for starting this out, way back 30 years ago.”
Diana Talley and Bertram Levy were just two among the crowd given a shoutout by the organizers for their involvement in the regatta’s early days.
The race committee boss, David Burrows, briefed those in attendance on the rules and course for the regatta, adding that with so many boats competing, an emphasis should be placed on collision avoidance.
“As we’re a big crowd, when you’re milling around before the start … please lookout for each other,” Burrows said. “We’re out there having fun, we’re not trying to barge into each other and it’s very easy — with a mix of small boats and large boats — to not see somebody when you should be looking out.”
“That would be good for the shipwrights, though,” chirped one audience member, eliciting chuckles from the crowd.
Serving as the committee boat for the race was Carl Berger’s “Sockeye,” a 1944 wooden troller designed by Ed Monk. Positioning itself more-or-less at the middle of the bay, Berger dropped Sockeye’s anchor.
Noting the sound of the anchor chain, Robert d’Arcy quipped from the helm of a16-foot rigid hull inflatable boat serving as the race’s mark boat, “That’s what starts this whole thing off.”
“Alright, we’re set,” hollered Berger to d’Arcy.
Aboard the mark boat, d’Arcy and Holly Kays placed the floating buoys that would serve as the racecourse.
With Berger’s position now fixed on the bay, the course and starting line could be set; doing so required a keen eye.
From Sockeye’s top deck and surrounded by the boat’s rigging, Burrows stood silently into the wind.
In his hand he held a tool built for the purpose of setting regatta courses. The item consisted of a small plank of wood with a compass on one end and a ribbon tied to a post at the other. As the ribbon was blown back by the wind, Burrows could look to the compass for an accurate bearing of the wind direction.
Using the reading, Burrows directed d’Arcy and Kays to place the course’s windward, reach and leeward marks; the pin buoy came last, forming the start line between the buoy and the committee boat.
And with that, the course for the day was set.
Throughout the day several classes made their way to the line, the racing class, the Thunderbird class, and the cruising class.
Because of the number of participants, however, the cruising class had to be broken up into two classes consisting of boats above 30 feet in length and below 30 feet in length.
The racing class was first off the line, then the Thunderbirds, followed by the cruisers.
In the racing class, two very different boats competed for the No. 1 spot.
Aboard his 18-foot International 505, “Deadwood” Dan Ginther saw his closest competition in the form of the 49-foot, Chuck Burns-designed schooner, “Sir Isaac.”
For the past few years, Ginther said he and Deadwood have kept a friendly competition with Sir Issac’s owners, John and Ann Bailey.
Ultimately this year, it would be Ginther and his skipper, Jeff Brantley, who beat out the rest of the competition in the racing class.
Close-hauled, port-tacked and with Ginther putting his weight into the 505’s trapeze rig, Deadwood was the first boat to cross the finish line, followed shortly thereafter by Sir Isaac and her crew. Taking third place in the racing class was the 48-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl, “Pacifica.”
The Thunderbird class proved to be an exciting matchup, with the entire fleet of competitors all sailing the 26-foot International Thunderbird.
Early off the line was Joe Daubenberger’s “Dorado,” followed closely by her fellow T-birds “Raven,” “Falcon,” and “Owl.”
Dorado sustained her lead ahead of the pack until shortly after her first rounding of the leeward mark.
By the time the fleet had navigated around the uncrossable-mid-race start/finish line, closing in on the windward buoy to the north, it was Raven that was now enjoying a commanding lead.
Ultimately, the loss of the lead was unrecoverable for Dorado and it was Raven’s crew of three who all raised their cans in a toast after crossing the finish line.
Dorado took a close second place, followed by Owl in third.
In the below-30-foot cruising class, “Opus’” distinctive tanbark sails helped the boat stand out in contrast to the other mostly white-sailed fleet.
The sails also helped the vessel stand out by carrying the crew of the 25-foot gaffer to a first-place finish in their class.
Taking second place was the 25-foot cutter “Hakoom,” followed by the 26-foot spidsgatter, “Cito” in third place.
In the above-30-foot cruising class, the 39-foot “Varya” carried her crew to a first-place victory.
In second place came Auklet, followed by Windmist II.
About a half-dozen boats in the over-30-foot cruising class were unable to complete the race when the 35-foot Columbia sloop “Flapdoodle” sustained a disqualifying foul of the leeward mark after the boat became entangled with the mark’s anchor rode, freeing the buoy to the mercy of a now-considerable breeze.
At the culmination of each year’s Shipwrights Regatta, a number of symbolic awards are offered up to the boats and crews who most-appropriately fit each prize’s designation.
The Golden Trident, bestowed upon the “saltiest boat or crew,” was awarded to Russell and Ashlyn Brown and their 11-foot boat “Lil B.” The Browns were spotted frantically baling water out from the open boat while still navigating the racecourse.
The Directional Helmet, awarded to boats that get lost or miss a buoy during the race, was awarded to Kurt Gresham and his boat “La Vita e’ Bella.”
Gresham earned his award after crossing the finish line and announcing to the judges that he hadn’t known the racecourse was two laps.
This year’s Peg Leg Award, given to the boat with the oldest average age of crew, went to Bertram Levy’s “Murrelet.” The 19-foot sloop carried a crew with an average age of 74.2 years old.
The Whack-O-Matic, awarded to the boat that exhibited the best use of misspent energy, was awarded to two boats in a tie.
While approaching the leeward mark behind the sloop Flapdoodle, Doug Young’s “Andiamo Again” and Matt McCleary’s “Ceridwen” struggled to round the mark, which — unbeknownst to them — was moving away after it had been struck and broken loose from its anchor by the boat ahead. Ultimately the skippers had to break away from their chase, but not before they earned the recognition.
For her part, Flapdoodle was awarded the Twisted Belaying Pin — given to a boat that had problems on the course. Following Flapdoodle’s run-in with the mark, the boat was in need of a little rescuing which came in the form of the mark boat and her crew, d’Arcy and Kays.
For their work to rescue, and assistance in Flapdoodle’s return to the marina, Kays and d’Arcy were awarded the Perpetual Award, for exceptional seamanship or sportsmanship.
For a full list of awards and updated rankings from the 2021 Shipwrights’ Regatta visit ptsail.org.
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