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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Sailing in the San Juans

By Giovanni Roverso

The Lopez Island team regatta between Western and University of Washington on March 3 was sweet, sunny and relatively tranquil compared to 2017. Sailors got brownies instead of capsizes.

Western and UW sailors got a lot of quality time together. Four Western teams and a mixed university alumni team fell to three UW teams during a single extended day of racing.

Teams were able to practice their technical skill and team strategy more since the winds weren’t nearly as strong as last year.

“This year it was much more manageable,” said Wyatt Kueysor, a Western sophomore who filled a spot on a UW boat last Saturday since UW was short a player.

“Last year it got to the point where we were planing the boats, so going 15 [or more] knots,” Kueysor said. “To the point that if you had the slightest change in your weight, the boats would completely capsize on themselves. It was insane.”

Kueysor, junior Zeek Ward and sophomore Hayley Rawden all started sailing with Western in fall 2016 and got to experience just how different sailing in the San Juans can be.

Members of the Western sailing team racing at Lopez Island on March 3. // Photo courtesy of Bren Hammond

Last year’s race

Ward and Rawden sailed together at Lopez both years. The sailboats there, Vanguard-15s, have a shallow cockpit designed for self-draining and  stability unless the vessel starts to plane.

“Last year there were a couple races where the wind was a normal amount,” Ward said. “But by the end of the day it was just survival sailing, for fun.”

Fun until Ward’s foot had come loose from a broken hiking strap while counterlevering the full sail with Rawden, sending him into a backflip to the cold water.

“There’s no recovering from that,” said Ward. He only had the mainsheet line to hold on to after the tiller extension had broken off in one hand.

“If I had let that line out the boat wouldn’t have capsized because all the power would go out of the sail,” he said.

As the boat tipped over, Rawden found her feet stuck in her straps which were pulled too tightly and the angle she was at wasn’t helping.

The fear of getting stuck under the boat was real. Had she not have freed herself before the boat flipped all the way upside down, she could have been trapped under the boat with practically no air bubble.

“It was a little rough,” said Rawden, who had managed to get free and fall backward off the side of the boat.

“It was a bit of rookie mistake on my part,” she said about not having checked the straps before going out. The V-15 was nearly unusable after they got it upright again.

“Hayley was shivering and shaking and had tears in her eyes,” Ward said, “I looked at her like ‘I’m not going to sail the boat yet, I’m going to make sure you’re OK,’ and she was like ‘we’ve got to finish the race!’ – ‘Fine, we’re finishing the race!’”

“It was cold.”

Western’s sailing team was sunk by three UW teams at the Lopez Island match on March 3, but sailors said it’s more about having fun than winning. // Photo courtesy of Bren Hammond

This year’s race

Fast-forward a year and the experience was uneventful and disappointing for Hayley and Zeek, with either their boat getting a good start and leading each race or getting off to a bad start and trailing the others. Most of the fun, Ward said, happens between other boats.

“UW really upped their game,” Rawden said.

Kueysor was in the middle of the excitement with his UW boat mate, sophomore Ian Wolcott.

A boat can commit a foul because it doesn’t leave enough room around a mark, if the boat taps the mark, if it doesn’t respect right of way or because of a collision. When a boat does commit a foul it has to sail in a circle once or twice, causing it to lose its place.

Kueysor was skippering on his V-15 when it got into a tight scrape during an attempt to herd a couple Western boats away from a mark.

“I thought there was going to be room at the pin to squeeze on in,” Kueysor said. “One of the Western boats, and they should not have done this because there was no room, squeezed between me and a boat that was on top of me and then I was pinned at the mark.”

Not only did his boat hit the mark, it also ended up hitting the boat who got in close, Kueysor said.

“I purposefully screwed over UW for Western to win that race,” he joked.

As a penalty for the double foul he had to do a double circle, or 720 rotation.

“That was the closest we got to damaging a boat and we didn’t, so we were good,” he said.

Western sailors were greeted with warm hospitality from the local islanders at the Lopez Island Marina. They were treated to a salmon dinner and brownies topped with goat’s milk caramel frosting. // Photo courtesy of Bren Hammond

Lessons learned

It was interesting to sail with UW, Kueysor said. It helped him to see things from the other side.

“UW was pretty sharp on their commands,” he said. “You want to say crisp and clear, so everyone can hear, ‘We’re going to go with this play, to get this winning combination.’”

He said UW, while having fun, was much more serious when out on the water than Western, especially when it came to fouling.

“Let’s just say Western is a very polite school and we don’t really like to call fouls,” he said.

If a foul isn’t called out after about two to five seconds, Kueysor said, it virtually doesn’t happen.

“The more aggressive a team is on calling them out, the more strategically advantaged they are,” he said.

And so, penalties often weren’t being given.

“It was a big bummer,” Ward said, referencing a famous sailor, Dave Perry’s advice to get rid of unrecoverable, easy mistakes.

He said Western would get a big bummer once every other race.

“I am susceptible to fouling people,” Ward said. “I’m aggressive with how I engage other boats and so I get into a lot of situations with another boat where I’ll either be a good sport and take my penalty, or it was their fault and they knew to take a penalty, and more often than not, they don’t.”

Ward said the Northwest Collegiate Sailing District is chronically under-enforced as far as penalties go.

“If penalties were enforced properly, our boat and their boat would go to a hearing and three judges would have decided whether they had rally fouled me,” Ward said.

Winning a protest hearing causes the boat at fault to be kicked out of the race and a decision can be backed-up with witnesses. However, no system was set up before the race to do this.

A good time

“A strength of Western’s is no matter what our actual score is or how everyone is doing,” Kueysor said. “We’re just having a great time and we’re doing what we all love which is being on the water.”

Ward and Rawden said they were touched by the warm hospitality at the marina in Fisherman Bay.

The highlight this year?

“Definitely the brownies,” Rawden said blissfully without a second thought.

Ward agreed. Todd Twigg, who used to coach the Lopez Island sailing team and his wife, Kristin, made salmon dinner accompanied by the best brownies they had ever tried with a goat’s milk caramel frosting.

“Really good food, really good atmosphere, 40 happy sailors,” Ward said.

The only money Twigg asked for was to cover costs, Rawden said, and the Lopez Islander resort let the team eat in their restaurant area which was closed for the season, since they were done after dark.

Moving Forward

Ward and Rawden are looking forward to upcoming national qualifiers in mid-April at Sail Sand Point in Seattle and at the Lakewood Marina on Lake Whatcom.

Kueysor is excited to go to the sailing competition at the Gorge on the Columbia River in mid-May, where there is either a “crap-ton” of wind of no wind whatsoever.

“Either way you still have to deal with a strong current because it’s on the river, so it’s really fun,” Kueysor said.

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