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50th Shaw Island Classic Race

Blue skies, sunshine and predictions of uniform, northerly winds blowing 8-10 knots in San Juan Channel had racers smiling in anticipation of a perfect day for the long-awaited 50th annual Shaw Island Classic yacht race on August 6. Hosted by the San Juan Island Yacht Club, celebration of the 50th race was delayed two years due to COVID-19. The unofficial 49½ and 49¾ Un-Shaw races in 2020 and 2021 provided an opportunity to escape the craziness, enjoy fresh-air sailing, and keep racing skills sharp.

Martin 242 and F-31R
August 6 was a lovely day in the San Juan Islands for the Shaw Island Classic. These are the Martin 242 Ekonomart and the F-31R trimaran Big Broderna.
© 2022 Theresa Cole

This race is unique in that Shaw Island is the only mark and can be rounded in either direction. It is only a 13-mile course, but shifting winds, variable currents, narrow, rocky channels and ferry traffic often turn it into a nautical chess game.

Shaw Island Map
The playing field.
© 2022 Google Maps

The fleet of 31 boats split on the best way to round Shaw, with 17 heading clockwise up San Juan Channel into the wind on a light flood. The other 14 put up spinnakers or stretched out on a broad reach in hopes of clearing Turn Rock and picking up the flood in Upright Channel.

Cruising boats start
A start for some of the cruisier-type boats.
© 2022 Jim Corenman
Racy boats start
And for some of the racier-type boats.
© 2022 Jim Corenman

“One of the things that makes this race special is meeting the counter-course fleet halfway,” said Mike Kaminskas, skipper of the Pyramid 660 Homeless Hare, who placed first overall on corrected time and first in the PHRF-B division. “I always love finding out how we are doing. If we are not yet at the halfway point, I say, ‘Here comes the easy part!’ But if we are beyond the halfway point it’s, ‘Here comes the hard part!’”

Nigel Oswald, skipper of the F-25C Makika and first-place finisher in the multihull division, added, “Clockwise was definitely the way to go. I think we may have had one of the most pleasant Wasp Passage passages in memory, just a hole at the entrance and exit but a lovely kite run through!”

The mid-course committee boat reported that all the clockwise boats passed the halfway point before any of the counterclockwise fleet, which stalled in Upright Channel. “The hardest part was Upright Channel,” said Betsy Wareham, skipper of the Martin 242 Purple Martin and first-place finisher in the PHRF-C division. “No wind, puffs from any direction — we just tried to connect the puffs and managed to get through.”

Despite hitting “the hard part” in Upright Channel, the clockwise fleet made it to the finish line. Most of the rest of the fleet languished in Wasp Passage as the clock ran out. Eighteen sailboats finished the race. None of the boats in the Cruising-A (no flying sails) division finished, so mid-course times determined the winners.

Tashiba pilothouse and Ranger 20
Jeff Osborn’s Ranger 20 Cardinal leads John Manning’s Tashiba 31 Vaquita in a downwind section of the race.
© 2022 Theresa Cole

Spirits were high as racers once again gathered at the lovely SJIYC clubhouse overlooking the harbor for post-race banter and a hearty lasagna dinner served by the First Mates. An article about the first Shaw Island Classic race in 1970 with the title “Backward Sailors Finish First” was distributed, showing that the founders set the expectation of fun from the start.

1970 articles
These were provided by Carol Smith, whose late husband Ed Kennell helped to organize the race. Ed’s boat Peniel was the only boat to coast across the finish line before the time limit. After the race they had a potluck picnic on Brown Island and threw Ed and his crew into a pond.
© 2022 Peg Gerlock

A new award was added in honor of Wally Lum, who skippered Marquita in the first Shaw and has competed in every race since. Donated by Michael and Kat Durland and the crew of the 6-meter Challenge in honor of their longtime skipper and friend, the Perseverance Award goes to the last boat to cross the finish before the deadline. This year’s winner was Treachery, a Martin 242 skippered by Chris White, the only counterclockwise boat to finish the race.

A shout-out goes to the multigenerational team on the King 40 Hydra, skippered by Sam Richardson, for placing first in PHRF-A division and first overall on elapsed time. Complete results and photos are posted at the club’s website at

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