Semiahmoo Bay to fill with sails this weekend

Published on Thu, Apr 23, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Semiahmoo Bay to fill with sails this weekend

By Jack Kintner

Blaine’s unofficial beginning of the sailing season happens this weekend with the eleventh annual running of the Semiahmoo Regatta, sponsored by the International Yacht Club (IYC) of Blaine and White Rock. The weekend of racing will bring nearly 100 state of the art race boats and crew to Blaine from as far south as Seattle and as far North as Vancouver for the April 25 and 26 weekend.

Added this year as a kind of finale to the nautical weekend is a Sunday afternoon mini-regatta featuring graduates of Drayton Harbor Maritime’s community sailing school racing in the program’s six Clancy class dinghies right in front of the Blaine Boating Center’s boardwalk. All graduates as well as sailors from the bigger boats are welcome to participate. The racing will be easy to see because the course follows the visitor’s float out to the end and back, and is timed to begin during the regatta’s post-race barbecue and awards ceremony.

As far as local sailors go, Alan Finston on his J-36 “Joy” promises to finish well. He’s contended with White Rock’s Terry Willey in his CS 40 “Hushwings” all season for first and second in a small but highly skilled big boat fleet, and after a season of sorting things out has the lightweight 36-footer moving well. With a crew of eight to 11 sailors, more when the wind blows to level the hull, he should finish somewhere in the money if there’s enough wind for a decent race.

Shipwright Mark Grumley on his trimaran Blue Lightning is a veteran northwest competitor with a number of long distance races to his credit, including around Vancouver Island, and will dominate the multi-hull fleet.

Far and away the fastest hulls in the race, the group of six or seven boats will start last and work their way through the entire fleet at speeds some powered hulls can’t match.

The complete schedule of events begins with a skippers’ meeting Friday night in the kitchen building on the Canadian side of Peace Arch Park. The sponsoring International Yacht Club will host continental breakfasts for skippers and crew at the Blaine boating center both Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m.

Saturday night there will be bands and impromptu parties at both the White Rock Pier for boats that are racing out of Canada and at Paso Del Norte for boats moored in Blaine for the night.

Racing begins at 10 a.m. sharp both days, so boats will be leaving the marinas at Semiahmoo, Blaine and White Rock by about 9 a.m. Boats are divided into six classes by size and speed, and for Saturday’s long-distance race will circle a course counter-clockwise that starts deep in Semiahmoo Bay near the White Rock pier, proceeds west to boundary marker F off Kwomais Point (southwest corner of the white Rock peninsula) and then turns south for the Alden Bank buoy before returning to run along Birch Point and the shoreline to the finish off Semiahmoo Spit.

The total distance is about 26 miles with some of the slower boats sailing an abbreviated course. The race usually lasts until 3 or 4 p.m. but anything can happen. Race chairman Roger Gibb said that from roughly noon onward there should be quite a spinnaker parade visible from a number of places from Birch Point north and east to Semiahmoo Resort.

Sunday is the day that shoreside observers will get the best look with two round-the-buoys races on parallel courses set up inside Semiahmoo Bay. The courses can vary according to how the wind is blowing but will keep all 100 or so yachts well within sight for the whole race. Prime viewing area is Semiahmoo Spit County Park northeast to the resort.

With any kind of breeze and six different classes of boats each with their own start only five minutes apart it doesn’t take long for the faster boats to catch up with the slower ones. Before long the bay looks both colorful and chaotic as all but one of the classes will be flying spinnakers going downwind, sails often big enough to wrap an entire house.

Shorebound visitors can monitor the race committee and chatter from the boats on marine channel 72. Before and especially after the racing is done people are welcome to roam the docks to inspect these machines. Although you’re not allowed on board unless invited, for many of the skippers that’s just what they like to do, and it never hurts to ask.

Racing on the bay goes back to the days of salmon fishing by sailboat, and this regatta turned ten just last year. Four years ago the race hit the big time, so to speak, when it was sanctioned by the Vancouver Area Racing Council (VARC), putting it on the short list of major area races along with such classics as Southern Straits, Swiftsure and Whidbey Island Race Week.

The racing fleet this weekend will include veterans of such prestige races as the Whitbread Around the World challenge and the America’s Cup. Trophies are awarded in each of six classes for both Saturday’s long-distance Haleys’ Dodge Cup and the two shorter races on Sunday afternoon.

Saturday’s results are combined with Sunday’s to determine the White Rock cup winners. Blaine’s West Marine Express store, recently honored for outstanding community involvement by the parent chain, is managed by Debbie Morley, one of the better women sailors in the area.

She began a perpetual team competition a few years ago for the West Marine International Trophy which goes to the best Canadian or American three-boat team based on combined results for the whole weekend. The store is also helping to sponsor the Community Sailing School Mini-Regatta.

Three years ago local sailor Mark Gumley, on his F9 trimaran Blue Lightning, won the discontinued VanDenBorne trophy in the multi-hull class and the West Marine trophy as well, and teamed up with Gray Hawkins’s Davidson 40 named Teddy Bear and Brian Tyrell’s J-22 called T-squared. Tyrell came from Texas to sail in the race. Last year a Canadian team won the prize, so look for the Americans to get it back this year.

For more information and to find out how to register for the race contact Malcom Fletcher at 604/562-0125 . More information is also on the club’s web site at

all festivities open to public

Friday, April 24
• 7 p.m. Skipper’s meeting, kitchen building in the Canadian side of
Peace Arch Park; late registrations accepted.

Saturday, April 25
• 7:30 a.m. Breakfast at the Blaine Boating Center for race participants
• 10 a.m. Haleys’ Dodge Cup start, Semiahmoo Bay
• 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Practice for Community Sailing School Mini-Regatta,
Monkey Island off Blaine Boating Center Gate #3
• 6 p.m. day’s results posted followed by dinner and dancing at Paso Del Norte and
at the White Rock Pier

Sunday, April 26
• 7:30 a.m. Breakfast at the Blaine Boating Center for race participants
• 10 a.m. White Rock Cup Races Start – Monitor CH 72; Second race begins about
a half hour after the first one finishes, all racing to conclude by about 3 to 4 p.m.
• 3:30 p.m. Skippers’ meeting for the Community Sailing School Mini-Regatta
• 4 p.m. Mini-regatta begins, free refreshments for the public courtesy
Banner Bank
• 4 p.m. IYC Barbecue and Awards Presentation, Blaine Boating Center.