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An interview with Regan Edwards on the Seattle Yacht Club's 2023 Grand Prix

by David Schmidt 12 Oct 2023 08:00 PDT October 27-29, 2023
J/109 racecourse action at Seattle Yacht Club's annual Grand Prix Regatta © Jan Ansderson (www.janpix.smugmug.com)

There are a few things you can (more or less) count on in the Pacific Northwest. For starters, it rains—sometimes a lot. Second, we have some of the world’s best espresso (trust me, this helps with the grey, dark days). And, third, if you’re into racing fast sailboats in a regatta setting, the Seattle Yacht Club’s annual Grand Prix regatta offers some of the area’s best racing.

According to the regatta’s NOR, the SYC’s 2023 Grand Prix is open to boats with valid ORC or PHRF-NW certificates, multihulls, and One Design keelboats that measure at least 24’, stem to stern, and that field at least five boats.

Unlike previous editions of this regatta, which previously functioned as an invitational event, the 2023 regatta is open to any boat that meets the abovementioned criteria and that completes the registration process.

Racing is set to unfurl on the waters of Puget Sound, north of Alki Point and south of Point Wells, and the starting area is expected to be located near Shilshole Bay or the area north of Meadow Point.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have competed in several editions of this fall classic, and I checked in with Regan Edwards, regatta chair of the Seattle Yacht Club’s 2023 Grand Prix, to learn more about this year’s regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the SYC’s Grand Prix, its history, and its culture? When did the event begin, and what kinds of sailors does it tend to attract?

The Grand Prix began almost fifty years ago. We are in the 46th edition and we skipped the 2020 Covid edition.

For the longest time, it was considered an invitational and there was a specific list of events that could qualify a boat for an invitation. A person from the club kept meticulous records of who won 1st-3rd in the various classes at the long list of events.

Then, we would have to research and find addresses so the invitation could be mailed. It was quite a process and people really enjoyed the challenge of qualifying.

I heard that the regatta has moved from an invitational format to open registration. What was the reason for this, and how is it working out so far?

Interestingly, the move to open registration was on our mind even before the pandemic. I was the person keeping track of who won 1st-3rd in the events, and it seemed to limit us.

Honestly, it's quite often the same few boats that get 1st-3rd. I remember having discussions about the possibility of it becoming an "open registration" before COVID. Then, the world changed and many of our qualifying events were cancelled in 2021. It didn't seem fair to have the Grand Prix for such a small number of official qualifiers. It turned into the perfect time to do a beta test.

It turns out, we get bigger classes and have more fun when the event is open.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing ahead of this year’s event? How does this number stack up against previous recent editions, and is the open registration helping to drive up numbers?

The number of participants has been on the rise during the past three editions, so "yes" the open format is working out very well. I give a lot of credit to the One Design fleets. They love using the Grand Prix as an exclamation point at the end of a good season.

The J/105s and J/80s really show up for us now that more than three of them are invited. I expect that we'll see at least 44 boats this year. Early indicators are ahead of where we usually are at this time.

Weather-wise, what kind of conditions can sailors expect to encounter off on Puget Sound in late October? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

We have wonderful conditions on the Puget Sound in late October. Some of my favorite sailing days of all time have occurred at the Grand Prix. Personally, I think windy and sunny are best, but I'll celebrate any condition that isn't drifty.

It was super windy in 2019; I can remember big-time gear breaking all over the course. Smaller boats probably didn't love that.. I think the best-case scenario depends on your boat!

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta’s outcome? Can you please explain?

Local knowledge is a huge factor. If you do a ton of racing on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights you really know when and how to take advantage of the [tidal] push coming out of the [Ballard] Locks. You also become more comfortable sailing right up to the beach when there's a big adverse current.

It's probably the same in all venues to some degree, but I think Shilshole Bay and the surrounding waters are exceptionally challenging to visitors.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

The piece of advice that has probably helped dial in the results on my teams in Seattle is keeping an eye on SOG and COG. As soon as you start getting hit hard by the adverse current, tack/gybe.

Your sails may still be full but the numbers don't lie.

I sail with Iain Christenson; he's an expert at dodging adverse currents. There have been many days that we tack so often, he calls it "pachinko"-ing the shore. Pachinko is a Japanese gambling device that looks like a vertical pinball machine, and it's a very accurate description of our course when we're incentivized to stay in shallow water.

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 are steadily adding to our Green Regatta achievements. We have new, efficient markset boats. We are using more compostable goods at the parties and reducing our single-use plastic across all the events and onboard the RC boat. It's so important to keep these efforts at the forefront in our planning.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add about this year’s Grand Prix, for the record?

We are honoring Jimmy Buffett at our events this year. Details will be sent to the skippers in the weeks leading up to the regatta. I have booked a singer, Biff Moss, to come and cover Jimmy Buffett. He'll set the tone for the Awards party. We don't want to make any big changes to our final awards and dinner party, but you can be sure that we're adding margaritas to the menu.

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