PORT TOWNSEND — Home-course knowledge played at least a small part in a familiar team raising the Rat Island Cup once again.
Hundreds of competitors aboard more than 70 human-powered forms of watercraft raced in gray, foggy weather on Admiralty Inlet and Port Townsend Bay last Saturday as part of Sound Rower’s 25th annual Rat Island Regatta.
The 7.8-mile-long course started and finished near the kitchen shelter along the beach at Fort Worden State Park. During the voyage, teams proceed near the shore to Point Hudson head across Port Townsend Bay and around Rat Island near Indian Island before returning back to Fort Worden.
A shorter 2.9 mile course headed to Point Hudson and returned back to Fort Worden.
“The cool, moist conditions prevented anybody from overheating and probably contributed to good performances,” said Steve Chapin of Port Townsend, a crew member aboard the winning team in the long course race, the Storb QuadMaas 4X OW (open water), along with father and son duo Rainer and Adrian Storb, and Paul Grigsby.
The crew beat its 2018-winning time, completing the course in 55 minutes, 25.2 seconds, 2:49 ahead of Jessica Lowe and Peter Hirtle in a 2X open water shell.
“I think it also kept other boat traffic down,” Chapin said of the weather. “Probably fewer boat wakes on Saturday than we might normally see. So the water conditions were really good.”
But a little June gloom didn’t suppress participation, Chapin said.
“Our turnout was surprisingly large,” he said. “We had a much bigger turnout than we had expected.”
Vessels entered in the race ranged from traditional racing kayaks and rowing shells to canoes, outriggers, dragon boats, a standup paddleboarder and a pedal-powered tandem bicycle design.
“At the start it’s one mass start for all racers and we had 72 boats, so it was a pretty chaotic beginning,” Chapin said. “There’s not enough room at the start line for everyone, so the field is fairly deep and with all types of human watercraft around there’s a lot of splashing going on.
The Storb Quadmaas is similar to the flat-water racing shells used by competitive collegiate rowing programs such as the University of Washington, but possesses a wave-piercing bow more commonly found on racing kayaks and a heavy-duty bailing capability that ensures crew members can keep racing while incoming water is removed.
Chapin, the lone Port Townsend resident on the crew, is a member of Port Townsend’s Rat Island Rowing & Sculling Club in addition to Sound Rowers.
“There was some [starting] line creep going on,” Chapin said. “We couldn’t see the starting buoy in the fog and we were behind before the horn went off, but pretty quickly we were able to get out ahead.
“I would say by Chetzemokah [Park] we had edged out in front and the racers were pretty spread apart along the length and width of the course,” Chapin said.
“We were joking amongst the crew that our plan was to get out in front and stay out in front and we were able to do that.”
Chapin said the shell stayed near to shore around Point Hudson but had to handle a tidal change crossing Port Townsend Bay.
“We had to compensate for an ebb tide sweeping across the bay, so we made a line a little west of the cut [at Rat Island] to compensate for the current. Approaching the big ebb flow we entered at the last moment in a clockwise manner. “I’m more familiar with the most efficient way to get through the cut because I row it a couple of times a week.”
Chapin’s teammates are all from the Seattle area, so he handled the steering.
“We went through the cut first and I was steering the boat from the bow,” Chapin said. “There’s a foot-controlled tiller, so I can control the rudder all the way in the back of the boat.
“And once you get into the back side of Rat Island, the flow is downhill from there.
“We picked up a little current advantage there and if I recall, the only portion of the race where we were feeling wind was the last stretch from Point Hudson back to Fort Worden.”
Kitsap Rowing Association’s eight-person Orange Crush rowing shell claimed the short course victory in 19:22.9.
Teams from the Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association in Port Angeles also competed in the event.
“We had teams from not only Port Townsend, but a number of racers from all around the Olympic Peninsula, the Seattle area and farther afield like Westport, Bellingham and rowers from Idaho, California, Oregon and Texas,” Chapin said.
It was a relatively calm race, too. Precautions are taken, including six safety boats monitoring the race and communication with the Coast Guard’s Puget Sound Vessel Traffic in Seattle.
“We just had one paddler spill out of his boat at the south end of the island,” Chapin said. “There’s a hole there that has caught a few racers. The ebb tide has a strong flow at the south end and it meets a back eddy as you round the back of the island. As we require all participants to self assist, he was able to get back on his vessel.”
Chapin said participants enjoyed a large potluck meal together after the race.
“The fun thing about the race is everybody has a story to tell, everybody’s race is different,” Chapin said. “It’s fun to share them all together.”
Those interested in learning more about rowing opportunities in Jefferson County can visit ratislandrowing.com.