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Gig Harbor Yacht Club celebrates milestone LeMans race

Bill Harter, left, and sail chair Tom Gray photographed at the Gig Harbor Yacht Club in Gig Harbor on Monday. The yacht club’s 50th anniversary of the LeMans race will be held Saturday. Harter will be participating.
Bill Harter, left, and sail chair Tom Gray photographed at the Gig Harbor Yacht Club in Gig Harbor on Monday. The yacht club’s 50th anniversary of the LeMans race will be held Saturday. Harter will be participating. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

There will be a unique opportunity Saturday morning on the waters of the Puget Sound near Gig Harbor for people to see a flurry of sailboats making a mad dash for the open water.

The Gig Harbor Yacht Club will host its annual LeMans race Saturday (Nov. 18), which starts in Gig Harbor and proceeds up to Point Richmond, north of Sunrise Beach, before returning home. Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the race.

Tom Gray, Gig Harbor Yacht Club member and chairman of the sail committee, has his fingers crossed for good sailing weather.

The skipper’s meeting will begin at 9 a.m. with the first start to commence at 10:30 a.m.

The LeMans race is a unique sailboat race that was inspired by the LeMans car race.

The race will feature a LeMans start for all boats.

“Normally, sailboat racing boats are under sail and maneuvering before the start of the race and then they all try to cross the starting line close to the same time,” explained Gray.

In the LeMans start, boats start at anchor with sails down.

“When the race gun goes off, your crew is all below deck and they come up on deck, raise the sail and the anchor and then they have to sail out of the Gig Harbor entrance,” he said.

The race proceeds north, goes up to Point Richmond and back to Gig Harbor.

The LeMans boat race is very popular, and the start can be tricky.

IMG_2011 Lemans 2011
Gig Harbor Yacht Club’s LeMans race starts at anchor with crews below deck. When the gun sounds, crews rush to simultaneously hoist the sails, pull up anchors and all sail out of the narrow Harbor mouth and up to Olalla and back. Sheila Schultz Mordue Courtesy

“Historically, we’ve had 20 to 30 boats and it is quite an interesting thing to watch because these sailboats are all at anchor,” Gray said. “Sometimes they put up a colorful spinnaker to get out of the harbor.”

People can view the race from just about anywhere along the harbor or from kayaks or smaller boats.

“Just as long as they don’t interfere with the boats,” said Gray.

Jaime Storkman will be part of the crew on a 26-foot Thunderbird.

“The race was originally started by Dick Carlson and Ed Hoppen,” he said. “They had this idea to set it up like the LeMans race of years ago when cars start from a dead start. Everyone comes at it with a different attitude and it is definitely competitive. I’ve always said you put a mast on a couple of 2-by-4’s, you will find a way to be competitive.”

Bill Harter has raced in the LeMans many times and on Saturday he will be crewing on a 37-foot sailboat. He said it is a great day.

“When sailors get on the water — they compete. Even if there are only two boats,” Harter said.

The race will take place rain or shine.

“Unless the weather presents a safety issue, the race will go on. If there is no wind at all, we might wait a little while. It is weather dependent,” said Gray, who will be managing the race and watching from the race committee boat.

For more information or to enter the race, visit GigHarborYachtClub.com. Sailors can enter the race up to the day of the event.

“If someone showed up and paid their entry fee, we would get them in,” Gray said.

Entry fee for the race is $40.

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