It was the late 1960s, and Gig Harbor Yacht Club Commodore Dick Carlson and Ed Hoppen, a Pacific Northwest boatbuilder known for building Thunderbirds, were sitting around Ed’s kitchen table one night chewing the fat. It was then that they came up with the idea of running a sailboat race along the same lines as the famed car race in Le Mans, France.
In the original version of the Gig Harbor YC Le Mans start—which is also used for fun races by a smattering of other clubs—the fleet would start out at anchor with the entire crew belowdecks and the sails furled. One crewmember would then go ashore by dinghy to get the race instructions, and row back to the boat at the five-minute signal. As soon as the messenger arrived, the rest of the crew would burst out on deck to weigh anchor and set sail.
Today, the only requirement is that the entire crew be belowdecks and the boat at anchor behind the starting line, with sails furled. But according to Gig Harbor YC sail program director Erik Carlson, things can still get pretty exciting as the fleet of as many as 40 boats rushes toward the 100-foot-wide mouth of Gig Harbor where it leads out onto Puget Sound.
“Many places can change or positions be lost and finish orders affected by those that choose to pop a chute in the harbor, or not,” Carlson says. “Winds in the harbor can be very different in both direction and intensity at one end of the harbor than the other, as well as outside.”
Carlson notes that the fleet is considering trying the old format again to mark the 59th anniversary of one of sailing’s most interesting—and fun—traditions. For complete results from this year’s race visit gigharboryc.com.