To run the course laid out on the map below, zig-zagging through the rocky, tide-ripped islands between Bellingham, Wash, and Vancouver Island, 141 power cruisers nosed out recently into mist and rain squalls that drove across Bellingham Bay. The boats ranged in size from 20-foot outboard cruisers to a converted 81-foot air-sea rescue cutter. The fleet, biggest of its kind in the U.S. this year, had a long way to go—115 miles by nightfall; but unlike most other races in the world, no one was trying to get there first. This was a predicted log race, specifically the 24th International Cruiser Race, and the skippers were testing not the speed of the boats but their own ability to navigate.
In a predicted log race, the captain of each boat, setting certain speeds for himself and calculating wind and tide, predicts exactly how long he thinks it will take him to navigate a prescribed course. There are certain check points along the course—four in the Bellingham race—and the skipper must also predict the precise moment when he feels he will pass these check points.
From the moment of the start until after the finish, all timepieces and in fact all navigation instruments but the compass and engine rpm indicator are covered. The only uncovered clock allowed on board is held by a special observer who notes the actual times the boat passes the check points. He keeps this information to himself until after the race. Scores are made by calculating the margin of error between the predicted times and those actually recorded by the observer.
Predicted log contests are leisurely affairs for which the only real qualification is a suitable boat. For this delightfully simple reason they are becoming more popular every year with a growing species of men who like the water but also like to have their families with them. One typical entrant at Bellingham, SI's reporter Joseph Miller noted, was Walter M. Hupp, a mason contractor from Seattle, whose crew was made up of his wife and two daughters, age 18 and 10, plus the older girl's best beau. The elder daughter and friend, tired out from a dance the night before, slept through parts of the race. That was fine with Skipper Hupp. "We enter these races," he said later, "mostly because the family likes cruising, and Lorrie, my 10-year-old, likes to help me figure the logs. We don't take it very seriously, like people do golf or sailing."
August 21, 1955
Another typical entry was Bill Bryant of Seattle, who showed up for the race accompanied by his wife, their 11-year-old son and their wire-haired terrier. During the race the deck of his outboard cruiser was strewn with crab pots the family planned to use on a two-week cruising vacation that began right after the race. In spite of this aura of cheerful disarray, he managed to win in his class. There was, in fact, a family tone to the entire event, interrupted by boatloads of businessmen using the regatta as an excuse for a stag party. (On board one such cruiser a poker game ran throughout the race.)
The race itself, however, was a good deal rougher than anyone had anticipated. From Bellingham through the crooked island passages the water was so choppy that 20 cruisers gave up and headed for shelter. Eleven boats had engine trouble in the heavy going and had to be towed to port by Coast Guard boats stationed along the course.
Under such conditions, the predicted time of the overall winner, the 38-foot Cognito skippered by Carl and Margaret Saluzzi, was astonishingly accurate. The Saluzzis figured their total time for the course would be 823 minutes, 4 seconds. Their actual time was 823 minutes, 20 seconds—an error of 16 seconds over 115 miles. The percentage of error, including all four check points, was only .5586.
Most of the racers, however, who crowded into Genoa Bay on Vancouver Island after the race were frankly disinterested in the overall winner, in spite of his achievement. A considerable number were much more concerned with beating individual rivals. Bets between neighbors and business associates ran as high as $500. The rest of the cruisers, like the Hupps and the Bryants, were on a family outing.
Predicted log races like the Bellingham have been popular for years on the West Coast. In southern California such fixtures as the 150-mile Craig Trophy, the Newport Beach race and the Donaldson Trophy for the Pacific Coast championship draw solid blocks of entries each year. On the East Coast, however, except for a flurry of interest some 25 years ago, there was little activity until 1950 when the American Powerboat Association began a campaign to promote the sport. In 1952 an Eastern Cruising Association was formed, and in the three years since then predicted log racing has spread to include 24 eastern yacht clubs. This year the ECA has run off six major events with three more still to come. There are, at present, more than 100 predicted log races, counting dozens of smaller local events, held in the U.S. each year; and in addition there are more than 300 abbreviated contests (over 7-10 mile courses) called piloting races.
The Coast Guard and its ally, the U.S. Power Squadron, a national organization of some 26,000 members that teaches powerboat handling and safety, are delighted with the spread of predicted log events. They feel that the navigational experience gained in the races, as well as the high safety requirements laid down by the committees, teach the kind of cruising habits that can keep them out of serious trouble.
The skippers themselves are, for the most part, also aware of the value of the experience. But while they are honestly concerned with improving the breed, that is not necessarily their primary purpose. Their attitude was perfectly summed up by one of the Bellingham racers, Tommy Packenham, who finished well back in the fleet, but was quite satisfied. "We had a great time," he said, "and mostly, that's what we came for."
Check Point No. 1 Viti Rocks
Check Point No. 2 Obstruction Island
Check Point No. 3 Sentinel Island
Check Point No. 4 Walker Rock Light