The House Wins

A family of Puget Sound liveaboards brings their home out to the racecourse for the annual regatta.

racer cruiser
Even the smallest liveaboard sailors get a taste of competition at Seattle’s Race Your House regatta, where cruising boats go head to head.Andrew Cross

Since our own home, a Grand Soleil 39, is on the hard, our family of four is invited aboard Ryan and Autumn Helling's cold-molded Wylie 31, Velella, for Sloop Tavern YC's annual Race Your House event, off Seattle in late October. With the sun shining bright and laughter in the air, we do our best wind dance while running sheets and relieving the boat of some cruising gear and potted plants.

When the starting sequences for the seven classes begin, 37 cruising boats with names like Gypsy Wind, Tranquility, Twisted Journey and Cinderella sidle up to the line, solar panels charging, dinghies swinging on davits, and dogs wagging their tails on deck. While many of the participating homes are decidedly unsporty for a race, and heavily laden with gear, beer and more, it doesn't matter. The whole point of Race Your House is to get Puget Sound's large liveaboard population on the water together for a day of fun and a few nights of partying.

Aboard Velella, we’ve got the Hellings’ house right on the line when the gun goes off, and with little wind, we struggle to make headway against the ebbing current. A gentle zephyr soon fills in from the south, and we begin to pick our way to windward toward the first turning mark, off Discovery Park. Homes with a bit more heft are left in our wake, but soon the little breeze we have fades away.

Adrift, boats drop headsails. Others hoist spinnakers, and we shift crew weight to leeward to gain any advantage possible. Soaking in the sun and admiring the view of craggy mountains in every direction, we wait for any breeze to provide a boost. As we relax on deck, our boys pop below to read books, play and raid the cupboards for snacks.

Soon a northerly fills, and we begin to move. With our spinnaker full and drawing, we jibe twice, pass the mark and make for the open water of the sound. Though the breeze is there, it still isn’t enough to get every residence around the 8-mile triangle course. Sensing this, the committee boat — also a liveaboard — weighs anchor and high-tails it across the sound to make a new finish line at the turning mark off Bainbridge Island. With just one boat ahead of us, we battle a Wauquiez 40 and a Cal 33 to the finish and manage to squeak across the line second in class and second overall. After celebratory high-fives, we turn back for the marina, fire up the grill, pull food and cold beverages from the fridge, and enjoy the comforts of home.

That night, racers meet at the iconic Sloop Tavern — part dive bar, part yacht club — in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood to celebrate over beers the size of large primary winches. There are no ornate trophies to clutter these raceable residences: Awards are given in the practical form of fleece lined winter hats.