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Fleet captain takes sailing to the extreme

Bellingham Yacht Club 505 class fleet captain Lee Laney (left) and his crew Mike Powell navigate the waters during the Pacific One Design Regatta on May 22, in Seattle. Laney has been racing 505 boats seriously for about five years.
Bellingham Yacht Club 505 class fleet captain Lee Laney (left) and his crew Mike Powell navigate the waters during the Pacific One Design Regatta on May 22, in Seattle. Laney has been racing 505 boats seriously for about five years. Courtesy of The Bellingham Herald

For Lee Laney, being on a sailboat doesn’t mean holding a cocktail while watching the water glisten below. He’d rather be gripping the tiller with water coming off the rail dousing him like a fire hose.

Laney is Bellingham Yacht Club’s 505 class fleet captain and is competing in this weekend’s 2016 International 505 North American Championships on Bellingham Bay. The 505 is a 16 foot, 6 inch, or 5.05 meter, dinghy that features a two person crew with one person on a trapeze wire leaning off the side of the boat barking directions and the other manning the controls.

Laney and Mike Powell, who does the barking, are one of eight Whatcom County teams out of the 52 competing in the 505 championships from June 1-5. The event, hosted by the Bellingham Yacht Club, will be the largest turnout of 505 boats since pre-worlds in San Francisco in 2009. Multiple world champions and 1984 Olympic gold medalist William Carl Buchan will be among those competing.

Races typically last about an hour to 75 minutes and involve a mixture of athletic ability and strategy. Laney said the cerebral aspect of 505 racing is his favorite.

“You’re checking wind angles and shifts in breezes and you can’t see hardly anything,” Laney said. “And you’re working very hard the whole time.”

Despite this, he said he tends not to think when he’s out on the water.

“I’m better when my brain shuts off a bit,” Laney said. “I tend to be scatterbrained but out there it’s definitely an instinct thing.”

Laney’s family moved to Hawaii when he was 12 and met people involved in a sailing program there. He said he was mediocre at every other sport he tried but once he tried sailing he didn’t look back. He’s been racing the 505 seriously for about five years.

Before he moved however, Laney said he grew up riding sailboats with his father. Laney’s father died in January so the championships are even more special this year, according to him.

“My goal is to finish in the top 20,” Laney said. “My crew has improved leaps and bounds over the past few months. I’m not getting my hopes up yet though.”

Another reason Laney is excited for this weekend is that Bellingham’s 505 fleet will be officially welcomed into the North American Section to become Fleet 35. Just two years ago, the fleet had only two teams and has now grown to seven.

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