Community Sports

Youth Regatta champions return to race 29ers

Liam Hood and Shea Walker lead a group of boat around a marker bouy during a short race as the Sehome sailing team practices single boat and team sailing in Lake Whatcom on Thursday, May 1, 2014 in Bellingham.
Liam Hood and Shea Walker lead a group of boat around a marker bouy during a short race as the Sehome sailing team practices single boat and team sailing in Lake Whatcom on Thursday, May 1, 2014 in Bellingham. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Liam Hood won the Bellingham Youth Regatta last year on his trusty FJ. This year, there is an added class of boat, the 29er, and the first-place skipper is excited to compete on this faster model.

During the high school season Liam, a Sehome senior, races in an FJ, which is a sturdy small sailboat. If something goes wrong on an FJ, chances are the racers will only lose their momentum, but it would take a lot to capsize.

On the other hand, 29ers are built to be sailed on the edge of disaster, Liam said. Increased speed comes with a greater chance of capsizing.

“You have to know what you’re doing once you start sailing a 29er,” he said. “But once you do, it’s a lot more fun.”

The regatta takes place in Bellingham Bay each year in August. It was once a part of Ski to Sea but has since grown into a formidable regatta all on its own. The race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8.

This year was the first time the Bellingham Yacht Club had their own summer racing team, which is where the 29ers come from. Three 29ers are registered to compete in the regatta this weekend.

Last year, Liam sailed with his sister Mallory Hood as his winning crew. The two of them have been on the water together with their boat-loving father since they were 5 years old.

This year, Mallory is crewing for Liam’s friend and toughest competition on another 29er, Jeffery Werner. They both go to Sehome High School and have been training on the same boat during practice on Lake Whatcom. After a year of competitions with the practice teams, it made sense for the sibling duo to split and go with their practice partners.

The regatta is more relaxed for the high school athletes, because it is not a qualifier for other competitions, it is simply a race to win.

“It’s nice wanting to win, having a simple goal to beat Jeffrey,” Hood said. “And not having to worry about qualifying.”

Werner has been sailing nearly as long as Liam and Mallory; he started taking classes at the Bellingham Yacht Club when he was 7 years old.

He and Liam have had a friendly competition since middle school. They are both compete on the same high school team.

“Liam and I have always had this rivalry together because we come from the same place and have been sailing together,” Werner said. “If I’m not winning the regatta, beating Liam is the next big thing to me.”

As crew, Mallory’s job is to make sure the boat stays on course while her skipper makes adjustments, she is always looking out for other boats and lends a hand to the lines wherever she can.

This year, on the 29er, both sailors have added responsibility to ensure things go correctly. A larger spinnaker, a triangular sail, makes handling the boat more complex. Mallory said she will be harnessed in so tacking, turning, can be done as sharply as possible. She uses her own weight leaning off the side of the boat to help it turn.

“I’m just there to have a good time,” Mallory said. “It’s a new boat, so I don’t know how competitive I’ll be, we will have to see.”

This past season was Mallory’s first as a high school student, able to attend practices with the team. The 2015 Bellingham Youth Regatta is her first crewing for a skipper she was able to train with all year.

Everyone sails a little differently and having a good team dynamic is needed to win a race, she said.

Last year, Liam and Mallory placed first overall and won six of the 10 races over the two day event. Werner was unable to compete because he was on his way back from another competition.

It will be different this year. With a new boat and swapped crew anything could happen, but these sailors are looking forward to the challenge.

Bellingham Youth Regatta

When: August 8-9

Where: Gate 3, Squalicum Harbor