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Champion racers, new boats, shifting winds make regatta unpredictable

A large group of Laser Radial sailboats races across Bellingham Bay at the 2015 Bellingham Youth Regatta on Saturday, Aug. 8, in Bellingham
A large group of Laser Radial sailboats races across Bellingham Bay at the 2015 Bellingham Youth Regatta on Saturday, Aug. 8, in Bellingham The Bellingham Herald

The first day of racing at the 2015 Bellingham Youth Regatta provided every boat an opportunity to showcase skills in constantly shifting conditions Saturday, Aug. 8, in Bellingham Bay.

At the end of the day, Liam Hood and his crew, Shea Walker, placed first in the 29ers class. This regatta is their first racing in the 29er, a more technical skiff compared to the FJs they have been racing on together for the past four years.

“The last race was cool,” Walker said. “Everyone else was placed ahead in points and we weren’t, then we won.”

Liam and Walker also won the first race, which was the fastest race of the day. The 29er boats entered the course with choppy waves built up from a day of high winds.

The first race was a lot of fun, Liam said. Walker spent the entire time on the trapeze, a harness that allows her to use her weight leaning off the side of the boat to position them for greatest speed. Going in to the Sunday races, the team has learned a lot about how to most efficiently point their boat aggressively upwind in lighter conditions.

Benjamin Starks and his crew, Peyton Nienaber, were ahead by one point in the FJ class for Bellingham at the end of the day Saturday. The races were in their favor, giving them a little bit of everything with the constantly shifting winds, Starks said.

The Bellingham Youth Regatta is one of eight races in the Northwest Youth Racing Circuit. The regattas are scored individually, but sailors who participate in more than one have their top four finishes compiled to be placed within the circuit scores. It is a chance for sailors to compete as individuals, rather than a team. It is a good opportunity for racers to try new boats and explore areas of sailing they may not get to during the school season, said Robyn Lesh, a Bellingham local sailing champion.

There are a few ironies that sailors just learn to accept through experience, she said.

First, anyone who does not know the course is going to find themselves leading the pack. As she explained this, she pointed out on the water at a 29er going the opposite direction of the other boats, then quickly righting itself but losing a strong lead.

Second, as soon as a race is postponed or abandoned for bad conditions, the wind will pick up again, and everyone has to always be ready for those changes.

Lesh was once one of Bellingham’s best in youth sailing. Now, a senior at MIT, she has come back for the summer and volunteered on an emergency boat to assist during the regatta.

“Something that is really easy to fix on the dock is really difficult on the water,” Lesh said. “You need to steer, hold on to the mainsheet (main sail line) and try not to capsize.”

Just before the first race began, Jeffery Werner and Mallory Hood encountered this problem when their mainsheet came untied. Having that line loose made controlling the boat impossible. As they were on a 29er, which is a racing boat made for speed and not stability, the safest thing to do was intentionally capsize and retie the line while the sail was immobile in the water.

Mallory balanced the boat by sitting on the centerboard under the hull while Werner tread water to do the maintenance. After the line was secure, the two worked together to right the boat and Werner made it back on top first, where the newly tied sail captured some wind and dragged a clutching Mallory alongside until Werner could reach the tiller, and she climbed back onto the boat.

This regatta was Mallory’s second time in a 29er. Everything was a learning experience for her and Werner.

“By the end, we were getting better,” he said.

The final race of the day for the 29er class was an eventful one.

Kinks in teamwork had been worked out through trial and error, the four teams in the class were learning about each other and their boats. The two Bellingham 29ers, Werner and Liam’s boats, raced ahead in the final event and were back at the dock relaxing by the time the other two 29er teams crossed the finish line. Liam came in first and Werner second in the final race.

“Nothing went catastrophically wrong on that race, so we did pretty well,” Mallory said.

The second and final day of racing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Sunday, August 9. Ten complete races is the goal for the weekend, but that is dependent on weather conditions. When the end is called, either at the end of a race or abandonment from lack of wind, winners will be determined from however many races are finished.

What makes 29ers skiffs competitive

What makes the 29er skiffs the most competitive is the use of a spinnaker, a triangular sail set out forward of the mainsail when traveling downwind.

The boat is outfitted with a mailsail and jib. Having two, and sometimes three, sails out gives the boat greater advantage to take hold of what wind there is.

There is a space between the sails, the slot, which allows wind to hit the main off of the jib. The other classes in the regatta, the Lazer, Radial and Opti are single-sail boats with greater stability but less speed.

There is also the FJ, which has the mainsail and jib but a sturdier hull and no spinnaker, placing it at a class between the 29er and Lazer.

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