2007 High Sierra Regatta Decided at Last Mark

Huntington Lake, located in the Sierra Nevada high country at about 6900' elevation, is a legendary place to race sailboats. What makes it so great? Start with wind so reliable that you can practically set your watch by it, add a challenging selection of courses with mark roundings galore, great spectator viewing for the non-racing family, clear refreshing water, 75° temperatures and spectacular alpine scenery. You get a place that Stuart Walker compared to Italy’s famous Lago De Garda—a world-class venue for racing small trailerable sailboats.
In the early 1950s a young Thistle sailor named Frances Keran was staying at the then-unknown mountain lake, and he noticed that the wind turned on at 10am and was perfect for sailing. In July 1953 seven Thistlers trekked up the winding pass (since replaced by a convenient four-lane highway) and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the High Sierra Regatta is one of the West’s largest inland sailing events, with two 150-boat weekends, first for dinghies and then keelboats a week later. Some folks like us, the owners of U20 “Layla”, race both weekends.
Six Ultimate 20s competed this year. Geoff Gardner gets an “excused absence” since he was busy winning First Place in class and overall in the 50-boat Trans Tahoe Race. Congrats to Geoff and Team Ricochet!
The High Sierra Regatta ended in a tiebreaker between Enigma and Layla, decided in favor of John Buchanan’s Enigma crew. John Andrew and Cinderella Story was only one point back. Asymmetric spinnaker problems near the bottom mark, suffered by the top three boats, decided the regatta.
Classic “Huntington Weather” prevailed for all three long (about nine mile) races—strong breeze at the bottom of the lake, with variable “gear shifting” conditions at the top. Most boats start at the lee end of the long line and drag race for the left shore—the Boy Scout Camp strategy to take advantage of a permanent wind bend. Sharing the line with the Wylie Wabbit fleet created many a hassle, as aggressive-starting Wabbits point slightly higher than a U20 and go the same speed. We also started with the Open 5.7, a highly-touted new French sportboat. These stylish mini-Open 60s were slower upwind, and MUCH slower offwind with tiny spinnakers—definitely NOT the Next Big Thing.
After the drag race in Race One, the middle of the lake provided more pressure and a port tack lift. Cinderella Story and UFO played the shifts best, with Enigma, Layla and Salsa following. Planing conditions, and avoiding collisions with slower keelboats, provided excitement and passing lanes on the last downwind leg. UFO rounded up to avoid a port-tacker, lost control and went into a semi-broach. Layla caught a tremendous gust and jumped onto a screaming, hooting and hollering plane, roaring past UFO and Salsa.
Meanwhile, Cinderella Story was preparing to douse the kite at Mark 8 and the halyard got away from Jennifer Andrew, causing a serious smoking rope burn. Then trimmer Gordon Wanlass accidentally stepped on the halyard tail and re-cleated it as John Andrew was steering around the bottom mark. On their ear and going sideways below the mark, by the time the kite was wrestled down Cinderella Story had dropped to fourth place. Enigma finished first, followed by Layla and UFO.
Race two saw Layla off to a great start, staying above the Wabbits and crossing the fleet at the Boy Scout Camp. Cinderella Story and Enigma also battled for the lead, until a misjudged port/starboard crossing resulted in a 720 by Cinderella Story. Layla gradually pulled ahead downwind to win, and the Andrew boat effectively played the downwind angles to gradually overtake Enigma for second.
Sunday’s race was brutally close on the beat. At one point near the top mark four boats were lined up in a virtual restart—UFO, Enigma, Layla and Cinderella Story from left to right. This was the moment when a “brain cramp” seized Trent on UFO causing him to tack into Enigma, then causing UFO to 720 and Enigma to get rolled by Layla.
Cinderella Story rounded the top mark first and never looked back. Behind them, Layla and Enigma match-raced downwind, battling for the regatta, until a blown takedown at Mark 1 caused Enigma to round onto the next close-reach with the kite still halfway up and flogging. Layla powered over Enigma for a twenty-yard lead at Mark 7.
Things got WAY worse for Enigma on their next spinnaker set. The halyard had a knot “as big as my hand,” according to John Buchanan. The bottom third of the sail went in the water and they parked, and Layla opened up a lead of several hundred yards.
Layla decided to do a “conservative takedown” on port gybe at the bottom mark, but they were moving way too fast. Trish Sudell gathered in the bottom of the kite. The tack line and sheets were blown. The kite came a third of the way down. Then the halyard, which had been taking a twist all regatta, tied itself into a knot.
The kite filled and nearly yanked Trish out of the boat. Damn, that sail went high and far into the air! Layla skidded sideways on her ear, far down to leeward toward the marina. By the time the catastrophe was cleaned up and trimmer Tim Armstrong had pulled the sail around the headstay Enigma had rounded the mark and was crossing on port, several lengths in front. Game over.

Huntington Lake is worth the drive for fantastic racing and is a prime location under consideration for the Ultimate 20 2008 North American Championship Regatta. Fresno Yacht Club always puts on a first-class event. Thanks to the Andrew family for organizing a fun potluck barbecue at the condos Saturday evening. Congratulations to John Buchanan and the team on Enigma for a well sailed regatta.
97      Enigma                John Buchanan                  1 3 2                         6             1
92      Layla            Tom Burden/Trish Sudell      2 1 3                         6             2
153    Cinderella Story    John Andrew                      4 2 1                         7             3
27      UFO                     Trent Watkins                     3 4 5                       12             4
94      Salsa                   Steve Borough                    5 5 4                       14             5
2        Too Tuff                Tom Hughes                       6 6 6                       18             6