Take 5: After 45 years racing Stars, a Dillon Open skipper switches to Ensigns for the 2017 regatta
Phil Goedert remembers when sailboats were built and tested by the same people who sailed them.
In the mid-‘50s, about the same time Denver Water approved construction of Dillon Dam, Goedert was a teenager living in north Denver when a friend of his offered to take him on a sailboat ride. This friend had built the entire boat from scratch — hull, tiller, sails, all of it — and wanted to test it on Hidden Lake, a puddle in Westminster then known as “Mud Lake.”
“It was a lot of fun,” Goedert remembered of sailing his friend’s homemade boat, which he said measured about 17 feet and survived for several years. “(He) built it with his dad using tools from their garage. He had lived on the south side of Mud Lake and nothing else was around. You had to do something with that water.”
Now 76 years old, Goedert has come a long way from navigating small ponds in a homemade craft. He’s a retired architect living in Boulder, but he’s been a member of the Dillon Yacht Club since around the time he bought his first “real” boat in 1967 — just four years after the newly formed lake had filled and opened to sailing — and has raced in the annual Dillon Open regattas for 45 years. He’s only missed one year in recent memory: 2016, when everything but the keelboat races was canceled due to lack of wind on a notoriously unpredictable (yet reliably windy) high-alpine lake.
Plenty has changed in the past four decades, but Goedert has always raced in a two-person Star craft — until now. For the 2017 regatta (Aug. 4-6), he decided to hang up his Star skipper’s hat and race in the larger, more forgiving Ensign fleet. The three-person crew now includes he and two other former Star captains, all of who boast at least 40 years of sailing on Lake Dillon. That makes his new craft, dubbed Beyond the Star, one of the most experienced at the race with more than 150 years of combined sailing experience.
Before racing begins on Saturday, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Goedert from his Boulder home to talk about the Dillon Open through the decades and why it might be tricky to get three “type A” Star sailors together on one boat.
Summit Daily News: This will be your 45th year as a boat captain at the Dillon Open. What brings you back summer after summer?
Phil Goedert: It’s a lot of fun. Dillon is a great place and you never know what’s going to happen up there. No regatta is the same. The weather conditions can change in a minute. I’ve started races when it was 80 degrees and ended when it was snowing. Last year, that was the first time I remember them getting skunked out. That was about the first time I missed in many, many years, and I picked that one right.
SDN: And your crew? Who’s joining you on the boat this year and how do you know them?
PG: We’ve been sailing together for 45 years. I’ll be out there with John McGann. He was one of the very first sailors on Lake Dillon. He’s 89 years old this year, and then we have Ernie Hildner, and he’s been sailing nearly as long as John. He’s about a year younger than I am. I’ll be 76 in October.
When I transitioned over to the Ensign, I named it Beyond the Star since I’ve been sailing those for over 45 years, and I was thinking it would be great if we could use this as a retired Star sailors’ boat. I called them and they were up for it. This will be our first time racing as a crew — three A types all trying to crew together (laughs).
SDN: Do you race anywhere else during the summer?
PG: For the most part Lake Dillon is all I do. Once in a while I’ll go over to Aspen, but this is home to me. When we started, we would sail between Carter Lake and Dillon because we had to have four fleets in the area, or maybe it was five fleets. We kept one at Carter and a lot of us sailed over, but then a lot of us switched over the Dillon. The winds are so much better over there, especially in fall. You can’t beat the sailing over there.
SDN: You’ve been racing at the Dillon Open nearly as long as you’ve been sailing in Summit County. What do you like about this water?
PG: It’s always a challenge because you never know what’s going to happen. Despite you knowing the lake it’s never the same as you remember it, and that’s what brings us back all the time — you never know what you’re getting into. And the competition is good. I’ve been sailing with these guys for years and years. You kind of know how they’re going to react, what they’re going to do — just a great group to sail with.
SDN: How about the competition?
PG: When you get out on the water, things change. It gets extremely competitive. There are a lot of words that fly around, but then you get back on shore, have a beer, forget it all and keep on having a great time.
SDN: Anything you don’t like about sailing Lake Dillon?
PG: Well, there’s not much you can really change, but really I think things are pretty well up there. I’m impressed with the changes they are making (pause). I wish the yacht club was closer to the Tiki Bar, but it’s a fun environment. Maybe it can get a little crowded up there, but the worst thing about heading to Dillon is the traffic. Other than that everything is great.
SDN: What’s the trick to doing well at this regatta?
PG: I think it just has to do with paying attention to the wind conditions and what’s happening on the lake. That’s really the biggest part, is just concentrating. This new boat will be different, and it’s actually a lot simpler with fine-tuning and controls, but it still has its nuances. For instance, we have a spinnaker, but we’ve never sailed with a spinnaker because we don’t have one (on the Star fleet), so we’ll be a little slower than everyone else when we’re going downwind. On an Ensign, your Genoa sail is a little larger and that’s what I’m worried about with us old guys — it takes a little more strength to get that sail up, where on the Star, the mainsail is the largest sail. You only have one crew there, but here we’ll have three crew (members). It’s going to be interesting.
SDN: Thinking back over the years, what’s the best season you had at the Dillon Open?
PG: (Pause). Nothing really sticks out because every one is somewhat different. I think the strangest experience I had was in 2003, the year I retired. In fact, I had just retired the day before the Open and I got up to Dillon when there was a huge storm. (Breckenridge sailor) Tim Seeling got knocked out of his boat with the entire crew (and) that’s why his boat is called Ghost, because it went on without him. I was soaking wet after trying to rescue them, went to the ODI and had terrible shakes. Turned out I had West Nile. I came down with it that night, I guess. That’s one that stands out, but normally if we have good winds with no terrible storms, it’s a great day.
SDN: Are you nervous to be on a new boat, or are you ready?
PG: I’m ready for the switch. It is new, so there’s always a learning curve, but I’m not too nervous. This one just has a different feel and reacts differently. I’ll just be learning what makes it go fast.
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