Costumed-sailboat race and its mermaids, pirates and fun-loving racers return to Lake Dillon |

Costumed-sailboat race and its mermaids, pirates and fun-loving racers return to Lake Dillon

A photo of a mermaid out on Lake Dillon during last year's 10th annual Belgium Timberline Cruiser Regatta Fun Race at the Frisco Bay Marina.
Courtesy Todd Powell | Special to The Daily

If you ask Frisco Bay Marina’s Jenn Shimp and Tom Hogeman, they’ll tell you the original swashbuckling inspiration for Saturday’s costumed-sailboat race festivities on Lake Dillon stems from a spot 2,860 miles away: the British Virgin Islands.

One of the more well-traveled sailors they’ve met in their time working for the marina is a Silverthorne man known to many around the county as “Schmitty.” Back in the ’70s, Schmitty — or Mark Schmidt — spent a bevy of time sailing around the pirate-haunted British Virgin Islands.

It’s an area where just last year Hogeman snorkeled over sunken boats and drank libations at a modern 21st century bar converted from a centuries-old pirate ship.

This weekend they’ll once again bring a slice of pirate life to 9,000 feet via the 11th annual New Belgium Timberline Cruiser Regatta.

Over the last five years Shimp, Hogeman and the marina have built off of Schmitty’s inspiration to create the one-of-a-kind sailboat racing event at the heart of the Rockies.

Though the man-made Lake Dillon isn’t quite Davey Jones’ Locker, the marina will once again channel sea culture by stationing mermaids and pirates on Saturday’s sailing course.

On the course, 25 to 37 boats will encounter other festive pirate-like competitors such as Schmitty — who will be racing once again this year — and Ron Chalian of Buena Vista.

Saturday at high noon, when the gun goes off to signal the start of the race, Chalian will captain his Hawaiian-themed Catalina 27 sailboat. He’ll be one of a half-dozen team members on their vessel — nicknamed “Okole,” Hawaiian for “backside.” It’ll be outfitted with a ukulele, a drum, hula dancers and pineapples.

“It is a fabulous boat, but the main thing is it’s going to have a crack crew,” Chalian said at the marina Friday afternoon. “A wonderful crew, folks who have raced with me on another lake are coming back together. I told Jenn she might as well declare me the winner now.”

Fun smack-talk such as Chalian’s as well as friendly annual rivalries between reoccurring cruiser regatta competitors add to the fun-loving nature of the event. So do the local Summit County mermaids stationed out on Crown Point Island, about 2 miles from the race start-and-finish line. This year they’ll be outfitted with a collection of sequin skirts Shimp bought specifically for the event. It’s progress from a few years back when Shimp had to resort to lending out her junior year prom dress.

Twice during the race — once on the departure and once on the return — it’ll be each boat’s job to entertain the pirate, Kurt Gilbertson, and the mermaids, Nora Gilbertson, Kelsey Miller and Calle McCartney stationed on Crown Point Island. Shimp will serve as the event’s on-shore mermaid.

Entertaining the pirate and mermaids is just one way to earn points at an event that has an inexact scoring system.

“It’s very arbitrary,” Shimp said. “The mermaids can assign as many or as little points as they want. We had an opera singer who showed up to try to join a crew and get on a boat one year dressed up as a pirate. A crew took him on and when they passed by the mermaids, he belted out ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow.’ So I believe that boat won that year.”

Points have also been awarded in past years for developments as spontaneous as one competing boat veering off the race-course to help someone not competing who had fallen off their personal boat.

Other ways to earn points this year include tossing a tennis ball with your boat’s name on it into a shark’s mouth that is actually a floating kiddie pool. There’s also points for grilling on the back of the boat while sailing.

Throughout the course, racers will be tasked with navigating inflatable marks such as a floating unicorn, a peacock and a rubber duck.

Points will be awarded for best individual costume and team costumes. In years past, some of Shimp’s favorite themed boats have included Somali pirates, Gilligan’s Island, Vikings and the British Royal Navy.

As for what they’d like to see this year or in the future, there isn’t a shortage of inspiration for competitors to utilize.

“I’d love to see a Westworld or Game of Thrones theme,” Hogeman said.

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