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Mixed bag of boats to catch the wind

DILLON – After fireworks light up the night sky over the Dillon Reservoir this weekend, wind will fill the sails of competitors in the long-running Dillon Fourth of July Open regatta races Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Following the annual boat parade Friday, racing begins at noon Saturday and continues through Sunday and will feature a mixed bag of boats and sailors.

The regular crews that race every weekend in the Dillon Yacht Club summer series see this weekend’s regattas as an opportunity to take on new competition as well as brush up for the Dillon Open, which takes place Aug. 2 and 3 and will consist of hundreds of sailors from throughout Colorado and the United States.



“Whenever you have a major regatta race like the Dillon Open in August, you start to get a lot of people who bring their boats up between now and the end of July, and these regattas are really nice,” said Michael Sher, who, with his J-24 boat, Shiraz, took second in the Fourth of July Open last year and has won the event in past years. He also competes in the weekly yacht club series.

“I use (the Fourth of July Open) as a tune-up to get a gauge for how we’re doing getting ready for the Dillon Open,” he said. “It’s lower-key, less stressful. There’s a lot more serious competition in the Dillon Open – everyone steps up their game a little more. These races are fun, you can just come in and sail.”



The races will use the Portsmouth Handicap Racing Formula (PHRF) – a system in which the boat that crosses the finish line first might not be the overall winner.

“The boats are handicapped depending on their design,” said Dillon Marina and Yacht Club manager Bob Evans. “If one boat crosses the line 10 minutes after the first boat, its handicap might put it ahead as far as race time.”

The regattas typically last an hour and a half to two hours, and courses are designed depending on wind and weather, which, Lake Dillon regulars attest are the most challenging aspects for racers uninitiated to the elements of alpine sailing.

“There’s a lot of good sailors in Colorado and I’m sure some have done their homework and won’t be surprised at (the ever-changing) winds on Lake Dillon,” said Dave Helmer, who also competes in the weekly yacht club series with his J-24, Blue Side Down with a crew that includes his daughters: Alli, 15, and Libby, 13.

“Mountain lakes invariably have fluky winds,” he said. “And the Dillon Yacht Club is the highest in the United States and the wind here is probably even more unpredictable than (on) other mountain lakes. There is never any such thing as a hometown advantage when you’re sailing Dillon.”

In the weekly regatta series, sailors compete against others in their own boat class – J-80s versus J-80s, J-24s versus J-24s, etc. Those who have competed in the Fourth of July races say the mixture of fleets in the races throws a monkey wrench into the competition. For some, the result can literally mean having the wind taken out of their sails.

“It’s more challenging and more chaotic at the same time,” Sher said. “If you’re a smaller boat and there’s some bigger boats maneuvering around you, it could be an extra challenge. My boat is one of the fastest boats out there, so for me, the strategy is to find a clear spot of water and go – to get clear air and wind blowing on the sails.”

The Fourth of July regatta races begin at noon Saturday with two races and wrap up with two more Sunday. For more information, call the Dillon Yacht Club at (970) 262-5824, the Dillon Marina at (970) 468-5100, or visit http://www.dillonmarina.com.

Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at sfarnell@summitdaily.com.


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