It’s been a couple of years since I sailed here in the Midwest; a bit ironic since sailing on Lake St. Clair is what got me hooked on racing in the first place. It’s pretty sad that I moved back almost 18 months ago and my first time racing since then was just this past weekend, at the Bayview One Design regatta (the BOD).
Even when it was still a NOOD regatta, the BYC event was always one of the most fun, but rapidly declining numbers over the past few years had taken much of the life out of Michigan’s biggest multi-class regatta. Enter Detroit jack-of-all-trades and pro sailor Karl Kuspa, whose foot injury kept him off of boats for a few months. Rather than sulk, Karl poured his energy into ensuring Bayview’s success on their replacement for the NOOD, and an energized volunteer corps made it all happen. So what, exactly, did they change from the NOOD playbook?
There were some great creative touches, like commentated Moth racing on the river at the end of the day just meters from a packed deck of drinking sailors, with printed placards identifying the mothies for curious onlookers. The organizers held a ‘champagne race’ for some of the offshore boats; the first one back to the club for some classes won a bottle of champagne, and their finishes were cheered by those already drinking. The BYC kitchen catered incredible food – salmon, oysters, scallops, steaks; not for everyone and not cheap, but better than anything that’s ever had a NOOD name on it. Live music from well-respected local bands every night; Mer and I spent a lot of time researching our wedding band, and it was a nice surprise to see our lead singer Jorg on the mike for Friday’s live performance. And the girls…well, see our SCOTW above.
It was a welcoming event; Detroit mainstays like the Melges 24, Beneteau 36.7, Ultimate 20, Cal 25, and J/120 were here in numbers, but so too were newcomers that were never allowed or interested in sailing a NOOD. S2 9.1s – nine of them! — had their first one-design start since the Franco-Prussian war, and Wayfarer and Rebel dinghies both made their first appearance at the June event. A handful of Stars and piles of Lightnings and Thistles were also first-timers, but all of the nearly 100% entry gain on last year wasn’t from dinghies; the 2012 also attracted almost 40 more traditional NOOD boats than the 2011 event.
Race Committees were communicative and helpful; there were errors like at any event, but they were quick to repair them and move on, and attentive to their fleets’ needs. Some boats wanted to go in after three big-air races on Saturday, and their fleets were polled. When everyone agreed, they went in. Others didn’t agree, and they stayed out to run more races.
Here’s another example: Only five Vipers made it town, yet on Friday the motorless sporties still had to sail upwind about 5 miles (against the current) to the C Course. The wind of course shifted during the day, and after 3 races, they had to sail that same distance, upwind, back to BYC. Saturday, they had a fast ride out to the course with 15+ up the ass, but that had increased to 25-30 for a bone-jarring ride upwind ride home at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the Ultimate 20s, Rebels, and Wayfarers raced in the river all weekend, 50 from the dock, on fun, short courses that every Detroiter who’s done Thursday night beer cans is familiar with. Since there was obviously plenty of room in the river for a fistful of Vipers, a few racers polled their fleet, and asked Kuspa if it was possible to race in the river. Less than two hours later, the RC and organizers had sorted it out. With breeze in the 20s again on Sunday morning, there were an awful lot of happy Viperers headed out to the course at 9:45 instead of 7:30. When chatting about the situation to a few Melges 24 and Viper friends, one of them made an interesting suggestion: "It would be great if the Melges 24s and Vipers could both have a day or two in the river to mix things up," though both Viperers and 24 sailors agreed that they wanted to race on the lake as well. It’s the kind of unusual request that would likely never fly in the homogenized world of the NOOD, and just the kind of outside-the-box thinking that could bring in more boats next year if the fleets are into it. While there
Mother nature seemed to approve of the changes, as she provided plenty of breeze – more than enough for many on the Saturday and Sunday, though there were plenty of white-knuckle rides before the needle went to 30+ on both days. Competition was tight in most fleets – the Melges 24s saw a tie for 1-2 and another for 3-4, though Keith Ziegler spanked me and the rest of the Ultimate 20 fleet for the victory. Everyone had between 6 and 10 races, most with wind over 5 knots; Kind of like Charleston, without the thousands of hot college girls or 80 degree temperatures. Complete results are here.
I enjoyed the hell out of my regatta, despite coming in a lackluster 4th. I was glad to finally get to race with some old friends, though our combined weight was probably more suited to a bulk carrier than a sportboat. We went upwind okay in the 7 boat U-20 fleet, but downwind, even puffs of 20 had trouble lifting us out of the water, though the waifishly crewed boats went zooming by. It didn’t matter, though – one of the many things about short course racing in the river is that there isn’t much time to dwell on how much you suck; 25-minute races and quick turnarounds require forward thinking, not backwards. More importantly, 6 races only lasts four hours, and we were on the deck, drink in hand, catching up on old times, for a solid hour before any other boats showed up. I liked that, too.
I grabbed Karl after the regatta to congratulate him and pick his brain some more. “We’ve always like regattas that go out of their way to deliver exactly what the racers want, and we talked to hundreds of our members and racers all over the world to make sure we had it right,” he said.
I’d say they did.
Photos from Marcin Chumiecki/Photoelement.com with a scary volume of free-to-download pics from the event here.