• The Gorge Delivered

    “If you didn’t come here expecting to spend $500 on repairs,” yells Ian Beswick, “Get out of my way!” 23 boats made the attempt at this year’s windy, exciting and challenging Double Damned Race - “Fear and Loathing in the Gorge.” With 23 crazy boat owners and at least 3 times more than that of crazy crew members this race has brought together some of the West Coast’s most brilliant sailors (read stupid; lacking intelligence or common sense), that’s over 90 sailors challenging the Columbia Gorge to bring on its’ best. And for this year’s race, the Gorge banged out some amazing conditions to try and get the fleet up the strong running river in record fashion.

    Slightly recovered from the previous evenings libations and fresh salmon dinner, donated and cooked by one of the race sponsors, RBS Battens, the racers arrived at the marina to clouds reaching east as far as Wind Mountain. They new it was going to be a Nukin’ day, the question remained as to where it’s gonna Nuke... “Why can’t the wind be on from the beginning?” asks Bill Blodgett, “waiting that 30 minutes to get to the big breeze absolutely killed me!” To make up for the lack of big breeze in the starting area at Cascade locks, all 23 boats are started together on a small downwind line, no chutes up before the start. Premature hoisting happened on a few boats, but as this is a race more against yourself than the other boats the fleet let it slide and it was off to The Dalles for the eclectic fleet. Ten Moore 24’s started in their own One Design class, a Weta had a solid grasp on the multi hull division and 12 boats started in the PHRF class. The handicapped division had an amazing array of boats - A Melges 24, a Willy Wabbit, a Rocket 22, a B25, 2 Express 27’s, a Santa Cruz 27, an S2 9.1, a J35, a 44’ old IOR boat, a Choate 22, and a C&C 27 sailed by mom, dad and 2 kids. Wow, anything could happen here. A Melges has never finished this course - well even made it halfway to Hood River - and this is a first for the Wabbit and the Rocket - An IOR Boat? That should be some rolly fun!

    Quickly the Melges 24, Peteron sailed by the Quantum Sails Seattle loft owner Dan Kaseler and the Wabbit, Jack sailed by Bill Erkelens took off from the fleet and easily had half a mile on everyone as we passed Oh’ Shit Island. Tyler Bech’s B25 Superfriends, Mark Newbrook’s J35 Diversion and Morgan Larson’s Moore 24 Bruzer led the rest of the fleet around the corner and into the breeze at Wind Mountain. Quickly the Moore’s started taking off on a plane and closing the distance on the B25 and the J35. Once into the breeze Dave Garman’s Santa Cruz 27 Giant Slayer showed some amazing downwind speed but quickly made up for it with the most spectacular broach the fleet had seen in awhile. Breeze on...

    Breeze on and it’s time to figure out how to get past Dog Mountain without it pulling a Micheal Vick maneuver and leaving you slapped down groveling in the water trying to get your chute down so the keel will return to the downward position. Many tried to approach the corner from the Oregon shore on Port Jibe to be able to run out in the puffs down the middle of the river - as far from the puffs hitting the water as they could be. A few took the short route past the mountain on Starboard jibe along the Washington shore risking the stronger puffs but hoping for less of them on the shorter route. The Erkelen’s Wabbit almost made it through, but just at the spot where the Melges lost their mast in 2008 they got hit by a growler puff and down the rig came.

    Conveniently there’s a boat ramp just downwind from this spot in Drano Lake, boats must transit under a bridge to get to it, but with the mast down it’s a perfect Dog Mountain slap down retrieval site. Out for the day, the Wabbit was doing a hell of job until the mast came down. Not to be outdone the J35 Diversion took this moment to attempt a pirouette on it’s bow pulpit, but lacking the years of Ballet training they just didn’t get it quit right. Out came the rudder, over she went and down came the chute. Newbrook took the ballet maneuver hard and banged his head on the boom, blacked out for 10 seconds and then sailed into Hood River and to the emergency room for stitches on the top of his head. 2 down on the day.

    Just when the racers where feeling good about themselves for making it past Dog Mountain in more or less one piece, the Gorge decided to through its’ curve ball at them. “The gorge is a funny girl,” says Matt McQueen, “She hides in the wide sections and lulls you into actually racing with 20 knots and flat water. Then she reminds you why you’re here. Blammo! 35 out of nowhere and if the boat is still under the rig you’re off. Suddenly instead of racing you are just trying to pull gybes, keep the rig up, and stay off the hard stuff.” Usually coming into Hood River the wind lessens a bit and smooths out for the racers to enjoy the big waves at Swell City and have a nice chute run under the bridge towards Mosier. Not this year - pissed off that the fleet got by, Dog Mountain threw everything it had at them. “Puff in 5, here it is. Puff in 10, 5, here it is. Smoke on the water, PUFF, Smoke, Big one, HANG ON!” Over the fleet went as they scrambled to retrieve what was left of their spinnakers, hoisted a jib, poled it out and took a moment to collect themselves before hoisting their chutes again down past the Event site. Attrition took its third victim here as Chris Loyd’s Rocket 22 Subatomic decided things just weren’t working well and took this opportunity to head into the Hood River Marina for refreshments.

    The B25, Superfriends owned by Tyler Bech, had their own problems through this stretch. Their Hood River wipe out broke their spinnaker pole, so they pulled out their spare and hooked it up. No more than ten minutes later they broke pole number 2! That didn’t work out as planned. They sat down and sailed under jib and main - thinking it through they came up with lashing the parts together with the broken sections of two poles to create a third! They hoisted the chute again and off they went chasing the fleet up the river.

    Through the bridge towards Mosier with chutes pulling again, the fleet raged on in this crazy amazing fun race. The Melges 24 Peteron was launched with Larson’s Moore 24 Bruzer chasing them down with the little Weta hot on their tail. This is when Peteron had to do some serious McGyvering - They had blown up their full spinnaker earlier in the race and had reverted to their smaller sissy chute to keep up the battle. Slower going but they were not done with their troubles, Bam, down came the spin again, this time breaking the halyard. What to do? Dan and crew decide to drop the mainsail, attach a block to the headboard with an old spin sheet through it and hoist it back up. Then they pulled the chute up with the new halyard and block, awesome, off to the races. Not for long though as the block couldn’t handle the stress on the jibes and Bam, down it came again as little plastic balls rained in front of the boat. What now? “Tie a loop of Dyneema on there and pull the chute up through that, that dyneema is strong right?” An “A” for effort Peteron but it just wasn’t enough to hold off those amazingly fast sailors on the Moore 24 Bruzer finishing just 6 minutes in front of Bruzer on the 42 mile course.

    Meanwhile the rest of the fleet was smoothly planing through Mosier, past Memaloose Island and into the cut a Lyle. This is when the wind caught up with them. Over Moore #122 went, loosing a crew member (sans PFD) into the river and having to drop their chute to return and retrieve him. Never knowing if someone wants to be retrieved or not, the next boat through held a Thumbs up sign to him, he gave it back and with relief off they went in their race. Soon he was back on his boat, tired but safe and looking for a new PFD. With the wind building things became squirrelly again and Ben Braden’s Moore 24 More Uff Da thought that the cut at Lyle was the perfect place for a photo op and laid her over right between the points, dropped the chute in the water to make it harder to recover, and then hastily retrieved the sea anchor while trying to stay off the rocks. Chute recovered they turned downwind again, hooked up their sissy chute and proceeded to catch a puff in the back of the Moore fleet that was stronger than any they’d seen. Up came the bow, spray everywhere as the sissy chute slapped and banged in the breeze. Then another stronger puff hit along with it and down went the bow into every sailors favorite bow down planing position as they squeaked through the entrance to the channel for The Dalles. Racing to the end, the crew on More Uff Da dropped the sissy chute in the lighter channel winds, replaced it with a full size chute and tried to chase down some competition ahead. Last jibe into the finish, almost made and BAM, the winds caught up again from a different angle and forced the main back across to the other side. The Bow lost the pole which quickly spun back into her face, bouncing off her mouth into her nose and cheek. With blood running down her chin she ran below for ice as the boat crossed the line under main only. All teeth intact, she’ll have a little scar on her lip to make for some great stories in the years to come.

    Behind them the old IOR boat Gorgeous, a Nelson Merrek 44 owned by Jim Chase, had their own troubles. A Nasty wipeout that had lines flying, chute trailing and the beach looming ahead and had Chase deciding to take the risk with all those lines in the water and start the motor to turn into the breeze and collect the boat. Damn-it, caught a rope in the prop, but they where able to recover everything else. Still able to sail they decided that sailing upwind back to Hood River and into their slip looked safer than finishing the race and trying to sail into a slip in The Dalles, the 4th boat out of the race.

    Breeze on now back in The Dalles, the trailer fleet congregated at the un-protected boat ramp side-tie dock and quickly decided bow tying inside the ramp area was much more protected than the waves building out in the channel provided. On to the trailers they went as the racers laughed about their wipeouts, counted their broken parts and relived the challenging day with huge smiles on their faces. The Melges 24 Peteron won the first to finish honors with Bruzer hot on their tail finishing just over 6 minutes behind the Melges. 15 minutes later the Weta finished 3rd in the race, just in front of the 2nd Moore, More Cowbell. Hell of job on the little multihull, even if they fly a Genniker and not a Spinnaker, that’s a tough little boat. Six more Moore 24’s crossed the line in the next 10 minutes and then the slow trickle of PHRF boats came across the line over the next 2 hours. Last in was the little Choate 22, Crazy Lulu owned by Bart Vervlouet. They had acquired this amazing furling spinnaker at some point in the race and crossed the line under mainsail only with a very colorful forestay. Once asked about the contraption at the dock they proudly stated that the spin halyard had stuck and the chute started spinning itself into the perfect furl. So why not encourage it and they twisted it up around the forestay so tight it looked like a professional Harken furl job. A lot of thinking on this race to overcome some amazing problems.

    An excellent Mexican dinner, libations and the awards happened later that evening at the Hood River Yacht Club to a ruckus crowed bent on reliving the day’s feat. Swag of t-shirts and BBQ sauce from Pendleton Blended Canadian Whiskey where given out for things such as emergency room visits, broken spinnaker poles, blown chutes and amazing wipeouts. And then finally it was time for awards - Dan Kaseler and his Melges 24 Peteron took line honors and 1st in the PHRF fleet followed by Tyler Bech’s B25 Superfriends in 2nd in the division and 3rd in PHRF went to Ted Lohr’s Express 27 Monster Express. The Moore 24 class was once again dominated by Morgan Larson's purple speedster Bruzer, also correcting first overall by over 15 minutes on the 2nd place Moore, Kathryn Meyer’s More Cowbell. 3rd in the Moore fleet went to Scott Walecka’s Adios and once again the Moore 24’s dominated the overall results on this crazy downwind run taking 1 thru 8 in the standings. McQueen says it best - “All in all it’s just classic sailing. I’m pretty sure we were in first and last at some point. Skipping waves like only dinghies are supposed to do, round-downs like from the old IOR blooper days, passing a boat in a puff like they are stuck to the water only to have them blast by seconds later with another Nuker puff. This is more of a survival experience than a race. Can’t wait for next year. Thanks to all the Hood River YC and CGRA folks who made this happen. Special props to Doug Archbald for running the show and pumping this event up. Getting better every year.”

    Photo's by Sean Trew, Greg Archbald and Eric Rimkus - Thank you for the great shots!

    Full results can be found at the Hood River Yacht Club web page.

    Here are some great You tube videos, more to come I'm sure!

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