2019 Commodore’s Open Classic Regatta Roundup - Bruce Fleming

July 16th, 2019

The Venue is an alpine lake, situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains East of Fresno, CA, and west of Mono Hot Springs. It's part of a diverse network of reservoirs and hydro-electric stations installed in the early 1900s by Edison, supplying electricity, and controlling spring flooding, to the California Central Valley. The lake is slender, less than 1 mile from side to side, but nearly 7 miles long, running east to west. It's one of just a handful of lakes in California that is primarily for sailing. Most of the others are dominated by power boats and jet skis. The afternoon thermal-driven winds can kick up to 15 kts, but at this elevation the power of a puff is muted. The fresh water collects in Huntington after streaming into another lake uphill, fed by winter snowpack. This year, the temperature was in the low 50s. Maybe colder. 

Sailing a narrow lake in a canyon, propelled by thermal winds, serves up all kinds of challenges. Frequent shifts and puffs can reward the attentive and penalize the distracted. On a 2-mile upwind leg, the early leader can hit a string of bad shifts and find their arrival at the windward mark to be mid-fleet.  Stringing together the puffs on the down-wind reaches can extend a lead, or eat up a lead, so it’s always exciting. Last year at Huntington, when we had a race with very little breeze. It wasn’t exciting at all…but as a Weta sailor you know how that is. 

The Regatta is organized by the creative volunteers of the west coast Multihull Racing Association (with tireless assistance by our own Helda Allie) and generously supported (lake use permit loaned) by Fresno Yacht Club. This allows non-Hobie boats to participate, so it’s a great situation for us Wetas to sail with other multies. It’s a friendly and laid-back crew running the event, and the other multis have generally accepted the Wetas as part of the event. A refreshing change from the crowded and tense situations of yesteryear when we sailed in the Fresno Yacht Club High Sierra Regatta with nearly 100 dinghies. 

The 40+ boats entered this year included a handful of Hobie 16s, 4 to 6 A-Class cats, both foiling and non-foiling, some Open cats in the 19-22 foot range, a dozen Moore 24 monohull ULDBs, and 9 Wetas. This particular event has become a West Coast Wetas fleet favorite, so we can expect to attend next year. Let’s try to make it at least 15 boats! 

Going The Distance to get to Huntington is part of the adventure. It’s about a 4 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to the lake, so it’s an easy ½ day trip for most.  Bruce and Brian drove up from San Diego, which can take 7 to 10 hours, depending on the traffic through Los Angeles.  King Of The Road award goes to Mike Wright, who drove 16+ hours from Seattle to join us. King of the Globe award goes to Roger Kitchen and his spouse, of Wetamarine, who joined us as part of the wrap up to his world-wide travels including stops in France, Spain, and the US East coast. 

Day 1 minus 1 (Friday) saw nearly half the fleet arrive, rig up, and sail around. This day to “tune” was a must-do for us who haven’t been sailing since last fall. I rigged my Square Top main, and Christophe and I traded boats so he could see how mine handled with the bigger main. In the light 6-8 kt breeze at Altitude, it’s unclear the extra sail area provides an advantage. Boat handling might still win. 

Friday night, all the Wetas sailors and partners converged on the Christophe and Ben’s campsite for burgers and dogs and camaraderie. We welcomed new Weta sailors Dave Bacci and his spouse, owner of one of Davo’s previous boats, and Dan Juday, who’s been sailing with MHRA since the late 90’s and now owns one of the Pierpont boats formerly known as Ginger. We are stoked to have new members of our fleet! 

Day 1 of racing (Saturday) saw 4 races completed, though Marc Simmel an I hit the beach and pulled our boats out after Race 3 because we thought racing was done. Needless to say, we were a little surprised when we hear the horns for another race and didn’t see any other Wetas follow us in. Races 1, 2, and 3 were simply windward-leewards. I hear that Race 4 threw in some reaching marks and all who entered said it was fun. 

Saturday night dinner, included in the regatta entry, amounted to a taco buffet at the Lakeshore resort dance hall. Most of us retired to our campsites, cabins, or condos, as the night closed in. Tired out after a long day on the water at 7000 feet. 

Day 2 of racing (Sunday) saw just 2 races completed, since most everyone participating needed to pack up their camp site, pack up their boats, get down the mountain, and get home and unpack before going back to work on Monday. Race 5 was a short Windward-Leeward, and Race 6 a bit longer Beat to a far windward mark, with a couple reaching buoys to hit on the way down the course. One could call it a modified random leg race. Lots of fun! 

Weta racing was tight!  Each start saw the majority of the fleet on the line at the gun, and it was not clear who would dominate since the shifts and puffs, and the prevailing wind direction were all a bit different this year. Going to the Left shore for the lifts in the morning generally was a good choice, but sometimes the best wind was directly down the middle. I encountered several spots in the middle, halfway up the course, where I was pointing directly at the windward buoy on Port tack, 70 degrees to the Left of usual. An early leader could stay ahead by carefully keeping in the pressure for most of the race, but down in the pocket of the East end of the lake, it turns into a new race. The wind is lighter, and threading a line back to the Finish, between all the other boats coming down the course and the pockets and puffs means there’s no rest until the very end. 

Race results are here: http://www.regattanetwork.com/event/18347#_newsroom+results

This place is magical, and can’t be missed. Each year we come up to Huntington, it seems like there’s one challenge or another. Too much snow late in the spring, or not enough water in the lake. This year, it was likely to be too much snow, but it turned out to be a new hazard—falling dead trees in the Rancheria area, and a bullocks-upped reservation system that didn’t notify people of the last-minute closure.  Still, Huntington never disappoints. We had beautiful days and chilly nights. Millions of stars, and great sailing.  Each year, we know we did the right thing by making the trek to get here, and we all agree that we must come back again next year. 

PLAN NOW for next year. With the participation at West Coast events lagging for the past 3 years, it’s anyone’s guess how many events we’ll get to next year, but I think you can count on Huntington. This event always happens on the weekend after Father’s Day, so block off Jun 27 and 28th. Better yet, plan to arrive a day or two earlier and take your time getting acclimated to the altitude, take a day trip over to Mono Hot Springs, or rig and tune on the lake. Campground reservations will open January 1 at https://www.recreation..gov/  China Peak might have dorms open at http://www.skichinapeak.com/lodging , and AirBnB and Vrbo have tons of cabins listed.

See you there!
Bruce Fleming
Akahele!, #276

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