The 2015 Can-Am Fort Peck Sailing Regatta was the second successful racing event held on Fort Peck Lake in Eastern Montana. 1st place in the Laser class was won by skilled young sailor Caleb Gilliam of Billings Montana. 2nd place went to David Eliot, a world class sailor from Alberta Canada. In 3rd place was local Page Anderson, a founder of the regatta and newly formed Fort Peck Sailing Club, which organized the event. This year the regatta was open to all types of sailboats. Taking 1st place in the monohull keel-boat class was Doug Long of Wolf Point, Montana in his MacGregor 26, followed by Dan Hohman of Wolf Point and his crew on their American 28. The only multi-hull boat was a Hobie Wave sailed by Julie Burke, who is also a founder of the event and organization.
Regatta Winner Caleb Gilliam demonstrates sailing in high winds Saturday
The regatta weekend began on Friday afternoon with a racing seminar provided by race officer John Cormack of Lake Newell Sailing Club in Alberta Canada. John''s fine English speaking and enthusiastic teaching were eagerly absorbed by the audience of sailors, most of whom had never raced before. After a good amount of questions and answers, they proceeded to the water for a practice race.
The race committee was in my Catalina 30 sailboat. Anchored at the center of the race course, it formed the start and finish line, and also served as the on-water headquarters during racing. With careful wind and compass measurements, John directed the placement buoys upwind and downwind of the start/finish line. The blast of a horn and raising of a "Class" flag signaled the competitors that a race would begin in exactly 5 minutes. More horn blasts and flag signals marked the minutes until the start, when a fleet of sailboats soared through the starting line. They raced upwind to the first marker buoy, tacking a zig-zag path, because it is not possible to sail directly into the wind. After rounding the first mark, the boats then ran with the wind, sails wide and full, all the way to the second marker buoy. One more left turn of 180 degrees, and they were in the final leg of the race, once again tacking into the wind, back to the same line where they started, to finish the race with a sense of accomplishment, and with some skill and luck, a victory!
Four Laser sailboats glide through the start line in great formation
After breakfast on Saturday, the race committee ventured out on the water to decide if racing would be possible, since high winds were kicking up and forecast to get worse. The race officers dolefully determined that racing would have to be postponed for reasons of safety and logistics. It was just too windy to sail and run races safely. Throughout the day, the winds would blow over 40 miles per hour, and very few boats braved Fort Peck Lake.
Despite the disappointment of not being able to race, the day was not a loss. Instead, the time was used to learn more about sailing. David Eliot, who has sailed competitively for many years all around the world, graciously accepted the request to teach some techniques about rigging, sail trim, race theory and so forth. Hungry for knowledge, the novice racers listened while David demonstrated tacking techniques, proper posture, and walked through the sequence of events that happen in a race. Many questions were answered about strategy on the race course and appropriate right-of-way.
After the instruction ended, proficient sailor Caleb was eager to sail a bit in the near gale-force wind that blew all day. Rigged with the smallest sail made for a Laser, Caleb went ripping back and forth through the Marina bay. David Eliot also took a few turns at high-wind sailing, and these experts even capsized occasionally. It was no day for newbies! Meanwhile, Page Anderson sailed a Hobie Cat nearby and deftly avoided capsize more than once.
In the evening, Fort Peck Marina & Bar grilled up a fantastic meal of steaks, corn on the cob and all the fixings. Sailors new and old sat around sharing stories and enjoying the company of new friends with common interests. Later, an impromptu auction helped raise funds for the fledgling Fort Peck Sailing Club. The regatta was made possible by donations from wonderful sponsors!
Sunday dawned cold and cloudy, but the winds were just about perfect for a regatta. At 9:35 AM, the race committee sounded the horn and dropped the flag to start the first race of the year. Over the next few hours, the keel-boats completed 3 races and the Lasers raced 6 times. Sailors helped each other with advice and encouragement, a good sporting time was had by all. At one point, a couple fishing boats tore through the race course at about 60 miles per hour, cutting between the anchored committee boat and the starting pin 100 feet away, and proceeded to cut off various sailboats along the way. It was a dangerous and rude stunt, but after everyone''s heart rate settled, racing continued with only the welcome, peaceful sounds of a breeze in the sails and water rippling past the hulls.
After the racing finished, the boats sailed back to the marina. Lunch was hungrily devoured and race results were calculated. A short awards ceremony was held, prizes were given, pictures taken, and with many hugs and handshakes, we said goodbye to our beloved sailing friends with plans and determination to do it all again next year.
Sailors and volunteers of the 2015 Can-Am Fort Peck Sailing Regatta