The International Skeeter Association’s 2017 regatta had been called ON and postponed a number of times this winter until last Wednesday at 11:00, when the final call was made for Battle Lake, Minnesota. It’s a three day event with racing Friday, Saturday, and a half day Sunday. I was offered a last minute ride with Mark Hancik and Keith Kennedy, Yankee sailors from New Jersey who were also taking Jordan Glaser’s A Skeeter to the regatta. I’d need to be in NJ when the final call was made, so I packed up and got there at midnight on Tuesday. The worse that could happen is it would be called off and I’d come home.
The call came in, we loaded the boats and drove 23 hours non-stop to the lake. We were the first ones there, and since the Mainer had brought the ax, he was set to chopping down the heaves at the launch which had developed since the site had been scouted. Oddly, the mid-westerners don’t carry axes, and they call them hatchets.
The rest of the fleet trickled in throughout the day, setting up boats. A few of us sailed out to scout the ice. Now, for much of the country this has been a challenging season, so one needs to admire the courage it took to call on a regatta on grade 2 ice. It was actually closer to a 3 on the race course, but no matter. It worked out just fine for racing, but one wouldn’t have been happy cruising.
Day one had winds in the twenties. We set up a windward mark and then hemmed and hawed for a couple of hours until it was called off. Meanwhile, one sidestay tang parted from Keith’s Yankee. Then Jordan ripped the bow chock from his A Skeeter and was stuck facing downwind, the runner jammed up into the bottom of his boat acting as a break, sail fully sheeted in to keep the wind from getting a hold of it. The rest of the fleet had sailed the four miles back to the pits by then, except for a bunch of bon vivants (your correspondent included, of course) who’d sailed to town for a nice lunch.
The Shoreline Lounge has a wonderful view of the lake; the windward mark was just behind these boats, so the townfolk (pop. 875) had a great view of the races.
During lunch I could see an A Skeeter parked way out there facing downwind. It didn’t look right, so I hopped back in the boat to investigate.
A few minutes after I arrived, an ATV from the pits showed up. We put two big guys on the windward runner so it wouldn’t capsize, and another guy spun Jordan’s boat around into the wind. We got the mast and sail down, lashed him to the ATV, and off they went.
Saturday’s winds were more reasonable, and the first flag fell at 9:30. The A’s went first, followed by the B’s and C’s together, then the Renegades, then the Nites. We got four races in for A’s and B’s, three for the others, the last round held in near whiteout conditions. The start of the snow, below.
There were thirty six boats racing; Bunting would have been in heaven sailing with a fleet of thirteen Nites! My guess is that he’d have finished in the top 20%.
Ring-side seat at the leeward mark for watching the mighty A Skeeters. No photo can convey the power and noise. It was like watching a hydroplane race wearing lousy ear protectors. Watching them up close was well worth the trip alone.
The ice looks like igneous rock. This is Pat Heppart’s C Skeeter “Drifter”, winner of the C class two years in a row. It’s not hard to see why.
Thanks to Deb Whitehorse for the picture. Pat Heppart, first, your correspondent, second.
The A Skeeter perpetual trophy. There are dates back to the Thirties on there. What a deep and honorable legacy, and so nicely polished.
The snow that shut down the racing on Saturday persisted into the evening. Three boats got trapped by the falling wind, sticky ice and poor visibility. Without the wind, you had no directional reference. There was a small shift which sent one Renegade to the wrong end of the lake. But he went ashore, noted his location on his phone, knocked on a friendly door and was given a ride back to the pits. It was dark by now, but they found the boat by car and towed him the four miles back. Same with the others. All in all, just another great day on the ice.
Sunday morning tranquility. The snow was a skier’s delight: light and fluffy. For more on the ISA go here: iceboat.org
As we all know, traveling is one of the fringe benefits of this lunatic fringe sport. For those who are fans of Garrison Keilor, Battle Lake could be the setting for his fictional town of Lake Woebegon. The Shoreline was easily the Chatterbox Cafe; one morning we sat with three local guys for breakfast. They had the accents, and that slow careful declaration of everyday news. This sign in the hotel room offers a cultural indicator:
And this at the gas station:
Moosehead is looking better and better every day. Small bit of rain coming tomorrow, then cold right through the weekend. We will try to learn more about the surface today and post it here. It could very well be the ideal conditions for the CIBC CENTURY RACE. Denis has the trophy and it will be very hard to pry it from his sunburnt hands because he’s been training very hard: