Pat Heppert flags Chad Atkins on Day 1 of the 2023 DN North American Championship sailed on Lake Kegonsa in Madison, WI. Photo by Cathy Firmbach
By Chad Atkins
Hello from a very mild Rhode Island. As a winter transplant to Wisconsin a few weekends a year, joining the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club was a no-brainer. I have to give a huge shout-out to Daniel Hearn, who, behind the scenes, went above and beyond with fellow C Skeeter tuning partner and PRO Pat Heppert for going to equal lengths to get both the 2023 DN Gold Cup and North Americans in on Lake Kegonsa. Renegader Ron Rosten was also out helping and moving start lines daily! Don’t forget Deb Whitehorse and the other 4LIYC members that made this 50th-anniversary event such a blast. Thank you all.
Once the Gold Cup was complete, many of our European friends decided to head for home, and more than a few North American regatta registrants. Friday’s one race in each fleet (Gold and Silver) was all worth it! Blowing up deep semi-sticky drifts in solid pressure was a race to be remembered!!
Keith Schwark plows through a snow drift on Day 2, in the final race of the 2023 DN North American Championship. Photo by Cathy Firmbach.
It also reinforced a point that our good friend Jost Kolb from Germany expressed that, as a class, we need to see these events through to the end. He talked about a Russian competitor that travels about five days each way in Europe to attend these continental championships and how throwing in the towel or leaving the event because of a forecast isn’t good for our class or why we all do it and love the sport so much.
What a day Friday was!!! Thursday night’s snowfall was pleasantly light and fluffy and at the lower end of the forecast. We woke up to trees and branches dancing and the temperature reasonably steady from night to day. It looked promising to complete the North American championship. The day before, the wind died, and we ran out of sunlight.
Those who stayed arrived at Springer’s launch to find limited visibility from pulsing whiteout conditions and low-level haze on the lake. Chris Berger and Jost Kolb both took a few laps and determined with Pat that the surface of the course was sailable and we should hang tough for an hour or two to let visibility improve.
Around 10:30 AM, Pat decided we would try and start the Gold fleet first. Ron Sherry and Paul Goodwin gave a short safety speed chat about dealing with breeze and snow. Then it was time to get our thoughts, emotions, and breathing in order – this was happening! The breeze was still up, and runners were the easiest choice of equipment with Ronny’s Composite Concepts 440c Bullnote Plates and Slipper Front.
When I considered buying those runners, Ron said, "You will thank me when you need them, even if it’s five years from now." Thanks, Ron, for all three Slipper runners the day before as well; it’s why we have plates.
The big question was, what were the drifts doing in texture and size? Can I stay lit with a speed sail, a soft top batten, or keep the power with a full sail? It was a mix with Matt Struble running an ABSS and, I believe, the rest of us running Power Gold or FO1. Matt doesn’t really count since he could beat most of us strapped to some 2×4’s powered by a napkin! He’s a great guy, a natural sailor, and a polished competitor; great to have him back this year!
Most of us took a rip up and down, and it would be some physical, exciting sailing with an emphasis on semi-clear goggles. Another snow line came through with some very solid pressure that left us all attending our boats and not letting our sails beat themselves to death.
Then the "dry slot" appeared, as Deb refers to it. Pat called Gold fleet to the line. The flag is up, GO! With just a few quick steps, the sail eased, boat hiking as we jumped on the plank and stepped into the boat. We were off, tied by a string, a seesaw back and forth battle plowing and blowing through drifts with a few clear spots to gain speed up the course.
At the top, the right side had overstood by less, with US4, young Griffin Sherry, leading as he came off the one block he earned the day before. I was close behind and could sense Jost close behind with the left side boats blazing in under the darling mark (so glad to have these for races like this) and hunting us down. Now for the first turn into a steady line of oncoming traffic from the left. Griffin found his line, and I had to stay a bit higher to avoid a few boats.
By the time the snow cleared, we were just bouncing and hiking downwind, and it was all I could do not to start hooting and hollering. That is until a quick glance to leeward showed that Griffin had slid back in my window looking slower and mast straight; he looked ok. And POW, a huge drift exploded all over me! I wiped my goggles, and nothing happened.
Oh boy, all that snow on my face had made its way under and inside my goggles, leaving me with enough visibility to see the pits of the leeward mark. With compromised visibility, I was glad to have a thinned-out fleet as I cleared out enough frozen snow to see properly before another drift, hike, butt, and shoulders back to steady things out.
Another solid vein of pressure sent us into a gybe to the bottom mark, and around we all went. Quickly after rounding, this US44 guy (Ron Sherry) appeared to leeward, absolutely ripping, deep breath going fine, and by the time I looked over my left, another boat with red numbers reading US183 (Matt Struble) had just tacked, so off to starboard we went.
Damn, I was way overstood and bouncing off and through drifts. Reaching down had no advantage like it would on cleaner ice. Another few laps of the same exciting non-stop action, the North American championship was complete!
PRO Pat Heppert ran a last Silver fleet race on top of that, making it three races in each fleet before the dry slot closed and more weather came in. A great way to end a memorable week. Congratulations to Matt Struble for his Gold Cup and North American win and the entire fleet for sticking it out and having the confidence to make it happen. There’s plenty more racing left in the season if Mother Nature allows it.