Park City Sailing Club launches season’s opening races
Wyatt Pike, a member of Park City Sailing Club and a junior at Park City High School, said sailing is a sport of chance. Skippers bet on where and when the wind will blow, and make choices for their crew accordingly. But to sail, first there must be wind.
“It’s getting closer,” said Wyatt’s father, Buster Pike, president of Park City Sailing Club, looking out over the water at Jordanelle Reservoir.
Sitting at the helm of a 17-foot motorboat, he watched a patch of wind-darkened water as it expanded from its origins in front of the Jordanelle Dam.
It was the first day of Park City Sailing’s Elliott Boats 6 meter race series, and at 7 p.m. on Thursday, the boats should have been jockeying for position near Pike’s boat, readying for the sound of his whistle and the start of the race. But with no wind, the boats were still bobbing near where they were moored, a short boat ride from the personal watercraft ramp, the three-person crews lounging in the sun around the small decks with nothing to do.
The club was given the boats five years ago in an extremely generous donation. Buster and Wyatt, who was driving another small motorboat to help set the course, said the next closest fleet of Elliotts was likely in San Diego, and estimated the cost of the 18-foot sailboats at $50,000 each new.
Before the start of each season, a member of the club can rent an Elliott on a first-come, first-serve basis, to race them in the series, which runs every other Thursday until mid-September. Each race night, the club hauls floating markers out into the water to set a movable course, which they change after every race until the sun goes down. Usually the club gets four or five races in per night, Wyatt said, but on Thursday there was nothing to do but wait for the wind and eat the bag of pretzel sticks Buster had brought along.
Typically, Wyatt said, the wind blows toward the dam in the evening.
“We’re not sure why, but we’ve made up a lot of theories,” Buster said. After about 20 minutes of drifting in the race committee boat, the patch of dark water arrived, along with the wind that was disturbing it, and Buster signaled to the boats that the first race would start soon.
The Elliots started circling in the area, pacing around Buster’s boat, which marked one side of the starting line, and a buoy, about 50 feet away, which marked the other. If they weren’t in the right position when the race started, they would have to circle back through the starting line, or would risk starting on the leeward side of other boats, where the wind would be diminished.
The course was set up like an elongated pill: Two buoys positioned about a mile away from each other represented the outer ends of the course, which the boats would have to pivot around, with the start and finish line in the middle of the course, between the two bouys. The wind was blowing from the first turnaround point (the top of the pill), which was closest to the dam. Buster blew the start whistle and the boats cut out of the starting area at an angle, hoping to catch the wind better. Boat No. 3, piloted by Chris Ostertag, was the first to cut back across the wind more toward the first turnaround point.
“They just got great boat speed, and they’re trucking,” said Buster, who is from Massachusetts and has sailed most of his life.
Ostertag’s boat took the lead, while one of the boats pushed still farther away from both the starting line and the first turning point, searching for a patch of dark water and faster wind.
“It’s not really paying off for him right now,” Wyatt said of the boat that hadn’t tacked yet. “The breeze has died down and it’s heavier over here now.”
Boat No. 2, led by Jeff Kluge, had found the wind after tacking with boat No. 3, and had taken the lead down the stretch to the first turnaround. Kluge’s boat rounded the first turn, and with the wind behind them, the crew prepared to deploy their spinnaker, a bag-like sail.
Using a spinnaker well is a big part of the race, Wyatt said. Raise it too late and a boat will miss crucial wind and won’t gain as much momentum as its competitors. Deploy it too early or stow it too late and it becomes a giant wind break, slowing the boat.
“It’s a much more powerful sail than any other you have going downwind,” Wyatt said.
A couple of the boats faltered while turning the corner, cutting it too wide or struggling with rigging issues that prevented them from deploying their spinnakers and catching the wind.
Boats No. 2 and 3 remained in the lead, their spinnakers puffed out in front of them.
Kluge, in boat 2, had gambled well, and sailed well.
He had found the wind and kept his spinnaker full even when it slowed approaching the leeward marker (the bottom of the pill). He kept the lead through the turn, followed by Bruno Paciulli’s No. 4 boat, which lagged by about 15 seconds, and Ostertag’s boat No. 3.
Kluge remained in the lead into the final stretch, tacking the boat in from far outside the limits of the starting line in an extremely sharp curve to cut inches inside Buster’s marker boat and into the finish area.
“That’s just a really safe move,” Wyatt said. “They were still ahead, but there was no reason to take the really short path, so they came up really high just in case the wind shut off. They didn’t want someone else to get lucky and beat them out.”
Ostertag’s boat No. 3 carried its speed and beat Paciulli across the finish line, taking second.
As the boats finished, they disbanded into a loose swarm around the starting marker, circling in wait for the markers to be moved into position for the next race of the night, and their next chance to gamble.
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