This summer the Columbia Gorge (Oregon) has played host to a number of high profile sailing events (ICSA Collegiate Nationals, 2011 US Sailing Singlehanded Championship to name a few) and this past weekend, hosted the Zhik Skiff Regatta - the 49er and 29erXX US National Championships. It’s fast becoming reputed as the best place to sail a skiff in the US, says 29erXX class president, Kristen Lane. Especially if you like big wind.
SailBlast chatted to Lane this morning as she was headed north to Cork, Canada for an Olympic class regatta. Lane and tactician Charlie McKee easily prevailed in this past weekend’s 29erXX National Championship, taking nine of eleven races. Lane explains how they won, and why she likes, excuse me - LOVES - the 29erXX:
The bottom line is that it was a very windy event and we spent a lot of time practicing our boat handling in the big air - staying in the wind was a big reason we were able to get ahead and stay ahead. The Gorge is unrelenting in that little mistakes cost you big. It was surprisingly shift and Charlie did an amazing job of keeping us going in the right lane all the time. He had the confidence to sail where it was the windiest and we knew we had solid boat handling - we knew we could tack and gybe anywhere we wanted to.
Racing the XX is totally different to the standard rig 29er. This was the first US National Championship and it was the class’s opportunity to prove that the boat is able to handle really big winds and a variety of crew weight.
For example, the team that finished second place was a kiwi team - Alex and Molly - they only weighed about 260 pounds total. That’s the remarkable difference of weight range between them and us (we were in just over 310 pounds) and still be competitive in really windy conditions.
We also sailed an entire practice week over and above this past week - all of us did - at the Gorge and nobody experienced a major breakdown other than preventative maintenance. It was remarkable and a great test event for the boat. It’s quite exciting to see the XX be viewed not only as a potential Olympic class for two women but also as an adult co-ed dinghy - high performance, durable, and very moderately priced.
One thing to note that I was the only person at the regatta sailing a Melges 29erXX. Melges is now building the boat in North America and I have the first production boat and I’ve been sailing it since about May. It’s fantastic. Most boats are competitive but the construction and rigidity of the Melges boat was I think key to our success in those conditions - the stiffness of your boat is a big factor in how well it performs.
I was first led to the 29erXX because I wanted to be a better Melges 24 sailor but what I didn’t expect to happen was to become completely engrossed and addicted to the small boat, high performance format. The rewards for all my other sailing has been unimaginable. I feel like the experience on the 29erXX have not only made me a little better as a Melges 24 sailor but a lot better. Discovering a place like the Gorge and making it a point to go there every summer to get tossed around and beaten up in the big wind (LOL!) has been extremely rewarding. The Gorge is the best place in America to sail skiffs and I know the class wants to go back. I'm looking forward to that!
One of Lane's Melges 24 crew mates, Johnny Goldsberry, won the 49er Nationals this past weekend which she was totally psyched about, "It's such a big accomplishment for Johnny. He's been working for so many years and loves the sport and is super generous with his time toward other competitors."
Commenting on the light number of entries in both fleets this past weekend, Lane said she suspected it was because it was a tough year to rally because of the Olympic activity, not to mention some people are afraid of racing in the Gorge...