Chautauquans race through Regatta

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Kreable Young | Staff Photographer

A screeching horn blasts. A small cannon booms. A wall of white sails in the distance storm the helpless vessel. Battle flags appear, announcing the fleet’s swift approach. Suddenly, the pontoon boat is surrounded on all sides. A war on the lake has begun.

But this is not an act of maritime piracy on the high seas, or a shoot for a “Captain Phillips” sequel. These are the final minutes before the Sailing Center’s Open Class Regatta.

On Saturday, the Sailing Department hosted its first open house and sail-in with the Chautauqua Yacht Club to introduce community members to the traditional Chautauquan sport and to welcome competitive sailors from all over the region.

Gary Snyder, a longtime Chautauquan and seasoned sailing instructor, directs the Sailing Department and organized the day’s events.

“This sail-in was part of our push to make Chautauqua sailing more community-oriented,” Snyder said. “Through the Sailing Department, we’re trying to host social and competitive events to make the sport more accessible for all ages.”

Originally implemented into the Sports Club’s services, sailing at Chautauqua has grown exponentially in recent decades. Ever-expanding interest in this aquatic recreation led to the creation of the John R. Turney Sailing Center, which was dedicated in July 2006.

“Sailing on Chautauqua Lake is part of the deep, generational history here,” said Andy Freay, director of recreation. “It’s characteristic of Chautauqua’s connection to the water and reflects the Institution’s overall mission of providing an educational vacation.”

Located on the south end of the Institution’s scenic waterfront, the Sailing Center serves as the department’s headquarters. Complete with a sunlit classroom, floating docks and purple martin houses, this facility offers a wide range of services for those who want to try their hand at steering a scow. Its tranquil location and symbiotic relationship with the natural environment make it an ideal arena for recreational edification.

“The center’s proximity to Chautauqua Lake — as well as its connection with the Chautauqua waterfront‚ make it a wonderful venue for sailing,” Snyder said. “We have excellent winds in our location, instructors with top-notch talent and a great fleet of boats, so I’m happy to see the sport grow within the community.”

Lessons that range from private to group sessions are some of the services offered daily at the center. Sunfish and Flying Scot rentals are also available at hourly rates. The Special Studies program provides an all-encompassing list of weeklong sailing courses for everyone from youth to adult, novice to advanced sailors.

“The sailing center has a deep connection with the Boys’ and Girls’ Club,” Freay said. “Every day, the kids involved with Club have the opportunity to experience sailing as an aspect of lifelong learning. It’s a form of recreation you can do throughout your whole life.”

Snyder also stresses the educational aspect of sailing at Chautauqua.

“Sailing isn’t just a sport,” Synder said. “It’s a life skill. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy sailing my entire life. I want to transfer that enjoyment to people of all ages.”

Bailey Carter, an avid sailor and one of the top instructors at the center, thinks sailing at Chautauqua is unlike other sailing communities around the world.

“It’s definitely a competitive sport, but its also social,” she said. “Everyone knows each other. It’s a little more friendly.”

Her father, Rob Carter, who has been coming to Chautauqua his entire life and introduced his children to sailing at an early age, agreed but did not downplay the competitive nature of Saturday’s race.

“Everyone at this regatta is a good sailor,” he said. “They take it seriously, and they’re definitely out here to win.”

Manning the aforementioned pontoon boat as the regatta’s race committee, the Carters’ enthusiasm for Chautauqua sailing is evident. Running from stern to bow hoisting race flags, synching time sequences, dropping course markers and answering a barrage of questions from the besieging fleet of sailboats, their excitement was tangible well before the racers took to the starting line.

Despite the daunting chaos before the onset of the sprint, the race went off without a hitch. With composed expertise, the sailors in the C-Scow class calmly approached the start buoy and, with the sounding siren, launched into the southwesterly wind, tacking windward with lightning speed and skill.

Soon afterward, the Open Class, composed of Flying Scots, MC-Scows, Lightnings and every boat in between, followed suit. Though various sizes and speeds, these scows are judged based on their finish time against a Portsmouth Yardstick handicap system.

After zipping through two-and-a-half windward-leeward legs, John Beecher and Jack Mokler placed first in the C-Scow class, finishing nearly four minutes ahead of their nearest competitors. Both experienced members of the sailing center, Beecher and Molker were ecstatic over their landslide win.

“I just remember thinking, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done,’” Mokler said.

The teammates exchanged a congratulatory hug.

“Today’s conditions were a little squirrely,” Beecher said. “The wind direction was pretty unusual but it stayed consistent through the race. We were fouled right at the start, but we were able to catch a lot of puffs on the second leeward leg.”

Mark Griner, steering an MC-Scow, took home the gold in the Open Class race after one-and-a-half legs.

After nearly two hours of racing, every sailor who took part in the regatta — members of the CYC, sailing veterans and Chautauquans — attended a barbecue at the center. Nearly 100 people took advantage of the day by swimming, eating and listening to live music on the south end of the grounds.

“It was a fantastic turnout,” Synder said. “I was so glad to see old friends, acquaintances, and many new faces take advantage of our beautiful facility and become familiar with sailing.

“And we plan on doing it all again Aug. 2.”

Even after the party, the enthusiasm surrounding the sailing center did not die down. Every morning the waterfront is filled with boys and girls from Club learning their way around a sail. The center’s classroom is filled with bright and eager sailors ready to steer a scow. And Snyder, as he looks out his office window at the brightly colored canvas dotting the water, is thrilled for what the next eight weeks have in store.

“It’s Monday morning, Week Two, and there are at least 28 boats out on the water,” Snyder said. “Sailing is growing all throughout Chautauqua, and we’re making it happen. This is my passion. I want nothing more than to see people share in it and be successful at it.”