Sailing saturday: Riding the waves of the regatta

Since the dawn of Chautauqua Institution, the lake has been a place of relaxation and spirituality, where Chautauquans can find respite from the intellectual, intensive studies of the day.

Throw in a couple dozen sailors, some wind and a few near-ship misses, and, oftentimes, it’s anything but.

On Saturday, the Chautauqua Yacht Club Open Regatta took place on Chautauqua Lake. Clouds hung over Chautauqua and Chedwel and stayed clear of the lake, but a steady wind from the north excited chop during the races. Consistent traffic from pontoon and speedboats created some artificial turbulence during the competition.

Just before 2 p.m., sailors prepped for the competitive regatta by sailing back and forth behind a series of buoys and the committee boat that acted as a starting line for competitors. During this time, sailors determined the wind patterns and any incoming shifts in wind, what side of the course to steer on, and made any last minute fine-tuning to their boats. Since boats do not start from a stationary position, sailors are also timing when they will cross the start line in accordance with the official start.

Maddie Vance, who is a second-year employee at the John R. Turney Sailing Center, steered near the sailors before the race on her way out to the committee boat, slamming into swells in the water.

“I just like how nature takes over,” Vance said. “There’s only so much you can do.”

An armada that included such boats as Ensigns, Catalinas, a Cape Dory, several MC and C Scows, Lightnings, Hobies, a Sunfish — among others — lined the fleets of sailboats that took off just past Miller Bell Tower.

The length of a regatta isn’t formally measured out, but depending on the day’s wind conditions — low, moderate or high — the course is lengthened or shortened, respectively. On Saturday, the wind was moderate, and the course extended around a mile-and-a-half.

The first fleet off was C Scows, the most popular boat used during the day. The medium-sized sailboat requires two to three people to sail. Lightnings and Flying Scots made up the second flight, and an open class, where any sailboat could enter and participate, went off in the third and final fleet. At least one collision occurred, some exchanges were made but the race continued without any problems.

Gary Snyder, director of sailing at the center, sailed an E Scow, arguably the fastest boat in competition, during the event, and arrived at the starting line two minutes late. Even with the delay, Snyder and his three other crewmembers finished the race first but didn’t necessarily win.

The Portsmouth Yardstick, a handicap system used in competitive sailing, allows sailors on the smallest and slowest vessels to have an equal footing with sailboats that finish the course in the fastest time. Scores are determined by calculating the boat’s handicap with wind speed and the final elapsed time in the race.

Snyder said winning is a testament of the sailor’s ability to reach any ship’s potential.

Since sailors can’t address the wind dead-on, they tack — the process of beating the wind — by moving at 45-degree angles in a zigzag pattern toward the finishing buoy.

When sailors reached the end of the course, they would jibe, or turn their wind from one side of the boat to the other, so they were able to return back to the starting line and make their way up to the finish line for an official ending.

After the committee boat finished its starter role, it motored the end of the course and acted as the finish line. When the E Scow made its way past the finish line, the committee boat fired off a smoke cannon to signal the first of the fleet had come in. Sulfur filled the air.

A sail-in at the sailing center concluded the day’s events. The results were not immediately announced to those who participated. Although a very competitive person, Snyder said getting people out on in sailboats on the water was a victory.

“I think when they heard the cannon [at the end of the race], the crew thought, ‘Yes, this is fantastic,’ ” Snyder said. “I think three people got the bug, so that was a success no matter of the results.”