Race Up High on Lake Dillon in Colorado!

Racing at 9000 Feet: A Chesapeake Sailor on Lake Dillon, Colorado

Chesapeake racing sailor Kathy Parks served on the race committee at the Dillon Open and shared her wonderful experience… makes you want to race up high one day!

Lake Dillon, in Summit County, Colorado is a 3,233 acre man-made fresh water reservoir for the City of Denver. Popular ski areas such as Copper Mountain, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Breckinridge are close by. Located at 9017 feet above sea level Lake Dillon Yacht Club is considered America’s highest yacht club.

racing lake dillon
Sailboat racing on Lake Dillon at 9000 feet. Photos courtesy of Gustav Schmiege III // Regattashots.com

There, each summer for 52 years the club has presented the Dillon Open Regatta. What are the necessary elements of a fun, successful regatta? How about beautiful views, plenty of good food and drinks, cool breezes, spirited competition and a fresh water mountain lake? That and more was on display August 25 - 27 at the 52nd annual Dillon Open.

The Dillon Yacht Club headed by Commodore Joe Quarantillo, Regatta Chairman Mike Kalil, Racing Director Kurt Robinson, and over 35 volunteers combined with 20-plus sponsors put on a great event with exciting racing, good food and drinks, and fun merch. A seriously experienced local race committee assisted PRO Steve Comen and his wife Renee from Dallas, Texas. They ran seven races in two days using a choice of permanently fixed marks strategically located for the prevailing winds.

There were four choices of windward marks, and the RC chose the far right one followed by the next one to the left making a sort of offset leg followed by a long downwind leg and usually back up to the second mark, downwind again and then finishing at a permanent finish boat a short reach from the leeward mark. The signal boat was attached to a permanent buoy located in 200-plus feet of water upwind from the finish boat. The pin end of the line was anchored (yes, successfully in 200-plus feet of water), but sometimes they use a robotic GPS mark designed by a local member.

J/22 racing on Lake Dillon. Photos courtesy of Gustav Schmiege III // Regattashots.com

There was a wide array of boats competing from the typical racing boats such as Etchells, J22s, J24s, Melges 24s in one design, and some some J/80s and J/70s in PHRF A plus a Catalina 22 class and a combined PHRF B and C class that included dinghies and small one off cruising boats. The club did a great job of combining eight groups into six starts.

The venue was the Lake Dillon Marina that bills itself as, “A destination for lovers of land and water, land-locked pirates and fun-loving people of all ages!” There was a huge hoist and two double launch ramps, free of charge but your boat had to be inspected and have a seal and receipt that you were clear of the threat of Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) such as Zebra and Quagga mussels, Eurasian Watermilfoil, New Zealand Mud snails, Brazilian Egeria and more.

Fortunately our step kids’ Flying Scot from Denver (Queen Bee), at their first away regatta, passed the test. Those that didn’t pass received a decontamination before being allowed to enter the reservoir. After launching there were convenient floating docks nearby to tie up to.

The Skippers’ meeting began with the typical welcome from the Commodore and recognition of the sponsors and volunteers. Next was the flag raising followed by the ringing of 8 bells for those loved ones lost in the past year and a ballad sung to guitar accompaniment by the marina director. By now we sensed this regatta was going to be a little different, a little more spirited and possibly more fun than usual. Also, the donuts were huge and delicious!

Sailors enjoying shoreside fun. Photos courtesy of Gustav Schmiege III // Regattashots.com

Day one of racing started with a short postponement but once the prevailing northerly breeze filled in the RC completed 4 races for each of 8 classes. The wind oscillated, was puffy and increased in speed from about 6 knots in the beginning of the day to 25 by the end of race 4. The courses never needed to be changed and the sun, clouds, and views of the mountains were amazing.

Day two featured a threatening storm during the first race. The Etchells and Melges 24s had finished, but the rest of the fleets were on the course. The big black cloud was heading over the mountain toward the lake. Our phones alerted lightning 3.1 miles away. The local race committee and police boats recommended an abandonment, so the PRO raised the N Flag and told all racers to seek safety in the harbor immediately.

I asked, “What about us?” (I was on the RC boat).

“Oh, we’ll just hunker down. We’ll be okay attached to this permanent mark.” Fortunately the storm went to the south of us, and within an hour we had the boats back on the lake for two more races. Like the day before, the wind oscillated, was puffy, and built steadily over the afternoon to a high of 25 knots. Still, we did not have to change the course.

Sailors competing in the Lake Dillon Open. Photos courtesy of Gustav Schmiege III // Regattashots.com

While there was close racing in many of the fleets, the J22s distinguished themselves by ending in a three-way tie for first which was decided way down the list of ways to break ties. Wonderful breeze, long courses, passionate sailors, a culture of fun, close racing, beautiful skies, tall mountains, new friends…it’s great racing high on Lake Dillon in Colorado! ~by Kathy Parks

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