If there is a better venue for sailboat racing than Hood River Oregon, I’ve not sailed there yet. The most consistently windy place in our country with waves the size of VW buses, gusts that hit so hard your head whips back and some of the most amazing scenery you can imagine, all just off the beach of the happening little town of Hood River, Oregon.
The sailboard Mecca for a generation Hood River has become an epic spot for kite boarders as they swarm across the river from the Hatchery all the way down to the Hood River Bridge.
This was the perfect place for the Hood River Yacht Club Moore 24 Regatta on August 8-9.
The well-known Columbia Gorge Racing Association, just 20 miles downriver in Cascade Locks, Oregon, is known for their beautiful park-like venue, welcoming attitude and windy but smooth race area which sucks in the juniors, dinghies, Skiffs and the like for some stadium style race courses – perfect for modern buoy race requirements.
But just 20 miles upriver you find the Hood River Yacht Club with their small dry yard and clubhouse situated in the corner of the port. Hosting many a Wednesday night race, HRYC sailors are known for re-defining ”nukin’’ conditions and showing you just how much excitement sailors can have on a simple day on the water.
This was the spot where 16 of the original ULDB’s designed way back in the day by George Olson and later modified by Ron Moore at Moore’s Reef gathered for fun little weekend on the water. The area of the Columbia off Hood River isn’t the large open area the Melges 24’s were enjoying for their well-attended Nationals just down river. No, this area, with its narrow channel and twisting,turning river, is a nightmare if you want to set a square buoy race, but that’s not what the Moore fleet is always looking for. Maybe it’s the Moore Dementia Syndrome (Google it), possibly it’s the asymmetrical hull shape the boat took on at Moore’s reef, but probably it’s just the personalities of the owners that makes them enjoy the challenge of putting on a regatta in such a windy, wavy and off-the-beaten-path venue (at least in the sailboat racing world).
The trick is to set up a start area amongst hundreds of kite boarders, send the racers around a fixed mark surrounded by sailboarders jumping off the huge swell and do it over and over again in 20, 25 or 30 knots of wind. Those are good times in Moore speak.
Those are the conditions that met the 16 old Moore 24s as they pushed off the dock Saturday morning in 85 degree, sunny skies with winds over 25 knots up at Swell City. Race one took the racers from the event area up around the hatchery mark, down to the event site mark twice around and wouldn’t you know it that local HRYC sailor, Morgan Larson and crew, aboard #127 Bruzer shot out to a quick lead but were challenged by Bart Hackworth on #68 Gruntled and ultimately dropped the bullet to the boat from Richmond Yacht club, giving Bruzer their only 2nd for the day. The first mark rounding was tight and windy and with the big waves boats that set early and weren’t ready for it quickly found their keel in the air when the chute filled as #78 found out the hard way.
Races two and three used the same hatchery mark but threw in a temporary mark dropped up under Wells Island as a short weather mark, and the wind continued to build. Now some have said Hood River is a one way street when it comes to sailboat racing. Just get out in the current upwind and get in the shallows downwind. But between the geography surrounding the river, the contortions created by the Hood River sand bar and the newly formed White Salmon sand bar game plans had to be tossed out the window. At one point you could be lifted in the deep water channel just ripping it upwind in the river current, and the next you’re tacking over into the shallows to get the geographical lift that easily overpowers the current. Those who played these subtleties best continued to stay in the lead, and no one does this better than Morgan Larson and his stellar band of merry crew members, taking two more bullets in races two and three with Gruntled solidly behind them in second and Banditos and Moore Wave*Ohs swapping spots at the back of the leader board.
By late afternoon it was time for the distance race, what local sailor Tyler Beck dubs the Sunset Smoker. Start off the event site sail up to the Hatchery and then down through the narrow channel span on the Hood River Bridge and on up the river to a shoal mark off of Chicken Charlie Island and then back down river to a marina finish. The Bridge span throws an interesting twist into the race as it consolidates the fleet in one area of the course about mid-way through the leg and throws in another twist – if there is one of those long tug and barge setups coming through the course – DSQ’ed if you try and fit through the gap with a tug and barge. Yep, wouldn’t you know it, a tug and barge was moving upriver just in front of the fleet. The tug stayed just out in front of everyone as the fleet sailed through the bridge span and then it didn’t take long for everyone to realize why it’s called the Sunset Smoker. The winds really began to heat up on the east side and BAM, down went Bruzer followed by almost everyone in the fleet at one point or another before reaching the leeward mark off of Chicken Charlie Island. With winds now well over 30 everyone settled in for the long slog upwind through the bridge span and to the finish at the marina mouth.
A tough slog back with the fleet spread out and crossing the line with 11 minutes between the first and last boat and everyone absolutely kicked by the time they tied up at the docks. Sailors were lying on the docks barely able to lift up their Solo cups high enough to get them filled with the keg beer graciously provided by #121 Snafu (well actually extorted from the fleet so Snafu would be scored for their Ditch Run finish). It was an epic day one.
Sunday showed a different side of the venue, much softer winds out of the west, 90 degree sunny skies and no waves. Out came the genoas on the Moore’s for three more races before the wind finally petered out. Bruzer held everyone off once again to take first in races one and two but as the winds petered out in race three and the RC wisely shortened the course, Gruntled got themselves back on the leader board, finishing the regatta as they started it, first across the line.
Full results can be found at regattanetwork.com but first place with just 9 points after seven races went to #127 Bruzer owned by Morgan Larson. second place with 17 points went to Bart Hackworth and crew aboard #68 Gruntled and third with 31 points to John Kernot and crew aboard #118 Banditos.