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Passing The Helm on the La Dow Family Etchells

Etchells sailing has long been a La Dow family tradition, and this year the father/son duo is going all in.

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The Etchells fleet gets off the line at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in San Diego. Paul Todd/Outside Images

Second Wind may be just the perfect name possible for the La Dow family Etchells. Back in his heyday at San Diego YC, father Andy was a standout sailor, particularly in the local Etchells fleet, and always a top finisher in the big fleets of years past, including three class wins in the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in San Diego. While dad was excelling in the elegant and cranky keelboat, his two sons, Jake and Will, were doing the same in the Sabots, and then 420s and onward to college where they too had standout careers.

And while this was happening later in life, dad got busy in the real estate business and the Etchells eventually sat idle on its trailer, collecting pollen and Santa Ana dust. The pandemic winds would blow Will home from San Francisco to San Diego, the young software salesman now able to work remotely. Will says racing with his father was something they’d discussed for a long time, but only when he moved back to San Diego did they consider it more seriously. And soon enough, the three of them would find themselves together, shoulder to shoulder on the side deck of the family Etchells, its long and pointy bow rising and falling over humping Pacific swells. The boat had sat for three years, and here they were, together for the first time, a new team who’s chemistry is simply its blood.

Their first event would be the 2021 Etchells Pacific Coast Championship. Will would skipper, dad would handle the bow. “It all went well,” was dad’s assessment. “The takeaway was that we had some potential here.”

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Potential indeed: With an older boat desperate for the latest upgrades, and a set of outdated rags, they won their second regatta (without Jake, however, who was off racing J/70s). “My biggest concern was time in the boat,” La Dow says, “but I quickly realized we were going to be a force to be reckoned with, right out of the gates.”

An lo-and-behold they absolutely enjoy sailing with each other.

“I will say, it is a privilege to be able to sail with my dad on the boat,” says La Dow. “It’s cool that we’ve both had success in sailing separately and can now do it together. Through sailing we are both able to compete at a high level and spend some quality bonding time together. There have been times where we’ve been in a tough spot [on the racecourse] where it may not feel like bonding, but we always enjoy it.”

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In the three years since the La Dows packed away Second Wind, much has changed with the infinitely tunable Etchells—mast setup, sail design, and especially control systems—so the task at hand is for them to get the boat up to snuff. With so many top-shelf teams operating out of the San Diego YC boat park these days, there’s knowledge and sharing aplenty, says young La Dow.

“The fleet is really open these days and welcoming to new people that join the fleet. At the last event, Chris Busch (fleet captain) hosted a debrief with all the top guys and got them to share what’s working—all these different things that, in the past, would be very secretive among certain boats. It’s been democratized across the fleet to get the level up so there’s more competition and the racing is more challenging and enjoyable.”

The La Dow’s Second Wind is hull No. 985, is considered an older boat. “But the hull seems fast enough,” La Dow says. They’ve been working with local a local boat servicing company run by Chuck Eaton and Patrick Powell, which specializes in upgrading Etchells. They’ve add a jib in-hauler system, a mainsheet fine tune, a mast ram and shims and an above-deck adjustable forestay.

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“We’ve had to move quite a bit of hardware,” La Dow says. “It was a bit of work, but it’s done and ready to go.”

For the 2022 Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta in March, they will sail four-up, with La Dow’s longtime mate and multi-national champion Scott Sinks, as well as a pickup junior from the club.

Everyone was excited when the La Dows came back to the fleet and Will is doing his best to lure his peers and sailing buddies into the class. “It’s a really fun boat to sail,” he says. “It is kind of like a keelboat version of the Club 420 as far as driving it, and it’s fun to be able to get out of the small boats and do some open ocean racing.”

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