I admit, I was a skeptic. When the Chicago Vanguard 15 fleet announced it would host an event in mid-May, I thought it was too soon. Despite the fact that the V15 is a two-person boat, so crew size is limited, getting a group of boats together seemed risky. The series was to take place over three consecutive Saturdays on Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, Indiana. A two-hour drive southeast of Chicago, I also thought it was farther than anyone would want to travel for a day of sailing.
However, as more details were released, I decided it was an event I didn’t want to miss. Organized by V15 fleet captain and class president, Meghan O’Rourke, and hosted by Sail22, the regatta would feature on-the-water coaching by Dave Gerber, of the Chicago YC. Sail22’s Ed Furry would take drone footage, which would be used for post-sailing debriefs. Finn Elliott, of MarkSetBot, would provide his automated marks to reduce the number of volunteers needed.
Safety precautions were put in place, including the recommendation that—when possible—teams be comprised of participants that are either family members or sheltering in place together. Teams were to maintain social distance during time spent on shore, and all events were held outside. Participants were instructed to bring their own food and drinks. Post-regatta pizza was served with a side of hand sanitizer and specific instruction to sanitize your hands, pick up your pizza, and move away from the food station. During racing, support boats were limited to two people per boat and comprised of either co-workers or family members.
Seven teams traveled from Chicago to Culver for the first of the three week series. Conditions were ideal with temperatures in the 70s and winds from 5 to 12 knots. The shifty, inland lake wind direction kept all participants on their toes. While boats launched, Gerber conducted sailing drills to help participants shake off the rust from the winter. Once all boats were present in the starting area, racing commenced, with seven great races scored before the fleet returned to shore. Between races, Gerber gave additional coaching to the racers.
Back on shore, boats were de-rigged in proper social distancing fashion, and everyone headed to the Sail22 farm for a post-race chalk-talk by Gerber and Furry. A projector was placed inside the doors of a barn, and participants sat outside on benches where everyone could spread out. During the presentation, Gerber made excellent use of wood planks on the barn door to illustrate ladder rungs of the race course.
On the following Wednesday, a Zoom call was held to review video and drone footage, and give a more in-depth post-sailing review. The call was open to anyone, so those who didn’t race were able to benefit from the information.
During the course of the following weekends, the plan was to have Furry and his team at Sail22 moved the boats back and forth to the lake from the farm, where they are stored during the week. The fleet is split into two groups and meet in separate locations. Boats are placed in designated spots, six feet apart, so sailors maintain their distance while rigging. Launching happens in pre-assigned groups, and on-the-water drills are conducted during the launching process. Zoom debriefs would continue during the week, with guests experts, including Andy Camarda, of Evolution Sails, leading the discussions. Boats are encouraged to record their tracks into a GPX file, to be used during the presentation.
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The series is an example of making the best of a bad situation, and innovations that can result when the status quo is forced to change. Being able to escape the stress of our current reality was a breath of fresh air. The event is shaping up to be an extraordinary series under normal conditions, and even more valued with the current circumstances.
While Chicago harbors are closed, and the health concerns of racing with a large crew on a keelboat, the Vanguard 15 and Laser fleets are the only two fleets currently racing in Chicago. It looks like 2020 is a great year for centerboard boats in Chicago. Then again, that is no different from any other year.