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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Geneva Lake site of speed this weekend

By Mike Heine/The Week

Six inches from the ice and cruising at 100 mph... No, there really isn't anything else like ice boating.

"It's like sailing on steroids," said Steve Schlak, a member of the Northwest Ice Yachting Association race committee.

Friday through Sunday, Geneva Lake will host the Northwest Ice Yachting Association regatta. It's one of the oldest ice boating regattas in the world, dating back to the late 1800s.

"The Northwest is the granddaddy of them all," said soft water and hard water sailing legend Buddy Melges, of Zenda.

Organizers expect between 85 and 120 boats with racers from throughout the upper Midwest.

Each day will feature about eight races, with four separate classes of iceboats, Schlak said.

Three classes will feature boats with front-steering blades and one set of races will include the older, stern-steered boats. The four kinds of stern-controlled boats will all race together, Schlak said.

Races will consist of four laps along a 2-mile course. Racers will have to circle around markers placed a mile apart.

Geneva Lake is holding the event because it has the best adequate ice available in the Midwest right now, Schlak said.

"It's definitely not the best, but we've sailed on worse," he said. "It will be rough on some of the smaller boats, but no problem for some of the stern steerers."

Melges said things would be slower, and a little rough, "but I don't think it will affect the performance of the boats. I still think you'll see some of them doing their tricks at 70 to 80 mph."

The races are free to watch, but bring your binoculars.

Schlak suspects he'll set up the course between Conference Point (the southwestern tip of Williams Bay), the Geneva Lake Yacht Club along South Lake Shore Drive and the village of Fontana.

The pit area will be along the Fontana beach.

Spectators can venture onto the ice, but will need to keep a safe distance away. Boats can go out of control.

Racing speeds on this kind of ice will still average between 30 mph to 60 mph or faster, depending on wind speed, Schlak said.

No matter the conditions, you can bet Melges, 78, will be on the ice and in the race.

"You get 20 mph of wind and you're capable of (reaching) 100 mph. Under sail, it's pretty amazing. It's a blast," he said.

Race Information

-- Friday-11 a.m. until complete

-- Saturday-10 a.m. until complete

-- Sunday-10 a.m. until complete

Each class will have five races and racers will compete in heats. Championship races will be on Sunday. An all-winners race featuring the weekend's top performers will end the event.

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