Family tradition runs deep at annual racing regatta
WALWORTH COUNTY—Rachel Beers recalls the excitement of sailing her MC-scow in the 2015 Inland Lake Yachting Association championship.
“We were sailing against some large men,” she said. “The waves were crashing over our deck. Our muscles were sore. We were in so much pain, but we were kicking butt.”
Eventually, officials called off the race because wind speeds were too high.
Beers, now 24, and her sailing partner never got a chance to finish the grueling competition.
But she will be on Geneva Lake in her 16-foot boat again during the association's five-day regatta Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 16-20.
Top yacht-racing skippers and crews from throughout the United States and the world will compete in the premier inland-lake sailing event.
The Lake Geneva Yacht Club at Fontana is hosting the gathering at the recently constructed Buddy Melges Sailing Center.
About 200 boats are expected in four classes.
The theme of the annual championship is family because many sailors in the Midwest have kept the sailing tradition alive through several generations.
Beers is no exception.
She is the fourth generation in her family to be passionate about sailing.
“I could never imagine my life without it,” she said. “I can't imagine the summer without it.”
Beers was 5 when she learned how to use the wind to propel a boat at the Delavan Lake Sailing School.
“Starting me early made sailing second nature,” she said. “The experience was very family oriented. Other sailing children are now some of my lifelong friends.”
Beers learned a lot from her father, Richard Beers of Delavan, who also will compete in the regatta.
“We will be sailing in two different boats,” Rachel Beers said. “We do a lot of collaboration with ideas and advice. It is really nice to have my father there. He is my rock and the one I go to when I am having problems.”
Richard Beers traces the family's love of racing to two great uncles. They took his father, Tom, sailing on Delavan Lake for the first time in 1916 when Tom was 4.
Tom and Richard's uncle, Syl, were competitive racers and sailed on a boat called “Two Beers.”
Their sailboat number was 42, which continues on the family's sails today.
Richard learned how to sail at the Delavan Lake Sailing School, where his brother was his first sailing instructor. As a youth, Richard crewed for different sailors and also sailed with his dad.
“There are a lot of things you learn when your family is devoted to sailboat racing,” Richard said. “You learn about taking care of a boat because parts are expensive. You learn about putting the sails away, and you make sure a boat is tied down so it doesn't blow away.”
He calls himself a mediocre competitive racer. He also points out the high degree of talent that turns out annually for the association's regatta, which represents some of the fastest mono-hull sailboats in the world.
A-Class and E-Class scows reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.
“When sailing against 40 other racers in this regatta, you are sailing against some of the finest and most experienced racers in the world,” Richard said. “Some of the yacht clubs that belong to the Inland Lake Yachting Association have sailed in the Olympics and won world championships.”
Competitors must come ready, well-practiced and mentally sharp, he explained.
“You have to know how to get the best wind,” Richard said. “The trick at the start of the race is to get clear air, not the air off someone else's sail or you can't go as fast as they do.”
He called racing skills “deep and competitive, but once we are off the race course, we are the best of friends, and friendships are intergenerational.”
He is proud of his family's racing tradition because of “the values you learn about being honest and competitive,” Richard said. “You learn how to be a fierce competitor, but you also learn how to be a loyal friend.”
Terry Blanchard, co-chairman of the regatta, explained that the Lake Geneva Yacht Club agreed to host the annual event for three consecutive years through 2017.
“We have a rotation of six different locations,” he said. “But Lake Geneva is the premier location. It's gorgeous. It's centrally located.”
The Lake Geneva Yacht Club is one of the oldest yacht clubs in the United States and was founded in the 1870s.
At 38 feet, Class-A scows are the biggest and fastest of the scows and have crews of up to seven.
“They are majestic and look like rocket ships on water,” Blanchard said. “They are incredible sights to see.”
Class-E scows are 28 feet long with crews of three to four. Class-C scows are 20 feet long with crews of two to three, and the MC-scow is 16 feet long with crews of one to two.
“It's all about the competition and winning,” Blanchard said. “It's all about being able to put together a team. It's the ultimate in competition. People don't realize how fast things happen on sailboats.”
Geneva Lake will remain open during the competition, which Blanchard called “quite a spectator event.”
“It is not unusual to have more spectators than we have people racing,” he said. “It is quite a show.”