Sailing the Blue Chip Regatta

01 August 2008
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Published in Lifestyle
Invitations to participate in the Blue Chip are only extended to the best of the best.

When the weather is just right,crisp white sails glide across Pistakee Lake, the southernmost lake in the Chain O’Lakes, as members of the Pistakee Yacht Club (PYC) take to the water to hone their sailing skills. They are often sailing for pleasure, but they also practice for and participate in one of the many weekend races held by the PYC. While all the races are competitive, none is more so than the annual Blue Chip Regatta.

The Blue Chip Regatta was started in 1960 by the late John Looze, then Rear Commodore of the PYC. He, along with Drs. Alex and Ralph Pomierski, agreed to underwrite any losses and donate any profits to the club if allowed to hold the first invitational, championship regatta. The race was held as a post-season finale with only the best sailors of Class C scows competing by invitation.

A Class C scow is a flat-bottomed racing boat with a square bow, developed in the early 1900s for racing on inland lakes. It has a single sail 20 feet high and is sailed by a crew of two. Occasionally, a third crew member may be used if there is a strong wind. During competition, third crew members travel on judges’ or spectators’ boats.

"Once I was asked to sail as the third crew member in the Blue Chip," said Cheryl Twomey, who has been sailing since she was a child. "I was floating on clouds—that was the greatest thing that could happen to me."

Invitations to participate in the Blue Chip are only extended to the best of the best. Winners of the National Regatta in Lake Geneva and the Inland Yachting Association’s August Regatta are invited along with top sailors from inland yacht clubs. Participants come from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan and, sometimes, New York and Texas. About 25 boats participate. Until 1997, a special committee of five known as the "Fearsome Fivesome" picked the most worthy sailors to participate. The identity of the committee members has remained a secret known only by Looze.

In addition to the known sailors there is always a mystery guest, a well-known sailor who has earned a reputation as a top sailor in another sailing class. Chuck Peterson often lends the mystery guest his boat to compete against the best Midwest Class C scow sailors. John Jennings of St. Petersburg, Florida, was the 2007 mystery guest. In 2006, John Lovell had the honor. Lovell will compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Other well-known mystery guests include Bud Melges who won an Olympic gold medal in 1972, and Ted Turner, who successfully defended the America’s Cup in the 1970s.

More Than a Sailing Competition

While sailing is the focus of the Blue Chip, it is not the only activity of the weekend. On Friday, after all the visiting scows have been launched into the bay, taken a trial run and returned to the PYC’s piers—the fun begins. As is tradition, volunteers from the neighbor-ing Cedar Lake Yacht Club serve a pork chop and corn roast.

"What makes this dinner unique is the lack of forks and knives," said Jim Huemann. "All must be eaten using your hands. We go through lots of napkins." He also notes that quite a bit of beer helps to wash it all down.

The races begin Saturday morning. As long as the weather cooperates, the scows unfurl their sails, head out to the open Pistakee Lake and take their place at the starting line. Three races are planned for Saturday and two for Sunday, but this may be reversed if the wind does not cooperate. Chuck Peterson, a longtime club member, said, "Too much or too little wind will cause a race to be canceled."

Spectators watch the race on the lake by staking out a spot that will not interfere with the racecourse. Most of the spectator boats are other sailors or people interested in sailing. Former PYC Commodore, Catherine Boettcher, only the second woman to hold the position in the 111 years of the club’s existence, finds the Blue Chip weekend an exciting time even for those not sailing in the race.

A professional racing official judges the races. Sandy Sundberg, a member of the Long Lake Yacht Club, has been the chief official for the past several years. He is aided by five helpers stationed around the lake to observe the boats as they complete the course.

After an exhausting and exhilarating day on the water, rest is not in sight for these sailors. On Saturday night, a steak dinner is traditionally held for participants and yacht club members. In the early days, it was a more formal affair, with suits or nautical sports jackets being the appropriate attire. Today, the club takes the business casual approach and requires sport shirts rather than suits.

The real excitement occurs after dinner, when the sailor who is in last place must perform the "bar walk." To the tune of suggestive music, the bar walker struts the length of the PYC bar and exposes their

undergarments. Most competitors come prepared with ornate boxers with their yacht club logo emblazoned on them. The walker must kiss the mermaid hanging above the bar. After many years of bar walks, it has become necessary to reinforce the bar.

After the completion of the Sunday races, lunch is served, followed by the final event of the weekend - the awards ceremony. Large silver trophies are passed out. Last year, Augie Barkow and crew member Jeff Niedziela of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, won the Blue Chip Regatta just as he had done the previous year. The Blue Chip Regatta will be held September 12-14 on Pistakee Lake. Visit www.sailpistakee.com  or call 815-385-9871 for more information.