You may have noticed how much of the enthusiasm for this event is about the venue. The sailing conditions and shoreside setup are ideal, which Carl Buchan highlights in his Welcome Letter and others have celebrated at length, including Jonathan McKee in this interview for CGRA. The breeze is consistently in the windy but not scary range, the weather is good, the river is warm (by our standards), the current goes upwind quickly, and the downwind-launch beach is just a few minutes’ easy sail from the racecourse.
The event will be held at the Cascade Locks Marine Park, which includes the rigging and launching beach as well as acres of space to park your car, relax on green grass under the shade of tall trees, de-brief the racing at the in-park brewery, even spend the night in your campervan. The graphic below shows the overall setup. Boats are stored on or near the beach, trailers and cars parked a short walk away. There is a small marina near the beach and a launch ramp nearby. In town, a small grocery store can replenish your snacks or drinks supply.
At the beach area, there is no clubhouse or permanent restroom facilities, just a shed for race committee storage plus porta-potties and running water. Sailors and family usually carry a lawn chair and a cooler or lunchbox for the day when arriving at the beach in the morning, lest they
Aeros rounding the leeward mark with the Sternwheeler river cruise boat and the Washington shore in the background.
have to make too many laps back to the car (save your legs for hiking). You will be relieved that the wind usually waits until it is nearly time to launch to pick up for the day, so you don’t see many sailors heading out early to tune up.
This is all great, but wait til you get on the river! The racecourse will hug the south, or Oregon, side of the river, leaving the north side for commercial navigation, consisting of barges that will run you over. The current flushes upwind, which might require some recalibration of your starting instruments, particularly in lighter morning breeze. Many days, the pin end will see some competition among sailors racing to the first left shift off the Oregon shore, but stronger current and typically higher breeze on the right side of the course keeps start lines balanced. The middle of the beat brings opportunities to pass and be passed, with differences in wind speed between puffs and lulls making judgments between shifts and velocity tricky. The windward mark might see a big left shift or a big right shift, so consolidating on your group before the crucial last shift is important.
Downwind, well, take off your fleece hat and maybe have a sip of water. It’s going to be a while; the race has just begun. Miracle puffs can sometimes roll in unannounced over the hill by the launch beach, but many skippers have been caught hoping for this while a steady puff down the middle of the course sends a whole pack ahead of them. This pack, riding the glory of the puff down the middle of the course, might get caught up in the thrill of the last pass and decide to dig deeper to the middle of the river, frothing as they surf bigger waves stacking up against the faster water. The problem might come when they find that fast water still pushes against their foils when the gust passes, perhaps right as they need to consolidate their lead; here the patience of the Oregon-side sailor may pay off, sailing shorter distance and in less current, with a puff or two to merge just back ahead of middle-river thrill-seekers. The breeze strength and wave height increase as you sail downwind past the RC boat. By the time the yellow trapezoid is within reach, you’ll find your mainsheet a bit heavier, the waves a bit steeper, and your arms a bit thinner than you believed last week. So get that vang on, assess the damage, and enjoy the river!
The host organization, Columbia Gorge Racing Association (CGRA) is a small non-profit dedicated to running excellent small-boat regattas, among them national, North American, and world championships in multiple dinghy and small keelboat classes. Twenty-five years of hard work from their volunteers have transformed Cascade Locks from a favorite “bush regatta” spot to the world-class venue that you will see next summer.
The sailing venue is adjacent to a commercial shipping channel highly traveled by large barges with limited sightlines and maneuverability. The shipping channel is on the north side of the river, and the courses will not be set in the channel, but sailors must use extreme caution not to sail into the channel when commercial traffic is nearby. The Sailing Instructions will likely include provisions for penalties for boats whose behavior solicits warning horns from barge traffic.