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Annual boat races coming to lake

SETTING SAIL The Inland Lake Yachting Association Championship regatta will take place Aug. 11 to 21 at the Lake Geneva Yachting Club, Fontana. Nearly 200 racers of all ages will compete in the largest races of the year in the area. Here's a schedule: Aug. 11 - registration, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 12, 13, 14 - E and MC scow races, first races at 10 a.m. Aug. 15, 16, 17 - A scows. Aug. 19, 20, 21 - C scows.
August 11, 2010 | 08:42 AM
Fontana — There's nothing like the picturesque beauty of Geneva Lake.

The warm sun beating down. The waves allowing boats to glide along comfortably. Drinking a refreshing beverage surrounded by loved ones.

But then, all of a sudden, 60 boats are in your back pocket, poised to race up to speeds of 60 miles per hour in the spirit of competition.

This is just one of the scenarios likely to happen starting Thursday during the Inland Lake Yachting Association Championship regatta, an 11-day event featuring nearly 200 racers from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and more.

ILYA Executive Secretary Jim Smith, Lake Geneva, is co-chairing this year's event. He said it will involve four classes, an A, C, E and MC scow.

Smith said it is an excellent race.

"There is no money, it is just amateur competition," he said. "But the winners receive prestigious trophies that date back to the early 1900s. They are perpetual trophies, so winners get their names engraved then have to give them back the next year."

The A scow is the largest and longest boat (38 feet) and has a flat bottom and a blunt nose. It's designed for inland waters. The next largest boat is the E scow at 28 feet, followed by the C (20) and MC (16). While up to seven or eight people will man the A scow during a race, only one or two will run the MC.

While racers are welcome from all over the Midwest for registration Aug. 11 and the competition from Aug. 12 to 21, some locals are champions in the A scow.

Last year, the race took place on Green Lake in Ripon, where Andy Burdick, Fontana, and Terry Blanchard, Williams Bay, won the A scow. Blanchard owns the boats and sailed it, and Burdick was the skipper. They will be back to defend their crown this year.

There's plenty of family tradition in the race as well. Buddy Melges, a Zenda native who has won America's Cup and a Gold and Bronze medal in the Olympics, will compete in the event along with his son, Harry. Even at 80 years old, Buddy is young at heart.

"He's a fierce competitor," Smith said of Buddy. "You bet your butt that he'll be looking to win."

Smith anticipates about 160 boats to participate this year, and it is the area's largest racing event.

The course will begin with a boat taking off between another boat and a buoy and racing a mile, then turning around and coming right back. Smith said this could happen anywhere from two to two and a half times.

"In today's racing, boats are the most tactical in what we call a 'swimming pool lap,'" he said. "The best way is just down and back. Triangular courses used to be more popular."

A long history

Smith has been sailing since he was 8 years old, and he has been the executive secretary of the ILYA for 31 years.

While he will be too busy to race this year, he believes Geneva Lake is the perfect place for such a celebration of racing.

"Geneva Lake is a wonderful body of water for the racing we do," Smith said. "It's big enough to have a large fleet and not be cramped for space. People love coming here. Anyone with a legal scow can participate."

Smith added that the public is free to watch the event, but he suggested being on a boat for a closer look.

"We encourage spectators in boats to keep their distance from the race and not make big waves," he said.

Smith said the benefits to the event can last forever.

"Racing is what people come for," he said. "People also establish lifelong friendships. It's a family sport. People know each other from different generations. It's a great time to socialize. Not everyone can win."

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