The Western Challenge…As reported by Mr "T," Commodore of the NEIYA

Looks like the regatta season has begun!

The Western Challenge Regatta is an informal DN gathering that has been going on for ten years or so- traditionally held the first weekend in December on the best ice in Minnesota… Yes, Minnesota. It’s a big state a little to the west of here.

The lure of early ice is hard to ignore and for years some of us have talked about going but balked at the last minute. A few years back I gave it a shot and drove solo from Indiana to Battle Lake, MN only to run a stop sign and total my trusty Chevy Astro about two miles from the lake. So close and yet….

This year would be different- Eben Whitcomb and I swore up and down that this would be the year and didn’t let each other forget it. Soon Chad Atkins and Oliver Moore succumbed to the pressure and signed on and Bob Crinion from Nova Scotia (It’s a big province a little to the east of here) decided he couldn’t miss it either. Now THAT is commitment!

And so it was that we all met up in Newport RI and loaded up and hit the proud highway last week. Two cars, two trailers, and of course no clear destination. We had faith that the powers-that-be out there would find a site…. In spite of dire forecasts for snow and debilitating cold. We stopped in Toledo to try to convince Kent Baker to drag himself and the rest of the Toledo hardcore gang out but they elected to stay put and sail on closer ice in Houghton Lake. I would be remiss if I did not point out here that he and they missed all the fun. Your transgression has been noted, Mr. Baker…. We’re not mad, just disappointed.

A few hours later we were in Lacrosse, WI, ready to sail the next day on a lake that I think was called Onalaska Lake. A wide spot on the mighty Mississippi. This water is destined to be muddy and warm and carved up by barges and paddlewheelers as it makes it’s way to the Big Easy and beyond into the bayou and Gulf of Mexico but for now it was crystallized into a sheet of smooth black ice that made the drive worth it.

Our trek may have been long but there was one sailor from Siberia, a few from Montana, and at least one Cloggie, a Swede, an ex-pat Pole, and a few of Bob’s countrymen from Canuckistan who traveled quite a distance to get there!

Friday dawned COLD and with enough breeze to bend masts and shake the dust off the boats and brains. Scratch racing was fun- lots of two-lappers knocked off and some good lessons learned. Saturday conditions were pretty light for the morning but when the breeze kicked in later in the day we got two races off- yours truly was tied for the lead at the end of the day with a 3-2 but I have to point out that the second place was freaking distant…. Our own Chad Atkins had his new CSI 4.1 mast dialed in well enough to win that one by almost an entire leg. Not bad but sadly we don’t award bonus points for distance…

On Sunday we had snow and light wind- always hate to see ice that nice get covered but so it goes… Your author had to eat a 13th or something but Chad and Oliver sailed well as did Eben and Bob- All in all Team NEIYA put on a good show and for once no one needed to be bailed out, dry-ed out, or dragged out. That said Bob may have been a bit traumatized by some of Chad and Oliver’s rhetoric but they have free health care up there, he’ll be OK I think. On the other hand he did bolt out of Newport pretty quickly when we got back….

Great to see all the gang from the middle and western parts of the country and rip up the lake for a few days- awesome way to start the season! PUT THIS ONE ON YOUR LIST FOR NEXT YEAR!! A long ride but well worth it…. As usual. Gold and Silver fleets, good racing for all skill levels, great sailing with fun people.

Many thanks as always to the people who made it happen- Wish I knew who the hell they all were! Names like Dennis, McDonough, Jankowski, Whitehorse, Bloom, and several others come to mind- Big apologies if I missed you-

Stay tuned for the next big one and be sure to have a look at for results, reports, and pics!

Think Ice!
DN US 5224
James “T” Thieler
Newport, RI 02840