Sailors find competition, camaraderie on Great Salt Lake
Published: July 24, 2013 10:22PM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:36PM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Members of the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club motor out of the marina to get into position for the Wednesday night Regatta at the Great Salt Lake Wednesday July 17, 2013.

Great Salt Lake • The men and women of the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club call themselves the “World’s Saltiest Sailors,” and a visit to their clubhouse at Great Salt Lake State Marina shows that they take their sailing seriously, if not their nickname.

The trophy case in the clubhouse, which is filled with hardware bearing names like the Governor’s Plate, the Utah Trophy and the Founder’s Cup, is proof that sailing on the Great Salt Lake is a sport, and a competitive one at that.

But a visit to the marina on a Wednesday night during the summer also proves that these sailors put as much emphasis on the word “club” in their title as they do the word “yacht.”

“It’s an incredible community,” said Bob Derby, co-owner of Red Stripe. “You have people from all classes — guys that can afford new boats every year and guys that can’t afford a new sail.”

“We like to have fun,” said Randy Atkin, the other owner of Red Stripe, who became so smitten with sailing while on a trip to Maui 13 years ago that he came home and joined the GSLYC. “We try to be competitive, but we also come out here with our daughters to spend time with them.”

Atkin and Derby raced Red Stripe last week as part of the Wednesday Night Trophy Series, which features races nearly every Wednesday from May 1 through Sept. 3.

There are other races throughout the year, including eight weekend regattas — two each in the spring, summer, fall and winter — as well as other trophy and cup races.

Boats compete in different fleets against other boats with similar capabilities. There also is a rating system, much like a golfer’s handicap, so results are based as best as possible on the captain and crew members’ ability to sail and not on the deficiency of a certain boat.

Atkin and Derby raced Red Stripe with their adult daughters as crew members last Wednesday, finishing in a good position to keep their third-place spot in the season rankings.

And while they were there to have a good time, they also were excited to scour the final results after the race, calculating how many points they would need to make up to catch the boats ahead of them in the standings.

“It gets pretty cutthroat,” said Dave Shearer, the harbormaster at the Great Salt Lake State Marina and member of the GSLYC.

On this particular Wednesday night, Shearer and his crew, Ryan Schilder and Mike Bohannan, were acting as the committee boat — their anchored boat and a buoy marked the starting line and finish line, and they were responsible for recording the finishing times.

“It can get pretty serious,” Schilder added while explaining that in close races, boats sometimes will be inches apart as they fight for position.

Twenty minutes after he described how intense the races can be, the boats Empty Space and Hard Drive crashed, which Shearer and Schilder said is very rare.

The race lasted less than an hour, with the boats sailing from west to east against the wind before circling a buoy and returning with the wind at their backs. Depending on the strength of the wind, sometimes the course will feature two loops around the buoy.

The club also holds endurance races that can last more than 24 hours, and the sailors insist that winning is important to them. But the GSLYC also is an excuse to have fun. They sail for a few hours then come back to shore and tell stories, laugh with friends and have a drink. It is a club in the truest sense of the term.

After last Wednesday’s race, the boats’ captains and crews gathered for more than an hour to socialize. Loud cheers went up as the winners for that night’s races were revealed and received their trophies — wine glasses with the GSLYC logo.

Derby’s insight into the different classes of sailors that are part of the club was on full display: While some sailors drank Budweiser and ate tortilla chips, others shared glasses of wine while passing around an assortment of cheeses.

The sailors of the GSLYC are diverse — they are young and old, male and female — but it is being on the water as well as the technical ability that is required to captain one of these boats that binds these sailors.

“When you sail out, you leave a trail of black karma behind you,” Derby said. “It’s relaxing, it’s enjoyable. We sail all the time. We’ve sailed on New Year’s Day. There’s usually just one or two boats on hundreds of square miles of water.”

As the gathering started to break up and sailors started heading home, the conversation among the remaining sailors turned toward the trophy case in the clubhouse and the prizes inside the case. The Founder’s Cup, which is named for GLSYC founder David Lazarus Davis, who established the club May 10, 1877, along with the other trophies are awarded at an annual banquet, usually held at a downtown hotel ballroom.

“It’s the only time you’ll see all of us dressed up,” Ryan Schilder said.

The men wear suits and the women gowns for the special event. Even though it’s a social club, it’s still the racing that brings them together.

“It’s not the San Diego Yacht Club,” Derby said, “but at the end of the day, it’s still sailing.”

Hitting the water

• The Great Salt Lake Yacht Club was founded in 1877 by David Lazarus Davis. It is the third oldest yacht club west of the Mississippi River after the San Francisco and Santa Barbara Yacht clubs, according to yachtclub.com.

• Scoring for races is simple: one point is awarded for first place, two points for second place, etc. Points are added to a team’s season score for not participating in a race, so participation is critical.

• There are races planned for every Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. through Sept. 3. Races also are planned for Aug. 10 and 31 as well as Sept. 1 and 28. The race schedule is available at gslyc.org.