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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Vikings sail away in Lake Whatcom

By Giovanni Roverso


A powerful gust of wind put a few worried frowns on peoples’ faces as the moored double-handed dinghies flapped loudly. But within minutes, the first race start sequence horn had already sounded, alerting the first group of competitors to start circling and pick up speed as the countdown began.

To their delight, the rain stopped as soon as the first group of sailors got out on the water at 11 a.m. to team race during the Jeff Mixdorf Memorial Regatta at the WWU Lakewood boathouse on Lake Whatcom, Sunday, Feb. 4.

Rather than team racing, the Jeff Mixdorf Memorial Regatta has historically been about fleet racing, where each sailboat competes independently on a linear circuit around two floats or pins. However, Western sailing club co-captain Carter Erickson said the goal this year was to get more experience before Northwest Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s Islands Team Race at Lopez Island from March 3-4.

Western student, in the left boat with green life jackets, compete in one of the ten Flying Junior races on Saturday, Feb. 3, on Lake Whatcom. // Photo by Giovanni Roverso

In order to include all 40 sailors, teams were either comprised of students from a single university or multiple universities. These included Western, the University of Puget Sound, the University of Washington, Oregon State University and the University of British Columbia.

Teams of three vs. three boats raced around a course marked by anchored orange pins. Both the start and finish lines were drawn between a pink start or dark orange finish pin.

The course type is called a Digital N, which is positioned to be square with the wind, senior Niki Alden said. Alden is in her third year sailing at the college level and also volunteers with the sailing team.

Depending on the direction of travel, sailors would have to make their way upwind or downwind, and around pins which served as choke points.

2018 Mixdorf Digital N team race regatta course. Each of two teams of three sailboats aim to cut off the other team’s boats and reach the finish line first with as many vessels as possible. Map courtesy of HERE Maps. // Drawing by Giovanni Roverso.

The first boat across the finish line gets one point, the second one gets two points and so on.

“It’s like golf, where you want to get the lowest score,” Alden said. “Your three boats are being scored together, so you need to make sure you get fewer points than the other team.”

Drew Enlers, an Oregon State University junior, was driving the finish line powerboat.  

“Sailing is all strategy, but this kind of racing is definitely more strategy than fleet racing,” Enlers said. “Here it’s pretty low-key. All these [participants] are somewhat new to this kind of racing.”

Alden said various strategies and rules can be employed to block or get in the way of the other team’s boats to get the upper hand. For example, a boat can count on right of way or block the wind of a competitor so that a teammate can get around them.

“You need really good boat handling skills because you have to put your boat where you need to, to help your teammates,” Alden said.

Western sailors in boats No. 2, 4 and 7, in pink life jackets, work together as a team in one of the Flying Junior races on Saturday, Feb. 3, on Lake Whatcom. // Photo by Giovanni Roverso

Hitting a boat or pumping the sails to keep moving when the wind dies down, she said, is considered a foul.

“If you foul someone else and that person calls a protest on you, the punishment is to do a 360 or 720 [degree turn], so that slows you down and people can pass you,” Alden said.

Two types of dinghies were used in alternation for each race, FJs and Alphas. FJs are common, lightweight and speedy, but fragile. The Lakewood boathouse is unique as it hosts the largest fleet of Alphas, which were designed as training vessels with thicker, more resilient hulls.

The previous day was a clinic day, dedicated to coaching by the more experienced sailors.

Alden said Western’s team is a sports club like many West Coast sailing teams and has limited funding, so it cannot employ a coach like teams from California or the East Coast do.

“It kind of sucks because we don’t have a coach, which means that we’re self-taught, but it’s also cool because everyone becomes really independent and good at interacting with each other on the water and being one other’s coaches,” she said. “So there’s really good communication and we’re just a big family here.”


  1. Kind of a bummer to have this article feature only pictures of UW sailors 🙁

    Fun Fact: Lakewood is the only boathouse to have Alphas, as they were designed by a Western Engineering grad. Up until this year, the regatta was called Alpha Worlds, but the name was changed recently to honor Jeff Mixdorf and his work.

    • Thanks for this comment, Alice! Our reporter sent us some photos of Western students to include, so we will get those up soon 🙂 Sorry we didn’t include those originally and thanks for reaching out!


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