Sails are a familiar sight on Alta Lake these days, but it's safe to say that there's never been as many sailboats on the lake as we'll see this weekend when the Whistler Sailing Association (WSA) plays host to a provincial circuit event for three classes of boats — Optimist, Laser and 420.
Competitors will be between the ages of eight and 18, battling for the opportunity to be selected to compete for B.C. at the national and international level.
The WSA will be fielding up to 10 skippers from their Whistler Sailing Race Team. Already signed on to race are Nicola McDonald, brothers Ren, Neo and Leo Bennett, and Severin Nielsen.
The boats will tack and steer a course around buoys put in place for Ironman training, and races will be visible from all the parks around the lake, including Lakeside, Rainbow and Blueberry. Saturday's racing starts at noon, and Sunday's at 11 a.m.
Other swimmers and water users are asked to stay clear of the course markers.
According to head coach Francois Hebert, there will be between 25 and 30 boats in the water for each heat, starting with the younger racers in Optimist boats. The sailors will leave in a mass start from an area at Rainbow Park, and track around the buoys in whatever direction that the wind dictates.
"From the start they usually go upwind to the first buoy to what we call a windward mark, and then head back downwind to the downwnd mark and back to the start, and they usually do two laps of the course," he explained.
The races aren't timed, but boats are ranked according to their position according to a scoring system that Hebert said is like golf, in which the lowest score wins after four races. For example, a sailor who placed first, second, first and second in the four races would finish with six points in total.
Hebert said the event will likely be an annual thing for the association, one of eight regular races on the BC Circuit.
His athletes have not been able to travel to other events this season, but last year a few of the more experienced kids that joined the club when it was resurrected in 2008 managed to finish in the top 10 at a few races.
"The Whistler kids are a little less experienced than the average, although we do have three members that have been sailing for about three years now and have provincial experience. I'd expect seven to 10 athletes from Whistler to compete, five of which have experience and the other five of which will be competing for the first time ever."
If all goes well, Heberts says the WSA could host additional events and classes of boats in the future.
For more information on the WSA, including "Learn to Sail" courses with certified instructors for all ages, "Learn to Race" clinics for Optimist and Laser boats, and other clinics, visit www.whistlersailing.com.
The club is based at The Point, the former site of the Whistler Hostel.
Alta Lake was once a popular spot for sailing and windsurf races, but the old organization faded away after the 1980s, only to be brough back by avid sailors in 2008.
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