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Thursday, 13 August 2015 15:14

Lake Geneva Yacht Club hosts 2015 ILYA championship regatta

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Brian Porter on his way to winning the Melges 24 Nationals last weekend with Andy Burdick, Sam Rogers and Mike Woodworth. They’ll join other top sailors competing this week on Geneva Lake in the Inland Lake Yachting Association championship regatta. Racing begins Wednesday, Aug. 19. Brian Porter on his way to winning the Melges 24 Nationals last weekend with Andy Burdick, Sam Rogers and Mike Woodworth. They’ll join other top sailors competing this week on Geneva Lake in the Inland Lake Yachting Association championship regatta. Racing begins Wednesday, Aug. 19. Inland Lake Yachting Association photo

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Brian Porter credits two men for influencing him and his life the most. The first was his late father, Bob, who moved the family from Elgin, Illinois, to Walworth County.

“Our dad never was a great (yacht) racer, but he loved sailing,” said Porter, 57, who is a 1976 Big Foot High School graduate. “My older brother, John, and I were four years apart, but we always were close, and we have been out on the water here since we were kids because of our father.

“The club made him a trophy once because he tipped over five times and still finished the race,” Porter said with a chuckle. “Like I said, Dad wasn’t much of a racer, but he loved the water and moved us up here.”

Porter’s other influence? None other than Harry C. “Buddy” Melges, who’s 85 and still going strong.

“We grew up watching Buddy winning Olympic medals,” Porter said. “He took us under his wing. He created that passion for sailing in so many people. We got to see him when he was at his best, and we got to race with him and against him. Every day he told us what we did wrong, and he’s still doing that. I wouldn’t have been able to travel the world and accomplish what I have without him. Buddy is a true icon and has been an inspiration to me and many others.”

So much so that Porter has become a five-time Inland Lake Yachting Association titlist and Melges 24 world champion, adding the U.S. Yachtsman of the Year award in 2013.

He and many Lake Geneva Yacht Club members have competed nationally and internationally. However, not many venues compare to what they can offer at home on Geneva Lake.

The Lake Geneva Yacht Club’s world-class facilities, including the new Buddy Melges Sailing Center, will be the epicenter of the nation’s yachting community from Wednesday, Aug. 19, through Sunday, Aug. 23, when it hosts the ILYA’s annual championship regatta, five days of racing that will feature nearly 900 sailors and 250 boats from 30 clubs nationwide.

Class A, C, E, MC and Melges 17 scow design yachts will compete for top honors in their respective fleets, a tradition since 1898. And area racers and organizers can’t think of a better place to hold such a prestigious event and celebrate the sport of sailing.

“I’ve competed in Australia, Europe and all over North America, and this has to be in the top three of four places,” said Andy Burdick, a 25-time ILYA champion who has worked at Melges Boat Works in Zenda since 1986 and moved to Lake Geneva in 1990. “This place is great logistically and socially, and we have a great new facility. I don’t think you can find a more beautiful setting, so we’re fortunate to have such a body of water.”

Taking on such a venture isn’t new to the club. This is the 15th championship it has hosted, but first since 2010. However, it’s the first time it can boast about the new sailing center -- which also includes the Geneva Lake Sailing School -- named for the two-time America’s Cup winning skipper and 14-time ILYA champ.

If that isn’t enough, the ILYA regatta returns to Geneva Lake in 2016 and 2017, the first time the event has been awarded to the same club three years in a row.

F. Terrance Blanchard said the Lake Geneva Yacht Club couldn’t be happier to showcase its history, facilities and venue for spectators and competitors.

“This gives us a chance to show off everything we’ve done here,” said Blanchard, who is finishing his second year as club commodore. “I don’t think there’s any question that we have the highest quality facility and one of the best in the ILYA. We go to Madison, Minnetonka (Minn.) and Green Lake … there aren’t many places that can host this type of regatta. We have the food and beverages onsite, we have the new sailing center and we have the gorgeous lakefront, all of which gives us a huge advantage.”

That list includes some of the sport’s biggest names, many of them with Walworth County ties, such as Buddy Melges, Harry Melges III, Burdick and Porter. And then there’s Stephanie Roble of East Troy, the 2014 Yachtswoman of the Year.

Olympic medalists and national and collegiate champions also are scheduled to compete in what is considered the top one-design sailboat regatta in the U.S. and represents some of the fastest mono-hull sailboats in the world.

The regatta will determine the top scow racers in five classes of yachts: A (38 feet long), E (28 feet), C (20 feet), MC (16 feet) and Melges 17 (17 feet).

While most eyes will be on these sleek racing machines and those who hope to bring the hardware home, Blanchard said there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes that makes such an event even possible.

“We’ve been meeting every six to eight weeks since October,” said Blanchard, regatta co-chairman. “We have multiple committees in each area. The two main aspects are one, everything that happens out on the course, and two, the logistics, such as getting everybody on and off the water and where they store their boats, plus all of the coordination with sponsors and the many social events like dinners, entertainment and activities for the kids.”

Still, Blanchard said the time and energy involved are well worth it, and the club is proud to host the event, which also should be a boon to the area’s economy.

“This is a huge deal … we’ll have a few hundred boats competing and we’ll have 450 people at Saturday’s main dinner,” he said. “Our only issue is that we don’t have great on-water storage, but people love sailing here. And it should be a big deal for the economy in the lakes area.”

And racers such as Porter and Burdick, who won a Melges 24 national title together last weekend in Oregon, are effusive in their praise of and never take for granted what they’ve accomplished because of the great venue and facilities.

“It’s fortunate that we finally have this new facility because this is one of the nicest clubs in the country,” Porter said. “Geneva Lake is so unique, and it has produced such great sailors, including Buddy Melges and Jane (Wiswell) Pegel, who was fabulous and considered the best female racer ever. This is such a great place and draw. This event is a great feather in our cap.”

Burdick agreed, adding that he loves the competition, but many more intangible things are what he cherishes about the place and the sport.

“It’s just the love of yachting and getting outside and on the water,” Burdick said. “I started at a young age and got good at it, but it’s more than the competition. It’s more about the social aspects and getting together with family and friends. It’s a great sport, and it’s a lifetime sport, so I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of it.”

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