It's a surreal feeling to be in the middle of the mountains, thousands of miles from the ocean and 8,000 feet above sea level, in a sailboat.
But the number of sails dotting Steamboat Lake is slowly increasing, thanks to transplants from the coasts and Great Lakes who refuse to admit they are landlocked.
This weekend, a group of small-boat sailors from Steamboat, the Front Range and as far away as Kansas City will meet for its annual celebration of the sport with two days of racing on Steamboat Lake.
The 2003 Steamboat Scow Boys Regatta begins at noon Saturday and Sunday; registration will take place from 9 to 10 a.m. each day.
"Lake sailing is more difficult (than ocean sailing)," race organizer and sailor Harv Holtzman said. "You can't count on any steady wind.
"But sailing is sailing and there is nothing prettier than sailing at Steamboat Lake. It's one of the most drop-dead gorgeous places you can go, and I love to see sails together with the sparkling water and a mountain backdrop. It's hard to get the smile off your face."
The race is sponsored by New Belgium Brewery with support from Steamboat Lake Marina president Dave Papini.
The regatta is limited to 16-foot MC scows, single-design, flat-bottomed, inland-lake sailboats, which are gaining popularity in the area. In theory, if all boats are equal, the race will be won not by the craft but by the skill of the sailor.
Most participants will be racing alone, Holtzman said.
"If it's a very light wind, you want to keep your weight down," he said.
The races will follow a windward/leeward course, with the boats racing upwind and downwind around two buoys.
It's a sight to behold, 12 boats tacking against each other, trying to be on the faster part of the course, Holtzman said.
Several local sailors will compete, including Jeff and Karen Simon, Frank and Terri Smith, and Russ and Terry VandeVelde.
"Steamboat Lake is not a place we race around a lot," Holtzman said. "Usually we just plop ourselves out there and try to look for different birds -- blue herons, sandhill cranes, a bald eagle. You see some amazing things. With a sail, you don't make any noise, so you can come 50 yards from shore and not disturb the wildlife."
A 16-foot boat is perfect for Steamboat Lake, he said: "If you put a big boat in Steamboat Lake, you're out of place.
"We like to encourage people's sensitivity to the place and to keeping the lake pristine by being as low impact as possible. That's the idea behind sailing."
For more information about the 2003 Steamboat Scow Boys Regatta, call Harv Holtzman at 879-5750.
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