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Destination Gorge

With North American Laser Championships in town through this weekend, Cascade Locks is highlighted as world-class sailing destination

— Big-time sailing action is in Cascade Locks this week as the town host the 2012 Laser North American Championship from July 19-22. The continental championship is held in a different place each year and is in Cascade Locks for the first time in its history.

“We have about 160 racers, which in numbers is the biggest regatta we have ever hosted,” said Bill Symes, Columbia Gorge Racing Association president. “This race is the premier laser championship on the continent, and we’re thrilled to have it in Cascade Locks.”

To kick off the four days of racing and give brave sailors a preview of the local waters, CGRA held its annual blowout race from Cascade Locks to Hood River on Tuesday. For unseasoned Gorge sailors the combination of variable winds, strong currents and rough waters proved to be a true test of their skills.

Out of the 34 racers, first place went to Chris Barnard, 2012 U.S. College Sailor of the year. Bernard finished the 18-mile downwinder in 2:49:50, followed about a minute behind by Robert Davis of Canada.

“I came up here to do the North Americans and have heard about the legendary Blowout,” Bernard said. “I thought it’d be really fun to do a great warm-up event.”

Along with making the most of light winds at the start followed by staying in control of very strong winds the last leg, stronger than normal currents for this time of year proved to be a deciding factor in determining the top competitors.

“I did my best to stay in shallow water while staying in the breeze,” Bernard said of his strategy. “I had a bit of rough start for the first half and managed to grind my way back to get a hold on the lead about half way down the first run. There was a group of five of us dialed into the shore; they went back into the channel and I hugged the shore for a bit longer. Within about five minutes I had about two minutes of gap on everybody and that’s where I really made my big gain of the day.”

Symes said the history of the blowout dates back to the 1990s, but official records weren’t started until 2000. He said the record for the course is around two and a half hours.

“I’m still recovering from the race,” he said Wednesday, with little time to rest before moving on to helping manage CGRA’s biggest race of the year. “It’s a real challenge to put on a regatta with 160 boats from the Cascade Locks Marine Park. We don’t have the facilities of a typical yacht club so we’re sort of having to reinvent the event.”

What the Cascade Locks Marina lacks in infrastructure, however, it makes up for in scenery and reliably epic wind conditions.

“Cascade Locks is hands-down one of the best places in the country, in the world even, for laser racing,” Symes said. “You’re pretty much guaranteed wind every day, and the range the area typically gets is ideal for this kind of racing. On top of that the setting is spectacular, the weather is nice and the water is warm in the summer. It’s a great place to sail.”

Along with 150-plus racers from across North America, friends, families and coaches of competitors will be in the area through the weekend, making the event a significant source of tourism for Cascade Locks.

“I think people in Cascade Locks are starting to realize the benefits of having world-class sailing in their front yard,” Symes said. “It has taken a while, but more and more citizens are becoming supporters and participants of the program.”

Symes gave credit to the City and Port of Cascade Locks for their continued support of the program.

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The championship started Thursday and wraps up Sunday afternoon. The base of activities and the best place to watch the action is from the Marine Park beach. For more details, visit www.cgra.org.

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