Columbia Gorge Racing Association started in the 1990s as a group of friends who came to Cascade Locks in the summer to sail dinghies and hold impromptu races they dubbed “bush regattas.”
“We were looking for a venue that had reliable wind in the summer which, in the Pacific Northwest, is hard to come by,” said Bill Symes, CGRA president. “A bunch of us would haul our boats to Cascade Locks, race and have barbecues and beers afterwards. Cascade Locks has just the right amount of wind for the boats we wanted to sail. That, combined with the beautiful scenery and the warm water, makes Cascade Locks a premier place to hold races.”
In the summer, wind in the western Gorge tends to pick up in the afternoon and is usually in the 15-20-knot range, which, Symes said, is ideal for racing a variety of types and sizes of sailboats.
“In 1996 the Tasar World Championships came to Cascade Locks,” he said. A tasar is a 4-foot, two-person dinghy with a mainsail and jib. “That was the impetus for us to start the CGRA. We saw the potential for Cascade Locks to become a world-class sailing venue and knew we had to get organized.”
Since then the CGRA — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit — has brought more than 60 world-class events to Cascade Locks and hosted programs ranging from weekly community sailing lessons to national and world championships. Coming full circle this year, CGRA’s summer racing schedule is highlighted by the 2013 Tasar World Championships; the same event that sparked the creation of the organization in the first place.
“The Tasar Worlds will be the highlight of the summer season and will attract 60-70 boats from all over the world,” Symes said. “It’s cool to have the event back in Cascade Locks since it was the first big event we ever had.”
The CGRA calendar is booked with races almost every weekend from June through August, highlighted by the Tasar Worlds Aug. 10-17, the Laser Pacific Coast Championships July 12-14, the Gorge Skiff Regata July 19-21 and the infamous Laser Gorge Blowout — a downwind race from Cascade Locks to Hood River — July 11.
In addition to hosted races, CGRA also has a popular grassroots program that gives local residents the opportunity to learn how to sail and enjoy the wind and water throughout the summer. Every week in July and August CGRA will host Tuesday evening beginner sailing and lessons with certified instructors and Wednesday evening junior race team action for youngsters who have sailing experience.
“Our plan this year is to have community sailing activities three nights a week,” Symes said. “We (CGRA) have our own fleet of dinghies for these activities, which means the sport is very accessible to the community.”
In addition to providing the local community the opportunity to sail, CGRA activities bring a valuable influx of visitors to Cascade Locks throughout the summer. A CGRA fact sheet noted 800 participants and their families came to town last summer for races, the majority of whom stay overnight in local lodging or camping facilities.
An official Opening Day ceremony, barbecue and festivities will take place June 22 on the sailing beach at the east end of the Cascade Locks Marine Park.
For more information on the association, its community and youth programs or to volunteer, visit www.cgra.org.