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A-Scow regattas, like this weekend’s at Lake Minnetonka, feature 38-foot boats with no keels. The massive sails require 7-person crews to keep the boats from capsizing at speeds up to 25 mph.

Pat Dunsworth • Special to the Star Tribune,

This weekend’s A-Scow regatta on Lake Minnetonka’s Lower Lake will test the boats’ 7-person crews.

Pat Dunsworth • Special to the Star Tribune,

A regatta with deep roots

  • Article by: Anna Pratt
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 17, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Rob Evans started sailing at the age of 4, tagging along with his dad, Robert Evans Sr., for “light-wind races.”

“He’d make me tuck under the deck and stay there until he gave me the OK,” and then he got to steer the boat, the younger Evans said.

Later, he attended the Minnetonka Yacht Club’s sailing school. He stuck with it as an adult, eventually landing on the U.S. Sailing Team. That took him to the pre-Olympic regatta in Barcelona, Spain, in the fall of 1991. He’s also a nine-time Inland Lake Yacht Association champion.

Today, Evans is the skipper for an A-Scow sailboat that’s been dubbed the Cosmic Warrior. A-Scows, designed for inland lakes, are among the fastest single-hulled sailboats in the world. “If you see a 38-foot boat going 25 miles per hour, it’s awe-inspiring, the spectacle of it,” he said.

Evans, of Orono, is participating in the Jaguar Land Rover A-Scow National Championship this weekend at Lake Minnetonka. It runs from June 20 to 22, with several races between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day.

The National Class A Scow Association puts on the yacht race, which is in its ninth year, according to Tim Browne, a spokesman for the event. He expects to see around 25 teams, mostly from Minnesota and Wisconsin, he said. A-Scow boats are primarily found in the Midwest because of their historical roots, and because they’re best suited for protected waterways, such as lakes, he said.

The regatta moves around the region each year. It was last held on Lake Minnetonka in 2007. Browne said it’s a fitting spot given that the Minnetonka Yacht Club, the host, has a history that goes back 132 years in Deephaven and a reputation for producing top-notch sailors, including many who have won prestigious titles around the world.

Evans attributes it to the area’s long-running sailing programs, which introduce the sport to people at a young age. “You get people who like it, who are enthusiastic about it,” and that helps to keep it going. Generations within families sail together — in his family it began with his grandfather, and events like the regatta help to expose new people to this style of racing, too, he added.

For Evams, part of the appeal is that it’s a team sport. It takes a seven-person crew to man the sailboat. Each person has an important job. “When everyone’s coordinated and working together, it makes the boat go faster,” and it’s satisfying to get into that rhythm, he said.

It’s no easy task. During the race, one has to be strategic about “where to place the boat in relation to other boats and how to read the wind, which is always changing and shifting.”

(Sailors who participated in a different regatta on Lake Minnetonka during the past weekend can attest to that; several sailboats capsized amid high winds.)

A century-old design

The century-old A-Scow racing design can be traced to Johnson Boat Works in White Bear Lake. The rules for the boat dimensions haven’t changed since then, though the materials and equipment have become more refined. “The boats sail so well, they’re so balanced. It remains a great challenge to sail well,” Evans said.

Most sailboats have a lead keel underneath that keeps the boat from capsizing. A-Scows don’t have a keel. Instead, they have sideboards. It means the boat is faster and isn’t carrying extra weight, he said. However, it makes things more difficult — “There’s a higher margin for error.”

If one capsizes, it can be quite the ordeal to right the boat, and that can cause damage.

As such, “It’s a true test of skill,” Evans said. “People who like to race like that element of danger. It keeps you on your toes. It’s something we have in common.” At the same time, the boat has to be in “tiptop shape” to hit maximum speeds.

Peter Crawford, an event organizer who grew up on Lake Minnetonka and now lives in Detroit, said the singular design means “there’s no shape advantage.” Crawford, a producer and creative director for Penalty Box Productions that produces sailing videos, said the A-Scow is physically demanding, but it’s still one of his favorite types of sailboat.

He has achieved national, regional and world titles in other sailboat classes, but “I will always hold A-Scows dear to my heart. No other boat compares to the speed, and the fun we have taming these beasts,” he said.

The level of competition is another factor that drives this class, he said. “We find ourselves racing against many others that have traveled all over and competed on the same levels,” which is rare for this part of the world, he said.

During the regatta on Lake Minnetonka, sailors will go for a couple of laps around the course for each race. They contend with different wind conditions. Two races happen each of the three days. It’s the sailors with the lowest point total at the end who win. There are no cash prizes, just trophies and bragging rights.

As a result of high water, a “no-wake zone” will be in effect lakewide for this weekend’s championship: The speed limit for powerboats is about 5 mph. That’s a bummer for water skiers and tubers, but it will produce optimum conditions for sailing. “The flatter the water, the faster the boats can go,” Crawford said.

An economic boost

The regatta draws more than 2,000 people to Lake Minnetonka during the weekend, according to Tim Browne, a spokesman for the event. This includes sailors and their families, judges, volunteers, spectators, yacht club members and others, he said.

Laura Hotvet, executive director of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce, said the event is a boon for the community. “We’re thrilled to welcome sailors, families and visitors to the area to explore the parks, beaches and trails,” she said.

 

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at annaprattjournalist@gmail.com.

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