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Delta Dinghy Ditch Just Duckie

Way back in 2005 over a few craft beers too many, a fellow by the name of Ken Crawford announced to his Lake Washington Sailing Club cronies, “Why don’t we run a pursuit race all the way up that b*t%# of a ditch from Rio Vista to the club? First one makes it to the club dock at the turning basin gets what? A rubber duckie.” For a rubber duckie, they were all in, as many as 40 showing up for the challenge. The race itself is a matter of endurance, sailing 32 miles through a mostly-straight 40-yard-wide ditch on a reach to dead downwind.

The startline pontoon boat
LWSC’s pontoon boat presides over the start.
© 2019 Jonathan Weston

The logistics for this year’s event on August 18, organized by George Biery, were a bit of a challenge if not a nightmare at times, with shuttles and trailering galore. Bouncing around in a Whaler for 32 miles in heavy chop just to get to the start line was indeed a nightmare. The race committee pontoon boat had waves washing over it, like those photos you see of the maxis rounding Cape Horn. And then, in the start area, the wind dropped. It was like traveling to the slopes in a snowstorm only to arrive and find dust on crust, but the mid-day breeze drop is typical for the Delta. We towed most of the boats from Hidden Harbor Marina out to the start line in three groups, requiring the Rio Vista Bridge to be raised each time.

Dinghies at the bridge
George McKay on the Hobie 20 and George Heintz on the Johnson 18 at the Hwy. 12 Rio Vista Bridge.
© 2019 Jonathan Weston

Each sailor, along with two masochist windsurfers, started at their pre-determined time based on handicap. The wind picked up along the way to a moderate 10-15 knots. An El Toro led for the first part, until the Thistles and then George McKay’s Hobie 20 took over and pulled away to finish in 6 hours, 26 minutes.

Samara El Toro
Tom Tillotson on an El Toro led the charge off the start.
© 2019 Jonathan Weston

Among the six Thistles, it was neck-and-neck between Mike Gillum and Steve Hale, with Hale (6:35) finally breaking the lock in the last miles. Not far behind was Dan Clark, course record holder in 2009, when it blew 20-25 knots throughout.

Two Thistles with spinnakers
Mike Gillum (left) gave Steven Hale (right) a run for his money.
© 2019 Jonathan Weston

Dave Suder (6:46) was impressive on his Laser to win that fleet.

David Suder ahead of the pack on his Laser.
© 2019 Jonathan Weston

Doug McWilliams won the Open Spinnaker division in the Flying Dutchman (6:46), and John Mathias (7:03) the windsurfer. Anne Hammond got the Most Perseverant Award in her Pico, timing her finish perfectly with the sunset and an infectious smile (7:48).

Anne Hammond, sailing a Pico, brought up the rear.
© 2019 Jonathan Weston

When asked before the race what his expectations were, McKay said, “I just bought the boat, so I will be happy to just finish the race.” Needless to say, he exceeded his expectations.


  1. Jonathan Weston 4 years ago

    Inspired myself into getting back in a Thistle after a 40 year break and racing the LWSC regatta last Saturday. So much fun and nice to have somebody to talk to during a race (as opposed to Lasers, Windsurfers, Wetas). Thistle PCCs at RYC coming up in September.

  2. Jonathan Weston 4 years ago

    The times reported are the hour of day the sailors finished. McKay finished in just over or under 4 hours, give or take a minute depending on how many craft beers the scorekeeper’s interpreter drank.

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