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An interview with Bill Symes about the 2019 Columbia Gorge One Design Regatta

by David Schmidt 24 Jul 2019 08:00 PDT July 26-28, 2019
Racecourse action at the Columbia River Gorge Sailing Association's annual Columbia Gorge One-Design Regatta © Image courtesy of Jan Anderson

When it comes to breeze-on conditions in the Pacific Northwest, most sailors look no farther afield than the Columbia River Gorge, an area notorious for funneling great quantities of freshwater and wind towards their final destinations. This national treasure of a river system (largely) divides the great states of Oregon and Washington and has served as the home waters of Columbia Gorge Racing Association (CGRA), organizers of the annual Columbia Gorge One Design Regatta (CGOD; July 26-28, 2019), since CGRA's creation in 1996.

This year's CGOD is open to Fireballs, I-14s, Lasers (Standard, Radial, and 4.7), 505s and Melges 24s, as well as any other class with five registered entrants, and racing will take place on the waters of the Columbia just off of the Cascade Locks Marine Park.

I checked in with Bill Symes, CGRA's president, via email, to learn more about this historically windy West Coast regatta.

What's the most important thing that a newbie to Columbia Gorge One Design Regatta needs to know to have a great regatta?

Come prepared for big breeze! But don't feel intimidated as the water is fresh and warm, the race course is right off the beach, and the CGRA on-the-water safety team has got your back.

You'll return to shore feeling beat-up, exhausted... and totally exhilarated! [There will be] plenty of time before dinner to relax on the beach with a cold beverage and share tales of those firehose-in-the-face reaches with your fellow wind warriors.

Conditions-wise, what should competing sailors all be hoping for in terms of velocity and direction?

Typical July winds are from the west, filling in around mid-morning at 10-15 [knots] and rising to 20+ by mid-afternoon. Windy days can see peak gusts in the low 30s.

You may also see an occasional east wind if the western valleys are experiencing very hot weather. And, yes, we do have no-wind days (about one to two a summer).

How big of an advantage is local knowledge at the Gorge? Also, looking back over the last few years' worth of winners, were most of them returning veterans?

There aren't a lot of mysteries about sailing in the Gorge. The wind speed puts a premium on good fitness and boat handling skills.

To help those new to the venue, we have published an article ( by Jonathan McKee, an early Gorge pioneer, that distills the local knowledge down to a couple of very informative pages which are posted at

The leaderboard at Gorge events are often populated with household names, sailors who are good in all weather conditions. We attract sailors that love the challenge of heavy air and many return year after year, whether they are winning races or simply enjoying the camaraderie on and off the water.

What classes do you suspect will be the most competitive, once the starting guns start sounding?

As this regatta is the kickoff event for the Melges 24 West Coast Championship Series, we expect a solid and very competitive turnout on the keelboat course.

On the dinghy course, we'll be hosting the 505 Pacific Coast Championship and the Laser District 22 Championship, as well as Fireball, and I-14 classes.

The entry list typically includes a sprinkling of past collegiate, national, and world champions in several classes. There will be no shortage of competition.

How many boats are you and the other organizers expecting? Also, does the event have to cap registration numbers, or do you have the infrastructure to accommodate fleets of all sizes?

We generally plan for 100-130 entries in CGOD depending on the attending fleets. We partner with the Port of Cascade Locks to accommodate our sailors in the Cascade Locks Marine Park, with on-site camping, boat storage, launching, and food service.

We've hosted as many as 175 dinghies at past events and, to date, have not had to cap entries. However, we have restricted space for keelboats in the marina, and are currently limited to a maximum of about 30 boats in the water.

Have foil-borne classes asked to participate? (Moths, A-Cats, etc.) Can foiling classes (with five or more boats) petition to have their own start? If not, do you think the event will eventually accept foiling boats?

We've hosted a number of major Moth events over the years including the World Championships in 2009. We've also hosted the A-Cats, in their pre-foiling days.

We think the Gorge is a terrific venue for foilers and would welcome them back at any time, although probably not in a multi-class regatta as they need a lot of room to stretch out.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other organizers have recently taken to help green-up the regatta or otherwise reduce its plastics/CO2 footprint?

We have received a Clean Regatta certification from Sailors for the Sea and adhere to best practices with regard to recycling, trash management, water-bottle reduction, oil-spill prevention and boat maintenance.

Our venue is pretty spartan, so consumption and waste are kept to a minimum. All camping, regatta dinners, and other social activities are in the Marine Park, and we're easy walking distance from local restaurants and hotels. We have a filtered water refill station on site and give out reusable water bottles on request.

We are currently migrating to electronic race documentation to reduce our use of paper.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

CGRA is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to bringing world-class sailing to the Columbia River Gorge. We depend on the support of individual donors and corporate sponsors to sustain our racing and training programs. If you share our passion for sailing in the Gorge, we welcome your assistance and offer several ways to participate. To learn more, volunteer or make a tax-deductible charitable contribution, please visit us at Thanks!

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