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Festival of Sails 2024 LEADERBOARD

An interview with Greg Way on the Houston Yacht Club's annual James T. Liston Turkey Day Regatta

by David Schmidt 13 Nov 08:00 PST November 13, 2023
Houston Yacht Club © Houston Yacht Club

Openness can be a wonderful thing, and the Houston Yacht Club's annual James T. Liston Turkey Day Regatta embraces this concept by extending registration to all boats. The regatta runs from November 17-19, and will be contested on the waters of Upper Galveston Bay. While anyone can enter any kind of sailboat, the regatta will count any two boats of an identical design as a class.

As of this writing, registered vessels included Optimists, Sunfish, Melges 15s, ILCAs, Club 420s, J/22s, J/24s, and J/105s.

Competing sailors can look forward to a mix of Windward-Leewards and longer distance races on Saturday (November 18) and Sunday.

And, given that this is the Houston Yacht Club's last regatta of the season, attending sailors can look forward to a final gathering of the tribe before 2023 rolls into 2024.

I checked in with Greg Way, event chair of the Houston Yacht Club's annual James T. Liston Turkey Day Regatta, to learn more about this mid-fall One Design and keelboat regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the James T. Liston Turkey Day Regatta, its history, and its culture?

Turkey Day is one of our long-standing and most beloved regattas here at Houston Yacht Club. The format is simple - two days of 'round-the-buoys racing climaxing with the awarding of fresh turkeys to the lucky winners, and followed by a delicious turkey meal served up by the Houston Yacht Club kitchen staff as a fitting prelude to Thanksgiving weekend! While I'm not sure when the tradition began, I know it was in full-swing when my wife and I arrived here at the Club in the mid-1990s.

Former Race and Regatta Chair, Fleet Captain, and then Commodore James Liston made Turkey Day Regatta his own until he recently passed away, at which point the regatta assumed his name in honor of his memory and contribution.

How would you describe competition levels at the Turkey Day Regatta? Also, what kinds of sailors does it tend to attract?

The top local competitors are regulars for this regatta, as well as the occasional hosting of regional and national fleets.

The regatta is also known to be a fun and friendly unofficial end to the HYC Regatta season, as well as an official kickoff to the Holiday season.

HYC is an avid supporter of women’s sailing, with three regularly scheduled women’s sailing events and a ‘Windward Bound Camp,’ where women teach women to sail. For Turkey Day, an all-women team winning their class on a boat 30’ or longer will be awarded the coveted Mermaid Perpetual Trophy!

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing ahead of this year's event? How does this number stack up against previous recent editions?

So far this year the registrations for our local J/22 and J/24 sailors are strong, as is participation from our dinghy fleets. As we have seen both regionally and locally, there has been a trend toward reduced participation in our events, but post-Covid numbers are on the rebound.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the waters of Upper Galveston Bay in mid-November? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Anywhere from balmy warm breezes to blustery cold fronts can characterize the November sailing scene on the upper Galveston Bay. If one day is a meltdown or washout, odds are the other will be perfect! That's one reason why the two-day format works!

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

Local knowledge always helps, no matter where or when you decide to compete, but Turkey Day has a way of neutralizing the insider tricks—mostly because of the rapid-fire seasonal weather variations we experience here during our late Fall through early spring sailing season.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

Bring warm foulies and a swimsuit! Oh yeah—and come hungry!

What kind of post-racing entertainment do you and the other organizers have planned?

As I mentioned, be ready for the post-awards turkey meal on Sunday.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

The event is held in the upper Galveston Bay, all just minutes from the entrance to the HYC Harbor. I'll bet energy consumed roasting the turkeys for the dinner exceeds the fuel consumed operating the committee boats!

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