I arrive in Rollins at 10 pm on a Friday night, and crash immediately. The morning stroll to the beach reveals a brilliant white blanket shrouding the peaks east of the lake, heralding the coming close of my beloved sailing season. Bittersweet. It's been an awesome summer, slow to get rolling, very cool and wet for the inland northwest. But that didn't stop me from splashing the 18 in early April, and doing some drysuit sailing close to home on those few days with some wind and no rain.
The F16 crested Thompson Pass in early May to initiate the Montana season. Still cool and wet, so weather reports were studiously scanned for suitable weekends. And I got a few. One of which John documented beautifully with his fortunately waterproof GoPro video camera. Big wind and big water equals big fun, with those foiled rudders forever returning the leeward bow back to the surface!
Flight Risk gets wet in June when the water comes up to full pool, and that opens up the main lake for those early morning rides on the reliable 10 to 15 kt northerlies. Big boat for the big swells. An outboard motor for chasing wind. The month advances and summer finally arrives with the typical high pressure and clear skies. Out with the drysuits, in with the shorts and sunscreen!
My regular perusal of catamaran classifieds turns up an 18 square ridiculously cheap in San Diego. A class racing boat from the 80's, it's 18 feet long, 11' wide, with a monster mast, 35' tall. Another light air machine. That lust that I seem so susceptible to, develops once again! I surely don't need another boat, but this is one I've eyed for years, and here was a great opportunity to see if it'd be as much fun as I had imagined. So I scan about for a partner. Not that hard to find. My regular crew and landsailing/iceboating guru, John, has been thinkin' that he might be needing a cat of his own so he doesn't have to drive that 10 minutes south to fly with me. He ponies up the purchase price, and I arrange and finance the craft's journey north. Yippeeee! A new toy! John hacks up a boat lift to adapt it to the wide beam, and she has a new home in Lakeside. I now have a ride there at mid lake, Flight Risk 10 miles further south at the cabin in Rollins, with High Voltage on Dayton Bay another 10 clicks to the south and west. Which is the bay with the magic wind!
Brad had undertaken a major overhaul of the 22, repairing, fairing, and painting. A big job, that took a bit more time to complete than we'd both hoped. But when she's finally launched in July, her stellar performance and sexy good looks leave the other cats languishing forlornly. Still new to us, and brimming with new, trick upgrades, she delivers such glee that long, uncontrollable fits of giggling erupt regularly.
My usual summer visit to Minnesota, and it's week of sailing Adam's A cat on Lake Minnetonka, and a day or two with the Fleet 444 catsailors, gets transmuted into a glorious 9 days in Rollins with Kathy. Of which I snuck in 8 days of powered up sailing under gloriously sunny summer skies. With 4 cats scattered along the shoreline, if there's a breeze somewhere, it'll be exploited. It's my job! If I can't see pressure from the hill just above the cabin, I'll fire up the DRZ and climb a couple thousand feet to get a good view of the lake, north towards Lakeside, and south to Dayton and Big Arm bays. And what a vista! Flathead Lake is 28 miles long, north to south, and 15 miles wide from Elmo to Yellow Bay. Clear, deep blue water, with the rugged Mission and Swan ranges to the east, and rocky, coniferous shores, which often reminds me of Superior. A magnificent sailing playground for a fellow like me!
August finds me spending every weekend in Rollins, scanning for breeze, lining up my buddies to crew, and maximizing the hours spent afloat. Loyal crew members John, Mark and Phil all got stints at the helm of the 22, and all found the groove easily. We're all gaining sensitivity, and building teamwork, with crew now running the mainsheet while the skipper concentrates on driving a smooth line.
Tom and Bev come to visit one weekend to experience the big cats, and Brad proposes taking both Flight Risk and the 22 out to the main lake. Another sensational morning with breeze enough to power up both! What a gas to sail the two together, switching off crew, chasing wind as the day progresses. In the light stuff, the 22 can pop a hull up out of the water sooner than FR, giving it the advantage. But as the pressure builds, Flight Risk comes into her own and starts to give chase. Another fine day on Flathead!
As the season advances, Brad manages to generate the free time to go sailing regularly, and we start to spend a bunch of time on the 22. With each passing weekend we see progress in our ability to power up in light air, and drive harder as the wind strength increases. Our focus becomes ever more intense, and the return is repeated exclamations that "This is the best day of sailing ever".
Painful as it is to sacrifice prime sailing weekends on Flathead, two are sacrificed in September to motor south the the Alvord Desert in southeast Oregon for eight days of dirt boating. In years past we've gathered in October, but this year we moved it up in hopes of warmer weather. Which we were granted! Sunny, sometimes hot, high pressure days brought mostly light air sailing in the late afternoons. Great hiking in the mornings, with the DRZ for access to the nearby ridges and peaks. All with a view of the playa, just in case the wind shows up! Two days delivered winds in the mid teens, which was enough to push the big boats over 50 mph, which translates into multiple runs the full length of the lakebed, and exhilarating slalom runs through the pucker bushes! Each day slides into dusk, fabulous group meals leading to hours under the vast canopy of brilliant stars, a prominent Milky Way, and a camaraderie I find intoxicating. Even managed a couple of night rides, one late, under moonlight. One pre moonrise, with a headlamp duct taped to the mast! Always tough to pack up at the end of the outing, but we know we'll gather again in March.
Quick blast back to Spokane, work a week, and head back to Rollins. Still a few good days to be sailed yet. Dayton Bay delivers again, and Brad and I put in a few more hours. Between sessions I manage to pull the 16, and then Flight Risk the following weekend. Brad sez the 22 stays til it snows! I'm headed east again this Friday to close up the cabin, and hopefully squeeze in another day or two on the water. Then it's truly fall, and I'll spend my free time closer to home, hiking the peak behind my home, trying to get this ageing body ready for the white fluffy stuff. And iceboating! And kiteskiing! What a life!