Katie James grew up on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, the estuary along the shore of Maryland and Virginia. The last thing she envisioned when she founded Peaks & Tides, a sailing school based on Lake Nighthorse in Durango, was to host a regatta.
After a successful first year in 2018, when the company held two regattas with around eight boats that competed on Lake Nighthorse, the sailing school brought the event back this year. The races, which will be open to all sailing classes, will begin 2 p.m. Sunday, and James is hopeful for an even larger turnout.
“Like, who would’ve thought we’d get here? My parents were like, ‘You’re starting a sailing school in Durango?’ I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, so I’ve been out here for 15 years, and they’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ Well, it turns out it’s really fun, and it’s a big hit, especially with our kids program,” James said.
Sunday’s races will be an effort to unite Durango’s growing sailing community.
“We’re going to be kicking off the fall season with the regatta, linking people up that might want to sail together in the future,” James said. “I feel like if everybody knew each other, people could ask for crew on certain days. I feel like there are a lot of sailors who are out there who’d love to be linked up together. The regatta is a great place for people to meet face-to-face, see each other’s boats, sail and have fun.”
James said the summer has been busy as ever for the company, as they had seven week-long sessions and have averaged about 60 kids each season. In addition, 15 adults have been certified for basic keel boat sailing through the American Sailing Association at both Nighthorse and Navajo Lake.
On Sunday, James said it will be a long course designed in the windward and leeward style, depending on the wind. The configuration means that there will be a minimum of two markers, one placed directly upwind from the start line and another placed directly downwind from the leeward mark. In order to hit the mark, sailors must first sail upwind and round the windward mark and then sail downwind to round the leeward mark.
“It’s going to be a good course, and the leeward mark can be anywhere from 100 feet to 20 yards, and the distance usually depends on the classes of boats and wind speed,” James said. “The downwind is usually pretty quick, but the upwind marks require a ton of strategy. It’s going to be a good challenge for all of the sailors, as it’ll be a longer course.”
Sunfish and Laser-Class boats will be available to use for a small fee, but racers can bring their own sail boats, including catamarans and dinghys.
In order to compete, racers will have to pay a $30 entry fee and an additional $15 if they want to use Peaks & Tides’ boats. Check-in will begin at noon, and there will be a 1 p.m. skipper’s meeting. All boats must comply with a state-mandated aquatic nuisance inspection in advance.
“I’ve been on the lake almost every day this summer, and the sailors are definitely out there,” James said. “I mean, even in and around Durango, if you drive down the grid, there are a lot of boats in yards, and we’re hoping to have a good draw on Sunday.”
With favorable weather expected for most of the day, James believes it will be a popular weekend to go to the lake and said it would be best to carpool, as the parking lot will be lined with lake-goers.
“I’m hoping that it runs really smoothly and that it doesn’t add an additional stress to the lake,” James said. “The parking up there has been a little congested on weekends, so I’m hoping that folks carpool. But otherwise, I think it’s going to be a really fun and beautiful event, and it has really low impact on the banks of the lake.”
James believes this weekend could introduce more people to the sport, and believes that the regatta could become a regular part of Lake Nighthorse activities.
“Moving forward, we’d like to offer more events like this,” James said. “Folks in Durango who are maybe tired of the same old sport can become more attracted to the idea of sailing. We’ve got a lot of athletes in Durango, and we’re really far away from the coast. Lake Nighthorse offers such consistent wind, it’s pristine, and, plus, sailing is really easy on the ecosystem being motor-less and wind-powered. It’s a thinking-person’s sport, and I feel like it’s a natural progression from kayakers to parasailers, and sailing could be the next thrill-seeking adventure.”