Kerry Poe 2016-04-26 16:24:02
Before the windsurfing rage of the 80’s, the Columbia River was mostly used for barge traffic, log rafts and Indian salmon fishing. Along what we now call The Gorge, most would have thought the river was too windy and rough for recreational use. Then, in the 1980’s, everything changed when the Columbia River Gorge became known as a world-class windsurfing destination, famous for high winds, big waves and beautiful scenery. As kids, a few of us from Willamette Sailing Club in Portland would go up to Hood River to sail Lasers and Laser II’s. We would argue about whose boat we would take, because it usually meant blown up equipment, torn spinnakers, jib tracks ripped out of the deck and so forth. Sailing in Hood River was mostly trying to survive. We wore ski goggles so we could see where we were going through all of the spray. Windsurfers would fly by and cheer, and I often wondered if they were former dinghy sailors who had taken up sailboarding. The Gorge Laser Slalom was my first attempt at running a regatta. It was 1986, or thereabouts, and I was working at Sailors Supply in Portland selling Lasers. I had heard about the San Francisco Laser Slalom and thought, ”Why not have a Laser Slalom in Hood River?” The Laser North Americans would be in Vancouver, BC, so I figured I could run the event the week after the NA’s and have a great turnout. We ended up with only six boats, including myself, my roommate Jeff Heinenman, Jonathan McKee, Charlie McKee, Mark Brink and some guy from England. It was blowing the rocks of the jetty in Hood River that day, and we didn’t even try to set marks. We had one of the best marine photographers, Neil Rabinowitz, show up and while we were out blasting around, Neil snapped away. Out of this non-event came some incredible pictures. I remember one of myself and Jeff blasting along with our boom-vang lines flying completely sideways in the wind and Mount Hood in the background. Probably the most famous picture was the top of Mark Brink’s head, just visible above the wave he was in. All you could see was his visor and his sail while Mark and the rest of the boat were out of sight behind the wave. For years I would see Neil’s pictures show up in different magazines and product catalogs. From those pictures The Gorge became known not just for sailboarding but for dinghy sailing too. The next year Sailing World did a story about the top 10 events in the US. The Gorge Laser Slalom was one of the ten, which is not bad for only 6 boats and no marks set. I think Sailing World just wanted to find a way to use Neil’s incredible pictures. In the ‘90’s, Chris Bittner and I were taking advantage of those crazy conditions to train in our 470 Olympic class dinghy. With the help of Gorge sailing conditions and financial support from Full Sail Brewery, we went on to be one of the top US teams in the 470 class, winning the 1990 Pacific Coast Championships After winning the PCC’s, we had the right to host the 1991 Pacific Coast Championships at a venue of our choice. We knew we wanted to have the event in The Gorge but were not sure where. I got Matt Matsushima to be the PRO and we drove up and down the river trying to find the best venue with a boat launch. Many reasons made, and still make Cascade Locks a great venue. The river is close to the dam so the current is less. It’s wide for more race course. You can pick if you want flat water or waves depending on where you go. There’s fresh water, beautiful scenery, nice moderate wind (for The Gorge), and you’re pretty much guaranteed wind, whether it is out of the west or east. After a very successful event, other sailing classes started taking notice of The Gorge. First to return was the Canadian 470 National Sailing Teams for a training session. Next was the Seattle International 14 fleet, then the NW Tasar fleet. Word was quickly spreading about the venue and every year a new fleet would come. 1996 was the turning point, with the Tasar World Championship showing that The Gorge was for real and could host championships. It also became obvious that without a local sailing club to take on logistics and organization to handle the regatta demands, another form of organization was needed. Shortly after the Tasar Worlds, we started the Columbia Gorge Racing Association. The early days were more informal bush-type regattas with maybe a six-pack of beer for a trophy. The boat ramp used to be in the marina opposite the Visitor Center. The marina docks were wood and one winter they were destroyed by ice. We had just started CGRA and were looking for funding. The Forest Service was in charge of Federal Gorge scenic funds that were supposed to be used to bring tourism to The Gorge. All the local government agencies were trying to get funds, including Cascade Locks, which was on the waiting list to replace the docks. Port Director Tobin White arranged a meeting with the Forest Service, Jim Farris and I, about getting funding to support CGRA. Jim said CGRA’s mission was exactly what the scenic funds were for, but since so many agencies were already on a long waiting list it could be years before they could help. Instead, Jim told Tobin that he could move the dock replacement up on the waiting list and in return the port could help out CGRA. Over the years CGRA has become a world-class regatta and training venue due to our continued partnership with the Port of Cascade Locks and great volunteers such as Jarvis Brecker, Dave Patterson, Bill Symes and Dave Jursik, to name a few, who have constantly pushed for excellence. What has not changed is the laid-back atmosphere and great sailing. Simply put, there’s no better place for sailing than The Gorge.
Published by Columbia River Press. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigitalpublication.com/article/In+the+Beginning/2467592/299848/article.html.