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Summer sailing – Gold Country Yacht Club offers lessons and more

“Sailing is the fine art of going slowly nowhere at great expense” reads a magnet on Tish Buti’s refrigerator. And then she laughs. Buti, commodore of the Gold Country Yacht Club at Scotts Flat Lake, would like to see more people sailing in Nevada County – and to contradict the maxim on her fridge. “Truth is,” she continues, “the idea of sailing can be intimidating if you don’t know what you are doing and don’t know where to learn. We can help.”

The Gold Country Yacht Club has been promoting recreational sailing in western Nevada County for more than 20 years. Founded in the early ’80s by a handful of local sailors, the club currently has a membership of more than 50 families. While most sailing events take place in the spring and summer, the club is active all year with meetings, dinners and out of town activities.

One of the club’s primary objectives is to introduce more people to lake sailing. Lynn Buchanan, certified US Sailing boating instructor, has been actively growing this component of the club for eight years. She runs the Junior Sailing program, targeted to kids aged 10-18, and also gives lessons and seminars for adults.



“When we started the juniors program in 1997, we had three kids,” she says. “Now, we are running a week-long sailing camp and I have more interested students than I can handle.”

In the first two days, the students learn concepts of sailing, safety procedures, capsize recovery (a must-have skill for small boats) and, of course, knots. The last three days are spent on the water with drills and games.




“The kids love being on the water, especially after they get over their initial fear of falling in,” she said. “It’s amazing how fast they progress.”

With completion of the Juniors Program, each student receives a year long, family membership in the Yacht Club. While most club members own their own boat, many do not. The club currently owns four dinghies and one 21 foot keelboat available for member use.

With instruction available by the hour or half day, Buchanan can turn a landlubber into a novice sailor. Once the basics are mastered, all members who check out on the water by Buchanan have access to the club’s vessels and can rent them for $10 or $20 per day. Juniors pay a reduced rate of $5 per day.

“The rental boats are very popular,” says Buti. “Our Junior graduates and members who don’t own boats take full advantage.”

On the starting line

Of course, if sailing leisurely around the lake is too slow for your taste, you can always go racing.

Most people think of sailboat racing as big toys for the big boys: million dollar yachts crossing tacks under 20 knot winds, ala the America’s Cup race series. And while it is exciting watching large boats battle it out on the high seas, small boat racing can be fast, fun and definitely a thinking person’s sport.

The rules of sailing allow boats of different sizes and crew limits can race against each other under a handicap system. Some boats finish a course in 45 minutes, some in an hour and a half, but with time corrections it is possible for a 9-foot single-handed dingy to beat a 32-foot keelboat with three times the sail area. Depending on strategy, crew teamwork and, in many cases, pure luck, the underdog can easily have his day.

Nevada County sailors have many opportunities to race their boats. The club runs 12 weekend races a season, on alternating Saturdays and Sundays. Most draw eight-to-10 boats and the big secret is that skippers are often looking for crew, experienced or not. Asked whether he could use a novice sailor without racing experience, Jerry Lewis, race chairman at the yacht club enthusiastically says, “Absolutely! I can teach you what you need to know on the way to the starting line. By the way, the most important term is ‘duck’!”

Additionally, racers travel. It is not uncommon for a skipper to race one weekend at Folsom, the next at Whiskeytown and the next at Tahoe. The (unofficial) Sierra foothills lake circuit is very popular, with sailors coming from all over California to spend a weekend enjoying the scenery and hospitality of local yacht clubs.

GCYC’s annual “Go for the Gold Regatta,” hosted in early June, is one of the big events on the summer race calendar. More than 40 boats participated last month, with the winners taking home prizes inspired by Gold Country heritage: a chest of gold for the winner and engraved miner’s pans for second and third place.

“The event just gets better and better,” says Lewis. “Every year we get more participants, more families joining and more people racing sailboats.”

Community involvement

Typical of the club’s goal to bring more people into the sailing family, the GCYC involves itself in the community. On a recent Sunday, five club members volunteered their boats and their time to host Friendship Club girls and mentors on an afternoon sail. The Friendship Club, which pairs disadvantaged girls with professional women, has been working with the yacht club for more than five years. This annual event celebrates the girls’ graduation from their first year in the program.

“Sailing is typically out of reach for most of these girls,” says Sherry Wray, program assistant for the Friendship Club. “We do this event every year because the smiles are 10 miles wide.” The volunteer skippers show the girls the basics of steering, sail hoists and tacking through the wind. And of course, on a hot day, how to cool off with a swim in the lake.

“Our club is all about having fun,” said Lewis. “And since that is our No. 1 priority, I’d say we we’re a pretty big success.” And as for going slowly nowhere? What with warm sun, fresh breeze and blue water, the Gold Country Yacht Club doubts you’ll notice – guaranteed.

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K. Ryan Hodgkin is a resident of Grass Valley. She can be reached by e-mail at dixier@theunion.com or by telephone at 273-1801.


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