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Grass roots approach activates racing group
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Jan 19, 2012, 9:12 AM

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Submitted by Scott Cline, Hixson, TN:

It seems that whenever a group of sailors talk about the decline of sailing, a least one suggestion that always comes up is for more of a "grass roots" approach. I thought you might be interested in a group that has taken that approach.

About 25 miles upriver from the Privateer Yacht Club in Chattanooga, Tennessee is the Sale Creek Marina. The marina is owned and operated by Andre Rijsdijk who grew up sailing in Holland. For many years Andre has been ably assisted by fellow sailor and marina manager Eric Almlie. The marina is tucked away in a pristine cove adjacent to the Tennessee River. In addition to fuel and marine repair, the marina is home to a number of docks which house a mix of both power boats and sail boats. About the only amenities the marina has to offer for its slip holders are a small marine store, an open pavilion and an unheated concrete block bathhouse.

For the past ten years or so, the marina has hosted the Shackleton series. The series is named after British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton who led three expeditions to Antarctica. Shackleton sailed to within 111 miles of the South Pole. During his Endurance expedition, he and his men survived 10 months on an uninhabited island and ice floes after their ship was crushed by ice on the Weddell Sea.

One of the marinas slip holders read about Shackleton in a book and discussed with Andre the possibility of a series to honor the famed explorer. It was reasoned that, since the best winds came in winter, it would be a good time for scheduling the races. The annual series typically starts in late October and runs through late February or early March. Eight races are held during this time, usually every other weekend with time taken off for Christmas and New Years. Competitors meetings are held in the open pavilion with course maps provided by Andre and Eric. Races are started by Andre and Eric from their J24 and navigation markers are used as marks unless a longer course is sailed and then either an island or supports for a highway bridge are used. Boats run the gamut from a Catalina 22 to a J29, to a Mariner 36 complete with a wood burning stove on board. Several of the 10 to 15 skippers who races actually live aboard their boat.

There are no rules concerning weather although a boat is awarded extra participation points if the temperature during a race is less 40 degrees or if there is precipitation. Several times the fleet has had to break up ice to get out of the harbor. There has only been one Shackleton race that was cancelled and that was in January of 2010 when the harbor was socked in with five inches of ice. Typically a few races each year are sailed in snow and or sleet. It should be noted that there is usually a single handed boat or two in each race and if equipped with a spinnaker, it is flown.

The first time I sailed in a Shackleton race was four years ago when a good friend and co-member from Privateer had his J92 at the marina for a marine survey. At Privateers awards banquet on a Saturday evening I mention that we should put a crew together and sail in the Shackleton race on Sunday. We managed to put a crew of six together which was pretty amazing considering the January weather. One of our crew had a personal weather station with him which reported a rather chilly 14 degrees at the 10am competitors meeting. As we left the harbor, he informed us that the temperature had dropped to 12 degrees. After a two and a half hour race we returned to the dock with ice covering the first four feet of the hull and several of the sheets frozen stiff. As we sat in the cockpit having a few beers, my wife called to say that she was a few minutes away at the home of one of our crew members and they had hot chili and cold beer ready for us. As this home overlooks the river and the temperature was only up to 18 degrees, we agreed that the chili did sound good. While we warmed up in front of a fire, we watched some of the slower boats in the fleet continue to race the course for the next several hours.

Since that first race, I have sailed in many of the Shackleton races on various boats including an Olson 30, a J29, my D&M 22 and this year on a Wavelength 24. Several things make this series unique. We have never heard anything other than friendly words between boats and there has never been a protest. After arriving back at the docks, several hours of camaraderie typically ensue on the docks. Maybe the best part of the series is the race write up and pictures posted on the marina website by Eric who has a tremendous gift for writing.

Information of the Shackleton series can be found on the marina website at: http://www.salecreekmarina.com




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