The concept of sailing seems quite obscure to most of us landlubbers in the heartland of Canada. Canoeing and power boating are more familiar to most of us who love the water. A major component of the Power Smart Manitoba Summer Games is sailing. The intricacies and the detail to the equipment really draws one in when you get to associate informally with young “sailors” and they demonstrate their skill with the wind.
The Games here in the Swan Valley are using standard equipment brought in from distant sailing clubs around the province to provide equal opportunity to all the competitors. The kids are using tow boats: prams and lasers. All the boats are crewed by one person. Due to perceived strength in handling the sails with the wind, they are divided into male or female crews to compete.
The pram is basically a square boat of moulded fibreglass. The squared bow rides quite high. It has a small wooden rudder loosely hinged on the stern and an aluminum mast set in a sturdy socket hole very close to the bow. The boom is a lighter aluminum pole attached to the bottom of the sail and it can swing rearward back beyond the operator. A pram is about eight feed long but in good skilled hands it can move quite speedily on the water.
The laser boat is long and narrow and very pointy. The laser is about eighteen feet long and their mast is taller. The laser comes in two classes for the Games based on mast length. The smaller mast laser is called a 4.7. The taller mast is called a radial. The taller the mast the more square footage of sail it can carry, the faster it will go and consequently the more skill and physical strength it takes to race one.
For these Games the course is marked in a straight line by two large bright yellow inflatable buoys. The straight line is laid out easily at the last minute to take advantage of changing wind direction over time. The boats tack upwind and tack more loosely and faster downwind.
There’s considerable strategy and strict observance of boating etiquette while competing to get around the required runs back and forth. Given the same wind experienced operators demonstrate considerable skill. To counterbalance the force of the wind an operator may have to use their body weight to lean way out while still handling the rudder and the boom. Capsizing the whole thing is always a real possibility. And good sailors can right their own boat and carry on surprisingly easily.
Thank goodness Wellman Lake is surprisingly warm at 22 degrees atthis time of year.
Story by Gordon Hornbeck