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Arts & Culture

The Tiny Sailboat Regatta

New Hampshire’s two model sailboat clubs got together in Wolfeboro for a regatta known as the Sasquatch Footy.

Bob Rice sits on a bench overlooking the wind scratched surface of Wolfeboro's Back Bay Harbor.  He watches the remote control sailboats tack back and forth and pivot around the floating white marks.  

Oh I think it's dandy. You get boats of this size and more people can play with them.

Rice retired as a meteorologist 11 years ago but still has a keen interest in wind and wind adventure. For decades Rice advised world-class sailors and balloonists. He helped New Zealand capture its first ever America's Cup.  It wasn't the only time Rice helped a team win sailing's most coveted prize.

I was on three of em. All winners I might add.

Rice is here today to watch the Sasquatch Footy, a small regatta for the very smallest class of  model yacht. Rice doesn't mind the difference in scale, between the foot long boats in the harbor and the 12 meter sloops he once raced.  Sailing is sailing, he says. His eyes shift to the leaves waving in the trees across the bay.

We were just saying that that burst that just occurred out here? I was supposed to find things like that burst that came through like that.

Bill Hagerup, Commodore of the Laconia Model Yacht Club doesn't know that the famous sailing weatherman is sitting a few feet behind him as he checks his watch and gets the regatta underway.

Welcome to Back Bay. Of course we're gonna be racing with the usual rules today. But as usual, footy racing is friendly racing and when the wind picks up these boats do some crazy things.

Though most of the 8 men know each other, Hagerup does some introductions.

This is John Simms. He's from our Back Bay Club. He's sailing a footy for the second time so cut him a little slack. You don't want to be too close to him when he tacks, cause from what I've seen he's pretty good at sailing backwards. He learned that from me. Boats in the water, let's play!

Like a real regatta, the boats tack and wander away from the start, trying to time it so they cross the line exactly when the bell sounds.

And they're off.  Or...not. A mean wind springs against the tiny boats and none of them can advance across the starting line.  On the shore, the 8 skippers lean toward the water and go silent, fingers toggling the joysticks that signal the servo motors that flip the rudders and sails.  When the wind finally shifts the footy's shoot out - mostly - and round the marks before tacking back for home.

After the first race, John Simms - the backwards boater - is pleased despite the result.

I went backwards all the way. Never even got up to cross the starting line. So actually I was able to say I didn't start, rather than didn't finish. And I think it's a better score. No, it's not. Oh it's not? Ok.

Before the next race starts, Mark Whitehead lights his pipe and tells me the Sasquatch Footy name was inspired by the wooden trophy - of a foot - that he made to award the winner of last year's inaugural race.

Even though Whitehead is the Commodore of the Back Bay Skippers and carved a wooden foot, this is a new class of boat for him.  He struggles to finish the first four races, but in the next he's shocked to find himself in the lead.

If I can get across the line. Woah-ho! Scary! I actually won! It sure isn't skill. I think I have the right sails.

Back on land, Jack Bergland from Billerica, Mass, steps forward to inquire about joining one of the clubs. Bill Hagerup gives Bergland some radio sailing advice.

You know we do say some people have a better feel for the wind then others. I'd like to be a lot better at than I am. I'm not the worst but I'm not the best. Watch Herb, he's really really good at it.

Herb Dreher goes on to win the regatta but as we're standing there someone tells Hagerup and Bergland about the other nearby wind expert, Bob Rice, and both men turn to look at the older man in the America's Cup jacket sitting on the bench quietly watching the wind cut across the lake. 

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