Fern Ridge Reservoir returns!!

An Interview with Fleet 19’s Doug Smith

by Andrew Kerr


Doug Smith has been an active member of Eugene, Oregon’s Fleet 19 for many years. He and his team sailing on One Eye Jacq have competed in S20 events all over the country and Doug is a big supporter of his S20 fleet and the class in general.

In 2001, Fern Ridge Reservoir had no water due to a drought but, undeterred, Fleet 19 were instrumental in running very good Nationals at Klamath Lake in conjunction with the Klamath YC and their local S20 fleet.

This last year the reservoir underwent repairs by the Army Corp of Engineers (see www.nwp.usace.army.mil/issues/fernridge/home.asp for related information) and again the resourceful group at Fleet 19 rebounded and co hosted (along with Fleet 16) a very successful Nationals at Cascade Locks on the Columbia River Gorge.

Despite the lack of local water, the fleet continued to hold monthly meetings, build the new docks at the yacht club, and S20 teams traveled far and wide to participate in other events.

The fleet has a group of enthusiastic and dedicated fleet members who maintain a great level of interest in the S20 and are the very glue that helps the class stay active and relevant in the new age of sail boat racing.

I have been lucky enough to attend events in Eugene for many years with our boat, Disaster Area, and one of the things that is so evident is the great spirit of volunteerism that Fleet 19 has - every one contributes in some way.

A good example of this is the Memorial Day regatta - the fleet will be responsible for preparing, cooking (and clean up afterward) a meal for hundreds of sailors. They will do this with great team work and a smile.

In 2006 the fleet will have a lake to sail on and will be hosting some of the best events you can sail in the S20 – Eugene Yacht Club’s Memorial Day Regatta – which has averaged 25 to 30 S20’s every year, Triton Yacht Club’s Emerald Cup and in the early fall - Eugene Yacht Club’s Harvest Day Regatta – to mention just a few.

Fern Ridge Reservoir is a beautiful venue for sail boat racing and a great place to bring your family and friends.  The experience both on and off the water is not to be missed.

Andrew Kerr caught up with Doug to find out how life with out water had been, the upcoming season, his own sailing and what makes this unique fleet tick.

AK: How has it been with no water at the lake for 2005? How have people been able to maintain their enthusiasm level?

DS: Actually, Andrew, it has been very disappointing but we did what was necessary to stay positive and keep sailing. Several fleet members traveled to events we normally compete in such as SOCKS in Seattle, but also traveled to Whiskeytown in Redding over the Memorial Day weekend that is usually our big event of the year.

One of the things we tried to do was maintain our friendships and habits from the racing season. Thursday nights have evolved into our weekly race day so many of us would continue to meet at EYC for burgers and beers.

Most were 20 sailors and usually the same people but - as we all know - the camaraderie is one of the aspects of the sport that make it so rewarding for many of us. Actually, since we had no water to play on discussions frequently occurred of what we hope EYC’s future will be in the coming years and some of the plans have been placed in motion. We have new docks, are negotiating to purchase some land we now lease, and have formed a committee to discuss the construction of a new clubhouse in the coming years. My crew owns a Shock 23 so we moored it at Siltcoos Lake (along the Oregon coast) so we had a place to sail that was reasonably close. It was fantastic in the spring but when summer came it blew over 20 constantly and was often foggy. It still was fun and enough to keep the addiction satisfied. Lido 14s, on Wednesday nights, at some of the mountain lakes was done a few times too.

AK:Tell us about Fleet 19 and its members, what makes the fleet run so well and keep rebounding even after the set backs of having no water in ‘01 and ‘05?

DS: I think the positive can-do attitude and willingness of everyone to jump in and help put on events is what makes our fleet continue to do so well. Many of the familiar names from the past, Fuller, Mikesell, Sherlock, Loveland and Franklin, have gone on to other things but new faces and boats have appeared with new energy and enthusiasm.

Two of our newer members took on fleet captain duties, the Goodrich’s and Gilstrap’s, and did fantastic jobs over the past several years. Leeann Bale Fish, (yes as in the old salt Ron Fish that everyone knows), has been our captain the past two years and did a good job keeping us going in these tough times. New people provide the energy, old members some history, but the major element is simply hard work and follow through to get it done.

An example in this past year demonstrated how several people really stepped up to the challenge. Mark Forest agreed to be the class president, even in the middle of completing his Master’s program, getting married and playing in a terrific big band. Then we find out we have no water to host the Championships so Rick Gilstrap says “no problem” and works it out long distance with Derek Hardy, of the Puget Sound fleet, to put on a memorable event on the Columbia Gorge. Everyone chipped in to help as needed and had a good time doing it. We all know how to have fun and keep the racing on the water and a good time on the land. Keep it fun, keep it easy and let the people who volunteer to do it do it their way. It always seems to work out fine.

AK: I understand that Eugene Yacht club had some new docks added this past year, tell us about these new additions and some of the plans the club has for the future.

DS: We were lucky that a good deal was made to purchase some floating concrete docks that were not being used in the Florence area. I helped to unload and stack them when delivered last year and Gordon Mattatall of H20Boa agreed to head up the project - expecting the 3 to 5 years originally estimated it would take to repair the Fern Ridge dam. When we were told, to our delight, that the project would be completed in one year we were relieved but also under intense pressure to get the new docks in the water since the dry year did so much to deteriorate our docks.

So Gordon mobilized everyone and many crews of people began the deconstruction of our docks. We rented some heavy equipment and one member spent an entire weekend from dawn to dark moving the docks off of the lake bottom and stacking them on the lawn for other crew to disassemble them, separate the usable parts for recycling, etc. Much of the docks were constructed from redwood and we hope to use this for future projects since it is so beautiful. Other beams and hardware will also be used in other projects.

Another member leveled the harbor area in preparation for the pile driver to come in and place new steel pilings, which was done in time to meet the construction company timeline. They moved all of the docks from the back of the club grounds and bolted them together before the rains started. After observing how much work and expertise this project required we are thankful the membership decided to contract this out. Now there is water in the lake and the docks are floating. The fingers have been delivered and will be floated into place and bolted to the docks soon. The membership rose to the occasion and did what was necessary within the required time frame so we can be ready to host regattas next year. We even hope we can have a winter regatta if the Army Corp of Engineers raises the water level for testing. Stay tuned because we will broadcast and announcement if this occurs.

AK: Tell us about your sailing and your crew, I know you have traveled a lot with your team and boat – tell us about some of your experiences and what keeps you coming back for more?

DS: C’mon Andrew, I’m a sailor and an open question like that could end up with a two-hour answer. Lying, bragging and story telling is one of the requirements of being a sailor. I have decided during the aging process that memories are the most important part of living and of course making them the most fun. We can tell tales of watching the boat sail away from us toward the dam after bucking us off in a big broach, or the time the mast came down 10 minutes before the start at SOCKS and we put it back up and got a 2nd. The same weekend we get sprayed by stinky porpoise breath while quietly sailing in light wind. Or this year, at the Gorge in the big wind, when the weld broke on the stem fitting and the mast came down on us. We took it apart, found a welder for the repair, bought some fiberglass, repaired the boat and were on the line the next day. This is the stuff we live for and are part of the game.

I bought One Eye Jacq in 1986 and have been sailing her hard ever since. I’m not known for my boat maintenance because I am sailing instead. My loyal crew, Johnny LeeWard, also purchased Divine Madness the same year but has since sold his and for over 10 years has been my mate, (he makes me do my maintenance) doing whatever position he needs to keep us competitive.

I try to sail five or so regattas a year and John is with me for at least half of them. He is an excellent crewman and knows how to make the boat go and keeps me focused. We sail every Thursday night together and usually have a steady third most years but also really enjoy taking on a new crew and training them; sometimes a new person every week until we find someone interested in committing. We have been pretty lucky a few times and the crew has even gone on to buy their own boat. Nothing is more complimentary for a skipper to see their crew be so enthused to move ahead and buy their own 20.

Our greatest accomplishment, and to this day the best road trip ever, was in ‘94 when us and the Spyguy, Don Erickson in #314 Spy, traveled to Lake Dillon in Colorado for the Championships. Johnny and I, with the best foredeck ever, Nicholai Lenn, placed 3rd. Everything just seemed to be right, we got lucky, and so we are now in the book. Nic owns a 20, Repo, and he will be kicking my butt on the course for sure. I have some memorable San Diego trips and really enjoyed the Shock Invitational in San Francisco during fleet week the times Tom held them. I hope he brings them back because they were special and a good meeting place for the California and Oregon boats to meet.

AK: How does the upcoming season look for Fleet 19?

DS: It will be busy and wild. We all will sail at least twice as much as normal since we are a year behind now. I know I will also be cruising my boat more and taking many friends out as often as possible. I enjoy that part of the 20 as much as racing it. I know I am making a commitment to get my boat up to grade and purchase some new go fast stuff and know I am not alone. We have some new sailors ready to go and I hope to see 10 to 15 on the line every Thursday with 25 here for Memorial Day Regatta. I am commodore of EYC this year and personally invite all the 20’s in the nation to attend. It will be hosted by a past class champion, Paul Stephens, and you know he will do a fantastic job. If you want to attend but need a boat, crew or just want to come for the fun let us know and we will help you out.

We are very disappointed that we had the Championships twice since ’96 where we couldn’t showcase our lake as one of the best Santana 20 venues anywhere. We will try again but come join us this year to see for yourselves.

AK: What events do you think we may see you and your team at in 2006?

DS: We will do SOCKS in Seattle, possibly the Firecracker at Klamath Lake, three regattas on our lake, and usually go to Newport for at least one regatta every year. I took the tuna to Whidbey Island Race Week a few years ago and had a fantastic time and did pretty well being the smallest boat of about 150 boats. A couple other boats have been doing it the past years and are making a name for us up there. They have offered to host our championships within their event if the class ever wanted to go there. It is one of the must do events but pretty big water for the little tuna sometimes.

AK: Thank you Doug.