Whiskeytown Lake Does It All                                                     

                                                                                       by Tom Burden

The 70th El Toro Championships are a wrap. Whiskeytown Lake provided the entire range of possible El Toro sailing conditions, from four knot zephyrs and 84 degree heat to Kaneohe-like wind and waves, but SF Bay cold, with bomb gusts to 18 knots and auto tack-inducing wind shifts. A small but talented Senior fleet was seasoned with four past National Champions, including Gordie Nash and Vaughn Seifers with three titles each.

Whiskeytown, dedicated by JFK in 1963, has recovered beautifully from the massive fire several years ago. The cold, refreshing water is crystal clear. You just have to go for a swim! Camping at private Dry Creek Group Camp in a healthy oak forest was at times windy, but serene and secluded. The Brandy Creek Marina parking lot turned into a village with RVs and trailered sailboats. The “classic” Whiskeytown Regatta is alive and well, with a tasty Saturday evening rib barbecue, plus live electric rock music. The El Toro fleet splashed around noon Friday for a couple of practice legs in perfect 10 to 15 knot conditions with moderate 75 degree sunny flat-water sailing.

Things changed Saturday, with overnight arrival of south-easterlies resembling Hawaii stuff, but the thermometer barely cleared 70 degrees. Those waves were cold! Of course the big guys, heavy air specialists Vaughn Seifers and Tom Burden, came out to play.

Race one: Vaughn executed a brilliant start, ducking two boats on port to get to the favored right side of the course, grab a header, and tack into the lead. With locomotive-like speed, he blazed wire to wire. Burden held the top-mark gap to a couple lengths. Both surfed sportily to the leeward mark, after which Seifers extended upwind to win comfortably, with Burden choosing to cover Gordie Nash. A “statement” opening victory for Vaughn.

Race two: Burden took the start, played the south shore for headers and gusts, and built a big lead. But Tom was cold, his brain was tired, and Vaughn charged back by gambling on the left side. Seifers started a nasty tacking duel with his Lim El Toro gaining on every tack and a small mistake by Burden allowed the steady Seifers to grab the gun. Tom Tillotson was third ahead of Nash. At the finish, with bigger boats including an A-Cat, an ILCA and a Snipe capsized all around, the Toro fleet voted to head for the snug harbor instead of completing a third race. We all finished both races and kept right side up. To quote an old truism, “It’s never like this here!”

Race three: Sunday brought Whiskeytown back to its senses. The morning westerly choked off, Redding heated up in the valley below, and the usual four to eight knot funkiness breathed hot from the southeast. Gordie Nash used his optimum conditions to take all the air out of his rivals as he bulleted the start and hit every shift. Very smooth and effortless. Soon he was gone.

Meanwhile the two Toms, Tillotson and Burden, were both called OCS at the weather end of the start line. At the top mark Nash had a 50-yard lead followed by the recovering Tillotson, Seifers and Vickie Gilmour. Burden was close behind and then, as he watched in horror, the others just steadily sailed away from him. He was on the dead wrong side of a wind line.

Seifers was where he needed and wanted to be in his least-favored wimpy breeze, in third place and in charge of the regatta. At the bottom mark it looked hopeless for Burden, stuck in fifth with Gordie way ahead, Tillotson, Seifers and Gilmour uncatchable. He asked his beloved El Toro, Henry, to summon some local knowledge, some Hank Jotzian magic. The others were headed left. Desperate for some leverage, he tacked toward the island on the right.

The breeze built. He looked straight ahead and thought about the motto of the Brooklyn Dodgers, “Wait Till Next Year!”

About 100 feet from the island, the header appeared and he executed a roll tack, looked around and beheld the miracle that had transpired. Tables turned! He was in second place and footing over the others on a big lift! Seifers was in a windless hole parked in fifth behind Gilmour. Tillotson was trying to climb back from the left, and it was going to be close. Final was Nash, Tillotson, Burden, Gilmour and Seifers.

Race four: With the crashing Seifers and surviving Burden now tied and Nash one point back, it looked like the yellow boat might take charge of the series, until a fatal unforced error sank Gordie’s regatta. The Race Committee changed course placards on the pontoon boat from Course J, a short windward-leeward, to Course K, a longer hot dog with more distant top and bottom marks. (Actually they used a placard with “Same” to indicate “same course as the previous fleet.”)  Burden and Paul Zander noticed the change. Nash did not and rounded the wrong marks, followed by Tillotson and Gilmour. Burden sailed from gust to gust, banged out tack after tack, found pressure for a quarter mile lead and finished first followed by Seifers and Zander.

Race five: A final short windward leeward in four-knot wind with a downwind finish was won by Nash, four inches ahead of Burden. With no sixth race and thus no throw-out the final score was Burden, 10 points, Seifers, 12 and Nash, 16.

Remembering Hank: The El Toro Class sailed this championship series in honor of Hank Jotz. A member of the Whiskeytown Sailing Club who lived in nearby Weaverville, Hank was a gifted sailor, role model and class act. Tom Burden said, “Hank taught me how to win the right way.” See a complete bio of Hank on the El Toro class website.

Winner’s perspective: “The El Toro is a great boat because sailors of any weight or size can race equally,” said Tom Burden. “My El Toro is named after Hank Jotz, who sold me the boat five years ago. Henry the Toro won three North American titles with Hank, at Encinal, Richmond and Huntington Lake. I am honored to win for the second time. I won in 1998 in another Moore, on a tiebreaker from Jotz (who interestingly was sailing the future Henry, then sort of named Barefoot). I believe I may be the physically largest person to win the El Toro North Americans.”

Future: The class plans to return here for the Whiskeytown Regatta next Memorial Day. You should join us. In more exciting news, next year’s National Regatta will be held at Lake Washington Sailing Club, location of our 2020 event, on June 20th to 22nd, 2025. We will be racing there next month in the Regional Championships in just over three weeks, June 22-23. See Lake Washington Sailing Club site. More info to follow in a Nash Flash email.