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Sailboat crews set to race in the New Year on Watagua Lake

JAMES BROOKS • Dec 31, 2008 at 12:00 AM

HAMPTON — The ninth annual New Year’s Day Frostbite Race for sailboats on Watauga Lake will start at noon Thursday from Lakeshore Marina, where the race also will finish. According to race captain Jim Little, weather will be a factor, because it is always a factor in sailing. Today’s forecast calls for windy weather, but things are expected to calm down on Thursday with a high in the low 40s by race time. However, there’s a reason almost all the sailboats in the region are based on Watauga Lake. “The wind is always stronger there,” Little said. “I live on Patrick Henry Lake, but it’s always stronger because the winds channel through on Watauga.” He said there also is a thermal effect from the mountains when there’s an east wind. It’s not only the surface weather that makes Watauga a good sailing lake, but the fact that underwater there are steep sides and deep water in the center. It is less affected by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s winter drawdowns than the other reservoirs in the region. “You can sail to within 50-to-75 feet of the shore to tack,” Little said. “The water is at least 50 feet deep, and in the center it is 250 feet deep.” Sailboats are able to sail intothe wind by tacking across thewind at an angle. Tacking also gives the best push going away from the wind, but boats must swing from side to side in order to keep on course. The racing fleet of 12 to 16 boats will complete the course in about two hours, depending on the vagaries of wind and weather. Most of the competing vessels are fairly large cruising sailboats with sleep-aboard accommodation. Crews range from two to four persons, some of which will be novices receiving instruction from their captains as they race. Weather for the annual event has varied dramatically. The first event in 2001 was sailed in a blizzard, but weather for morerecent races has been calmer.However, sailors don’t wantreally calm weather. The Watauga Lake Sailing Club serves cruising and racing enthusiasts from Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina. As if captaining a boat didn’t keep one busy enough, Little claims there is plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. “It’s mostly National Forest along the shoreline. There are few houses, so the view, combined with the weather conditions, makes Watauga one of the great inland sailing lakes,” Little said.

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