Laser season arrives on Tahoe

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Sun File PhotoSailors in this file photo compete in a Monday Night Laser Series race on Lake Tahoe. The weekly race series started in 1976 and is still going strong. The fleet encourages others to come out and race. They race Mondays at 6 p.m. off the Lake Forest boat ramp, near the Coast Guard Station.

If the sailors in this fleet weren’t such good friends, things might get ugly off Lake Tahoe’s north shore on any given Monday.

Instead, the competitive Laser sailboat racers duke it out in the chop for as many heats as daylight allows, then simmer down over a burger and beer at one of their three restaurant sponsors.

At these post-race gatherings at Jake’s on the Lake, Sunnyside or Gar Woods, the Lake Tahoe Laser Fleet racers reflect on the evening’s competition. It’s where sailing’s version of fish stories thrive and#8212; with tales of the ever-growing wind gust in place of the whopper trout that got away.

It’s how their friendships were forged, they say. Because surely there’s no time on the water.

and#8220;The (Lake Tahoe) Laser Fleet is pretty remarkable,and#8221; says Nick Pullen, a regular in the Monday Night Laser Series since moving to Tahoe in 1997. and#8220;Not many fleets have been going as long as this one.and#8221;

The Lake Tahoe Laser Fleet was formed in 1976, according to the Tahoe Yacht Club, under which the Laser fleet and its weekly race series run. And many of today’s racers have been participating in the series for decades.

Like Dan Hauserman of Tahoe City.

and#8220;I’m one of the originals,and#8221; says Hauserman, pausing for a moment before pulling the year 1980, the year he started, from his memory.

Besides the lasting friendships, Hauserman says he remains involved because of the high level of competition and the challenge each race brings.

and#8220;I suspect the same is true of all the guys who’ve been doing it a long time, and that’s just that it is pure racing,and#8221; he says. and#8220;Everyone is on the same boat … It’s like a chess match on the water and#8212; very strategic.and#8221;

The Tahoe Yacht Club website describes a Laser as and#8220;an Olympic Class sailboat measuring 13 feet, 10 1/2 inches and weighing just 130 pounds.and#8221;

Pullen says the small size of the boat adds to the appeal because it’s one-on-one racing from start to finish, as opposed to relying on a crew of people to sail the larger boats.

and#8220;In Lasers it’s just you making all the decisions. If you screw up, it’s your own fault,and#8221; he says.

The races are held each Monday at 6 p.m. off the Lake Forest boat ramp, near the Coast Guard Station. And the fleet is always looking to recruit newcomers, no matter what their skill level.

Once upon a time and#8212; about eight to 10 years ago, Hauserman estimates and#8212; there was only one race division. Now there’s an and#8220;Aand#8221; Fleet and a and#8220;Band#8221; Fleet, which was created for beginner racers who were intimidated racing against the Hauserman and Pullen types. Youngsters in the Pico Division join the series the last Monday in June.

On a good day the fleet may have 25 to 30 boats between the three divisions, says Stacy Conner, who serves as the race officer, or the person who keeps the racers in check and playing by the rules and#8212; starting on time, rounding all the course markers, etc.

This past Monday, however, only 11 people raced and#8212; eight in the and#8220;Aand#8221; Fleet and three in the and#8220;Band#8221; Fleet. Before that, the first two races of the Monday Night Laser Series were canceled due to thunderstorms. Conner says it’s the first time in her memory that successive races were rained out. She’s been participating about 10 years.

But this is California, after all, and Conner hopes for clear sailing through the final race, which is always held the last weekend in August. By then the and#8220;Aand#8221; Fleet racers will be scrapping for the overall season title, determined by a cumulative points system based on wins.

and#8220;People definitely keep track (of the standings), especially near the end of the season,and#8221; says Matt Clark, a Tahoma resident who’s been racing with the fleet about seven years.

Clark won the overall title two years ago. Hauserman has won twice. Pullen, a former Canadian National Team member, isn’t sure. and#8220;I think I have won it once,and#8221; he says.

For others, like Pullen’s wife Buff Wendt, a top-three finish on any night is victory enough. Heck, she’s happy with a top-five finish racing against such a talented bunch.

and#8220;Between beating my husband and Stan Eriksson and#8212; we call him and#8216;Stanimal’ and#8212; it’s pretty hard. I’m always just thrilled to get a mug,and#8221; Wendt says, referring to the mugs awarded by the sponsor restaurants to the top-three finishers each week. and#8220;The competition is fierce out there, so for me that’s an accomplishment.and#8221;

And while winning is everyone’s goal, Clark put the friendly competition in perspective: and#8220;It’s just a good excuse to get out on the water. It’s a fun way to enjoy Tahoe.and#8221;

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