Outdoors

High Sierra Regatta sails back to Huntington Lake after dry years

A fleet of sailboats with flying spinnakers approach the finish line at Huntington Lake during the High Sierra Regatta in July 2013. The regatta returns to Huntington Lake this weekend and next weekend after a two-year hiatus due to the drought.
A fleet of sailboats with flying spinnakers approach the finish line at Huntington Lake during the High Sierra Regatta in July 2013. The regatta returns to Huntington Lake this weekend and next weekend after a two-year hiatus due to the drought. FRESNO BEE FILE

Central California’s best-known lake regatta is finally out of dry dock.

Following a two-year absence due to low water levels at Huntington Lake, the High Sierra Regatta is back and more billowy than ever with an expanded five-race series format. The two-weekend event kicks off Saturday and Sunday with smaller sailboats before returning July 16-17 with larger, keel-class vessels.

“The High Sierra Regatta is our gift to the sailing community,” Fresno Yacht Club commodore Daniel Erwin said. “It’s what we do that makes us worth being an organization. It’s our give-back purpose.”

Erwin admits the past two years have been rough on the club, which he says is down to about 20 active members. With Huntington Lake unavailable due to the lack of boat access, more races have shifted to Millerton Lake where the wind conditions aren’t as consistent.

Everybody wants to be at Huntington.

Fresno Yacht Club commodore Daniel Erwin

“It was a little bit like pushing a rope,” Erwin said. “There’s no heart for it. Everybody wants to be at Huntington.”

Nestled at 7,000 feet elevation in the Sierra National Forest east of Fresno, Huntington Lake owes its reputation as one of the West Coast’s best sailing venues due to its unusual nearby topography.

The man-made reservoir is surrounded by mountains on three sides and contained on its western end by three dams that drain into the village of Big Creek and produce hydroelectric power for Southern California Edison.

On summer days, hot air from the central San Joaquin Valley expands and rises up the canyon, forcing cool air that has settled above the lake at night into the mountains above. This thermal effect creates a natural funnel that produces consistent westerly winds averaging 15 mph – ideal for sailing.

“The wind starts up around 10 and blows until 5 – every day,” Erwin said. “It’s like clockwork.”

98 percent Water capacity at Huntington Lake

Huntington Lake is at 98 percent capacity and is expected to remain there through the end of July. That’s a huge change from the past two summers, when its boat ramps and marinas were high and dry.

“I really didn’t go up there for two years because I didn’t want to look at it so low,” said Dave Keran, who has been sailing at Huntington since the late 1950s. “Now, when you come over the top, it’s so great to see the lake with no white strip (of shoreline) around it. It’s like, ‘Wow, a full pool.’ 

Organizers made a couple changes to this year’s format. Instead of three races over two days in each class, five will be held. In addition, they shifted the San Juan 21 fleet to the opening weekend to get more local representation.

The two-year absence has forced organizers to push harder for entries. A maximum of 150 boats is allowed per weekend. While the opening weekend is nearly sold out, Erwin said ample space remains for July 16-17.

61st High Sierra Regatta

When: 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 9-10; continuing July 16-17

Where: Huntington Lake, 65 miles northeast of Fresno on Highway 168

Format: Five-race series (three Saturday, two Sunday)

Best viewing area: Lakeshore Beach or vicinity

Details: fresnoyachtclub.org

  Comments