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Change of venue

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Each Wednesday, Dick Barbara can’t wait to tow his single-handed sailboat to Emigrant Lake and meet up with his chums for an evening of sailing — water woes and COVID-19 be damned.

Barbara and his fellow sailors in the Rogue Yacht Club are facing a change of venue and, oh, a pandemic, but they still find respite in the stiff winds and blue waters of Emigrant Lake each week to get their sailing fix to sweep away the ills of the day — at least for a few moments.

“Take a look at this. It’s a nice day,” Barbara said. “I’ve been sailing since I was a kid. I love it. You’ve got to keep doing the things you love, especially these days.”

The Rogue Yacht Club is marking its 60th anniversary not at its normal haunts on Howard Prairie Lake but with informal Wednesday get-togethers at Emigrant Lake east of Ashland, which still puts winds in their literal and figurative sails.

It’s a bow to two unusual phenomenon in this diamond anniversary of the club, says Barbara, the club’s commodore.

First, Howard Prairie’s water is so low this year that the county’s marina remains high and dry. The prefer the winds at that high-mountain lake, but there is not enough water to launch.

So the next best water available is Emigrant Lake, which is fed by irrigation withdrawals from Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes and also is known for its consistent afternoon winds.

COVID-19 has taken away the club’s typical regattas and mid-week races, so these Wednesday evening gatherings allow them to sail and still harness some of the community feeling that has drawn local sailors to this club since the Eisenhower administration.

“We’re really grateful to have anything this year, to tell you the truth,” says John Spillman, an Ashland resident who has been part of the club armada the past 11 years. “In these times, it’s great to get out here, have fun with friends and be relatively safe.”

And the fun includes some physics.

Sailors can easily harness a downward wind to sail away from the dock, but getting back takes a little knowledge of winds and vectors that may have bored the average student in high school physics but mean the world to sailors such as Mark Warwick.

To sail against the wind, Warwick “tacks” by pointing his bow at about 30 degrees against the wind. That allows his sail to fill with air and push his underwater keel forward, then zig-zag in a similar fashion called “beating” to keep the boat from stalling out.

“You can sail a boat in 360-dgree circles,” if that’s what you want,” Warwick says. “You tack.”

But finding a few hours to harness the winds up and down Emigrant Lake takes an enormous amount of gyrations before hitting the water.

Sailors typically must string their sails and set their masts before backing their trailers down the long and skinny Emigrant Lake County Park boat ramps before hitting the water. Once there, they can add their keels and rudders before catching a gust and taking off.

The rigging can be cumbersome, but it’s all part of the experience for Spillman.

“I always tell people who scratch their heads and wonder why we spend so much time doing this, well, you gotta love doing that part, too,” Spillman says. “The rigging is pleasurable. You have to get it all dialed, because if you don’t have it all dialed before you get in the water, you’re in trouble.”

Even on the water, trouble can come at any moment on Emigrant Lake.

Unlike Howard Prairie, the afternoon winds can get swirly based on the lakeside topography.

“We get a lot of swirly winds on the lake, which really keeps you on your toes,” Spillman says. “The winds can change suddenly, and put you in he water.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Mark Warwick sails into the wind using a maneuver called Tacking at Emigrant Lake.