Sailing on Lake Tahoe for more than competition
On a windy Wednesday night, Steve Davis and two fellow crew members set sail from Tahoe Keys Marina for a weekly race known as the Beer Can Races. The race is designed to get people together for a Hump Day break from the daily grind and to drink some beer.
But for Davis and his crew, who had competed in the 1998 J-24 World Sailing Championship in San Francisco, the innate drive for victory dictated the mood on board their J-24, Snow Job.
With 15 to 20 knot winds, conditions were intense.
Under the darkening hue of the setting sun, about 20 boats made circles near the starting buoy, setting up for the beginning of the race.
“How much time?” Davis called out to a rival boat.
“Four minutes!” came the response from a fellow sailor.
Davis, Brian Goepfrich and Chad Cleaves, three-fifths of a crew that had finished 18th in the world just two years ago, sped off from the start and cruised through the waves, calling out tactical information and making intricate adjustments.
To the untrained eye, the maneuvers on board could have looked like a chaotic scramble, but to the credit of the crew, precision was the result.
In spite of its smaller size, the Snow Job triumphed over the larger and faster boats.
“Us beating those boats is like a go-cart blowing by a Formula One race car!” Cleaves exclaimed.
Davis got his first taste of sailing at 8 years old while at Camp Lookout, a boys camp on Lower Herring Lake, which had a channel that led to Lake Michigan.
The camp was owned by his father. A rustic camp, accessible only by a pontoon boat, it was located in the woods, 300 miles from his boyhood home in Chicago.
On an adjacent shore of Lower Herring was a resort community of cottages called Watervale where the “elite kids” spent their summers.
After a while, a rivalry developed between the kids at the resort community and those at Camp Lookout. Seven years later the inevitable happened – a race to determine which group had the best sailors.
In a pack of 20 boats, the 15-year-old Davis tasted his first sailing victory. In the clutch, he used a special sailing technique to edge out the lead boat at the finish line, a line which ended at the resort community – enemy territory.
“They were so (upset), because they thought they were so much better than us,” Davis said with a smile.
But like in the movies, not only did he claim victory, but he claimed the girl. She was “the hot girl” from the competing community, Davis said. That night he was invited to a beach party on their turf and became friends with the other kids.
Not a bad introduction to the spoils of victory for the young Davis, but little did he know that he would go on to compete in national and world championship sailing races with crew members from Lake Tahoe and San Francisco.
“It all comes down to being competitive,” Davis said. “It is something inside yourself that makes you want to feel like you’re good at something.”
Davis entered into competitive racing, simply by meeting the right people at the right time.
Working as a kitchen manager at The Cantina in 1988, he met the captain of his first racing crew, Bob Richards, who was then general manager for Camp Richardson.
That was when he first competed in the weekly Beer Can Races.
He went on to become vice commodore of the Windjammers Yacht Club.
Two years after sailing with Richards, Davis joined a new crew on board Peter Whitney’s J-24, Cool Breeze and headed to Miami to race in the nationals.
“I learned a lot at those nationals because we had so many wind conditions, anything from zero to 25 knots, so that put me at a level where I could compete with most boats,” Davis said.
A year later Davis joined his current crew on Goepfrich’s boat. The crew includes Cleaves, Terry Ogg and Brian’s brother, Karl.
The crew places in the top three of the San Francisco Bay races in which it competes each year.
As for local plans, Davis, who now works as an accounting supervisor for Sierra-at-Tahoe, hopes to start a sailing school with Goepfrich. Plans to bring a J-24 Regatta to Tahoe may also be in their future. But what is certain is that Davis and his crew will begin sailing again in the San Francisco Bay Spring Series at the end of January, the same races that qualified them for the J-24 World Championship in 1998.
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