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Fleet's in at annual boat race.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

More than 80 yacht skippers and their assorted crew, and still no sign of a martini or an anchor hat.

Instead, Saturday's crowd at the noon prerace meeting of Eugene Yacht Club's annual Memorial Day Regatta at Fern Ridge Lake tended more toward Corona and sandals.

Among those gathered were Nall Bodine of Sweet Home and his three mates, preparing to race his 24-foot sailboat called the "Thumper."

Between Bodine and crew members Tia Sitton, Kaylee Brown and Glen Chapman, there is 97 years of sailing experience and countless contests won.

And for this event, they allowed a stowaway newspaper reporter - taking her maiden boat voyage and charged with the all-important job as "rail meat." My sole purpose aboard the merry Thumper would be to duck, and to position myself high on the sides, or the "rails," to help keep the weight balanced.

While the crew surveyed ropes and sails during its pre-race checkup, Bodine cleaned the sides of his white boat and traded friendly barbs with fellow skippers moored alongside him.

"We're all pretty good friends," Sitton explained. "Just enemies on the water."

The final prerace ritual involved a long line outside restrooms with doors marked "buoys" and "gulls" - facilities on stripped-down racing boats involve the use of a bucket, Bodine said.

White sails up, the fleet hit the lake, idling like oversized geese on water as flat as glass waiting for enough wind to start competition.

Bodine, 57, a home builder who has already built a good tan, had a greeting for every passing yacht.

"Hey, fire up that barbecue and we'll hang around," he called out to a crew equipped with a grill and listening to reggae music.

Slowly, however, the "fluky" east wind shifted, and tension built.

Beers were poured out or stored, and the breezy crew transformed: Chapman's elbows flew as he pulled a line, and Sitton manned the bow, pointing out competition to Bodine working the rudder in back.

Friendly hellos were now gruff warnings as the boats jostled for position at the start - collisions are not uncommon as the large yachts get within inches of one another, jockeying for the upwind right-of-way.

"Don't you luff me!" Bodine hollered at the skipper of the Falcor, another Eugene-based boat.

The Thumper started out ahead in its first of three heats Saturday, and Bodine had the craft going what seemed like the fastest 7 mph anyone had ever gone.

Approaching the first marker buoy of the race, the Falcor and another rival, the Hukilau, closed in, and the crew barked out a jargon-filled language that included "spinnaker," "ginny" and "halyard."

"Communication is important," Sitton said later. "It's just quick orders, it's bad to overcommunicate."

Crouched in the center, my experience of living abroad came strangely handy: I listened only for the words I needed to know - "we're going to go" - which meant a large pole would soon be swinging over my head and it was in my best interest to get down.

Then came the actual tack, and the boom cleared all heads, bringing the forward sail snapping so quickly to the opposite side, I thought for sure I was going with it.

Heading downwind, ships lowered their spinnakers, a colorful, parachute-like sail, and raced toward the finish line. Losing track of the final buoy, the team fell into third, and the comfortable lead turned into a scrap between the Hukilau and the Thumper for second.

A series of quick turns (and ducks on my part) brought the Thumper in ahead, and the crew let out whoops and high-fives.

"Just about time for a brewski now," Bodine said, as all four quickly fell back into their lackadaisical routine, cracking beverages and lounging against the sides during the 10 minutes before the start of the second heat.

MEMORIAL DAY REGATTA

Where: Fern Ridge Lake, Richardson Point

When: Continues through today, starts at 10 a.m.
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Title Annotation:General News; There's yachts and yachts to see at Memorial Day Regatta
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 27, 2007
Words:653
Previous Article:THIS WEEK IN HISTORY.
Next Article:Memorial Day events honor fallen.
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