Lake Baikal is in the heart of Siberia, half a world away from Chicago. It takes two overnight flights, a rough five-hour bus ride and the help of friends from a few countries and continents to get there. But Baikal’s promise of beautiful ice a meter and a half thick makes it an irresistible draw to DN sailors. It has such a mystique that even my fiancé and occasional DN racer, Marci Grunert made the trip with me.
The first step in getting to Baikal is getting your boat there. There are two shipping containers that are packed with 44 DNs and sent from Germany to Baikal and I had to get my boat in one of them. I credit East coast DNer "T" Thieler and DN North American Champ Ron Sherry with showing me how easy world travel with a DN can be. T guided me through getting my boat to Europe – you simply check it with the airline as oversized baggage! Ron Sherry introduced me to a network of European DN sailors including Joerg Bohn, Torsten Siems, Stefan Schweneker and Dideric Van Riemsdijk who provided transportation, housing, DN storage and workspace. I cannot thank them enough.
The containers are packed immediately following the European championships. So, in February I packed up my boat, checked it as oversized baggage and met up with T and Eben Whitcomb in Frankfurt Germany. The three of us would later meet up with Joerg Bohn and drive to lake Balaton in Hungary for the Europeans, after which we returned to Germany and packed our boats into the containers for their trip to Baikal. We would all follow the boats two weeks later.
The site for the Baikal ice sailing week is vast, rugged and treeless. It is quiet. There is no town. No village. The roads are not paved and there is no traffic. Just space and stillness. They say it is the oldest lake on the planet and you can feel it.
When Marci and I arrived after two days and twelve time zones of travel we were exhausted, but buoyed by the sight of shipping containers waiting to be unloaded on the rocky shore of the lake.
The next morning I walked down the hill from our lodge, past grazing cows, to the containers on the shore. Some early risers had unloaded the boats. I found all my gear among piles of masts, hulls, sails, planks and runner boxes. We American sailors staked claim to a patch of ice between the Polish and the Swiss sailors. It didn’t take long for us to rig up and get out on the ice. The ice was thick and crystal clear.
There were 79 DNs and about 20 juniors sailing ice Optis. The first order of racing was a series of qualifier races to split the 79 into gold and silver fleets. Then, for the next seven days we raced every day but one. The breeze never settled down enough to set a course until about 1 pm, but that left the mornings for tuning, testing, talking, inspecting other boats, ice skating, yoga, hiking up the mountain to drink from a sacred Buddhist spring or visiting the Buddhist stupa. Once the racing began it was shifty conditions. Often in DN racing tuning and speed are king, but here strategy and tactics dominated. The competition was tough. Most races saw multiple lead changes and tight racing in both fleets. Especially fast in the gold fleet were Jost Kolb from Germany, Peter Hamrak from Hungary, Marek Stefaniuk from Poland and Oleg Vasilev from Russia. Over the eight days there were four scored events. I happened to win the one for which the mayor of Irkutsk showed up, along with the media.
After eight days of sailing against some of the sport’s best I had gleaned a season’s worth of information about settings, tuning, technique, made a ton of new friends and was exhausted. Yet, after the final awards were handed out and all the media had left, I could not resist pushing off with my good friend Peter Hamrak for one last lap around the course in the fading light and breeze of lake Baikal.
If anyone is interested in getting started in DN racing check out iceboat.org, or google DN North America or IDNIYRA.