Little Boats on the Big Stage

Published on August 15th, 2022

by Andrew Nelson, 48° North
When I told people in 2019 that the Columbia Gorge Racing Association (CGRA) was thinking about putting in a bid for the USODA Opti Nationals, I got a lot of responses, usually ranging between shocked and skeptical. CGRA prides itself on running world class events, and has a long list of national, continental, and world championships under its belt, but this was arguably the most ambitious event we had taken on in a decade.

An Opti Nationals can draw up to 300 boats, but it’s not just the competitors, it’s the entourage of parents, siblings, coaches, vendors, and the army of volunteers that can easily triple the total number of people in attendance.

Before we ever got to the point of submitting a bid, I asked Erin Timms if she would serve as regatta chair. During the regatta I would be busy coaching. I could serve as CGRA’s regatta representative and lead the planning process, but we needed a capable and talented chair to manage the event while it was underway.

Erin has more than a decade of experience attending USODA events with her sons Owen and Alan. The term “Opti mom” might get a bad rap in some circles, but in Erin’s case she proudly uses the title. Fortunately, she called my bluff, and by early 2020 we shipped our bid off to USODA, with strong encouragement from USODA Executive Director Beth Danilek.

Then of course, the pandemic hit and everything ground to a halt. Our bid was eventually accepted, but postponed a year until July 2022. We were bummed, but in hindsight, the extra year of preparation was greatly appreciated.

The Zoom meetings began in fall of 2021. As key personnel were confirmed, our Zoom meetings grew to include Eric Rimkus (PRO), Craig Daniels (Chief Judge), and Susan Winner, who decided to stay on one more year as CGRA Events Manager.

The logistics were daunting. We needed about 40 on-water volunteers, housing for 10 judges and half a dozen VIPs, 15 race committee/support boats, moorage for 20+ coach boats, plus space for vendors, not to mention all of the Optis!

Although an Opti is only 7 ½’ long, when there are 170 of them, they take up a lot of space! We actually really lucked out that we didn’t exceed 220 participants, as we would have probably broken the venue (and our volunteers). Most of us involved with planning had at least a few sleepless nights thinking about all of the things that could go wrong. – Full report

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