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ON THE SCENE: 48th running of the Lake Placid Regatta

September 8, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

On Sunday, Sept. 2, the Bonner family hosted the 48th running of the Lake Placid Regatta (aka Clamato Regatta) at Camp Sunshine on Lake Placid.

The weather had all one could hope for and wish had not happened, a stiff breeze, dead calms and radical wind shifts. These fluid conditions were met with the steely calm, glint eyes and gallows humor of such stalwarts as Greg Reiss, Roger Smith and John Randall, who have met far more brutal conditions in their more than 40 years of racing, a band of diehards of which this reporter is one.

"You're not getting a comment from me," said Randall.

Article Photos

John “Geek” Randall and Jamie “Dork” Rhodes, winners of the Oscar “Fat Chance” D. Nohowel Award
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"Naturally," I said with fingers crossed.

"This is the sports institution in Lake Placid," responded Randall after reconsidering. "It's either the third Olympics or the Clamato Regatta; they are the two most important sporting events in life. Forty-eight years. Ironman hasn't been held that long, and I've participated in 46 of them, O.K., 45.

"My first race was the second race," I said.

"You were 5 years old then. I want that in print," said Randall.

Lightning struck the minds of the Regatta founders, I believe teenagers all, one Labor Day weekend back in 1970, then hanging out in the Edgerton boathouse on Victor Herbert Road. They were bored. Listless. And then one harkened back to a recent visit to Upper St. Regis Lake to observe an Idem Race.

Idem Class sailboats were designed and built for racing on the St. Regis Lakes. They are known for their very flat decks, flattened u-shaped hulls and large sails enabling them to be extremely fast in relatively light winds. More though than the shape of these unique vessels is that the owners have been racing them against each other since 1900.

"I have an idea," said one at the Edgerton boathouse, rumored to be drinking Clamato juice bolstered with a clear neutral grain spirit often identified as the national pick-me-up of Russia. "What ho?" said another twirling her Clamato with a stalk of celery. The idea of hosting an annual one-class sailboat race was floated. They discussed the festive atmosphere on St. Regis, the food and drink, the decor of those coming out to watch, the servants passing out libations and nibbles to nibble on. Several noted that Placidians are known for their abilities to attend cocktail parties, for some on a near daily basis, and still handle a round of golf, a game of tennis, and be competitive. One thinks of how the earlier pioneers of bobsledding once trained and those who compete on the toboggan slide still sometimes do.

"Grand idea," said a third. "When?" said another.

"Tomorrow, Sunday, the last day before we scatter off to our homes, schools, and college," was the response.

They agreed that instead of a weekly grind of races like stock car racing, it would be an all-or-nothing effort - just one race, one chance to win.

A deal was struck, rules drafted, the first race was held, and to the surprise of one, who learned that while he did not win the race, he had been named the next commodore, (aka he and his family would be hosting the event the following year). And so, the tradition began along with a banged-up cocktail shaker as the trophy that had been retrieved from the trunk of, I believe, Lou Higgins's car. As to who was the original owner, Lou's mumbled reply was somewhere between "I don't remember" to "I'm sure they'd rather remain anonymous."

Two who have served as commodore are Peter Geisler and his daughter Missy, with Peter given the opportunity to host the 1976 race. Wife Connie led race cleanup committee for two-and-a-half decades. "My mother went 'Ahhhhh!!!!' when Peter was nominated," said Connie, now sporting a silver-handled whisk broom and a plastic dustpan. Missy is not only a past commodore but a past winner, and now retired from racing who cheers from the sidelines. She said, "This is a darn good race!"

Over the years, the rules have been modified, much like the U.S. Constitution. There is the George Love rule for no sculling, one of several that George inspired over the years. But let's not forget contributions made by the Scudders, Edgertons, Randalls, Reiss family (a very creative lot), and others, myself included. Indeed, today one of the most anticipated and required aspects of the race is the reading of the rules a half hour before the start.

"We should have gotten the award for the greatest water displacement," said Jamie "Dork" Rhodes commenting on his and "Geek" Randall's combined weight. "We weren't last. I think we came in eighth [in the top third]. We were last at one point in the race, off the start. We had a terrible start."

In the end, they won the Oscar D. Nohowel Award for reflecting the best spirit of the race. (Nohowel's boat was named "Fat Chance.")

The race soared in popularity, becoming more than one commodore could deal with; thus, the position of admiral was created which (the late) James 'Jay' H. Higgins III fulfilled with great zeal for many years. In his honor, an annual award has been established to recognize those that give beyond self and expectations and who are also masters of the smoke and mirrors approach to getting things done while implying what is, what is. Marnie Bonner was so honored this year.

"I just love being out on the lake, especially here off Buck Island," said Ted Ughetta, who's been racing since the late 1980s. "It's important to stretch and stay loose before the race. Mostly, though, it's mental preparation. We find that we need to stay calm as the rigging can get a little stressful at times. You have to remember your stopper knots, figure eights and square knots as they are all different. It takes concentration."

Will Larzelere nearly set a record for how late he and his partner D.K. Law came in. It had to be a good hour after almost everyone else.

"We got caught in a very strange breeze," said Larzelere. "We had to tack back and forth, but the wind was ever changing. We couldn't find out way out of the pocket. We had the wind coming at us from two different directions."

Larzelere said that being caught in this pocket provided he and his teammate the opportunity to discuss being non-binary like the wind. He said such situations provided opportunities to think how important it is to seize the moment, a thought that luge racers can well understand.

On the other end of the spectrum, Whitney Smith and Johnny Shaw won the race, promising to come back next year, as did others with revenge in mind and prayers for heavy winds and new ways of bending the rules in their hearts.



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