US College Sailor of the Year Wins Gorge Blowout

The Columbia Gorge Racing Association pulled off another of its infamous Gorge Blowout races today in conditions not quite the norm, with torturously light gusty air for the first part of the race, and eventually big breeze on as the competitors set down the second part of the race to finish at the Hood River Marina.

Chris Barnard taking a break after first run of today's Blowout

First place went to Chris Barnard, US 2012 College Sailor of the Year with a time of 2:48:24, second to Alexander Heinzemann (CAN) in 2:49:50, and Robert Davis (CAN) with 2:50:42 - an extremely tight finish over 18 miles of racing.

For Blowout veterans the lighter inconsistent breeze today was disappointing as it compromised the fear-of-death racing that Laser sailors seem to love about the Gorge. For the few Blowout newbies, the lighter air was probably a blessing, although some were surprised at just how big the swells on the Columbia River can get - not somewhere you want to bury the bow of a Laser. Overall, carnage was minimal and fun factor high.

Resting up half way down the Blowout track

21-year old Chris Barnard from Newport Beach, Calif., was psyched to win his first Blowout. He was in top form and race ready having just come off four weeks of competition sailing in Europe.

“I was really excited to do it,” Barnard said. “I came up here to do the North Americans and have heard about the legendary Blowout. I thought it’d be really fun to do a great warm-up event before the North Americans. It seemed like we had pretty close to ideal conditions and it was a lot of fun.”

Barnard just finished up his junior year at Georgetown University where he usually sails FJs and 420s. He says he gets a decent amount of Laser sailing in, and has been sailing Lasers since the beginning of high school. He’s got his sights set on an Olympic campaign for 2016, after he’s finished his senior year at college.

“It's days like this in the Gorge that makes Lasers one of the more fun boats to sail,” Barnard said. “You’re just playing around in the waves, although it hurts sometimes - its definitely a physically demanding boat but you get plenty of satisfaction when you come out on top on a really physical kind of boat.”

Clearly blessed with plenty of natural sailing ability, Barnard said he tried to so as much research as he could for this week’s racing in the Gorge.

“I wanted to have a good idea of where the shallow and deep parts of the river are, and where the current is,” Barnard explained. “Today I did my best to stay in shallow water while staying in the breeze and staying fast all the time. I had a bit of rough start for the first half and managed to grind my way back to get a hold on the lead about half way down the first run. I made a mistake and found myself back in the channel instead of hugging the shore so I had to consolidate my losses and get back to shore. There was a group of five of us dialed into the shore, they went back into the channel and I hugged the shore for a bit longer. Within about five minutes I had about two minutes of gap on everybody and that’s where I really made my big gain of the day.”

Starting second half of run to finish at Hood River Marina

“For the second run the breeze was much more consistent and the current seemed much more even. It was easier for me to be conservative, stay close and I knew I didn’t have to win that leg. It was blowing much harder. It was a really good fleet out here so you just have to put the pedal down as hard as you can.”

As for the North American’s that start on Thursday, Barnard is out to win.

“I think it’s going to be a really fun regatta, my goal is to hopefully win the regatta - but there’s a solid group of guys here and they’re all going to be fast this week. It’ll be a tough event for sure.” --

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