On Saturdays during the summer months, around 15 skilled Minnetonka Yacht Club skippers and their crews set sail on Lake Minnetonka to race E-Scows, a sleek and sporty class of yacht that can reach speeds up to 25 miles per hour. For a weekend this month, those sailors will have the chance to compete on their home turf, along with around 85 other boats from across the country at the 58th annual E-Scow National Championship Regatta. The event set for September 8–11 will mark the yacht club’s sixth time hosting the event and the first time hosting since 2006.
Regatta chair and two-time E-Scow national champion Sam Rogers expects about 350 competitors in town for the regatta organized by the National Class E-Scow Association. While the male and female sailors vary widely in age and experience, the event draws some of the best in the country and includes former Olympians, collegiate All-Americans and professional sailors. “The E-Scow class is probably the best non-Olympic, non-professional sailing in the U.S. with the highest quality of racing,” says local sailor Erik Bowers.
The E-Scow has a rich history in Minnesota, with roots dating back to the boat’s invention in White Bear Lake in 1889. The first Minnetonka Yacht Club E-Scow races began in the 1920s and the sport started to gain popularity in the 1940s. Today, hundreds of the yachts compete across the country. Built for racing only on inland lakes, the 28-foot-long boat requires a crew of three to four sailors, each with their own responsibilities.
The skipper steers the boat and adjusts the mainsail, while the crew adjusts the other two sails and feeds the skipper information on the wind and boat traffic. “It takes a lot of communication,” local skipper Derek Packard says. “It’s intense. There’s a lot of yelling at times, and you’re really on edge because things happen so quickly.” Because of the high speeds and athletic nature of the sport, Rogers says E-Scow sailing attracts a special kind of sailor who wants to go fast, get wet and work hard. Bowers says the key to racing well is to “just beat the chaos.”
While sailors enter the race with a competitive attitude, regattas are also social events that offer the opportunity to reconnect with friends from across the country each year. “It kind of feels like a little bit of a family reunion off the water,” Rogers says. “It’s a fun community.”
Many of the Minnetonka Yacht Club E-Scow sailors first got involved in that community at a young age through their families’ ties to the sport. For Packard, that meant getting started in sailing through the club at age 7 and finding his way to E-Scow racing after college. Bowers recalls taking in the excitement of races as a kid while sitting between his father and his uncle as the fourth crew member. Rogers watched his dad sail every weekend morning in the summer and eagerly awaited his chance to get out on the water. “Wherever there’s a strong E-Scow fleet, you can usually trace it back a couple generations,” Rogers says.
The Minnetonka Yacht Club’s multi-generational tradition of E-Scow racing has established Lake Minnetonka as a top location for the sport and an easy choice for the national championship. “Within the E-fleet, I think our lake holds a kind of legendary status,” Packard says. “People really like coming here. It’s kind of the far western frontier of the lakes that we compete on in the country.”
For those hoping to take in the action at the championship, organizers say it’s best to view the race by private boat. The team expects around 125 spectator boats and encourages anyone to come out and watch. Rogers is excited to welcome everyone to Lake Minnetonka again for the first time in 10 years. “Nationals is kind of the final pilgrimage of the year. It’s got this special vibe to it; everyone shows up and you can kind of feel that it’s going to be the grand finale for the summer,” Rogers says. “Everybody’s ready to have a good time.”
Registration, practice and the welcome reception will be held September 8, with races held September 9-11. For more details on the event schedule, visit the website here.