Wind at Their Backs

By Beacon Staff

Click the image or use the arrows to see more photos from Friday night racing with the North Flathead Lake Yacht Club.

SOMERS – Against a clear blue sky, Jim and Shane Conner raised the mainsail on Mark Salisbury’s boat, the Chardonnay.

It was Friday evening. Salisbury was at the helm and taking part in one of the North Flathead Yacht Club’s weekly races. Established in 1975, the yacht club hosts sailboat races attracting a couple dozen competitors. For Salisbury, the races only compound his love for sailing.

“Once the sailing bug gets you, you just keep going,” he said. “A lot of guys do.”

Twice a week the boats gather in the bay and wait for the sun to set. Once the western wind blows, three fleets of boats – divided based on size and speed – sail past the starting line in five-minute intervals between each fleet.

The setting sun silhouettes crewmembers, scurrying about the deck of each boat, against the bay. According to Salisbury, it’s the crew that makes it all possible.

“Particularly in crowded race conditions, there is a lot of trust that’s needed. If someone doesn’t do their job, something could go wrong,” he said.

On board during most races are Salisbury and his wife Rita, cousins Jim and Shane Conner and Jim’s wife Selita Ammondt Conner. Though the two families aren’t related by blood, a familial bond exists aboard the boat.

Positioned at the back, Salisbury keeps a well-trained eye on other boats and assesses wind conditions. Realizing he needs to change course, he yells, “ready about!” The crew runs to their position and waits for the next order.

“Helms A-lee!” he screams.

Suddenly ropes begin to fly across the deck and a metal rod, guiding the mainsail, swings just above everyone’s heads.

Moments later, as the crew prepared to put up the spinnaker sail, Shane found a twisted line and voiced his displeasure.

“Cursing like a sailor,” Jim laughed at his cousin.

Family bonds are also wound tightly on Tim Rogge’s boat.

Rogge has been sailing for more than three decades and began when he was 10 years old. For Rogge, sailing has become an almost unexplainable passion.

“There’s no explanation until the sails go up,” he said. “I love it.”

Among the reasons for his love of wind and water is how it brings his family together. His wife, Jennifer, (who he met at a ski resort, not a dock) shares his affinity for the sport. Jennifer first sailed with her grandfather in North Carolina.

“It’s definitely a passion of both of ours,” she said. “It’s a family sport.”

One that includes their oldest daughter Saila, 14, who first went sailing when she was one month old.

“I guess I was grandfathered into it,” she laughed, while sitting along the docks.

Saila enjoys time spent with family as well as some of the risk involved. She once had some fears about sailing – understandable when you’re in a boat significantly leaning to one side – but now feels more comfortable on the water.

“Even though you’re not going that fast it can be pretty thrilling,” she said.

Her father agreed

“It’s the only thing I know that you can be scared by going 7 miles per hour,” Tim Rogge said.

Which is about how fast Salisbury’s boat was traveling as he and his crew raced to the finish line beneath the moon rising over Flathead Lake.

“There’s a lot to learn,” Jim said. “I mean this is a relaxing introduction so far. Mark and Rita have made it way easy to learn.”

Making it easy to bring new people into the family.

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