Small sailing boats are going to make a big splash in Astoria this summer. The Astoria Yacht Club presents a Thursday Night race series, with small sailboats invited to participate. The series will take advantage of Astoria's famous Northwest winds that blow in on summer afternoons. Races will be held off Pier 39, giving the public a rare opportunity to see small fast boats race close at hand.

For six Thursday evenings, beginning July today, dinghys will launch at the newly expanded East Mooring basin boat ramp. and gather off Pier 39 for the first race around the buoys at 6 p.m. Races will last about 45 minutes each, so there should be time for two races an evening.

"Some of the world's best sailors still enjoy racing small boats the best," said Thor Sorenson, the Astoria Yacht Club's small boat race captain. "With one person in charge of sails, steering, balance, tactics and navigation, the small boat sailor is totally engaged in getting the most speed out of his boat."

With Astoria's blustery winds, the little boats will be working hard to go upwind to the first mark of the race, but when they turn the corner and head back downwind, they will be planing over the water and surfing down the Columbia's swells. Control is marginal in these conditions, and crashes and capsizings are expected. A crash support boat will be at hand to assist, but if the sailor can quickly right the boat, they will continue racing. In some conditions, the race winner is the boat that capsizes the least number of times.

All small sailboats that are suited to the sometimes rough conditions on the Columbia are welcome to participate. At the captain's meeting at 5:30, race instructions will be announced and late-comers can sign up. There's a $20 seasonal race fee that covers the cost of gas for the crash boat. Boats will be assigned a handicap rating, based on the International Portsmouth Yardstick, that allows smaller, slower boats to compete for the win on corrected times.

Contact Thor Sorenson at 325-4602 for more information.

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