THE NEXT GENERATION: TAHOE TEENS
Shrouded by the snowcapped Sierra mountains, is the startling aqua blue waters of Lake Tahoe, a North to South, 22 mile stretch of paradise. Its crisp, crystal depths, are divided by the states of California and Nevada. Here, local sailors Rudi Arntson 17, Ryan Conner 18, and Hendrik Reidel 17, are passionately at work putting a recluse Melges 24 sailboat back into racing condition. They have conspired to create a “Tahoe Teens” entry, into the Melges 24 sailing class.
Rudi and Ryan both grew up sailing the class. The Arntson and Conner families had Melges 24’s when the boys were young, in fact, as a baby, Rudi used to sleep in the spinnaker bag of their Melges, and Ryan used to go on short cruises and campouts in their 24.
The “Tahoe Teens”, was inspired last year, during an Arntson family tradition, the annual attendance at Whidbey Island Race Week in Washington. Whidbey in July, receives a vibrant Melges 24 turnout, and the temperate and festive conditions provide great fun for all. For 2015, Ryan Conner joined the Arntson’s “Nikita” team. After a fantastic week of sailing, and reoccurring duals with Melges 24’s Mikey and Mikey Kids, the boys were inspired to return in 2016 with their own Melges 24 and a teens-only team of their peers. Ryan said of Whidbey; “It was soooo much fun, one of my favorite times on a sailboat, just having a blast,,,,, and camping out with everyone at the regatta site was great.” As attractive as their age peer team idea was to the boys, it seemed improbable, however Rudi’s mother Kimberly Arntson, a long time Melges sailor, encouraged the boys. “At first we thought it was a far stretch that probably would never happen,” says Rudi, “Maybe we could borrow our family Melges to sail at some choice regattas”But Ryan Conner came up with a better plan, a Tahoe Melges that had not been sailed in years sitting idle, maybe they could work on the boat doing maintenance and updates in trade for its use.
That fall, Ryan Conner negotiated a charter arrangement for an all but abandoned Melges 24 in need of love and maintenance. The boys would clean it up, do the needed maintenance and updates, and in return get to sail it, a win win for all.
The boys went to inspect the boat and the sight of it was intimidating. Covered in dirt and dust, the shreds of a ragged moldy tarp, flapped haplessly in the breeze, a horrible sight of neglect. But its heritage and bones were good, and under its grimy coating lay good foils, spars, and a stallion awaiting rebirth. All the parts and pieces were present. The tires of the trailer held air, and they rolled, the boys began to smile.
But a boat was only half way there. Sailboat access on Tahoe is difficult. Moorage is almost exclusively by private buoy on Lake Tahoe, and available buoys are hard to find, and when found, the costs are exorbitant. This was a major impediment for the team to overcome, then resourceful Ryan found a family, inspired by the boys tenacious plan, they would offer free use of their buoy to support the team. Rudi reflected back on that moment when the puzzle pieces were falling in place; “…then I realized this was actually a realistic idea of having our own age team, I thought, what an amazing experience we could have, not only for myself, but for my friends and peers here in Tahoe…. To provide access and experience, not just sailing, but sailing the Melges 24 class!”
Hendrik Reidel, a passionate Laser sailor, first sailed the Melges 24 last summer and immediately fell in love with the boat. “I was thrilled and just wanted to keep sailing and planing, it reacts very similarly to a Laser, fast, really sensitive in handling….. After watching the Gorge Nationals video, I thought this is crazy, I can’t imagine going that fast on such a small boat, but I really want to go that fast! and get a taste of that for ourselves, with our own team!”. Hendrik found The Generator, a local art and craft organization, to donate indoor work space, tooling and mentorship for the project. The shortening of the stanchions is one of the most daunting tasks, but The Generator has metal artisans that the boys will assail for skills and help. Hendrik has also garnered the support of Greg Cook and the Sierra Nevada Community Sailing Association, to help with storage and work area, as well as guidance in fiberglass and gelcoat repair or reinforcement.
Working on it now, the boys are bringing the boat into current race shape and configuration. Their goal is to train in the Tahoe Wednesday night series, attend Whidbey Island Race Week in July and Pacific Coast Championships in August in San Francisco Bay. As Ryan explains; “….the super stretch goal is to go to Nationals or Miami Worlds, that would be fantastic, but no expectations…” After all, college plans must be considered, and there are still more puzzle pieces to fall into place, and a lot of boat work yet to be done.
To be clear, the kids are on their own to make this happen, it’s a shoestring and entrepreneurial endeavor, scrapping together their mutual resources and the generosity of the local community and Melges fleet. “We are just teenagers in school with weekend jobs” says Rudi, “no one is paying for our expenses, it’s a 200 series boat and the class has evolved equipment and deck layouts over time, some things are up to date and some things aren’t, somethings are worn out and need replacement. I have always helped with our family’s boat, so I know the competitive difference when everything flows flawlessly”. Rudi has sailed Melges 24 Worlds and Nationals, so he is no stranger to race prep and refinement, and knows the devil is in the details. Ryan Conner has worked on lots of sailboats over the years and has the value of variety. Hendrik is anchoring the project with his proximity to the boat in Reno, the boats winter location, out of the snow and close to resources. Although there is lots of disagreement on how to go about updates and maintenance, the three boys work it out and feel they have a great team together. The boat is cleaned and gleaming now, and the boys have turned their attention to the condition and maintenance of the standing and running rigging.
The boys mused over the old worn sails with outdated cuts, but that problem would have to wait, when an offer came up unexpectedly from the San Francisco Fleet Captain, Duane Yoslov, with USA 855 Looper; “Don’t worry about those old rags, you just get that boat on the starting line and I will have a decent set of sails for you to use for the season, I am serious, just get the boat on the water.” Another piece of the puzzle magically clicked into place. More smiles from the boys. A week later, while skiing in Tahoe, Yoslov dropped off a collection of standing rigging, with a thought that the boys might find something useful for their project.
For these young men, the opportunity glows in their words. As Hendrik says; “I am just so excited to learn from all the great sailors out there in this fleet and have fun.” Ryan notes; the skill level is incredible to watch and compete against,,,, you know you are doing something right when you get that humming sound with the boat on a plane, it is an amazing feeling, and so much fun!”, Rudi adds; “Melges 24’s are one of the most amazing classes out there, there is so much to learn from the boat and the people who sail them, it has been an incredible experience to sail against these amazing athletes and pros in this class, Gulari, McKee, and so many more, it is a privilege to sail against athletes with such talent.”
The boys still have two more seats to fill on the boat, but Rudi isn’t worried; “…we have amazing sick athletes in skiing and mountain biking here in Tahoe, and they are inspired to sail, they look at the Gorge National highlights and say WOW, I didn’t know sailing was so intense! Transferring their competitive skills onto a boat are second nature, we just need to get the boat in the water and start training...”