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'Soling' Away


September 2012

Unlike Winken, Blinken and Nod, sailing from the nursery in a wooden shoe, the Soling sailors from the Milwaukee Yacht Club sail in boats built for speed and maneuverability.

No imaginary herring for them.

They’re looking for strong wind, manageable waves, no rain and a reliable crew.

Adrenalin is the team juice, and calling a Soling sailor a "hot-dogger" is not a bad thing.

The local fleet ramps up in September when the 2012 Soling World Championship takes place at the MYC. Soling enthusiasts from numerous countries and four continents will test their skills against the infamous treachery of Lake Michigan.

During the season, Milwaukee’s Soling group practices Wednesday evenings for competitions at all levels. Local regattas keep everyone in shape, especially their abs. Sailors use a balancing maneuver called "droop hiking" where they hook their feet inside the boat then hang out and back over the edge. "Look, Ma; no hands!"

Soling is an unusual sport because all boats are constructed exactly alike from materials to dimensions. The three-person crew, open keelboat has a fiberglass-reinforced polyester body, two Dacron sails and an aluminum alloy mast. Nothing motorized is allowed on the boat. Sailors pit themselves against the elements, not large wallets for developing new gizmos, says David Baum, a sailor by avocation and financial strategist by vocation.

Norwegian Jan Linge designed the boat in 1965, and it raced in the Olympics from 1972 to 2000. Linge’s surname is the source of the Soling symbol, appearing on the boat’s mainsail. Resembling a Greek omega, it is actually two "Ls" bent back to back. Wisconsinite Harry "Buddy" Melges Jr. won a gold medal in the first Olympic Soling event.

Soling is egalitarian. Crews can be single-gender or mixed. Light weight, nimbleness and a cooperative spirit are attributes in this sport. Katherine Wilson, a Ph.D. candidate at UW-Milwaukee, is responsible for MYC events. Ashley Henderson races her boat, Rascal, with Whitney Kent and Kate Muller. MYC fleet senior statesman, retired attorney Charlie Kamps, raced in the 2011 championship in Germany.

Forty to 80 boats participate in big races. The course is laid out in deep water by a principle race officer and that person’s committee. Inflatable triangular buoys mark the sausage-shaped course, which must be adhered to. Boats go up one side of the sausage and down the other, making hairpin turns. A signal boat sounds an air horn and a flag is waved to start; observers call fouls like short-cutting a turn. The roughly 1.5-mile course is sailed six times during a race. No boat sails in a straight line, so total distance traveled is closer to 11 or 12 miles.

World champion Roman Koch of Germany will conduct clinics during the event. The Soling World Competition is a five-day race with a winner each day and an overall event winner. A celebration dinner and awards follow.

Bragging rights are good for one year.

If you go

When: Sept. 17-23 (Practice Race Sept. 18; Races Sept. 19-23)

Where: Milwaukee Yacht Club, 1700 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive

Time: Late morning to midafternoon

Cost: None

Best Viewing Areas: Walk out on the breakwater east of the MYC, or walk or sit at the North Point Water Tower near Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital on Wahl Avenue

Parking: Along Lincoln Memorial Drive; county parks lot at intersection of Lincoln Memorial and Lafayette Hill Road; Wahl Avenue and other side streets

Seating: BYOB (bring your own blanket)

Details: or


This story ran in the September 2012 issue of: