With the ice finally loosening its grip on Lake Winnebago this week, we thought we’d celebrate by looking back on the 2015 WISSA (World Ice and Snow Sailing) World Championships last month in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Race Director Kevin Gratton reflects on a whirlwind event. Enjoy!
By Kevin Gratton
WISSA Worlds, WOW! It was beyond my wildest dreams. My mind was in a different world for four days after the Event. What fun it was, and I was never really stressed when the ball got rolling. The hardest thing was getting up every morning, especially after Friday’s On the Lake Party!
Pierre from Switzerland started the Event when he arrived a day early and could not speak a lick of English. With my brother Andy’s limited French from high school we figured out who he was and then, thanks to the interpreters that the FDL Convention and Visitors Bureau lined up, we got him into the right hotel. He has such a positive attitude and was so much fun we hated to see him go and take the pink bunny rabbit he wore on his helmet home.
Most competitors arrived Sunday, many thanks to those who drove to the airports to pick them up. Monday was a warm-up day with a Welcome Party at the Fond du Lac Yacht Club. It was truly a great welcome party with Karin at the door to greet everyone. Many members were there from the Yacht Club, Sailing Club and Ice Sailing Club to join in the welcome. The Yacht Club Commodore, City Manager, and Wisconsin Tourism group along with those involved organizing WISSA 2015 spread their arms to the international travelers from 11 countries who truly felt the welcome of the Fond du Lac community.
Tuesday the event organizers were blessed with very light winds in the morning giving them just enough time to really get on top of the beginning of the Worlds competition. In the afternoon three Course Races were run for the Kiter’s. The Wings and Sleds tested out the Short Tack Slalom (STS) course. For the next three days we were blessed with great wind (it could have been a bit warmer) and we did course racing in the morning followed by STS in the afternoon. Friday was a great day with awesome racing followed by the bonfire and burning of the huge sturgeon head made by the Schneider family. DJ Wiley and the Souvenirs got the crowd dancing in the tent while outside the annual Sturgeon Queen Contest took place with 16 competitors. After throwing spears, gaffing and doing other fun challenges the 4 finalists got on stage. Did I say they had to swallow a live minnow? What fun with Molly Jasper taking the coveted Sturgeon Queen Crown. Oh, and the Firework Show that Don Altmeyer sponsored was spectacular, lighting the Fond du Lac skyline. While all this was going on, Andy Gratton was giving Ice-boat rides to a long line of enthusiasts with his fun stern-steer, Wisconsin.
Saturday I awoke to a white-out. No, I am not talking about my eyes, but I could not see the Event site from my house. My brother Andy scared everyone with his map of a long distance race to Oshkosh before the Skippers meeting. At the meeting it was decided that it was too windy for STS races and course racing was out of the question due to lack of visibility. So Andy set up a speed course and those who rode were getting speeds 10 mph faster than Friday. Bob Cook from Madison took top speed honors with an inflatable kite and skis, 54.4 mph.
Maria at the Sunset Supper Bar and Grill welcomed all the competitors to lunch inside rather than the normal lunch in the tent that was barely staying on earth Saturday in the 30’s gusting to 40’s winds. I told the International Competitors that we call it Lake Windybago. After lunch about 30 competitors were taken to enjoy the EAA Museum by Brian Stenz. Saturday night we had the Closing Ceremony with a great meal at the Retlaw Plaza Hotel followed by the awards. There was talk about next year’s WISSA Worlds possibly being in Estonia. Many friendships were made during the week and goodbyes were said. Sunday most of the competitors left for the long drive or flight home.
Many thanks to Don Altmeyer, my brother Andy, his wife Ann, and my Race Committee Team for their hard work and dedication to running great races. Everyone did such a great job they didn’t even need me, at least that’s how it felt. All the long hours of preparation definitely paid off, for I stressed way more before the event than during the running of it. I never dreamed of running a World Event. I have dreamed of running a Nationals, but thanks to Dan Deuster’s persistence, it is History.
The Community Support, especially when we started setting up and then during the Worlds, was so impressive. It was a big reason for the success and big smiles both the competitors and the onlookers had. I was amazed and smiling so much inside. Without the community volunteers it would not have been a stress-free event. There were so many little things done by those volunteers that added up to make it a success. Race Committee, Food, Shuttles, Grounds Maintenance, and Parking to name a few. Out of the Sky!, Mike Hahn from Oshkosh brought his plane down Monday and Tuesday to give rides over the lake to many of the competitors. What a special treat from Mike. Thanks to everyone who got involved and made it a Great Event for the community.
The FDL Convention and Visitors Bureau, Winnebago Association of Kiteboarders, and Wind Power Windsurfing & Kiting started serious planning for WISSA 2015 in the spring of 2014. Meetings were held every other Tuesday until the last two months when they were weekly. There were many unknowns to deal with as well as many details we knew of but had to make them happen. We could not have done it without the tremendous help of Craig Molitor (Pres. of FDL V&CB), Mary Denis (Project Manager) and the rest of the team at the Bureau. It’s like we became family and I definitely have the most respect for them. Trust me, not everything was fun. There were many long frustrating hours getting documentation, information, even reinventing the wheel. There was talk of quitting before building a big disaster, but we stuck it out working together and made a success story.
I did say I would never do it again, but that was before WISSA 2015 took place. WISSA tries to rotate the Worlds from Europe to North America when possible. I have heard talk of having it here again in 2 years. I am building a house in the next 2 years. So maybe 4 years would be better, by then most of the painful moments will be forgotten and we won’t need to re-invent the wheel. If the Worlds would come to Fond du Lac again I feel the community will again rise up and give even a bigger welcome to returning athletes and all the new ones. The word is many more athletes will come the next time. We have built a good legacy.
Even though everything went well we can always improve. There have been a few wrap-up meetings and notes taken with ideas for improvement. Now that we have one under our belt and we have the templates made for a future event we can concentrate more on the finer details. Get more involvement and input from the community for it is their support that really makes an event like this a true success. Wind Power is collecting pictures and videos of WISSA 2015 from all those who have taken pictures. These pictures will be available for all to view on the Wind Power web site. To submit pictures or videos please go to the Wind Power home page and follow the links.
Many thanks to WAK (Dan, Don, Ed, and Jason) the FDLVCB (Craig, Mary, Carrie, Erin, Lisa and Molly) and my Race Committee & registration Team (Andy, Ann, Don, Jim, Dan, Marty, Mark, George, Bob, Mike, Brian, Lorri and Danita). I also have to thank competitors who came here for their insight and experience with past WISSA Events, (Klaus, Will, Richard, and Normand). And last but not least the great Fond du Lac Community that has been so supportive over the years. It makes me proud to live here and be part of the FUN!