DN Regatta Reports
Mike Bloom is back home from Lake Baikal after an extraordinary journey home.
Home at last!
Thanks to all of you who were rightfully worried about my getting back to the USA.
Being in Baikal doesn’t exactly provide a true version of life on the outside. Baikal’s mystical powers are rooted in its isolation.
When I left for Baikal kids were still going to school, Purell was readily available, and face masks were on the shelves at Walgreens. Obviously, things changed quickly while I was gone but in Baikal the effects of the coronavirus on the real world was significantly muted. Plus, we had no television, no radio, no newspaper, no magazines and very little internet. I assumed no news was good news
My first inclination I might have problems getting home was when Delta sent me an email stating the departing flight I booked two months ago was cancelled.
They rebooked me on Air France flight through Amsterdam but in true airline fashion my new reservation included an 8-hour layover in Amsterdam and a 12 hour layover in Atlanta. I later learned I was flying through Atlanta because the Minneapolis airport was closed to direct flights from Europe.
Because of the extensive layovers I was actually happy when later that day Air France then told me that their flight was cancelled. I was then rebooked through Paris and on to Dallas. However, when the Paris airport was closed to foreigners, my reservation was cancelled. I then borrowed Joerg Bohn’s phone and rebooked my Monday flight flying direct from Moscow to New York.
And, of course, being is the middle of Siberia doesn’t help. It creates all kinds of logistical issues. First, I had no cell service in Baikal and the internet connection was marginal at best. But more problematic is the fact that Baikal is a 5-hour car ride to the airport and an 8-hour flight to Moscow. Plus, it is no easy feat to find a cab driver willing to drive 5 hours from Irkutsk down a dirt road to pick me up and then turn around and drive 5 hours back to the airport.
Tuesday night I learned that the other Americans in Baikal,Chris Berger and his girlfriend Marci, had already made the decision to leave early. When I discovered that Marci had already secured a cab ride to the Irkutsk airport for Wednesday evening, I took that as a sign and decided I should go with them. It was a difficult decision to make but I knew it was the right decision. Many of the European sailors had already pulled out because several European countries were closing their borders. I didn’t think I wanted to be in Russia if they closed their border.
So I booked an Aeroflot flight flying direct to New York. I was on the first available flight. But that flight was cancelled. I then got lucky because when I tried to rebook the flight I found a seat on a plane leaving Thursday morning.
Wednesday night Chris, Marci, and I jumped in the cab and drove the 5 hours to the airport in Irkutsk. We arrived in Irkutsk about 10 pm. Chris and Marci went to a hotel. Since I had to be back at the airport at 3 am, and was too cheap to spend money on a hotel, I went to the airport.
I got to the airport in Irkutsk about 11 pm and waited till 3 am to check in for the 5am Thursday morning flight. At exactly 3 am, the Aeroflot gate agent appeared at the ticket counter. She was very stern and definitely not happy with my 2 oversized duffle bags and my way too heavy gun case full of runners. She spent the next 30 minutes calculating the cost of the oversized and overweight baggage and asking me questions in fluent English about the content of my bags. I think she took pleasure in telling me the overweight bags would cost $500 to get home, double what I paid when I flew the other direction. Of course, as soon as I questioned the exorbitant price, she no longer could speak English. Thus, I did the only thing I could do, I slid my visa across the counter and using the best sarcasm possible I said “thank you.” Miraculously, her English returned just long enough to tell me that even though I had purchased comfort class with extra leg room neither this flight nor my flight from Moscow to New York had comfort class seats. Plus, If I wanted a refund, I had to call the number on the back of a card she gave me, but I couldn’t call till the office opened at 9 am, some three hours after my plane departs.
The flight from Irkutsk to Moscow was a painful 8 hours. After a 2 hour layover I then flew an even more painful 10 hours from Moscow to New York (JFK). Surprisingly, getting through customs was a breeze. It was almost nonexistent. There was no customs to speak of. Nobody even bothered to ask me about the gun case, let alone look inside. Even more surprising, there was no real heath check. Other than completing a short health questionnaire and walking by a guy who took my temperature using one of those temporal thermometers, you wouldn’t think coronavirus is a global issue.
While in the custom area I noticed my bags were tagged to go to Detroit, not MSP. Predictably, nobody was at the Delta counter so I was forced to leave the customs area and go upstairs to the Delta ticket counter. Once there I learned that Delta had cancelled my flight to Minneapolis along with all the other flights that night to Minneapolis. The next available flight was the next day at 4 pm.
At this point, I had not slept for about 30 hours. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t bear the thought of a 24 hour layover. This was the 7th flight that had been cancelled!
Fortunately, I had enough sense to check my Delta app. I did what the Delta agent could not do. I found a Delta flight leaving in 90 minutes out of LaGuardia. After a quick cab ride from JFK to LaGuardia I walked onto a near empty plane and arrived in Minneapolis early Thursday evening.
Glad to be home. Glad we came home when we did. Twelve hours after I arrived, both JFK and LaGuardia closed because air traffic controllers have tested positive for coronavirus. It is a trend that will not reversed anytime soon.
Despite my expectations, I was not quarantined, unless you count my wife who says she won’t come within 6 feet of me, but that might not be coronavirus related. Still, the CDC says symptoms typically appear within 5 days of exposure so I’ll hang low till next week.
So that’s my Baikal experience. Honestly, the good parts of the trip clearly outweigh the hassles of getting home. I’d go back in heartbeat.
Mike Bloom shares his incredible day at Baikal. For those of you who don’t know, Mike and his good friend, Mark “Doctor” Christensen had promised to make the journey to Baikal together but the Doctor passed on after a long illness at the beginning of this sailing season. Mike kept their promise and remembers his friend at the close of this ice sailing season on Baikal. Good luck getting home.
Yesterday is why you travel to Baikal. When the winds called the Baikal Beast exceeded 17m/s and racing was cancelled I was invited to visit the Stupa on the big island out in the lake. So I put on my spikes for a 7 km walk in winds so strong it could blow us off our feet. Dederic organized the day and we were joined by his wife Alexandra, Chris Berger and Marci and two other Dutch sailors both named Hans.
A Stupa is a religious structure containing the remains of Buddhist monks and is used as a place of meditation.
The shape of the Stupa represents a Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. But a local guide said the Stupa may represent the five purified elements: land, water, air, fire, and sun.
We honored the Buddhist tradition of circumambulation which is an important ritual of walking three times around the Stupa. As a result, Stupas have a path around them. We also left a small token at the alter. Surrounding the Stupa were many prayer flags. Being there was a moving and spiritual experience.
We then walked back to the ice and walked to the tip of the island to view a famous rock outcropping in the shape of a dragon.
From there we walked around edge of the island to seek shelter as the winds really picked up. We stopped in a beautiful spot with an amazing view of the lake. The rock outcroppings were covered with ice and Dideric and Marci surprisingly produced a bottle of Baikal vodka and glass shot glasses. We all briefly spoke about how fortunate we are to sail in Baikal and to be together with friends from around the world.
We drank a toast to Mark (Doctor) Christensen and then a separate toast to fun and friendship.
As we started the 7k/m trek home suddenly a four dirt Buggy’s were heading straight for us. They were incredibly loud and appeared to be having way too much fun. Turns out they were sent by Jörg to find us.
After a couple of high speed 360’s they stopped and offered three of us a ride to see some ice caves, mountain goats and another large spiritual rock shrine. So without hesitation Hans, Hans and I jumped in. After all, what could go wrong traveling at freeway speeds on a sheet of ice in dirt buggy’s driven by a bunch of crazed iceboaters!
Some three hours later we were back on shore for the regatta’s international dinner. Each sailor brought food from their home country.
Jorge brought eel. Hamrak brought salami and herring. Jost brought bread and sausage. Marci made delicious American baked beans. The Swiss brought Cheese and chocolate while I have no idea who brought the rest.
After a very fun dinner the music started, as did the dancing. Young and old joined the festivities and international boundaries were no longer relevant.
Sailing continues today. The ice has gotten slightly better. Not sure about the wind though.
I made the difficult decision to join Berger and Marci and return home today. Air travel out of Irkutsk is getting difficult. European borders are being closed to foreigners. My airline reservations keep getting cancelled. Many others have already left.
My trip to Baikal was everything Ron Sherry, Jörg and Dideric promised it would be. The people, the culture, the geography is indescribable. It was truly a remarkable journey. One I will remember forever.
Part of the mystique of Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the way the weather unfolds and swirls around you. Dideric van Riemsdijk posted this from today.
A few short messages and photos from Mike were waiting in the in-box this morning. Looks like he’s starting the journey back home.
Update: I’m not sure if he’s heading back. Stay tuned for more updates.
Postponed. Gusts to 17m/s. No racing. The Baikal Beast is roaring. Way too much wind.
Mike Bloom wrote this tonight. The sailing conditions are tough but are inconsequential compared to the challenges he will be facing trying to get back to his home ice on Minnetonka. Good luck, Mike. We are pulling for you.
Very tiring day. And frustrating.
The course is 60-80% covered with Styrofoam snow drifts. Many drifts are taller than a runner.
Today we saw nuclear winds, massive wind shifts and super light wind, all in the first race. After today’s first race was completed and scored the race committee threw it out. They said conditions were unfair.
We then sat or slept for the next 3 hours waiting for the wind to reappear.
Racing resumed about 4:30 pm. The race was completed and score. Polish sailor Marek Stefaniuk P107 won the race. The race was like riding a hobby horse. Between the puffs and the sticky drifts the boats were very jumpy. Tons and tons of sheeting in and out. Never could get into a groove.
We sailed a third race that was not without drama. We started about 5:15. First lap had nice steady breeze. Second lap it started to die. Second time down wind saw lots of the leaders out of their boats. Between the light air and big big drifts jibing was impossible. Third lap was very light upwind and down. Again, most everyone was out of boat at some point. Many sailors retired. As I got to finish the scorers we’re waking away. I was told race was abandoned. They said the leader didn’t make time limit. But tonight results were magically posted… with mistakes.
We sailed in as the sun set, which happens here at about 7. It then promptly turned dark. Very frustrating to take boat apart in the dark. We could have used the headlights on the Probe’s suburban to shine some light on the pits.
Huge winds with nuclear puffs are forecasted starting tonight into tomorrow. Virtually everyone took down their masts, tied them to their hulls and anchored boat to ice.
Many sailors are heading home early. There is much concern about European countries closing boarders. Seems like the affects of the norovirus has finally hit Baikal.
Not sure what I’m going to do. Delta has already told me my flight to Mpls has been cancelled. I rebooked on Air France but now they too say my flights have been cancelled. If any of you big wigs have a private jet, please let me know. I would like to get home at some point.
Time for bed. Think ice.
After a couple of days of wind famine, the feast arrived on Baikal. Mike Bloom sent a photo a few hours ago with a short message that the racing was delayed because the wind was blowing 10 meters per second (22 mph). The situation turned around and they were able to race today. See video below. More: Baikal Ice Yacht Racing Facebook page.
Bottom line: no sailing today.
After being served lunch in the pits, the fleet was instructed to assemble a few miles down the lake on the other side of a huge rock island. Once there, a silver qualifier was attempted but black flagged due to an expired time limit on the 3rd Lap. Next it was the OptI fleet’s turn to be blacked flagged when nobody made it to the weather mark.
No Gold fleet races were attempted. We can’t sail till the Silver qualifier takes place.
Finally, at about 5 pm we were excused for the day. And yes, no sooner were we told to go home then the wind came up. Since the sun doesn’t set till nearly seven Chris Berger convinced Peter Hamrak, a Russian named Sergei, and Mike Bloom to sail multiple hot laps back near the pits.
The ice on Baikal is less than ideal. I’d rate the ice a 6. The lake is full of snow drifts that are deep and hard. It takes some great steering and lot of luck to navigate the course. Hopefully, our evening session will serve us well tomorrow, when the wind is predicted to reappear.
It’s been another long day. Time for a shower and some shut eye.
Mike Bloom US321
Over on the other side of the world, the annual Lake Baikal Ice Yachting week began today. Three “locals” are there, Chicago’s Chris Berger & Marcy Grunert, and Minnetonka DNer Mike Bloom who sent report below. Follow along on the Baikal Ice Yacht Racing Facebook page.
Nice breeze when I got up. Having traveled through 13 times zone my body is so confused from jet lag I don’t know what time it is. So today, getting to ice very early was easy. A few folks came down to empty the shipping containers so we could all set up.
The amount of gear in the containers was impressive. 35 hulls, masts, planks, sails and runners take up a ton of shoreline. Here’s a picture when we were about 1/2 way done. The best part was watching the sailors get to the ice. It looked like Christmas morning as the sailors all picked out their gear. Opening ceremony was at 11. Then wind died. We’ll try again tomorrow. Should be wind tomorrow.
Since many of us have had our schedules open up because of recent world events, I can’t think of a better time to listen to James “T” Theiler reflect upon iceboating, the DN class, and his 2020 North American Championship in this podcast from Around the Buoy. T’s segment starts at around 4 minutes. Listen here.
CANADIAN DN CHAMPIONSHIPS|
Via Peter Van Rossum:
Attention DN sailors:
This Saturday, March 7th we intend on hosting the 2020 Canadian Championships on the Bay of Quinte.
We are also looking for volunteers in helping with this regatta. I will make sure you have front row sight of the mark roundings and starts. If you are interested in helping out, it would be very much appreciated. Please call or send me an email if you can help. Phone number and email are below.
Please make sure your insurance is up to date and you are covered for ice boat racing. Sending a copy of your proof of insurance to my email address is helpful if you intend on racing.
If the ice holds out for Sunday, we will do another unsanctioned regatta where we record our own finishes…I will hold the score sheet in case one would like up grade your score for a better finish. Bribes accepted. (Not applicable for the Canadian Champs)