Turnback History, Lake Travis, and Weather

History of Austin Yacht Club’s Turnback Canyon Regatta
Dating back to the early 1950s, the history of Turnback Canyon Regatta is full of contrasts. Originally called the Bluebonnet Cruise, it consisted of six to ten boats participating in a two-day event. The boats sailing in the first event were mostly homemade and ranged from Snipes to T24’s anda T28, where T proudly stood for TEXAS. The boats were made of wood and the sails were cotton but the sailing strategies were the same then as today. Starting from the vicinity of Austin Yacht Club (which was then known as The Austin Sailing Club), the participants raced to an overnight point on Saturday, anchored overnight and returned to AYC on Sunday.

In 1984, a special perpetual trophy was commissioned by the AYC Board of Directors in memory of Bill Levens, Sr., a long time AYC sailor who always supported and never missed a Turnback Canyon Regatta. The Levens Trophy is awarded to the best corrected time keel boat for the race towards Lago Vista. Notable sailors such as Hap Arnold, Ray Schull, the Hensen/Vaughan team, and Gene Ferguson, sailing in a variety of boats have won this trophy over the years – Ensigns, Catalina 22s, J29s, and Hobie 33s to name just a few.

Overnight destinations over the years have included Cow Creek, Briarcliff, Lago Vista Resort, Lago Vista Bar-K Ranch Park, Point Venture Park, and in recent years, Austin Yacht Club! Many participants this year remember years of Bar-B-Que meals, live music and dancing, and overnight camping at Lago Vista Bar-K Park. We also remember the great parties and meals at Austin Yacht Club.

From its humble beginnings, the Turnback Canyon Regatta became the AYC’s largest sponsored event during the 1970s and 80s. With up to 300 boats and as many as 100 multi-hull boats, Turnback spawned another longstanding AYC tradition – great parties with drinks, sea stories, meals, bands, dancing and lots of FUN.

Lake Travis and Weather
Turnback has been sailed in ideal weather and sometimes … not so ideal weather. Conditions have varied from hot with no wind, to cool and way too much wind, sometimes with or without rain, hail or flashes of lightning. Turnback has started with a lake level so low (around 620 feet above mean sea level) that sand bars and old debris (lurking just beneath the surface) snagged a few boats here and there. The regatta has also experienced very full lake conditions, up to 699 msl in 1957. In this century, Turnback has been sailed at lake levels from 628 to the “normal pool” level of 681’msl. Even in dry years Lake Travis offers a good place to sail. Lake Travis and Mark Locations.

At this time of year the prevailing southeasterly winds often provide fast and exciting sailing, with plenty of long runs and reaches (bring your spinnaker if you have one!). Central Texas summer weather has usually started to settle in by this date, so come prepared for the sun and heat. The good news is the water temperature should be warm enough for comfortable swimming.

This Year’s Turnback (2016)
Lake Travis is overfull and could rise (as of late April) so keep abreast of the lake levels, especially due to the high line power cables! The exact extent of each of our courses will depend on our Turnback Sailing Instructions and Race Committee choices at race time.

Early arrivals for Turnback weekend are invited to participate in an informal Beer Can Race, with a handicap-based staggered start. First boat back to the no-wake buoys wins! Following this race, a burger and sometimes sausage cookout will be run by one of our AYC fleets or the University of Texas Sailing Club. Meals will be available for purchase at a nominal price.

Turnback Canyon Regatta events start Saturday, May 28 with a race course up the river channel of Lake Travis past Lakeway and Briarcliff to Bar K Ranch in Lago Vista. Participating boats then anchor for overnight. Our Turnback tradition of a great party gets underway soon after. Saturday night entertainment includes live bands, drinks, and dinner for purchase as part of the Lago Vista Chamber of Commerce “LagoFest“.

On Sunday morning, May 29, boats will follow the reverse course back to AYC. The party will continue at the clubhouse with free libations, a Roadrunner fleet fundraiser lunch available for purchase, and our trophy ceremonies.

With its long history, in varied conditions but always providing exciting racing, a fantastic party, and an unbeatable collection of sailing enthusiasts, Turnback Canyon Regatta has achieved the status of legend. And in 2016, The Legend Continues!

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