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RAYMOND — Saturday's breeze and cloud cover may have made for pleasant weekend weather for most, but it provided an appropriate challenge for the 28 women racing snipes on Branched Oak Lake.

Facing choppy water and building waves, the sailors competing in this weekend's U.S. Women's Snipe National Championship were able to experience the true challenge of snipe sailing, according to Tarasa Davis, director of the United States Sailing Association and a former national champion.

"You've never won and you've never lost until you've been able to reach the finish line on a lake," said the Atlanta native. "Sailing is about being physical and analytical. You've got to be able to keep your head out of the boat and be physical with the boat."

The national event is being hosted by the Lincoln Sailing Club, which has put on an annual open regatta the past 52 years. It is the first time the U.S. Women's Snipe National Championship has been held in the Midwest, and just the second time it's been somewhere other than one of the coasts.

It was held in Atlanta last year.

"We feel like this helps us get the word out about sailing around here," said Mary Buckley, commodore for the Lincoln Sailing Club. "People are always surprised to hear that we have such an active sailing scene in Lincoln. It's more active and competitive than people think."

The club is hosting sailors from around the country, including members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's newly formed sailing club team.

Buckley, a past competitor in the national championship, said the Lincoln Sailing Club aimed to create a memorable event for out-of-town participants, providing boats, arranging accommodations and lining up "boat buddies," volunteers who launch the boats, carry equipment and deal with all other aspects of running the regatta.

"There's great hospitality here and the facilities are perfect," Davis said. "It's great to have home-cooked food, and not having to bring my boat all the way here was great."

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Buckley said the focus on putting on a welcoming event allowed for a friendly environment in a competitive atmosphere Saturday.

"There's a lot of camaraderie in sailing," Buckley said. "Most of the people here know each other. It's kind of like old friends getting back together."

Those friends included Mary Ann Rix, a lifelong sailor and matriarch of four generations of snipe sailors. She traveled from Wichita, Kansas, this weekend to see the snipes in the water. 

"Gosh, when I first started sailing you didn't see a woman skipper. All the girls were crew," Rix said. "Now I see women sailing all over the world. It's fun."

Davis agreed, saying she was impressed and encouraged by all the young women getting into the sport and competing.

"I've been sailing for my entire life, and for most of it I was the only female skipper," she said.

Despite that, Davis, 52, won't make it easy on the competition. She came in first and second in two races before the lunch break Saturday.

The races continue Sunday.

"Now I see all these girls out here, and I really would like to see one of these whippersnappers try and win it all," Davis said. "I threw down the gauntlet and said it's there's for the taking."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or eclopton@journalstar.com.

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