McNeil qualified for an invitation to the event by winning the MC Class national championship last October.
“The MC Class is a different type of boat, a boat we sale a lot here in the Midwest,” said McNeil, who now works as a lawyer in the Grand Haven firm of Saunders, Winter and McNeil. “I got the invite for the nationals, and I couldn’t pass it up.”
The singlehanded championships were held on a stretch of the Columbia River called the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland, Ore.
“It’s a very scenic geographic area where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade mountain range and creates a wind tunnel from the cooler temps from the coast rushing out to the hotter temps of the desert area east of the mountain,” McNeil said. “It’s a notorious venue for sailing.”
McNeil, who had to use a loaner boat in the event, had a tough time coping with the fierce winds and the considerable current in the river.
“There were a lot of different factors that I wasn’t used to that I had to account for,” McNeil said. “That made it interesting.”
McNeil finished 20th out of 22 sailors at the event. He would have liked a better finish, but realized that he was fighting an uphill battle from the start.
“It was an honor to be out there,” he said. “We all felt we could leave with our heads held high given the caliber of the meet.”
That doesn’t mean McNeil is ready to concede the fact that the 19 who finished ahead of him were superior sailors.
“I’d love to take on that fleet in an MC,” he said.
McNeil explained that a Laser is a 14-foot-long boat with a single sail, a pointed bow and a centerboard.
“It handles well in waves and is often sailed offshore, as well as on lakes and rivers,” he said. “Lasers are very physically demanding boats because they overpower quickly. In other words, it takes a lot of hiking to keep the boat in control and moving fast.
“Lasers are also very tippy downwind, which leads to a lot of deathrolls, where the boat tips over to windward.”
MC scows, on the other hand, are 16-foot-long boats, also with a single sail, but with rounded bows, a flat bottom, and leeboards.
“Given the design, scows are made for inland lake sailing,” McNeil said. “As a result of these differences, each boat requires a very different strategic and technical sailing styles, which makes hopping between the two boats a learning experience.”
McNeil, 29, sailed butterflies until he was 15, winning a handful of national championships in that class of boat before moving up to the MC class, where he won national championships in 2008 and 2010. He’s also sailed in the C-boat class.
“It’s fun. We take it seriously,” McNeil said. “We try to get out and do as many high-level regattas as possible. We’ve got a big one coming up, the West Michigan Yachting Association Regatta, next week up on Crystal Lake.”