The July 18th, 2009 running of the Lake Ontario 300 Presented by Bell BlackBerry lived up to its reputation for producing challenging conditions. The day started with a comfortable eight knot westerly that took the fleet on a downwind ride from Port Credit towards Toronto. Winds started building at the Gibraltar mark and some crews could not hold their symmetrical chutes in the building and shifting winds. By mid afternoon the lead boats were enjoying 15 – 20 knots of wind along with six foot swells that provided exhilarating rides for some and attempted broaches for others.
The double handed division one racers lead the fleet for more than 100 miles down the lake even though they were the sixth start. Only a few of the faster IRC fully crewed boats caught up prior to Main Duck Island. The swells and winds on the quarter took their toll at the far end of the lake as many boats reported sick crew members causing some to abandon the race entirely.
What goes down must come up as the turn around Main Duck produced a new set of conditions. First there was wind on the beam and boats were pounding into the large swells that had grown during the long fetch down the lake, making conditions much more uncomfortable. The turn at Ford Shoal produced the most pounding as boats had an upwind beat into wind and swells. Crews were finally able to get a break only when the wind dropped to ten knots. Most boats sailed the rhumb line in the middle of the lake to the east end but coming back was a different story. Some racers chose to hug the shore and others went north into the middle of the lake. Those that stayed in seemed to gain an advantage but the real story for some fleets came in playing the light air on the final leg from Niagara to the finish line. As always, someone chooses to cut the corner at Yorkshire Island a bit too closely and there was brief time when “Blue Streak” was parked on the rocks, flying a chute, going nowhere!
Past Rochester and continuing on to Niagara, the winds began to subside and the lake started to calm down. At the Niagara mark early Monday the wind eased and the waves subsided. Going from one extreme to the other, the five knot wind held for a short time before shutting down completely half way across the lake. When the wind finally filled in, those who were well positioned to get the wind first took off leaving others to struggle to get to the finish.
The Lake Ontario 300 Present by Bell BlackBerry produced several important records. The most important reflects the success of this event with the largest fleet ever of 170 boats on the start line. Shore crews did a fantastic job of organizing food, docking and other logistics for approximately 800 racers. The event has grown by 40% over last year which was a record at that time for greatest participation. Next year, it’s expected that 200 + boats will compete as one design teams join the fleet. Off shore racing on Lake Ontario is alive and well, thanks primarily to constant attention and promotion by dedicated volunteers who love the sport of sailing. Free safety seminars are provided by experienced racers so that neophyte sailors can feel more comfortable away from the dock. Participation is encouraged at all levels, PHRF or IRC, all out racers or fully enclosed cruisers. The overall theme is to get people to come out and have a good time.
Line Honours for fully crewed Spinnaker went to RAMPAGE, a Concodia 47 from Rochester Yacht Club, skippered by John Odenbach. Their record breaking time of 1day, 19 hours, 4 minutes & 45 seconds is nine hours ahead of the next fastest finishing time. The first Solo Challenge yacht to finish was Yuk Fu, a Hobie 33 from DYC, skippered by Walt Norris. Walt’s finishing time was 2 days, 5 hours, 39 minutes& 35 seconds. This is an amazing accomplishment considering the challenging conditions. Complete results are available on the web site. – Alex Libby.