The 2017 North Channel Race Week is complete and this year’s sailing was a marked change from the three previous years. Many of the yacht entries were identical as previous but Mother Nature provided a different array of elements to consider. Other years provided heavy weather with challenging winds. 2017 offered very light winds of a fickle variety demanding patience from every skipper in an effort to make the best of the circumstances. The weather remained this way for most of the week save for a little more blustery Wednesday into Spragge.
Monday, July 17th was Day 1 / Stage 1 which started off with a drifting send off from Hilton Beach. Both Jib and Main (JAM) and Spinnaker (SPIN) fleets floated about for hours trying to capture a knot or two of wind to try and pull away and head toward Thessalon. The North Channel Race Week is a Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) event which allows for varying size boats to compete against one another with handicap ratings adjusting times to equalize the fleet. The aim is to cancel out the inherent advantages and disadvantages of each class of boats, so that results reflect crew skill rather than equipment superiority.
After several hours, winds did pick up on the eastern end of the course allowing two yachts to jump ahead of the remainder. Elusive, a J120 out of Lions Head led the charge followed closely by Natural High, an Abbott 33 out of the Hilton Beach chapter of the Algoma Sailing Club. Elusive was skippered by Tim Matheson with 7 crew members and Natural High skippered by Andrew Hallett with 3 crew members. The two yachts paced each other gaining a significant jump on the competition finishing a shortened course after 4 and a half hours. In the end, the SPIN fleet finished with Elusive first, Natural High second and Blue Teal third. Blue Teal is a C&C 37 sailed out of Hilton Beach skippered by Bill Pickering with 3 crew members. The JAM fleet finished with Annual Hope first, Echo second and Pegasus third. Annual Hope is a Hughes 38 out of Lions Head skippered by Rick Embleton with 1 crew member, Echo a Nonsuch 30 out of the Algoma Sailing Club skippered by Gerry Neave with 3 crew, and Pegasus is a Hunter 28 out of the Algoma Sailing Club skippered by Shawn Cyr with 1 crew member.
Day 2 / Stage 2 saw an equalling frustrating start out of Thessalon with both fleets jockeying the bay southbound out of Thessalon for what little wind was offered enroute to Blind River. Natural High managed to squeak out a lead ahead of the fleet rounding the first mark well ahead of the majority of the yachts save for Elusive a short distance behind. The winds picked up shortly after this mark, spinnakers were popped and these two boats took off again. This second day was a longer course and a few others managed to take advantage of the wind and catch up. In the end, the SPIN fleet finished with Natural High first, Harmony II second and Elusive third. Harmony II is a Northstar 38 out of Lions Head skippered by Jack Groom with 3 crew members. In the JAM fleet, Annual Hope placed first again followed by High Heels and Echo. High Heels is a CS 33 out of the Algoma Sailing Club skippered by Ron Wilson with 1 crew member.
Winds picked up for Day 3 and Stage 3 as the race wound its way to Spragge and home of the North Channel Yacht Club. Several boats exchanged positions while coping with a close reach point of sail. Unfortunately on this stage, Pegasus sustained mechanical failure and was unable to finish the course. Repairs were challenging and emergency assistance was requested. The yacht ended up being assisted back to a nearby marina and pulled out of the remainder of the race series. As well on this stage, Annual Hope suffered a blown head sail and slowly limped into the finish well below their usual pace.
The yacht 14/14, an Express 35 out of Lions Head skippered by Bruce Draper with 3 crew members, experienced a crew member overboard during this stage. Winds were blustery and spinnakers were in action. The crew member was scooped back up and no injuries were sustained however their placing for the day was skewed. After this third day, the SPIN fleet finished Harmony II, Skyship and Natural High. Skyship is a C&C 32 out of the Algoma Sailing Club skippered by Gord Simpson with 2 crew members. The JAM fleet finished with Echo in first, Banana Wind in second and High Heels in third. Banana Wind is a Mirage 27 out of Little Current skippered by Jim Machum with 2 crew members.
Day 4 / Stage 4 was the race south across the North Channel to Gore Bay. This 21.5 nautical mile stage wound its way around several marks finishing at the sheltered entrance to the marina anchorage. Though not dramatic winds, the course was demanding making for an exciting stage. Annual Hope had been able to effect repairs beforehand and was quick to jump back into the fray. The SPIN fleet finished relatively close to one another with Natural High first, Elusive second and Blue Teal third. The JAM fleet finished with Annual Hope in first, Riga in second and High Heels third. Riga is a Tanzer 31 out of the Little Current Yacht Club skippered by John Abols with 1 crew member.
The last stage, Day 5 / Stage 5 is always the most exciting in this series. The 19 nautical mile course winds its way north out of Gore Bay and around the top of Clapperton Island and finally turns back to finish in front of downtown Little Current. The majority of this course is generally downwind to which the SPIN fleet took full advantage flying their colourful chutes, dowsing them in a hurried frenzy as they crossed the finish. The fleet was again close to one another coming into the finish. The SPIN fleet finished with Skyship in first, Natural High second and Harmony II in third. The JAM fleet finished with Echo in first, Riga in second and Good News in third. Good News is a Nonsuch 30 out of Bluffers Park Yacht Club skippered by Bob Jenkins with 3 crew.
There was little consistency in the finishes, unlike other years, making every stage count in establishing the overall winner of the event. After the five days and five stages, overall in the SPIN fleet it was Natural High first, Elusive second and Harmony II third. In the JAM fleet, it was Annual Hope first, Echo second, followed by High Heels third. Among all yachts and both fleets, Natural High captured the overall winning spot and the event trophy.
The timing for the event worked well as most boats stayed to participate in the Little Current Yacht Club LocoBeanz Coffee Cup Challenge the following day (Saturday). This was a short “around the cans” but challenging race put on by the local club. In this event, Natural High placed first once again, Blue Jacket second and Riga third. Blue Jacket is a C&C 35 out of the Little Current Yacht Club skippered by Peter Zieleniewski with 4 crew members. Blue Jacket had also competed in the North Channel Race Week.