Watch the waters off Ashbridges Bay this weekend and you might see World Cup and Olympic-level boats under sail.
For the fourth time since 1987, the Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club is hosting the LYRA regatta – a 130 year-old contest that brings sailors from across Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and the east end of Lake Erie.
“They’ve got boats you can find on podiums in many, many parts of the world,” says Colin Andrews, one of the many ABYC organizers putting on the event.
Andrews, whose sailor parents had him on board at three days old, said he will be racing with six others on a Beneteau First 10R – a high-end boat he called “twitchy.”
“The better you get, the more twitchy you want the boat because it’s more fun,” he said.
But with two weekends of races and classes for many types of boats, Andrews said the regatta is open to all kinds of sailors. There is a no-spinakker class for boats without the big, parachute-like racing sails and, for the first time, the regatta is also open to boats racing with less than a full crew.
“It brings a new sector – people who like to race, but they only race short-handed,” said Andrews. “We’re hoping that’s a long-lasting attraction.”
Starting last weekend, the first race of the regatta was the Freeman Cup – two course races that cross Lake Ontario, with the longer one taking 24 to 30 hours, depending on the wind.
That means racing at night, which has its own challenges and opportunities.
“The middle of the night is great,” said Andrews. “It gets gnarly juts a little bit before the sun comes up – that’s when it’s by far the coldest.”
At night, sailors use red lights and shielded lights to move around the boat or check their sail trim, and their digital screens usually have a low-light night mode.
“White light ruins your night vision completely,” Andrews explained.
“Sailing by feel is something that’s done well by a really small subset,” he added.
“Most people are really reliant on their vision – seeing the waves, watching the wind index up top so they know they haven’t followed some mysterious night-time arc, and watching the ribbons on the genoa.”
Racing rules change so that boats stay further apart at night, and race organizers fix sunrise and sunset to the second. Andrews said that gives sailors a good chance to bury the competition.
“What I used to do, if we were zeroing in on a boat within striking time of sunset, was position the boat so we could deal a killer blow just moments before,” he said. The other crew would be hard-pressed to regain the lead under night rules.
After the course races last weekend, this weekend the LYRA sailors will compete in shorter day races that test their upwind and downwind skills.
To run as many classes as possible, the ABYC has four race “circles” set up – a big organizing feat, as each one has judges and support boats ready so the race points can shift with the wind.
ABYC called on six other yacht clubs from the Toronto area to help out.
Between that and the after-parties with house bands like ABYC’s own Weathered Legs, there’s a lot of camaraderie between clubs.
Flipping to scans of the 1907 LYRA book of racing rules, Andrews said it’s also a regatta with a lot of tradition – even if today’s commodores no longer sport waxed moustaches or recite poems to remember the rules of the road at sea.