I just read recently that L.O.W.I.S.A. is holding its 53rd race on the Lake of the woods. The above names stand for Lake of the Woods International Sailing Association.
The first race was in 1966. A Winnipeg friend of mine owned a 24 foot Shark sailboat and was anxious to enter the race. He invited me to help crew the boat, mainly because I was familiar with the lake and could help keep the boat off the reefs.
In the first five year I sailed three times with Gordy Kunselman and we had a great time. The event took place over six days and traveled 250 miles around the Lake of the Woods in a counter clockwise direction and involved over 200 sailboats of various sizes.
The Shark class was built by a Canadian, particularly for the Great Lakes, and was designed to go like hell when the strong winds blew.
One year the race started in Kenora and the rainy weather and high winds curtailed a lot of the boats as it was too rough. That year we won the first day race as the weather was ideal for the boat. It was our only win as the shark was not designed for calm sailing breezes.
The majority of boats sail in a large group so there was lots of friendly inter-reaction between boat crews, trying to pass slower neighbors. At the start of one race two large sailboats were at cross purpose and one punched a hole in the cabin of the other with the bow of the boat. No one was hurt and the boat damage was minimal and did not leak.
The collision was in slow motion but the force of the wind in the sails makes the inertia of the boat keep going, so that the striking boat rose up out of the water and looked like it was going to climb onto the victim. When I returned to work following the race I ended up being assigned the insurance claim and having been a close witness saw it all.
When the weather turned bad most of the boats headed for sheltered bays while our Shark flew like the wind. A photo of rough water never shows it as bad as it is.
In this photo we are leading the pack and only a few boats are in sight behind us. That being said, when the wind died down and we were becalmed, everyone seemed to leave us behind.
On the occasions when the wind did not blow, packs of boats drifted together with the crews having to fend off boats that got too close. With no wind, the silence on the lake resulted in everyone hearing what was said on every boat all around us.
The tension mounted as everyone tried to put up lots of sail in the hope of moving ahead. In the dead quiet moments it was easy to hear boat crews blaming each other for moving around too much and slowing the boat down. Husbands haranguing crew (wife) was a cause for great laughter.
In calmer weather when a large group of boats was jockeying through a rather narrow channel, one boat left the group and tried to pass everyone by hugging the shore line. I happened to be watching the boat because I knew it was heading for shallow waters and a particular reef.
In front of an audience of over fifty people this large and brand new sailboat, that slept six, ran up on the reef. The boat rose out of the water in slow motion and stayed upright until the large keel of the boat was out of the water. Then the boat came to a full stop and slowly rolled over on its left side, sails in the water and hull lying high and dry. It was difficult to salvage the boat later without scratching the fiber glass hull.
At the end of each days race the entire fleet spent the night in the harbor of a selected tourist camp. Evening campfires allowed people to mix and share the stories of the day. Many people slept on their boats while the rest set up tents.
Trying to fall asleep was not too hard because all the fresh air and exercise left everyone dead beat. With a hundred sailboats sitting in the harbor it was inevitable that some lazy sailor failed to secure the halyards (used to raise the sails) and in the light breeze of the evening, the irritating sound of “Ching, ching ching, ching” (caused by the aluminum wires banging on the mast) caused someone to swear at the offender, followed by loud laughter from the group.
The race will take place again this year (53rd) in August at Kenora, on the Lake of the Woods.