Not Dark Yet

The George O'Connell Fall Bay Regatta lets racers stretch the sailing season in the Lake Erie Islands.

September 26, 2011
Sailing World


Sjoerd-Jan Vanderhorst looks in the rearview mirror during the exciting conclusion to Race 2 at the 2011 George O’Connell Fall Bay Regatta. The blue boat in the background may already have run aground. Jenny Everson

I don’t like being places after everyone else has gone. It’s that circus-has-left-town feeling, and it has always creeped me out. I recall an instance in the parking lot of Pennsylvania’s Pymatuning YC following a Thistle fall series regatta a while back. Trophies had ended about 45 minutes before, and the other teams had all driven off, trailers slowly crunching gravel. My dad was taking forever refastening all the tie-downs I had secured, and I was leaning against the boat feeling this inexplicable loneliness. The other sailors were only a few minutes down the road, and we’d get going in a minute or two, but I couldn’t stand being the last one to leave.

I was expecting to feel a tinge of that loneliness when I arrived in Put-in-Bay, on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island, to sail with Charles Vanderhorst aboard his Tartan Ten Adios for last weekend’s George O’Connell Fall Bay Regatta. During July and August, Put-in-Bay pumps with a Key West vibe. Crowds of revelers—sailors, powerboaters, bachelorette entourages, tank-topped meatheads—spill out of the bars onto Delaware and Catawba avenues. For the Inter-Lake Yachting Association’s Bay Week Regatta in August, boats occupy every ball in the mooring field and raft six or seven deep at the public docks.

But Fall Bay is another story. Last weekend, the modest fleet of T-10s, PHRF boats, trimarans, and jib-and-main entries had the island mostly to itself. I came over from Marblehead, Oh., on Saturday morning aboard Best of Seven, the 1974 Trojan 32 powerboat my friend and fellow Adios crewmember Pat Poorman borrowed from his father-in-law. As we motored in to the harbor, I was relieved to see that the island was far from deserted. There were already some die-hards congregating in Frosty’s Bar, and I was cheered to see at least one shirtless dude standing on the bow of a cigarette boat pumping his fist.


For racers—who convene from places like Cleveland, Sandusky, Toledo, Detroit, and, in the case of Leif Sigmond’s Norboy team, Chicago—Fall Bay is a chance for one last go-round before the boat goes on the hard. We sailed two round-the-islands races on Saturday—getting ashore in time to catch the Ohio State game aboard Best of Seven—and another lap around Middle Bass Island on Sunday—finishing in time to catch the Browns game on the radio as we motored Bo7 back to Marblehead.

_Wes Blazer holds his breath as the fleet slides toward the finish line in Race 2.** _(Jenny Everson)**

I think most T-10 racers would agree that the most memorable moment on the water was the finish of the second race. We had started in the passage between South Bass and Middle Bass, sailed counterclockwise around Middle Bass, and were coming around the north side of Sugar Island. Aboard Adios, we had ridden an excellent—if only slightly premature—start to the front of the fleet. The wind began to sputter out, and the trailing boats brought up a faint breeze. The fleet converged into a tight pack barely moving towards a truncated finish a few hundred yards ahead. We were on the wrong side of a wad of starboard boats, and our front-row seat quickly turned into the nosebleed section. The worst part was that our skipper’s older and perpetually luckier brother, Sjoerd-Jan Vanderhorst, ghosted past with his team in a one-boat puff. We were cursing our fortunes until we noticed one boat even worse off than us: the blue hull that had been gliding with the pack near Sugar Island had come to a complete stop, its keel wedged between two rocks, spinnaker tugging gently at the sheets.


Soon, the Lake Erie sailing season will reach a similarly abrupt conclusion. But not just yet. At Fall Bay, racers were gliding along with spinnakers full, and nobody was thinking too much about what comes next. Still, I’d hate to be the last sailor hanging around the Bay on this rainy fall Monday.


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