The Inter-Lake Yachting Association’s Bay Week regatta is as old-school as sailboat racing gets. The 118th edition of this event drew more than 100 boats—everything from windsurfers to multihulls to Tartan Tens—to the heart of the Lake Erie Islands: the town of Put-in-Bay on Ohio’s South Bass Island.
I’ve been attending the event for as long as I can remember. Literally. My earliest memory is watching the spinnakers round Rattlesnake Island during Bay Week’s round-the-islands race. I might’ve been watching from the backyard of a cottage belonging to our family friends, the Richards, but I’m not sure. Point is, for Lake Erie sailors, I-LYA Bay Week is as fundamental as the limestone that makes up the islands.
This year, I sailed with friends on Robert Wilber’s IMX 38 Mister Ed. As much as the regatta has changed since the good old days—the numbers are down like everywhere else, and organizers have truncated the schedule to three days of racing, plus the feeder racers from Cleveland, Sandusky, Port Clinton, Toledo, and Detroit—what strikes me most is how much Bay Week has stayed the same.
Top Five I-LYA Bay Week Anachronisms
**1. People still sleep on their boats. Sure, many teams rent houses on the island, affording themselves the luxury of air conditioning and scuz-free showers. But for many racers, home is whatever bunk you manage to weasel into before your crewmates pass out first, and the showers are of the coin-operated variety, located in the public bathrooms in nearby De Rivera Park, which itself has served as sleeping quarters for many a Bay Week inebriate.
2. The six-boat wide raft up. Most of the big boats tie up at the public docks, where limited space means the rafts often run six boats deep. In the morning, a trail of black flip-flop prints traverses every foredeck in this heaving island of non-skid, and if you’re on the inside of the raft, you’ll probably be waiting around while the outside boat determines the whereabouts of its missing crewmember, the one who was last seen around closing time, seeking true love at Frosty’s Bar.
3. Journey. Steve Perry, Randy Jackson, and the boys didn’t have to make a comeback in Put-in-Bay, because they never left in the first place. Everywhere you go on South Bass Island, whether it’s blasting from the waterproof speakers on the Bayliner docked next to you or strumming on the poorly tuned acoustic guitar at The Boardwalk, you’re going to hear songs like “Any Way You Want It,” “Wheel in the Sky,” and of course, “Don’t Stop Believin'” And there will be people singing along, pumping their fists, asking for an encore.
4. War wagons. I’ve heard people say that the Great Lakes are where raceboats go to die, but I don’t know what they’re talking about. At Bay Week, you see IOR holdovers with burnt orange hulls, plywood trimarans with lines inspired by the Jetsons, and Hobie Cats sporting sun-bleached rainbow sails, and they’re all going strong, zipping right along. And you know what else rocks? The colored spinnakers. I didn’t spy a white chute in the fleet, but I saw plenty of technicolor rags with blown out shoulders and measurement stamps from the Disco era.
5. Party time.** If the day’s racing isn’t over by noon, the natives get restless. On Friday, there was decent breeze after we’d finished our round-the-island race, so the committee decided to run another race. When the PRO made the announcement over the VHF, you could almost hear the grumbling behind the radio silence. “What the hell,” somebody said when we returned to the dock following the second race. “Frosty’s opened like two hours ago!”