Sailing in Sarnia - scouting for the 2011 NAs

Sailing in Canada, The Sarnia One Design Regatta, August 2011

Our Canadian regatta adventure all started when my daughter heard people talking about Viper 640 North Americans being held in Canada this year, and she put in that she wanted to sail in another country. Now, racing Vipers with 9-year-olds is best done in easy-going, low-pressure settings, and the small Sarnia One Design Regatta held in early August seemed like a good target. It gave us a perfect setting to sail as a family, and it gave me a chance to pre-scout the site of the upcoming Viper NAs. Besides, we needed a family summer vacation anyway, and Sarnia promised an escape from the heat of the dog-days of August in Atlanta. So we updated the passports and made our arrangements. Canada bound we would be.


IMG_1720We arrived in Port Huron shortly after lunch on a clear and sunny Thursday afternoon, heading for the “Bluewater Bridge” to cross into Canada. Turns out that the bridge is aptly named – the view is simply amazing! We paid the toll ($6 for truck and trailer) and headed onto the bridge, where we then joined the queue waiting to clear customs, giving us plenty of time to take in the view for miles in every direction. You can see Sarnia Yacht Club from the bridge, along with a spectacular view of the clear blue and turquoise waters and sandy beaches of Lake Huron. We had no idea the water would be so beautiful and were quite frankly blown away by it all. Key Biscayne has nothing over this place! This trip was clearly going to be even better than we expected.


IMG_1724Sarnia Yacht Club is literally right at the foot of the bridge – a few quick turns brought us to the front gate on Fort Street. The hospitality started as soon as we got in the gate – Spike Boston came over and showed us around, making sure we knew where to find everything and making us feel more than welcome. The club includes a huge and completely protected yacht basin, a large private beach on the lake, a playground for the kids, lots of room for rigging boats, and both a hoist and ramp for getting in the water. The clubhouse and bar overlooks the lake and there’s a nice grill called simply “The Galley” located right by the ramp serving breakfast and lunch. I’ve never seen a place better equipped to host a regatta, big or small.


IMG_7411The family was anxious to get unpacked, so we dropped off the boat and headed over to the cottage which would be our home for the next few days. In the interest of scouting for NAs, we drove past the Holiday Inn and Best Western which are very close by and look clean and nice. In fact, it looked like it would be hard to find a bad place to stay in Sarnia – it’s simply a very nice small town. Brad has also found some individual rental units that sound like the best of all if you can get one. Some are in the apartment building overlooking the marina. (Look on the class forum for details and links). If you get a place with a lake view, you’ll get treated to some great sunsets each evening.


IMG_7526After a good night’s sleep, it was time to set up the boat and go racing. The race committee kept things going and we got it three races on Friday. But remember to check your keel for weed. The lake is clear, but it’s easy to pick up a good bit while sailing out of the harbor. We forgot to look and a basketball sized chunk cost us a DFL in two races. After racing, we cruised back to the club for a dinner of hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill while the kids swam at the ramp with some other kids. After dinner, the kids wanted to go souvenir shopping. Turns out that Sarnia isn’t a very touristy town, but we discovered the “Dollarama” store out near the mall with a wide range of Canada trinkets for only $1.25 each! We also just drove around a bit to see the town – I can’t really report on the party scene because I didn’t take my kids to any bars, but I did see a casino and several nice looking pubs in downtown Sarnia. You shouldn’t have a problem finding placing to drink and dine.

Spike Boston running RC on Friday.

IMG_7520Saturday dawned with the lake calm and flat. Back at the club, the day began with an on-shore postponement for an hour and then a tow out to the race course courtesy of the S2 fleet. Once at the course we had a great day of light air racing, getting in five very good races before the breeze failed and we had to get a tow back in to the club. In the very light air, we noticed the Sarnia current which typically runs less than 1 knot at Sarnia. If you’ve sailed in a tidal region, you know this isn’t all that much, but it’s different. My brain kept expecting the current to slack and turn – and of course it didn’t. Lake Huron always drains into the river at Sarnia and it does so 24x7x365. The current varies with the wind and weather, but it never stops and it never turns. If the wind stays the same, then the course you have in the morning is the same course you have in the afternoon. Pay attention, because if you find a favored side, it will be there waiting for you when you come back around.


Saturday dinner was spaghetti at the clubhouse, with plenty of talk of the day’s racing. The kids were surprised at how many people noticed their win in that last race, but then again it was quite a sight to see 11 year-old Joseph trimming the chute to perfection down the course. He can be very focused when he sets his mind to it.


IMG_7764Sunday dawned with new strong wind and from a new direction. Further to the left than before, and a bit more cross current. Things got started on time and we were all able to sail out to race area. Finally we got a couple of full-firehose planning runs to keep the smile factor high, and we placed pretty well despite being underweight. Unfortunately, the wind died back as the heat of the day moved in, and just after the third race, it again went to zero leaving us being towed back into the harbor behind a friendly S2. When it came time to de-rig and pack up, the very best part of lake sailing kicked in – the boat was already clean and all the lines were pre-rinsed in fresh clear water. We hung everything up to dry in the sun and grabbed lunch at the galley. The awards ceremony was simple and to the point. The race committee was thanked repeatedly for giving us 11 great races and bringing us home happy. It had been one fantastic regatta. When Brad walked over and asked my kids if they wanted to come back next year, they both gave a very enthusiastic “yes”. It was a huge success for my family.

Hi ya'll!

Our final night in Sarnia was marked by a trip to Boston Pizza for dinner, Alberts for ice cream, and some house cleaning at the cottage. A thunder storm blew through, giving us a big show from the front porch and cooling off the house for the night. The next morning we got in the car and headed back over the Bluewater Bridge, waving a sad goodbye to the crystal clear waters of Lake Huron and warm hospitality of Sarnia Yacht Club. There may be no place like home, but some places are sure worth a visit – this is one of them. If you haven’t yet, now is the time to start making your plans. Go online to where you will find online registration, the NOR, and other information.


–Jay Harrell