Tag Archives: NStYA

Northumberland Strait Yacht Racing Continued into Wartime


Yacht Racing in Shediac harbour ca. 1939 (Mac Irwin album)

While Canada found itself at war in 1939 many activities continued relatively unchanged in the early years of the conflict. Such was the case with yacht racing. The Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait (YRANS), which had been founded in 1936 had a very successful annual regatta in 1939 before the outbreak of war and in 1940 staged the event in Shediac.

There was a large contingent from the Charlottetown Yacht Club who headed out for the races in the first weekend in August. First away was Mac Irwin in his cruiser Roamer. He and his crew of Fred Small and Doug Carver had Mac’s class three boat Zenith in tow. The following day the CGS Brant departed with three Snipes, one international class yacht and the class 3 boat Jeep aboard. Included in the Brant party were Mr. & Mrs. Charles Bentley, Dorothy Bentley, Art Howard, Joe MacPhee, Jack King, Don Martin, Bill Porter, Dr. MacMillan of Boston who summered at Orwell and others.

Another group left with Commodore Fred Morris on his cruiser Elizabeth and with Hal Bourke on the Restless. Four Summerside Yachts made the trip; the Goldfinch, Capt James Stright, Woodpecker, Ray Tanton, Zepher, Lorne MacFarlane and Eva K. Harry Allen. The Lindsay Brothers, summering in Orwell took their boat to Shediac on a trailer.

The only acknowledgment that this was wartime came with the YRANS business meeting held during the regatta. The Association committed to the purchase of  $50 War Bond to be held until the end of the hostilities.

The racing took place over two days with a banquet and dance at the Shediac Yacht Club bring the event to a close. Shediac Commodore F.W. Storey made the presentations to the winners. Among the race officials were Charles Bentley and K.M. Martin who assisted the starter.

Island yachts did very well the first day of the two-day event but in lighter winds on Saturday Shediac sailors had more success.  Nominingue (Class 2) owned by Ern Ross of Shediac took the trophy for aggregate points with Siren (Class 3), also from Shediac, in second place.  Shediac also took the award for the club with the most points.


Racing in Shediac harbour ca. 1939. (Mac Irwin Album)

The Islanders were back for the event in 1941 which was also held in Shediac but were there in reduced numbers.  The event was shortened owing to the cancellation of some of Saturday’s races because of heavy rains.  The regatta attracted boats from Shediac Bay Yacht Club, Charlottetown, Summerside, Amherst and Borden. Shediac was the winner of the overall points followed by Charlottetown, Summerside and Amherst. The highlight for the Charlottetown club was in the Snipe Class where Scout, helmed by Billie Bourke took the cup, Bill Porter’s Joke was second and another Charlottetown boat, Four Bells, was tied for third.

By 1942  things overseas and on the home front had changed. While club races continued YRANS decided to postpone the regional regatta and it was not until 1946 that Northumberland Strait began again with the first post-war regatta held once again in Shediac.

The Challenge of “the Strait Challenge”


Route of the Strait Challenge

With the harbour in  Charlottetown still solidly frozen and with at least two of the nearly five metres of this winter’s snow still on the ground it is hard to imagine that there are just four months until the start of this year’s premier sailing race in the region.  Faced with declining interest and the need for a new race format the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association (NStYA) has torn up the schedule and developed a whole new approach.

Club-to-club Strait racing goes back some eighty years when there was competition between boats heading for the annual regattas of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait. However it was not until 1964 with the inauguration of the annual Shediac to Charlottetown Race that there was a formal entry on the race calendar.   Over the years that race ran on a number of formats – day race, night race, a reversed course of Charlottetown to Shediac and while interest continued for many years, with over 100 boats competing in some races, the most recent period has seen diminished participation.  Most sailors saw the race as a rite of passage and it was a source of pride to have taken part but by definition a rite of passage happens only once. However, at least one skipper had been in the race fifty times and many others can count their participation in more than a score of years.  However, with the recent exception of a peak in the 50th anniversary year, the number of boats had steadily declined. Last year, the race was canceled owing to storm damage at the Charlottetown Yacht Club but as well there was a distinct lack of interest.  Other NStYA races in the region were also facing challenges. Many of the races in the program had become little more than club races open to visitors while the cross-strait races such as Shediac – Summerside and Pictou – Charlottetown were also suffering from low participation.  It was not just the NStYA races that were suffering as regattas and club races also saw reduced numbers on the start line. Blame could be attributed to aging skippers, the need for larger crews, time pressures and boats that seemed unable to sail beyond the harbour mouth.

At the same time new races such as week-long Race the Cape, (with a huge amount of public funding) centred on the Bras D’or Lakes and the interest generated by the one-time 150 Challenge a two-leg race from Charlottetown to the Magdalene Islands and back to Souris in 2014 suggested that a different format to the plethora of NStYA  races in the harbours of participating clubs, on a seemingly bi-weekly basis, might generate more interest.

The Strait Challenge is actually a series of four races linking the clubs active in Northumberland Strait inter-club racing. They are all day-long races with an average length of just over thirty nautical miles.  Some follow the routes of traditional NStYA races while the course for others is new. They will have the usual spinnaker and white sail classes but in addition there is a cruising rally which will follow the fleet without the pressures of actually racing.


Leg 1 – Shediac to Summerside

Leg 1 beginning on Monday 27 July follows the course of the traditional Shediac – Summerside race beginning at the Pointe du Chene Yacht Club  and a quick start to the Shediac fairway buoy.  From there depending on winds and currents boats  can follow the rhumb-line, head for the Island’s Acadian shore,  or skirt along the New Brunswick coast before striking out for the Summerside fairway and then up the narrow harbour channel to end at the Summerside Yacht Club – total distance of about 33 nautical miles. Celebrations at the SYC to follow.


Leg 2 – Summerside to Charlottetown

The next morning the longest leg of the race begins as boats leave Summerside Harbour and passing the fairway buoy head for the imposing Confederation Bridge leaving the Seacow Head Light to port. With tidal currents of up to four knots navigating the narrow Abegweit Passage provides an element of strategy and a knowledge of current patterns. Keeping out from the Tryon Shoals the boats head around the reef at the west of St. Peter’s Island, down the St. Peter’s Island shore to Spithead Buoy then into the narrow harbour mouth of Charlottetown where the finish of the 47 nautical mile leg is off the Charlottetown Yacht Club.   Charlottetown is the site of a lay-over day and boats will be able to take part in the regular Wednesday evening in-harbour race.


Leg 3 – Charlottetown to Barrachois

On Thursday it is a quick (we hope) trip almost due south to Barrachois, home of the Barrachois Harbour Yacht Club .  Sailing through Hillsborough Bay and leaving Spithead to Starbord the course for Leg 3 is set to Amet Island, thorough Amet Sound with the finish line in Tatamagouche Bay.  Although this is the shortest leg with just over 30 nautical miles as the seagull flies, it still promises a full day of sailing and the course crosses the tidal flow so there is one more factor to add to the course plotting.  Knowledge of the tide is important here for another reason, not so much for the currents created as for the fact that the entry to the marina has reduced access at low water.  There’s lots of water in the marina but one has to time when to enter and leave.

The final day of racing is Friday 31 July with the destination being the Pictou Yacht Club.  Boats will leave a start line in Tatamagouche Bay and head down the Nova Scotia Shore for Gull Rocks which mark the entrance to Caribou Channel  Leaving Pictou Island to port and close aboard the route of the Caribou – Wood Island’s Ferry the boats last major turning mark is at Pictou Road at the entrance to Pictou Harbour. Proceeding up the channel the fleet will finish the 33 nautical mile race just off the Yacht Club with the last social activity and presentation of awards.

The route down the Strait from Shediac to Pictou takes advantage of the prevailing westerly winds but experience on several of the legs suggests that  periods of calm may be experienced and most racers, especially on the Strait between Charlottetown and Pictou have memories of “holes” when the wind blew everywhere around them but would not fill their sails – that too, is racing.


Leg 4 – Barrachois to Pictou

It will  be very interesting to see if the change in format brings more of the casual sailors back to Strait racing.  Some folks are just tired of the same race courses year after year and to actually compete in the Northumberland Strait Championship has traditionally meant a commitment of almost every second weekend over the entire season.  Compacting the racing into a single week changes the level of commitment and has arguments both for and against.  Yes, competing in all the races  could mean a week of vacation time but it replaces having to take Thursdays and Fridays for delivery for every race and is probably less of a commitment overall.  Opting in or out of legs is also attractive for those with less time or interest.  Travelling with a fleet and having social opportunities at all of the yacht clubs may bring back some of the camaraderie that marked the beginning of the Association.  I especially like the idea of the cruising rally which can be a good introduction for those who would like to do more sailing but don’t want to be out in the Strait alone.

As always, this requires a commitment on the part of the Clubs themselves. In the recent past arrangement for starts and finishes at some clubs have left something to be desired and while several clubs hare noted for their hospitality others pretty much ignored the racers. Besides boats, skippers and crews the Strait Challenge will need the whole-hearted support of the Clubs across the region, and even more importantly a dedicated cadre of volunteers. Also needed are champions to promote the race in each of the five yacht clubs involved.

What ever your role –  skipper or deck fluff, racer or cruiser, race finisher or bar-tender (or bar attender),  mark your calendar for 27-31 July and tell your friends. It promises to be a great week of sailing.

CYC takes Honours in 1st Post-War Regatta held in Charlottetown

Snipes at CYC

Snipes racing at Charlottetown Yacht Club – Mac Irwin photo

Yacht racing in Charlottetown Harbour was greatly reduced during World War II. Although there was local racing at the CYC and the social events continued, swelled in many cases by the visiting military personnel training in Charlottetown the inter-club races under the auspices of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait (YRANS) appears to have been suspended after the 1942 regatta in Shediac.

In 1946 the series returned and a YRANS regatta was held in Shediac which included a contingent of Charlottetown sailors. The 1947 Regatta was the first to be held in Charlottetown since 1938 and there was a high level of anticipation as the eighth of August approached. Boats were entered from clubs along Northumberland Strait as well as from the Royal Kennebecassis Yacht Club in Saint John. The latter boats were the first of the out-of province boats to arrive with one of the large class three yachts and two snipes being trucked from the New Brunswick Club.

Brant #2

Government Steamer Brant was often used to carry racing yachts between clubs for regattas

Boats from both Shediac and Summerside arrived on the morning of the two-day regatta. The smaller boats such as snipes had been carried on the Dominion Government Steamer Brant and the larger sail boats had accompanied the steamer in convoy. The services of the steamer had been secured through the influence of Prince County M.P., J. Watson MacNaught.  With ten boats from the host club, five from each of Shediac and Pictou, four from Summerside and three from Saint John there were a total of twenty-seven boats in the five classes of the regatta, ten in the snipe Class alone.

"Scout" sailed by Billie Bourke, crewed by Elaine Porter PARO HF.87.109.9

“Scout” sailed by Billie Bourke, crewed by Elaine Porter
PARO HF.87.109.9

The snipe class races were the most closely contested. One of the Saint John boats, the Halcyon skippered by Don Holder, was the reigning Northumberland Straits champion but he faced plenty of competition. After the two days of racing, Charlottetown skipper Billie Bourke was the new champion for the class with her boat Scout. A Saint John boat was second and two more Charlottetown snipes, George Wood’s Wren, and Wings, helmed by Ann Sadler, were tied for third.

Charlottetown boats also led other classes. In class 3 Mac Irwin’s Zenith was the winner while class 2 honours were taken by Louis McMurrer in his boat Aeolus. Mac Irwin also took the trophy for the highest total points scored with Billie Bourke a close second.  Jack Johnston, also from Charlottetown, sailing in Jeep, won the handicap race. Cherry MacGregor of Pictou won a special trophy for combined sportsmanship and seamanship. Owing to the many excellent finishes by CYC skippers the Charlottetown Yacht Club was awarded the overall Regatta trophy.

Following the Saturday races a banquet was held for all participants at the Charlottetown Hotel with CYC vice-Commodore K.M. Martin presiding. Everyone then returned to the Yacht Club facilities for the presentation of trophies and awards sponsored by local merchants and supporters, followed by a dance for club members and their guests with music by John Sterns and his band.