Tag Archives: race

“A Friendly Invasion from the Sea” The Challenge Labatt Canada 1984

It seems like not so very long ago but already the newspaper clippings have yellowed and begun to fade. Not so the light in the eyes of those who participated in what was, at the time, an amazing event. They reminisce about the month of days and nights afloat in one of the biggest sailing events in the history of Northumberland Strait – the Challenge Labatt Canada of 1984.

The event was astoundingly audacious. Take ten of the most modern tracing yachts being built in North America, give them to ten crews representing each of the provinces and race from Toronto, down the Saint Lawrence, through the Gulf and Northumberland Strait to a finish line in Charlottetown. Ostensibly the event was to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s voyage but in reality to was just one helluva great excuse for a race.

Such an event could only have been dreamed up by a brewery – in this case Labatts. This at a time when “Labatt 50” was one of the best-selling beers in the country. The sailing partner was C&C Yachts who furnished 10 new fully equipped one-design 35-foot boats as sailing billboards for Labatts.  The month-long race which began on 23 June 1984 consisted of six legs – Toronto to Kingston, Quebec City to Rimouski, Rimouski to Riviere au Renard (on the north shore of the Gaspe), Riviere au Renard to Gaspe (Ile Bonaventure Race), Gaspe to Shediac, Shediac to Charlottetown. The longest leg was the 350 mile Gaspe to Shediac section. The Shediac-Charlottetown leg followed the traditional night-race route down the Strait and was one of the shortest legs. The series was scheduled to end in Charlottetown on 21 July 1984 .

While some crews were the same for the entire race the P.E.I. contingent rotated through the race with seven to nine members joining for specific legs.  The fact that the individuals had not always sailed together as a team was offset by there being fresh crew to combat the fatigue experienced over the long race.  The P.E.I. crew was almost all from the Charlottetown Yacht Club and drew from a pool of experienced racers who had participated in local, regional and national competitions in boats of all sizes. Many were veterans of the Round the Island Races. They included Gordie Beck, David Stewart, Terry McKenna, Peter Mellish, David Mosher, Hugh Paton, Bob Pinkham, John Rankin, Donald Scott, Percy Simmonds, Robert Midgley, Ron Stewart and Peter Williams.

The P.E.I. crew made a tactical error in the first leg and had an eighth place finish in the first leg but in the next two legs managed fourth and fifth placements. They finished eighth in the Ile Bonaventure leg.  They had a great race in the Gaspe-Shediac leg and grabbed a second place finish as over 200 spectators turned out 2 a.m. to watch the boats cross. For the final leg coming home to Charlottetown skipper Peter Williams had the following crew: Dave Mosher, Dave Stewart, Ron Stewart, Bob Pinkham, Hugh Paton, Percy Simmonds, and Peter Mellish.

Charlottetown Patriot 21 July 1984 p.1

Boats rafted up after the race. Charlottetown Patriot 21 July 1984 p.1

Because the event built on a number of local races many legs had additional yachts participating. The last leg incorporated the Shediac to Charlottetown race, then in its 20th year.  In addition to the 10 Labatt boats, an astonishing one hundred and four local and regional yachts participated in the final leg!

The start from Shediac was at 6 in the evening and the record for the passage was about 12 hours. Spectators were told they could expect the first boats at sunrise in Charlottetown. However brisk south-west winds and a clear night saw the speedy C&C yachts smash the record and begin arriving a full three hours ahead of time. The Quebec boat was first to finish and was followed closely by Nova Scotia. The first six boats finished within minutes of each other.  The Island boat was only four minutes back of the leader but was the fifth boat to finish. For the series overall the Islanders were awarded fourth place behind Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and Quebec. They had been tied in points with Ontario but were given the win as they had beaten Ontario in the last leg of the series. Through the day the rest of the one hundred plus boat fleet sailed through the harbour narrows and finished off the Charlottetown Yacht Club .

The land side of the event was an important one for the Charlottetown Yacht Club. It was estimated that the event brought upwards of 1000 sailors to Charlottetown along with many more families, friends and spectators. The waterfront was thick with masts, outnumbering even the busiest 19th century days of wood, wind and water. Gordie Miller was chair of the hosting committee which included liaison with the Canadian Coast Guard, City, Province and the Charlottetown Yacht Club. The Club had re-built the west wharf and put in facilities including building 70 floats to accommodate the more than 100 boats that arrived as part of the race. The awards were presented at a special event a the Confederation Centre of the Arts by federal Minister Charles LaPointe representing the Governor General, PEI premier Jim Lea and Lt. Governor J.D. Doiron.

It was the biggest and most prestigious sailing event ever to take place in Charlottetown and there has been nothing like it since. Those who participated will never forget it.

I was fortunate to be entrusted with a file of news clippings preserved by one member of the Island crew.  Thanks to the efforts of Chris Brittan and others there was lots of local press coverage and the reporting was also carried elsewhere.  The file of clippings with lots more details can be accessed by clicking on Labatt001. This is a large file in pdf format and will take time to load. You will also need a pdf reader such as Adobie.

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A Century of Spithead Racing

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Guardian 21 August 1907 p. 3

During the summer’s racing season at the Charlottetown Yacht Club there are usually a couple of evenings (especially early in the season with several hours before darkness) when the winds and tides are just right and the assembled skippers and crews waiting on the veranda for the course for the evening to be posted agree that “it would be a good evening for Spithead.”  It is a much favoured course – through the harbour mouth leaving Battery Point Buoy to port, past Blockhouse buoy and four miles out to Spithead Buoy and then back to the finish line at the Club.  It is a longer than usual course and calls for a stiff breeze and the race being dependant on the breeze, the course can never be called too far in advance. Often the conditions outside the harbour are very different from the wind and waves usually dealt with and as in the earlier race described below this difference in conditions can favour different boats.

Black buoy 1005

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay 1886 edition

What few of the sailors of the CYC fleet realize is that the Spithead course for the yacht race was in use more than a hundred years ago. What we now call Spithead Buoy was placed at the end of the reef running east from St. Peter’s Island in the late 1830s. It was marked by a Black Buoy and for most of the 19th century the mark was simply known as “the Black Buoy.” The Buoy was part of a series of navigation marks which included a buoy marking Fitzroy Rock and another on Battery Point.  Conspicuously absent from early charts is a buoy marking Blockhouse point, Instead of a buoy the correct and safe line into the harbour through the narrow harbour entrance was identified by leading marks including the conspicuous Dockendorff’s Barn on York Point and church steeples in Charlottetown. For some of the evening racers it is as far as they will ever get from the security of the harbour and the longer course makes a pleasant change from the usual parade around the marks inside Charlottetown Harbour.

In 1907 the race was advertised well in advance. However on the appointed day it had to be be postponed for a week owing to light winds. It is clear from the advertisement (illustrated above) for the race that it had been held the previous year and the cup for the event had been won by the sloop Micmac, the cup having been put up again for the 1907 race.  The Guardian covered the competition.

A splendid breeze greeted the yachts entered for the race over a course inside and outside the harbor on Saturday afternoon.  The entries were  – Micmac, Capt. Gaudet; Charlotte, Capt. Rogers; Vinco, Capt. Prowse; Grace  Darling, Capt. Moore

The course was from Marine and Fisheries Wharf to Hillsborough Bridge, thence to entrance to, North River thence out the harbor to Black Buoy, thence back to North River, thence to Marine and Fisheries Wharf.

The struggle was between the Micmac and the Charlotte, the latter very nearly robbing the former of her laurels. In the rough water outside the Charlotte was more than her match but the smoother water the Micmac scored. The finish of the race was most exciting, the Charlotte and Micmac turning the last stake boat together. The Micmac then drew ahead, finishing by a short lead. Grace Darling was third.

A number of lobster boats accompanied the sloops and showed a lot of speed.  

The advertising suggests there was a bit of a rivalry on the waterfront between the Charlottetown Yacht Club and the older Hillsboro Boating Club. Because of weather postponements the latter organization had their annual race for the Hillsboro Cup on the same weekend with several of the same boats such as the Micmac (with Capt. Pineaud instead of Capt. Gaudet) and the Charlotte in competition.  For the Black Buoy race there was no entry fee but neither was there mention of prize money. The Hillsboro Boating Club race had a $2.00 entry fee but besides the Hillsboro Cup for the winner, second place would be awarded $10 and third garnered $5.00. Because of light winds the Hillsboro Cup race was not completed and had to be re-staged on the morning of the following Labour Day.

An update on the Charlottetown Aquatic Club

In my note on the Charlottetown Aquatic Club I stated that there seemed to be no news of the club after the outbreak of the Great War.  Now I have located a couple of more items that suggest that the club activities continued for at least another year.

Guardian 3 July 1915 p.5

Guardian 3 July 1915 p.5

Clearly there has been some difficulties for the Club, which, for some reason needed to be “re-organized”.  The appearance of four trophies suggests that the level of interest was high. Two of the cups were put up by the Charlottetown Aquatic Club and two brought back by Edward Irwin from his recent trip to Boston.

That the club was very much a motor-boat club is clear from the news of the first activity planned for the organization. Two weeks after the Guardian announcement about the club re-organization the first of the races was announced. This was to be a trial race for boats of two cylinders and those of one cylinder to establish handicaps for the rest of the race season. Many of the boats would have been equipped with engines manufactured by Bruce Stewart and Company which had begin production at its plant at the head of the Steam Navigation Wharf in 1909.

Ad for Imperial engines Guardian 17 March 1917 p.2

Ad for Imperial engines Guardian 17 March 1917 p.2

There was a clock-wise course starting from a line defined by the judges boat and a flag buoy, thence to Government Point Black Buoy [now Middle Ground Green] leaving it to Port, thence to the Messervey’s Point Buoy,[I’m not sure where this is but am guessing it is the Langley Beach Red]  thence to the flag buoy off the Railway Wharf and back to the start line. Twice around for two-cylinder boats, once for one-cylinder boats.   While the is little doubt that the races were held only  the results for the second race in the series have been found.  Bruce Stewart’s Imperial led the A class of seven boats  while A. Aylward took first in the B Class. Of the dozen boats listed I have been able to find a photo of only one – Hal Bourke’s “Flirt”.

It is worth noting that among the Aquatic Club officers were Hal Bourke and Mac Irwin, both of whom were to become very important when the Charlottetown Yacht Club was established in 1922. Hal’s Restless and Mac Irwin’s Roamer  were still very much in evidence in the early 1960s when the current crop of CYC “mature” members were youngsters and many of us can remember trips on these two boats.