Chester Yacht Club Race Week:
A Historical Perspective, Part Two
The 1970s began with Race Week at low ebb. The Executive embarked upon a major Race Week rejuvenation program. Promotion efforts included letters and personal contacts with other yacht clubs and sailors. In 1972 a special effort was made by the Executives of Lunenburg and Chester clubs to bring back the Prince’s Inlet race. They succeeded: greater numbers registered and much fun was had by all. In the past most post-race entertainment had been private parties on boats or homes, now parties and dances were held at the Club House. The number of drinks that were dispensed through a small window on the back wall of the Club House was mind-boggling.
The following year the official end of Race Week was on Wednesday but by popular request, a handicap race was held on Thursday and a ‘rum run’ to the Lunenburg Yacht Club for the liquid trophy. This was to encourage as many boats as possible to go to LYC for the race back to Chester on Saturday morning after a hearty LYC breakfast.
Seventy-eight yachts raced back to LYC that afternoon! By 1975 an unprecedented 115 yachts started, 108 finished. Chester Yacht Club served food for 400 people on Lunenburg organized Prince’s Inlet race day. Many food items arrived directly from members’ kitchens.
Although participation in Club races was disappointing, Race Week kept growing with good fleets in all areas, including the major cup races. The larger Universal rated and CCA cruisers were being replaced by the smaller fibreglass handicap racing boats. In 1973, the Solings had their own class and a Junior Regatta was part of the festivities. Handicap races in 1974 included 10-16 boats each, and up to 10 competed for the big cups. In 1975, racing boats paid a $5 registration fee to defray expenses, such as boats rented for the gun and ferry services. Coffee, donuts, hot dogs and sandwiches were available at the Club House, with the proceeds going to the Juniors who did much of the work involved.
Race Week was getting increasingly complicated. The Rear Commodore, whose duties included organizing RW, required the patience of Jobe to be all things to all people. During this period, the task of Rear Commodore fell upon the shoulders of a highly respected clergyman sailor. In the middle of race week fracas, one sailor innocently asked him how things were going. Patience wearing thin, he announced in more sailor-like than ecclesiastic language, that things were indeed “going as normal, all …. up”. Witnesses still tell the story with joyful reverence.
One Rear Commodore characteristically reacted to high stress by pacing and scratching his head. After one particularly bad day, while problem-solving on the wharf he paced and scratched his way right off the edge of the wharf – backwards. His rescue was more hilarious than anxious. At a later date, the Juniors who had witnessed the event presented the situation to the members in a memorable skit.
By 1976 the Club was really stretched to accommodate the large number of people participating in Race Week. Although limiting entries was considered, the financial boost and the reputation of Chester Yacht Club as the friendliest club in the area prevailed. In an attempt to simplify administration a special Race Week committee was organized with the Rear Commodore as chairman. A Prince’s Inlet registration fee of $10 was added to the $5 general registration fee.
Another attempt at greater efficiency in working out race results was the donation of a 400lb computer. Launched into the computer age, members were happy to heave and push this great machine up to the third floor. Unfortunately, the fog and dampness of the summer “upset its innards and it could no longer remember what it was supposed to”. According to the Rear Commodore, it was ceremoniously taken out behind Tancook and “given the deep six”.
Executive members met with their colleagues from other yacht clubs to coordinate schedules and Race week ’76 was a major success with 65 yachts registered. Chester land spectators were rewarded by the sight of 75 spinnakers arriving at the finish line from Lunenburg for the morning leg of Prince’s Inlet race. That afternoon 115 registered yachts started the race to Lunenburg. The spectator fleet consisted of 20-30 boats. Regardless of all the great success and hoopla, the grand finale of Princes Inlet collapsed in a beautiful, sunny, but breeze-less day! The legendary partying met expectations. After this very successful Race Week, the Handicap fleet which had experienced spectacular growth was split into Class A and Class B. The Rear-Commodore added a suggestion that race week be limited to 65 boats, preference given to boats having participated in previous RWs.
The middle 1970s were years of imaginative and energetic leadership at Chester Yacht Club. Great advancement resulted in all areas, especially the Junior program and Race Week (even with a near nil bank balance). Chester Race Week was the only race week left in the province and the members felt that it was important, not only for the Club but also for the province. It was growing and its good reputation was spreading. Sailors from all around the province had an arena in which to test their skills. Furthermore, this was the only venue where the old Universals could gather and compete as they had in the past.
In the evenings, sailors loved to re-race the day’s events over a brew or two while perching on the railing around the clubhouse verandah. Some occasionally may have stayed too long and indulged in too many brews. One evening an intrepid fellow holding aloft a large bottle of lady’s perfume equipped with atomizer ran along the verandah. The railing cleared in a heartbeat. Arriving home reeking of perfume was not in these sailors’ plans.
The number of participants kept growing. Every day saw a fleet of 100 boats racing. There were 125 for Prince’s Inlet in 1977, 120 boats in ’79. Valuable suggestions for improvements surfaced: security measures, paid person to run the races and a permanent Protest Committee. A skipper unhappy with a Race Committee decision had cut free one of the rented race markers near the yacht club. The members barred him from anything pertaining to the club for one year. A committee was struck to study and implement means of improving Race Week.
The 1980s began with at least one merciful improvement: crews were offered the use of portable showers and toilets (Johnnies-on- the-Spot.) There must have been a noticeable decrease in summer business for Chester plumbers. Cleaning up the grounds was a big issue with which the Juniors were a great help. Race Week had 108 boats registered with 171 for Prince’s Inlet. Discussions about improving the tabulating of race results continued. The memory of the failed computer project remained but computer assistance was becoming more attainable. A simple means of increasing registration efficiency had been attempted by sending registration forms to other clubs 3 weeks before Race Week. Only 40 were returned.
Two representatives of the NS Sailing Association received an honorarium for helping with race results. With a minimum of 6 yachts necessary to start a class, there were classes for IOR, Universal, and Handicap A & B, One Design (Soling, Etchells 22, J24, Kirby 25 and Roué 20). Schooners and planing hull boats were not allowed to race. Events were for the full week starting on Sunday with the Outer Island Race. Fridays were for any postponed races and Saturday was Prince’s Inlet. Any yacht wishing to enter a protest had to pay a $10 fee to the Race Committee before the protest could be heard. A successful protest refunded the fee.
The 1981 notices sent to all Clubs announced a $5 reduction off fees for early registration. The result was minimal, but registration was down due to Marblehead Race. Registration now was $5 to $35 depending upon the yacht. Insurance coverage was compulsory and all yachts had to be registered. Apparently, some past race participants had merely shown up. 1984 had a major sponsor – Olands Light Beer. Daily evening social events at the clubhouse were added to lunches. Participants and friends enjoyed dinners of chilli, chicken barbecue, pizza and Olands’ steer barbecue followed by dancing with a live band.
By the mid-1980s there were up to 30 boats from Lunenburg alone. They had been hosting Prince’s Inlet race since 1951 and a great rivalry was growing between Chester and Lunenburg. By 1986 racing classes which had to have at least 8 boats, included a handicap C. Competitors raced for 21 trophies.
By the end of the 1980s, Lunenburg’s Prince’s Inlet cruising race was extremely popular. The racing fleet averaged 100 participants. Hundreds of spectators on land and sea thrilled to the sight of the starts and finishes but especially, that of the fleet racing through the narrow passage of Indian Point. Concerns about safety and liability led to the demise of the race in the early 1990s. The beauty of all those spinnakers flying over the horizon is a real loss.
Race Week continues with unabated success. The week is shorter. Clubs from all over the Maritimes, even New England, are regular competitors. Small boats, especially Bluenoses, have a considerable presence. Larger boats have their own starting line and form a small cruising class. Classic designs are being revived. Each year has several one-design classes added to the handicap classes. Professional judges and race organizers run the races with Club volunteers. Evening entertainment includes dinner and live music every night. Afternoon events are organized for friends and family of sailors. And the computer? Well, it is the central engine that keeps up to 150 competitors organized and aware of their standings almost as soon as the last boat crosses the line.
Race Week, still held on the third week in August, is a boisterous, busy time. Billed as the largest fixed keel regatta in Eastern Canada, Race Week offers an unsurpassed racing venue. Nova Scotia professional sailors have proclaimed it the best in the world – when the weather co-operates. Hundreds of participants and spectators enjoy the associated on-shore entertainment. Arguments and protests about handicaps and race rule infractions cause sparks to fly, nonetheless, verandah races still bring great pleasure. Nova Scotians at home and away continue to plan vacations around Race Week.
Claudette Gaudet Saap is the author of Sailors & Rattling Teacups, A History of the Chester Yacht Club.