2010 Lake Ontario 300 Challenge

Mark A. Thornton

The Race
Nearly 180 sailboats assembled on the morning of July 17, 2010 for the start of the Lake Ontario 300 Challenge (LO300). The boats were organized into several fleets (based upon their size and sail configuration) and were scheduled to start at 5-minute intervals beginning at 11:00 am local time (1500Z).

The Port Credit Yacht Club, located in Lake Ontario’s western basin southwest of Toronto, has sponsored the LO 300 sailboat race since 1990. Races such as the LO 300 provide an opportunity for sailors to test their skills and the speed of their boats against other competitive spirits. However, the LO 300 is no garden variety regatta consisting of a shore side party and a few relatively short races. The LO 300 is a grueling circumnavigation of Lake Ontario — a journey of nearly 300 nautical miles. Under normal wind and weather conditions, the fastest boats complete the race in approximately 2 ½ days while the smaller (and slower) boats typically remain on the course nearly one day longer.

The Ontario 300 Challenge race course. (larger image)

Some sailors aspire to be the first among their fleet to cross the finish line, but for many simply completing the race is considered a significant achievement and a personal victory. Historically, only 65% to 75% of the boats crossing the starting line are able to finish the race, with nearly 50% of the withdrawals caused by a mechanical failure related to the boat’s mast, boom or standing rigging.

Among the participants were members of the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society. These seventeen particularly intrepid sailors had chosen to sail the entire 300 mile course alone — a very demanding proposition. There’s no one to help tend the sails, steer the boat, cook meals or share watch duties in order to allow for some much-needed sleep. As this suggests, sleep deprivation is a major challenge. One of the singlehanders, Paul Nickerson, is the owner of a Tartan 37c named NickNack, and a frequent solo competitor. Paul’s experience during the 2010 LO 300 is the motivation for this article.

The organizers of the LO 300 understand the hazards of long distance racing, and over the years have instituted a number of safety-related regulations. A 300-nautical-mile race is no place for the inexperienced. Participation is restricted to members of an officially-recognized yacht club who are able to demonstrate a competency in yacht racing or long distance passage-making. Boats must be at least 24 feet in length and must undergo a rigorous inspection designed to ensure the seaworthiness of the vessel and possession of the requisite safety equipment.