2010 Lake Ontario 300 Challenge

Weather & Long Distance Racing
A 300-mile race is an obvious test of sailing skills. But it also challenges the ability of participants and their boats to endure hostile weather conditions. While a typical regatta can be delayed or cancelled in response to a threatening weather pattern, it isn’t feasible to abandon a long-distance race in which the competitors are spread out over a large area, beyond the range of VHF radios, the typical form of communication on the Great Lakes.

Even if it were possible to effectively broadcast a cancellation of the race, the relatively slow speed of most sailboats and the limited number of suitable ports along the route make seeking safe harbor on short notice impractical. Competitors in long distance races such as the Ontario 300 must assume responsibility for monitoring the weather and taking appropriate action when conditions are expected to deteriorate. In other words, coping with bad weather is part of the challenge.

Monitoring the weather is difficult while offshore. NOAA transmits observations and warnings on VHF radio, but the distance at which these broadcasts can be heard is dependent upon the placement of the boat’s antenna and the quality of the radio installation. Internet access via cellular modem is an option, but service on the Great Lakes, particularly more than 10 miles offshore is sketchy. Satellite technology overcomes the limitations of both VHF and cellular communications, but the associated expense restricts use to a small minority of sailors. Once offshore, most sailors simply rely upon the inexpensive and old-fashioned process of simply watching the sky. While this is may be a suitable strategy for an imminent thunderstorm, it does not provide an understanding of what lies over the horizon.