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Niagara Hospice Regatta - neat experience

by jmaloni
Mon, Jul 8th 2013 12:25 pm
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J/111 Lake Effect to represent Niagara Hospice in Nationals

Photos and story by Terry Duffy

Taken from the July 6 Sentinel

Not your typical day out on the lake.

Over the past several years my boating experiences have involved the usual fare - cruising, sightseeing, plenty of swimming, sunning, skiing, some fishing, and overall good times on-board, even some Wednesday night sailboat races out on Lake Erie off Buffalo.

Not so last Saturday. This one involved work, at times a lot of it. But it also turned out to be a neat time for a very good cause.

Starting out at 8 on a cool and gloomy morning on the river, it turned into a beautiful afternoon later on out on the lake as the 2013 edition of the Niagara Hospice Regatta played out off-shore of Fort Niagara.

An annual event of the host Youngstown Yacht Club, the 2013 Past Commodore Paul and H. Joan Joy, Niagara Hospice Regatta featured two fleets of boats in multiple classes - competing in timed races over set courses that were determined by the winds of the day. The local version of a national event, proceeds of which go to benefit hospice programs assisting thousands nationwide, the Niagara Hospice Regatta featured the boats of course - the smaller J/22, J/70s and Shark vessels, and the larger Beneteau 36.7s, a Sabre 38, J/35C and J/111 class. All were manned by helmsmen who paid entry fees and covered their own insurance and expenses to participate. Crews ranged from four to five on the smaller fleets to up to 10 on the larger ones - all volunteers who were in it for the joy of sailing and the experience.

But the event went beyond that; it literally enveloped the YYC, its members, even the community. Amidst the occasional morning drizzle, a number of volunteers from the club and the Youngstown area were seen scurrying about the YYC grounds, loading up boats with supplies and equipment, organizing crews, even pumping out. "See? This is how we get started," quipped YYC race coordinator Adam Burns with a laugh as he worked the manual bilge pump about 8:15 that morning, emptying out the water on one of YYC's two marker boats.

In addition to the fleets, YYC had two boats manned by two volunteers apiece who were responsible for the frequent relocation of markers in the lake - their placement on the race course dependent on the wind. They were joined by a race boat anchored 1-2 miles off-shore, which consisted of a five-man race committee (this writer included) whose job was to measure winds, plot distances of the races and directions, man the raising and lowering of flags in sync with announcement horns, and then time, score and log the races.

Getting underway in the neighborhood of 9 a.m., all of this activity would continue over the course of the next six-plus hours as the two-fleet, six-race Niagara County Hospice Regatta program slowly moved along.

"I can't believe I'm out here this early," said volunteer Colleen Mary Johnson of Youngstown, who worked one of the marker boats all day with Steve Suitor, repeatedly yanking and then repositioning gigantic marker balloons out in the lake.

All told, the regatta was to be very much dominated by the winds, or the lack of them. Wind speeds at times ranged from zero and drifting, to the occasional west and northwest wind bursts in the 12 knots range. At one point, race committee organizers did consider canning the remaining balance of the program in the later stages of the fourth race due to a complete lack of wind and the prospect of boats not being able to finish in the prescribed time frames for the balance of the afternoon. "We're down to less than three minutes, might have to call this," said John Tracy, a lead coordinator on the race committee boat. That didn't happen, however, as a group of J/70s suddenly came to the finish.

At other times the action became intense, such as during one turn in the later stages when a group of the larger Beneteau 36.7s and a J/111 looked like all were going to collide with each other near the anchor of the race committee boat. Placement finishes on these boats were at times within 10ths of a second apart, particularly among the top three.

When all was said and done, it was Bob Hesse and the crew of the Class J/111 Lake Effect, who took top honors in points with 13.0 and will go on to represent Youngstown and Niagara County Hospice at the Hospice Nationals in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the spring of 2014.

In second with 16.0 was Obsession, a Beneteau 36.7 helmed by Norm Stessing, and in third with 17.0, Margaritaville, another Beneteau 36.7, helmed by Scott Dinse.

The Lake Effect Team will be competing against 20 other Hospice districts across the entire United States. "Congratulations to Bob Hess and the crew of Lake Effect," said Burns at the YYC awards event later on Saturday.

Burns also complimented the efforts of the numerous volunteers, saying, "We appreciate everyone who supported and volunteered for this regatta to make it a success."

For myself and numerous other volunteers, it wasn't your typical day of boating, but this one was unique and rather neat.

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