“Those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate, even inaccurate idea, by hearing it spoken of as a ‘lake’, and to those who have sailed over its vast extent the word sounds ludicrous. Though its waters are fresh and crystal, Superior is a sea.” – George Grant, 1872
The Trans-Superior Race is the longest known freshwater race in the world and this year, on the 25th anniversary of the biannual event, I was a part of it. The race officially began just after 13:00 on Saturday August 5th and the boat I was on crossed the finish line at 16:00 on Tuesday August 8th after sailing roughly 380 nautical miles (700 km) without stopping.
There were eight of us on the 35 foot sloop named “Bobsled” and we were divided into two watches of four. On the Port Watch, which became Team Chuck Norris, was the Skipper and boat owner Bob, Chris, Adam and myself. On the Starboard Watch, or Team Jackie Chan, was the tactician Alec, Cam, Bruce and Shawna. The watches alternated every four hours; those on watch were on deck and sailing the boat while those off watch were generally down below sleeping and eating.
Being on watch can be summarized to the following: scan the instruments to see how fast we are going and where we are heading, the sails to see if any adjustments need to be made, the horizon to see if any ships are approaching and also because there is nothing else to do but let your gaze get lost in the vast and beautiful expanse of the lake. We took turns at the helm and worked together to pull off demanding maneuvers and make certain decisions. Racing on a keel boat is definitely a team sport and I was grateful to be part of such a good, positive and motivated crew. Placing 2nd in our division seems like an added bonus.
My favorite memories were the sunsets and moon rises, moon sets and sun rises, and the feeling of helming a perfectly balanced boat effortlessly gliding on the watery surface and riding waves with grace. There were also ungraceful waves that brought everyone out on deck and brought out the Gravol pills. Generally, however, the sailing conditions were great. We did experience zero knots and over 20 knots of wind, sailed through thick fog, past some thunder heads (although it never rained on us) and through some pretty big waves (but nothing like the gales of November) but, as a whole, we had amazing weather and fairly consistent winds around 10 knots (about 18km/hr).
The race course, which is actually 326 nautical miles in straight lines, can be divided into four segments: 1) from Gros Cap Light in Whitefish Bay near Sault Ste. Marie to Whitefish Point, 2) from Whitefish Point to the tip of the Keeweena Peninsula, 3) from the Keeweena to the Apostle Islands, and 4) from the Apostle Islands into Duluth. We had the wind at our beam for the first two legs which made for fast and fairly flat sailing while reaching. On the other hand, the last two legs were all upwind so we had to contend with waves and a heeling angle anywhere between 10 and 45 degrees.
Some of it was difficult and I still have bruises, a cold, and bags under my eyes to prove it but I absolutely loved sailing this race; especially looking out onto the expansive horizon of Lake Superior and welcoming all that came with it.
Check out this short (3:58) video from the race!