The Middle Bass Challenge
by Skip Kaub
Monday.., How many regattas do you remember being started on a Monday? Well it turns out that a regatta on a grey Monday with moderate air from the SW and a threat of rain on Lake Erie means smooth sailing for all. Presented by Jack Woehrle, the first annual Middle Bass Challenge was all this and more.
This unique regatta involved the "Lake Erie's Bass Islands" once spotlighted in the July 1978 issue of National Geographic. These three islands were satellited by a dusting of smaller of islands which create interesting wind angles and shallow obstacles for risk taking sailors.
The common early morning boat setup and launching took place for most of us on the larger of the three islands shown on some maps to be South Bass, better known as Put In Bay. The race was to be around the two northern islands, Middle Bass and North Bass. The northern trek to Middle Bass was a brief 15 to 30 minute reach in a 7 to 8 knot wind. The specific destination was Sonny's beach, a natural white beach covered with sand, consisting of sand like white broken shells and polished stones serving as the start and finish.
Once at the beach there was much anticipation. This was the first time most, if not all of us, have participated in a Wave race in which you need to sail a figure 8 around two islands. This race also had an added twist. Each of us could choose the direction we wanted to sail. I felt that all of us were asking ourselves questions like; How is this going to work out? Which way do I go? Do I go by myself in the opposite direction of the others? How best to start a race like this? How best to finish?
At the skipper's meeting it was decided that the Le Mans start was scratched in favor of a start line between a pin buoy and a flag held at shore. While we all jockeyed for position, yours truly had a plan to sail a clockwise direction around the first island for my figure 8 around the two islands. I thought to act as if I was starting from the opposite direction, and at the last minute tacked in position for a port start across the start line. The other boats in the fleet positioned their boats for a starboard start for the exception of Skip Kaub Recent Winner of the Hobie Midwest Championships (yours truly), Jack Woehrle former winner of the Hobie Wave Nationals and Steve Abbey who recently won Second Place in the Bay Week Regatta and Winner of First Place in Class in the Sandusky Steeple Chase . Committed to a plan, yet feeling a little uncomfortable starting against the grain, it was comforting to see I was to have company. As the seconds counted down, the oncoming boats approached the line on a starboard start, close to the pin buoy. The three of us taking a port tack start just needed to clear the oncoming, get in clear air and start on our close reach around the west tip of Middle Bass.
As our small group sailed downwind between the islands, I was told that the other group saw Betty Bliss, former Women's Hobie 18 Worlds winner, move out in front going downwind to the Southeast tip of Middle Bass. As they approached the oncoming winds blowing between the Middle Bass and North Bass Leah White, former Winner of the Hobie Wave Nationals, and Patrick Green, former Winner of the Hobie Wave Nationals, started dueling it out. Leah covering Patrick and both sailing fast they approached the point in which they had to go north around North Bass.
As for our group, we had completed the counter clockwise path around North Bass sailing the shaft of South West wind between the two islands where we met the oncoming sailors, sailing the opposite course. We were able to wish the on-comers well and see who our immediate competition was. Jack was closing on me fast and I was concerned that he was going to over take me so I burned off some of my intended direction in return for some slow reaches, staving Jack off. Unfortunately this was getting me closer to the leeward of the island in light air and the shallow point that stretches out far past the East point of Middle Bass. Approaching the shallow point and seeing the birds sitting on the rocks, some of which were just slightly above and below the surface. I was concerned about crossing, on the other hand Jack was fast approaching in my rearview. Re-evaluating and willing to take the chance I thought to myself, "put the rudders up and hope those birds have long legs". Passing over the point, my port rudder ticked off a rock and I was past danger, pointing into the long beat to the finish.
Back to the leaders of the counter clockwise race ... Leah, self-described as having no sense of direction, told us later that her plan was to hang back, follow the people that had a better sense of direction and then overtake them in the end. Unfortunately that plan only works if you're following. Yes, Leah went left and Patrick, sailing the proper course, went right putting time and distance on the Counter Clockwise fleet. Everyone all agreed that Leah had boat speed but she had some big catching up to do. Rick White, who has won so many important regattas we have all lost track, encountered something that he was unprepared for. Rick took his dog Cody as crew. Now while his crew was willing to do anything Rick asked him to do and never would get his feelings hurt if Rick shouted his demands in frustration, Cody had one un-covered flaw. It turns out Cody is gun shy. As it turns out, there is an airport on North Bass, and to keep the birds away from the runway and the government-controlled radar they routinely fire a cannon off. Rick explained that keeping Cody calmed and on the boat proved difficult at best in the reach around the East side of North Bass.
As the counter clockwise fleet took the beat back through the two islands it was told that Rick, who had some catching up to do due to his unruly crew, cut across a shallow cut between Sugar island, one of the satellite islands I mentioned earlier, and reportedly took off several minutes putting him back in the competition.
Yours truly, in the clockwise fleet, was still concerned about Jack fast approaching. As the 2.5 mile beat to the finish carried on, Jack tacked several times causing me to cover him. I must say, going through my mind was, "I am burning off a lot of clear-sailing time to cover Jack and I have no idea of my position in relation to the other fleet of boats. I could be winning the battle yet losing the war." I finally felt as if I had enough of a lead to finish the race without covering each and every tack so, respecting Jack and his skills, I sailed on to the beach finish, keeping him in the corner of my eye for good measure. Fortunately I finished as the first boat to the beach followed by Jack then Steve.
The Counter Clockwise fleet lead by Patrick came around the Western tip of Middle Bass and finished the race.
After everyone had arrived at the beach there was a short walk to the home of John Julius, a long-time friend of Jack and a long-time resident of the island. John generously opened his home up to our group of scallywags and the cooking began.
Jack cooked the baby back ribs and the South Carolina ribs in a mustard barbeque sauce. Wow! Finger lickin' good! Along with the ribs were veggies on the grill, a beautiful salad and to top it off, Barbie cooked two pans of Peach cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream.
The awards? He we go...Before we go too far I must say that Jack and Barbie spent a labor of love for the group and the sport by painting on individual rocks some, of which are seen below. Others are seen in the group shot of the participants. Nice personal touch guys!!
Skip Kaub, first to finish
Leah White, first Hobie Stock Wave
Rick and Cody White - First Place Man and Dog Class
John Julius, Most gracious host
Let's not forget Joe Waters of Waters Sails in Columbia, SC who provided the Very Distinctive trophy flags .
Barbie Beckford,John Julius,Dave White,Leah White, Doug Siebe, Skip Kaub, Jim Donohue (up), Steve Abbey(down)
Jack Woehrle,Rick White, Cody,Dick Bliss,Betty Bliss,Patrick Green
In conclusion, this was a well thought out, well documented regatta which included fun for all. Jack did a great job of adding humor to the SIs, NOR and other documentation that went a long way to creating a fun, relaxed atmosphere and regatta. I hope he considers doing this again next year. I cant wait to come back. Others have already said as much.