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Lake Ontario 300 Challenge

Race Details

  • Wind: 19-13 WSW, replaced by 6N sea breeze, replaced by 12S, then dropping to 3NE for the finish
  • Course: A lap of Lake Ontario
Course Map

On behalf of PERSPECTIVE, six of us accepted the LO300 Challenge, to sail 304 nautical miles nonstop in close quarters and whatever elements nature chose to send our way.  It was an unforgettable adventure full of highlights, great sailing, beautiful scenes, fun camaraderie, and even a couple of decent meals.



Here’s the course

One way to describe it:  Six guys on a camping trip with a tent that sleeps two, a campfire just outside the tent that needs constant attention 24/7, and a tiny campsite just big enough for the tent & fire…leaving the campsite is not an option. Oh, and an outhouse inside the tent!

So hats off to the crew:

  • The M&M’s: Kiwi & Lazy Sheet
  • The Kit Kats: Starport & Rick Culver (aka surfer)
  • The Twizzlers: David & Gadget

And many thanks to the shore crew who helped get the boat ready:  Bert, Calvin, Les & Rob.

Life on board

We organized ourselves into three watches of two people, and rotated through three levels of activity, switching every two hours:

  • On: actively sailing the boat, one person at the helm, one person trimming sails
  • Off: fully excused from any duty, time to sleep down below or rest on deck
  • Ready: on deck, life-jacket on, clipped in, ready to assist with sailing the boat, navigation, preparing food, cleaning up or otherwise resting.

This worked pretty well, but it meant only two hours of sleep at a time during the night.  We didn’t wake people up, though if they were deeply asleep, and then shuffled things in the morning so that it roughly balanced out.  When the wind was lighter (Monday), we had the chance to doze on our ready shift.

For food, we had a mix of grab and go meals that ranged from sandwiches to trail mix & beef jerky.  These were about all we could manage when the wind and waves were up.  But when things settled down, we did quite well with just a camp stove that could boil water:  oatmeal, breakfast burritos (freeze-dried egg scramble in tortilla wraps), sous vide beef sandwiches, quinoa salad with beans, plus strawberries for desert.  And yes, we had hot coffee!

For drinks, we had 70L of water on board, some of which was pre-frozen and thawed slowly to provide cold drinking water.  Gatorade powder provided necessary electrolytes, so we stayed hydrated.

And we had a ready supply of handy snacks: lots of fruit, nuts, licorice, wine gums.  These were critical to keeping the energy up and the brain sharp as we went along.

All in all, it was a pretty good setup, considering we had never done anything like this before.  I’m sure we’ll fine tune things for the future.

Here’s a tracker that shows our progress on the course and the position of other boats:  Click Here (Choose Main Duck 2019)

Leg One: Here we go!

From: Start
To: Humber Mark
Bearing: SW
Distance: 2.2nm
Distance sailed: 3nm
Average speed: 6.8 kts
Rounding: Saturday 1230pm
Time Elapsed: 45 minutes
There was a lot of wind at the start, and we were surrounded by magnificent sailing machines.  A Farr 40 with hydraulic hand pumps, and a Volvo Ocean 60 that looked like it was from outer space.  These were part of an IRC fleet that were not really competing with us in the PHRF fleets. In our fleet there were still some boats that positively dwarfed PERSPECTIVE.   On Burlington Bay, we are among the big boats at the fast end of the spectrum.  Out here, we were average sized, and the runt of our particular starting group, which comprised the biggest PHRF boats mostly 36+ feet long.

With 19 knots showing on the wind meter, we opted for our new #3. As David and Gil began to set the sail, they quickly discovered that it had been packed into the bag in a strange way by the sail loft.  It took some time, but we were finally set and approached the starting area for our sequence.  Game on!
Rob Irish’s brother Leon (Razorbill) snapped this photo of us, suited up and ready to go.
The line wasn’t square to the wind, so we had to approach on port tack while the entire fleet of big boys were running the line on Starboard.  Kiwi took us in really tight to Red Leaf (A J120) before tacking. I was at the bow and could have touched the other boat!
Off we went, upwind into big wind and medium waves.  Not our most favorable conditions, but we kept our speed up in the high sixes and held our own while the even bigger ships from the IRC fleet overtook us.  At the rounding mark, we had our spinnaker ready to fly, but opted not to hoist right away.  With a leg of 130 nm ahead of us, taking 20 seconds to double-check our course, heading and wind direction seemed a worthwhile investment.

Leg Two:  Rhumb Punch!

From: Humber mark
To: Ford Shoal Buoy (Oswego NY)
Bearing: 91 degrees (nearly due east)
Distance: 130nm
Distance Sailed: 135nm
Rounding: Sunday 1030am
Time elapsed: 20 hours
Max speed: 12.8 kts
Average speed: 6.5 kts
Yes, you read that correctly.  It only took us 20 hours to sail nearly the entire length of Lake Ontario.  A leg this long has many chapters to it.  Here’s a summary of each…

2a. Settling in for speed

We opted not to hoist.  The wind was strong and just aft of the beam.  We doubted we could hold the rhumb line with the spinnaker up.  Sure enough, boats ahead that did hoist had to sail a much lower line, away from the rhumb line and they weren’t making as much VMC (course made good) as we were, even with the #3 up.  So instead, we opted for a sail change and put up our #1.  The sail change went smoothly, but flaking the #3 on the foredeck was problematic since it has huge vertical battens.

Once we had the #1 up we enjoyed rhumb line sailing with boat speed in the high sevens, sometimes catching a plane and getting over 8 knots of boat speed.  This was great sailing with easy control and tons of speed.  Lunch time (fresh sandwiches), and time to take care of a few important details (like Lazy Sheet’s toe)
During this stretch we enjoyed overtaking several boats, including Entourage, pictured below.  We saw a lot of Entourage during this leg of the journey, and they ended up rounding the next mark just behind us.

2b. Squall

But that joy of simple sailing was not fated to last forever.  As the afternoon stretched toward evening we saw Toronto disappear to the North of us as dark clouds rolled in.  The front edge of these clouds looked particularly ominous as a horizontal roll reached toward us threatening thunder, lightening and massive gusts.
We got ourselves ready by removing clutter from underfoot, talking through how to furl the jib and reef the main.  Wind speed built.  Prepare to reef the main.  More wind.  Cancel that.  Furl the jib.  Done.  Too tight. Four feet of sail flapping madly.  I went forward to bundle up the extra sail cloth.  More wind.  Heeling hard.  Mainsail full. Knocking us down.  REEF THE MAIN!!!!!
Quickly done and we were under control. And just as soon as the squall arrived, it passed taking most of the wind’s energy with it.  This was around 5pm, and we were due south of Oshawa.  We didn’t know it yet (indeed until we were finished the race), but Flight Simulator, a massive trimaran capsized in this squall.  They were well ahead of us (due south of Port Hope?) when it happened.  They were eventually rescued by the US coast guard.  Glad we didn’t know all this when we were out there.  All we knew was that the angry sky had been replaced with this lovely vista.

2c. Growing confidence and growing wind

As the storm gradually cleared, the wind slowly came back, in fits and starts at first (and from a range of angles).  One by one the boats within sight raised their spinnakers and we did too.  Downwind sailing had begun.

And then as the sun set and the moon rose we were making good progress once again, right on the rhumb line heading toward our mark.

Sailing in the dark is a particular joy, especially with a full moon and mostly clear sky.  There is enough light to see on board, and other boats’ navigation lights are clearly visible.  We vied for position with a few others as the night set in, choosing between a deep sailing mode along the rhumb line and the option of hotter angles.  For the most part, we tried to stay close to the rhumb line.

2d. Planing in the dark (southern ocean)

Okay, we weren’t in the southern ocean, but this is the closest we have ever been to those champagne sailing conditions that we’ve all seen on TV.  Big waves behind, big wind pushing us forward, high boat speeds and a very attentive focus on the helm.
We were sailing a deep angle with the spinnaker up, nearly dead down wind, and the waves would push our bow closer to the wind and then away from the wind. As the helmsmen started to get the feel of the waves, we were able to surf down more and more of them and hold it for longer.  Our boat speeds rose into the nines as we surged along. To avoid a chinese jibe, we had a preventer stay on the mainsail.  I now swear by these as we had two testy occasions when the wind got behind the main.  Without the preventer stay we may have been in significant trouble, but the boom was restrained, steering control maintained and the jibe was averted.
The second time this happened, I called for a douse and we sailed wing on wing downwind.  A dose of caution that may have cost us a few knots of boat speed — we were now only going about 8 knots (ie: still planing!) — but in the dark of night in the middle of the lake, this seemed the prudent move.
Once the predawn light came on, and after coffee and oatmeal for breakfast, we hoisted again and went for broke.  For about an hour we enjoyed ever increasing wind speeds, more time planing with each wave, and in a 22 knot gust, we set A NEW SPEED RECORD FOR PERSPECTIVE: 12.8 KNOTS!!!
This was a truly exhilarating experience!

2d. Rounding in good company

After twenty hours on this particular leg of the journey it was amazing to see boats converging at the turning mark from every direction.  As we drew closer, we could make out the names and types of the nearest boats and found ourselves rounding just a few boat lengths behind Live Wire, a J109 in our own fleet, with the same handicap we have.  Amazing!  This filled us with the sense that we had been sailing well, and holding our own through the squall, the night, and the fast conditions.  Fantastic.
And would you believe it, we arrived simultaneously with another boat and had to give them mark room — just like what happens on the bay after 20 minutes (vs 20 hours!).

Leg Three: Bootlegger’s dash

From: Ford shoal buoy
To: Main Duck Island
Bearing: 004 degrees (nearly due north)
Distance: 30nm
Rounding: Sunday 2:30pm
Time elapsed: 4 hours
Max speed: 8.2 kts
Average speed: 7.5 kts
Back in the days of the US Prohibition, Main Duck Island was a favorite stopover for bootleggers.  As we dashed north, I’m sure we were faster than our intrepid forebears or the coast guard ships that hunted them down.
We had 13 knots of wind on the beam, the #2 headsail up, and near planing speeds most of the time.  This was easy sailing, but not so easy on the crew, since the waves were also on our beam and had grown to about 2 feet by this time.
Nonetheless, it was a welcome simplicity.  Navigation was straightforward as we took our spot in a drag race north.  The sail trim rarely needed adjustment and the bright midday sky shone its approval on our adventure.
2/3 of the way into this leg, we passed the halfway point in our journey — 150 nautical miles sailed in approximately 24 hours!
(somehow, none of us believed the second half would pass by quite so quickly)
Rounding the islands themselves was fun. Once again we were in good company, with Live Wire & Tenacious (a Beneteau 36.7 just like Sandpiper) just ahead and Tonic (another boat like Sandpiper) just astern.  More affirmation that we were holding our own out there.
There were a pair of shoals to avoid before we could commit to a long stretch on any one heading, but we handled that with just one tack.  As we headed out into the open lake, we quickly realized that our next leg would begin with upwind sailing in big waves and strong wind.

Leg Four: Transformation

From: Main Duck Island
To: Niagara Mark
Bearing: 258 degrees (WSW)
Distance: 110nm
Distance sailed: 136nm
Rounding: Monday 11:00pm
Time elapsed: 33.5 hours
Average speed: 4 kts
Indeed, our next leg was the longest one.  We sailed a similar distance as Leg Two, but it began upwind, and then the wind settled down, shifted, died, a sea breeze grew, then died, and a new wind began.  It was a day of transformation.

4a. 8 hours of pounding

This marathon leg began with pounding surf. 13 kts of steady strong breeze blowing from the WSW across 100 nm of fetch created waves about a meter high.  We got ourselves dialed into a good mode, and focused on earning as much VMC as we could while crossing the lake.


The deck was strongly heeled, and the boat rose over the waves, crashing into the next one.  For eight hours we could barely walk on board due to the motion.  A hot meal was out of the question and we settled for trail mix, beef jerkey, apples, licorice and M&Ms.  The only places to sit securely were on the rail on the high side (getting soaked by waves) and nestled on the floor of the cockpit


The power of the lake was relentless, but we had our plan — shift to the southern shore as quickly as we could.  We had  good reasons for this choice:

  1. to get some reprieve from the waves in the lee of the NY shore
  2. cross the lake while we still had wind (we expected the wind to die down overnight)
  3. to catch a lift that we expected to materialize sometime in the next twelve hours as the forecast predicted a veer to the west.
  4. be near the NY short to catch the new sea breeze as soon as it set up on Monday


So we soldiered on.  Live Wire had the same plan as us, but they pulled away as their larger boat handled the waves better than PERSPECTIVE.


But I have no complaints about our craft.  During the pounding, I went below to observe the hull as it endured wave after wave.  Nothing flexed.  Nothing groaned.  The hull rose and fell as one rigid piece of composite, ready to keep taking it — and much more.


I reported this on deck, and the others responded….hmmm, you might even conclude the boat had been designed for this!  Of course it had.


Out in the middle of the crossing, with no land in sight, the sunset was glorious over the starboard side, while at the same time the moonrise was equally stunning over the port side.  That is a scene I will never forget.

4b. Dark & Shifty


The surf was indeed lighter near the NY shore, which allowed folks to find a quiet spot to sleep.  The sky was clear and the full moon rose up high to light our way, as the lights of port towns twinkled on the horizon.

As the waves subsided, so did the wind, and it began to shift toward the west as expected.  Unfortunately, this happened after we had crossed the lake, so that rather than benefiting from it, we now had to beat our way toward the Niagara mark.  In hindsight, the timing of this shift favoured the boats who had stayed near the Canadian shore longer, as their crossing was lifted relative to ours.  In the final analysis, this is probably the most decisive factor in the outcome of the race.


Nonetheless, we could only sail the wind we were in, and we did our best to make as much forward progress as possible in the slackening wind while still aiming to be near the shore to catch the new sea breeze when it would develop mid-morning.


At dawn we found ourselves further from shore than desired in a breeze that was quite light, and beginning to fail completely.  We could see evidence of the sea breeze forming over the NY shore (see the tell-tale clouds in the next image), so we did our best to eke out as much speed in the right direction as we could.


Gadget relived his childhood joy of flying a kite while the rest of us hung out wet cloths and enjoyed breakfast burritos, the first proper food since breakfast the day before.  It was darn good!  And yes, we did let Gadget take a break to eat.

4c. Sea Breeze


Eventually the sea breeze made it to us, but before it did, the wind shut down completely.  By this time the sun was hot and the flies had discovered us.  With zero boat speed and nothing to lose, I declared a swimming break and we all refreshed in the lake, like pre-teen boys in our favorite swimming hole.


Lazy sheet brought out some shampoo and soap so we had a chance to clean up a bit and then the funniest thing happened.  (Yes, it does involve someone dropping the bar of soap).


Super Dave (yes, that is his nickname now) is drying off on the cabin top.  Lazy Sheet drops the soap.  It begins to sink. Calculus flashes behind Super Dave’s eyes.  He sizes things up.  Leaps.  Over the lifelines into a deep dive.  Six feet down.  Ten?  One perfect arc back to the surface.  Soap in hand.  That’s our Super Dave!


Monday was a lovely day.  The perfect antidote to the extremes we had enjoyed thus far: squall, surfing downwind, pounding upwind, shifts in the night.  Now we had calm stable breeze in flat water and the comfort of a lee shore in sight but not too close.


And we had company.  Tenacious came toward the shore with their spinnaker full, crossed our stern, doused and hauled up another flatter spinnaker.  And thus began an interesting drag race that lasted about 12 hours.  Each of us doing our utmost to outpace the other.  First it was a boat trim duel, and then they chose to sail a hotter angle away from shore, while we stayed sailing deep along the shore.  It took several hours to work out who had made the better choice


And all this while, another boat, Jersey Girl was following us closer to shore.  At first, they were at least a nautical mile behind, but they closed that distance slowly throughout the afternoon and evening, proving that there was a bit of better wind in closer to shore.

4d New Wind


We held this course through the afternoon and evening, enjoying the scenery as upstate NY scrolled by.  Lazy Sheet made brilliant beef sandwiches for lunch.  Gadget made fantastic quinoa salad for dinner.  We were clean, dry, comfortable, well fed, the boat was flat and we’d all found a chance for a nap.  A perfectly civilized day.


Otto was at the helm most of the time (Otto von Helm, that is, our digital seventh crew member), so the only person working was the crew member trimming the spinnaker.  After dinner, I made the brash statement that I’d handle our watch on my own so that Rick could get some rest.


That was enough to tempt fate.


Over the next fifteen minutes, the wind flipped 180 degrees as the sea breeze was overtaken by a new system that was drawing wind from the south into a growing mass of clouds in the North.  Toronto had only just appeared on the horizon, but now it was snuffed out.

Wary from the squall on the first day, we doused quickly and kept the spinnaker down for a while, watching the weather all the while.  Eventually, we grew convinced it would stay near the north shore of the lake, and we hoisted the spinnaker once again, on the opposite jibe this time.


The breeze was still moderate, maybe only 5 knots or so, but we held such a high angle with the spinnaker (60 degrees apparent wind) that our boat speed rose to 7 knots.  Absolutely fantastic!


Meanwhile, Tenacious, who had sailed away from shore, had to douse their spinnaker and come back almost close hauled on their genoa.  In the end, that helped them reach the Niagara mark a few minutes before us.


Night fell quickly with a dark sky, and we ghosted along at good speed in surreal conditions of flat water and light breeze.  Stunning!




4e. Rounding


We held this all the way to the Niagara mark, and then were hit with an unwelcome surprise.  We found the mark, aimed right for it, and within the last 100 metres the wind wobbled, shifted forward drastically, and threatened to push us into the mark itself (a big ugly rusty thing that would leave a very unwholesome scrape).T


The kite was completely backwinded.  Down it came in a hurry.  Two tacks on the mainsail alone until well clear (and the wind was restored from the south), and back up came the spinnaker.


(and meanwhile, Tenacious sailed away)


Add that to the collection of strange mark roundings this season!


Leg FIVE: A few more surprises

From: Niagara Mark
To: PCYC Finish
Bearing: 300 degrees (WNW)
Distance: 25nm
Finish: Tuesday 5:00am
Time Elapsed: 6 hours
Average speed: 4.2 kts

5a.  Flying

Having established itself, the new wind did not kid around.  In no time we were sailing with boat speeds in the high sevens on a bee line to the finish.  Once I took the helm a short while after, I could see Tenacious’ stern lights, and we packed on all the speed we could to close down on them.
I began to calculate that at these speeds, we could finish in less than four hours.  Indeed, when I went down for a sleep and handed the helm over to Super Dave, I even wondered if they would have to wake me for the finish.  Oh, the silly thoughts we think sometimes.

5b. Thunderstorm

All I know is that I woke up to pouring rain and the thump thump thump of Super Dave on the foredeck.  the kite came down as another storm hit us.  Wary once again of squalls, and doubly cautious because it was the black of night, we were slow to bring out the headsail.  Nothing lost though, because the wind had been eliminated in that last downpour.
Wet, cold and tired, we waited for some breeze with 9 miles to go.  Eventually a light breeze filled from the NW, and we made cautious progress once again to the finish.  We could now see boats all around us, who had been ahead and behind, essentially restarting the race for one final push.

5c. Classic PCYC Finish

What I had estimated to be the last hour of sailing took us three, and could have been more had not a reasonably firm breeze come from the NW.  But as we approached the PCYC finish area, we all had flashbacks to the Susan Hood race, when we were becalmed in sight of the line.
It wasn’t that bad, but we saw our boat speed drop below 1 knot as we slowly approached the turning mark.  For a while, it looked as though we may be able to overtake Tenacious who was going slow to leeward of us.  But as we had to turn down to reach the turning mark, they were able to harden up, and they kept their place ahead of us.
In the inky moonlight that greeted us post-rainstorm, we saw Jersey Girl overtake Tenacious briefly, only to fall back again in the last few hundred metres.
Finally, it was our turn to cross the line, just as the predawn light was warming the sky.
We did it!  We successfully completed the Lake Ontario 300 Challenge!

One thought to “Lake Ontario 300 Challenge”

  1. Great job Rob and crew and nice race report. When I looked at your track I noticed your dive to the south shore on the way back, a move we try to avoid at all costs as it is like banging a corner and it limits your options. With the expected shift to the right we positioned ourselves north of the Rumb line so that the veering wind would lift us to close to the mark. That way no overstanding the Niagara mark! Well done!

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