by Warren White
On the top of the map of Minnesota is a “knob”, which extends towards
Kenora Ontario. This “Lake of the Woods” has become the site for an annual,
historic week of sailing, sunshine, and socializing. I first joined this week
of sailing in 1981 and have returned to Kenora several times since then.
Entering it’s 44th annual regatta, LOWISA or Lake of the Woods
International Sailing Association brings sailors from Canada and the US together
in a broad mix of boats to compete in several different fleets. Although it is a
first class race, LOWISA is also a time to appreciate some of the most pristine
waters of North America. The experience is akin to sailing in the Boundary
Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota.
The regatta has it’s roots in the mid 1960’s when sailors with X-boats, Cscows,
and other daysailers would haul their boats (overloaded with food and
camping gear) to cruise and camp on the primitive shores of this northern, island
filled, area of Lake of the Woods.
Over the past 28 years, I had hauled (dragged) a 7000# 28 footer to the regatta
several times. With consideration to the runaway gasoline prices in August
2008, I decided to return to the roots of the regatta for LOWISA 43. My niece
Jennifer and I put a 1963 Flying 15 on the trailer for the 400 mile trip to Kenora
Ontario. Still using the original sails and with about 200 pounds of camping
equipment stuffed under the deck, we were not going to win any races. We
were, however, going to see beautiful sailing, fine weather, and many old
friends. We were not disappointed!
The regatta is unique in that the responsibility of Commodore alternates
between a Canadian sailor and a US sailor every year. It has drawn as many
as 125 boats although 40 to 60 boats is more common. LOWISA 43’s
Commodore was Erin Nuttal of Winnipeg. She represented the third
generation of the Nuttal family to be a Commodore. For 2009, the LOWISA 44
commodore will be the entire John and Marcia Sexton family who sail their trimaran
Splash. Because they start in the last fleet, they need to pass the entire
regatta if they wish to do well in the day’s pursuit style racing.
That brings us to the fleets, the boats that participate, and the handicapping system.
The daily race course is laid out for 18 to 22 miles of sailing between islands
and past specified marks. Generally, the sailing is from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM.
There are six days of racing with a midweek layover day where the fleet can
buy ice and sing karaoke at a resort. On this “layover day”, the hard core racers
often homogenize crews to enjoy a more intense level of their sport around the buoys.
I recall, with pleasure, 1983, when I first watched a start of the week’s sailing.
The first fleet off the line were the 17'-22' cabin boats (Ventures, Montgomery’s,
Balboas), followed by the non-spinnaker (PHRF 200 to 240) boats Seven fleets later,
the Hobie Cats would skitter through the fleet like butterflies on an August morning.
As the years have passed the fleet continues to be diversified and the boats
seem to have gotten faster. Many of them are also far better able to serve the
needs of a week-long liveaboard without a camp stove in the cockpit. In recent
years participants have included Aquarius 21 through Hanse 371 and
there are many C&C’s, Abbotts, Catalinas and J boats.
The E-scows, 470’s, and other “sports car” sailors live on houseboats
that are available for a week’s charter on the lake.
In 2007, for LOWISA 42, 12 of my in-laws had rented a houseboat as they
cruised some 75 miles of the lake. For seven days, three generations of Mary’s
family raced small boats, laughed, ate, beached and partied.
For my housing in August 2008, I discovered that camping on the shore
was a great new way to enjoy the scenery. The fresh blueberries that I
picked for breakfast in the early sunlight were abundant. The shoreline generally
drops steeply so it is a simple matter to drop an anchor off the stern, tie the bow
to a tree, and step ashore without wading.
The bulk of the fleet ties together in various configurations and socializes as
though they had not just spent five hours trying to outsail each other on the
The “star raft” is especially effective to support functions like the “Mount
Gay Rum Party” and the “Betty Crocker Night”.
The anchorages are in smaller bays or tucked in behind islands.
Of course, there is always that quiet spot around the corner where the crews
who desire privacy can tie to a tree and share the environment with 40 pound
turtles or Great Northern Pelicans.
Lake of the Woods receives its water from the Rainy River which enters
the lake at the southeast corner. The flow leaves the Lake some 60 miles later at
the northwest corner as the water flows past Kenora Ontario toward Lake
Winnipeg. The south ½ of the lake is the Big Traverse; large enough that the horizon
is water surface. The north ½ of the lake is always within site of land
because there are islands everywhere! Within 12 miles (20 kilometers because
you’re in Canada, aye?) of Kenora, there are summer homes on many of the
islands. Past this ring of civilization the land is undisturbed and the wildlife is
I noted earlier that the Regatta is a world-class race for the sailors who have
made it their tradition to spend the August Province Day holiday on the
water. The results are tabulated and circulated every evening. Trophies are presented
on the final Saturday evening at a banquet back in Kenora.
On the other hand, the racing is not the singular purpose. LOWISA is also a
time when old friends meet and newcomers to the regatta become new
friends. Some of these friends will go home with a trophy although they may
not have had the fastest boat, the most proficient crew, or the most sailing skill.
There is a long list of traditional traveling trophies which are awarded to participants
who best appreciate the lake, who best personify the spirit of the
event, or who best demonstrate sportsmanship. Many of these trophies date to
the early 1970’s. Being selected for one of these honors brings forth a true sense
of continuity when you see your name engraved on a little brass plate next to
the name of a sailor from 35 years ago.
Driving home from the event in August, I reflected on the international
process of organizing, promoting, and participating in a sailing event like none
other in the Upper Midwest. Participants travel from Colorado, British Columbia,
Iowa, Wisconsin, and Detroit to share a sailing week on this Ontario/Minnesota
LOWISA has a web page at
www.lowisa.org/ with many more photos,
videos and links to history of this fine event. This web page will also
describe the plans for LOWISA 44 to be held August 2 through 8, 2009.
Warren White normally sails his Irwin 28 “In the Mood” on Lake Pepin
out of Lake City, Minnesota.