by George Hansen
How about this sailors; 22 green forested islands, sky blue
waters, quaint small New England style fishing village rising
from the shore into the hills of the mainland, three marinas on
the edge of Lake Superior chuck full of sailboat masts, surely
this would be the place of a great regatta, well it is, but it
took some heavy convincing.
Bayfield Race Week didn't just start in 1979; its origins actually started four years earlier in the summer of 1975, when I suggested the idea to my friend and sailor buddy, Gordy Jones. Throughout the country in those years yacht clubs where putting on major events, Block Island Race Week, SORC in Florida, Annapolis and many other clubs and locations. Having spent four years working in the Bayfield, Wisconsin and experiencing Lake Superior ("the big lake") and the magic of the islands, the area just seemed a natural for a major regatta.
Apostle Islands Yacht Club, formed in the 60's and located in Bayfield, provided a great racing program in the 70's and in conjunction with the Off Shore Race Series and Trans Superior Race, sailboat racing was hot. What was lacking in the racing program and the area was the intensity of a week-long major sailing regatta and the social activities that would come with the event.
So, in 1975 I started what I thought would be a simple campaign, suggesting to the Club's Race Committee the idea of a race week, a week of racing and fun, what could be better? Well I was about to find out, my presentation went well I thought, but, I was blown out of the water with every excuse imaginable, from no one would spend a whole week racing, to, Bayfield is to far from anywhere to get sailors to come to the venue, to, not enough boats and many other lame excuses. Over the next four years, one race committee chairman after another rejected the idea, highly respected racers some of who would later admit that they should have jumped on the idea. Finally, "My break", came when my close friend Gordy Jones became Race Chairman for the 1979 season.
In November of 1978 at the annual yacht club meeting and awards banquet held at the Minnesota Club in St Paul, during the business the elections of officers and the appointment of committee chairs for the next season I thought I might just get what I wanted. I knew that Gordy Jones was next in line for Race Committee Chairman, so I didn't make my usual pitch of previous years for race week, once Gordy was official and the meeting was over I approached him in a hallway outside of the meeting room. I said, "Are you going to do Race Week"? He shot back, "NO! I'm not doing it!".
I remember the moment as if it were yesterday, the instant shocked me. One of my best friends, a big supporter of the program, and it was hard for me to believe what he had just said. But in the next moment he said "You're in charge of race week." I can remember smiling as we went off for our first drink of the evening. Gordy Jones and I set in motion "Bayfield Race Week" and I was the first Bayfield Race Week Chairman.
Shortly thereafter the planning started for the event, first with a layout of the weeks racing activities; 5 consecutive days of racing with 2 races each day for four days and a distance race on the other day. Social activities as often as we could schedule them, a party during sign-in, a mid week party, and a large awards banquet the evening of the last day with plenty of trophies. Next was the promotion program, mailers to the membership of 11 yacht clubs in the Midwest in December 1978 and early January 1979, followed up with a huge promotion at the January, '79 Minneapolis Boat Show and again at the Boat, Sports and Travel Show in March, also in Minneapolis. The goal; get as many pre-registrations as possible to insure success.
The winter of 1979 quickly blurred into summer and on that Sunday afternoon of first Race Week I sat at the Apostles Yacht Club with 16 pre-registrations, a keg of beer, a bunch of brats and a lot of promises. My wife Betty, son George and my Race Week crew were all in place and ready as I sat with Gordy wondering who and how many would actually show up. Around 3 PM they started showing up, sun glasses, tee shirts, shorts and deck shoes, I told them to have a beer; register and the brats would fire up at 4 PM. The racers and crew continued to pour in and by 7 PM we had 32 boats registered and well over 100 racers drinking beer, telling lies and chomping on bit to go racing. Early the next morning there was a knocking on my boat and another racer wanted to enter and by the time of the skipper's meeting three more boats had entered for a total of 35 boats for the week.
My plans for putting on the races called for Larry Ritten our race judge to set the line and I would put out the race buoys from my sailboat, return to the line and let Larry start the race. Well, it worked, but just barely. Using my sailboat as a chase boat for nine races, planning and hosting the parties and finally handling the awards banquet was all but a total burnout. Looking back the races were great fun and the parties were even better.
The 2nd annual Race Week went about the same as the first year, fun racing and great parties. But it was obvious that the on the water program could be greatly improved. While celebrating after the awards program another close friend came over and put his arm shoulder and said "We need to do better for the racers". Bruce Nicolle went on to offer to contact Bert Foster to act as Race Week Race Judge and as they say "that's the rest of the story".
Ever year the sky blue water, bright summer sun, the excitement of the start and the party afterwards has brought the boats and crews back to Bayfield. Many great times, places, happenings and people have passed through the past 24 Race Weeks, where are they all now? The Dirt Brothers, quarter horse races, Bates Bar, all those Maggie's tee shirts and too many other memories to list. By my count 7,500 people (24 years x average 10 people per boat x average 30 boats per year) have participated. True many are the same people, but that only attests to the strength of the event
Over the years the basic formula of the first year has remained the same. Some small changes in the social activities but the racing is still hard on. I went on to served as Race Week Chairman for at least seven (8?) years and in many other positions generally helping out. It's a great event and I will be sailing this year in the Silver Anniversary Race Week. Hope to see you there!
Bayfield Raceweek Chairman
1549 Minnehaha Avenue West
Saint Paul, MN 55104