The 2017 Wayfarer International Rally – John Kelly

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

‘America the Beautiful’ is an American patriotic song originally composed in 1893 as a poem to commemorate the Fourth of July – it is a sort of unofficial national anthem. Led by Andrew Slonetzy, this resounded over Campsite E74 at the last morning briefing of the WISP (Wellesey Island State Park) International Wayfarer Rally 2017. Wellesey Island is in the Thousand Islands (yes the dressing was invented here) region on the United States/Canada border at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It all started two years ago when Mike Higgins and I in Mike’s W10937 ‘Ringle’ and Colin Shepherd and Gordon Taylor in Colin and Phil’s W10975 ‘Grubby’ towed our boats to Lough Derg in Ireland to take part in the first for all of us Wayfarer International Rally. Mike and I and Ringle took part in the following year’s event in Heeg in Holland. A long lunch there with Bill Harkins and Margie McKelvey from Washington (DC as in the States not Washington CD as in County Durham) persuaded us to sign up for the 2017 event in North America.

Participants naturally were mainly from the US and Canada. There were however 12 from across the pond.

The Brexiteers were:

Mike Higgins and Lorraine Martel from Chew Valley Lake Sailing Club

Anne and Dennis Kell of W246 ‘Emma’ fame

John and Rae Kelly also CVLSC

Wayfarer legend Ralph Roberts and recent convert to the class Ansis Rozlalns – both from Norfolk.

From the EU there were:

Lous and Hans de Bruijne from the Netherlands – Hans is Dutch Wayfarer class chairman.

Wayfarer stalwarts Monica Schaefer and Miriam McCarthy from Greystones in Co.Wicklow, Ireland – 2017 Irish Champions being the latest of their many sailing achievements.

We knew Monica and Miriam and Anne from the Irish rally in 2015 and Lous and Hans from Holland. Ralph tends to attend most Wayfarer events. There were 70ish participants and all but a dozen or so camped. Anne and Dennis and Monica and Miriam camped next door to the marina with their Canadian friends the Asselstines and the Wallaces respectively while the rest of us (by choice!) were in cabins about half a mile away.

The event kicked off on Sunday evening with a Pig Roast and Hula Dancing thankfully with plenty of instruction, which helped, and plenty of beer and wine, which also helped. Social event wise the only fly in the ointment so to speak was the mosquitos which abounded in the evenings in the Thousand Islands – and they wore bovver boots. We were well warned by Chew member, the well-travelled John Angus so were well Deeted so this was not too much of a problem. Social co-ordinator Tom Goldsmith had ingeniously devised a manual pump system for ice cold draft beer and this was enthusiastically utilised by the company. It was nice to catch up with friendships made at the two previous International Rallies – in particular with North American Wayfarer Class Chairman Dick and Jane Harrington with whom Mike and I and Colin and Gordon shared a cottage in Lough Derg in Ireland in 2015. Colin nearly shared a bed with them but that is another story! And also with Bill Harkins and Margie McKelvey – we were on the same accommodation barge as them in Holland in 2016 and Margie was instrumental in finding us our cabin on Wellesey Island, the writer particularly having an aversion to camping. Chatting casually with Toronto based David Coombs I was amazed to find that he was related to (second cousin no less!) a near neighbour in Woollard AND that his daughter taught in the same school in the Western Highlands of Scotland as my sister-in-law.

The 9am briefings at Campsite E74 were a feature of week. Kicked off by event organiser Alan Asselstine he soon matched any left over sailors with boats and sorted out destinations for the day. Bruce Idleman provided the weather forecast and somehow managed to dish up some pretty perfect weather for the whole week, while Tom Goldsmith gave details of the night’s socials. Then there always was a bit of a scatter (and out of jim jams for some) to get ready for a 1030ish departure.

Monday was the first official sailing day and the Europeans all turned up wearing their Wayfarer Equipe Europe polo shirts which Monica and Miriam had brought all the way from Bray in County Wicklow in Ireland. Other items in their luggage included a windy up (by hand) outboard and some fiendish Irish liqueur!

On this bright and sunny morning I sailed with AnnMarie Covington in Tom Goldsmith’s W8343 Lovely Day, Tom being otherwise engaged on event administration. To us Brits (and even to Europeans) Lovely Day is an unusually liveried Wayfarer being sprayed totally grey – a nice craft though, well set up and a delight to sail. Winds were light so we sailed a relatively short distance to Canoe Point on the north west corner of Grindstone Island, tied up to the jetty and went ashore. We were soon joined by the rest of the fleet. Picnic tables were plentiful so the Wayfarer lot annexed three and tucked into their lunches and spent a pleasant hour or so chatting and getting to know one another better. The recent Americas Cup result was out of bounds conversation wise though! AnnMarie and I were the first boat to leave and were glad to do so as the wind while from behind was very, very light and dying. We managed however to sail all the way back to the Wayfarer marina. Mike and Lorraine sailing with Dick Harrington, had to row while Monica and Miriam eschewed the paddles in their Mark IV borrowed from the Hartley US distributor and had Monica swimming and towing the boat! A swim for some, a rest for others then back to the camp’s Recreation Barn where again there was plenty of food and drink and Tom had laid on a singer to entertain us. This delightful girl explained that at nights she sang in pubs ‘where no-one listened to her’ while her day job was a schoolteacher ‘where no-one listened to her either’. We did (listen – she was excellent) and a surprise of the evening was her rendition of a song composed, (okay adapted) by her and Tom Goldsmith, and dedicated to Wayfarer North American top honcho Dick Harrington.

On Day Two in a bit more wind Mike and Lorraine sailed with Monica and Miriam the seven miles or so to the pretty Thousand Islands tourist town of Clayton on the US mainland while my non sailing wife Rae and I drove the ten miles or so also to Clayton. I particularly wanted to see the Antique Boat Museum and was not disappointed. A prime exhibit was the huge houseboat ‘La Duchesse’ originally the property of millionaire hotelier and Thousand Islands aficionado George Boldt. There is a building dedicated to the Quest for Speed – remember that apart from Henry Seagrave and Kaye Don in various Miss Englands and the Campbells in the various Bluebirds the record for fastest on water, until relatively recently, was largely the preserve of the Americans in various Miss Americas. Also shown were various St Lawrence Skiffs, indigenous to the Thousand Islands region since the 1800s and evolving from a fishing vessel to a family utility boat to a pleasure craft to a racing skiff. In size they are closer to the St Ayles skiff than to the pilot gigs of the South West.

Mike and Lorraine returned from their sail with Monica and Miriam totally in awe of how of the amount of alcohol available and consumed on board Monica’s boat. I resolved to sail on it before the week was out! Entertainment that evening was square dancing, an activity at which the writer is spectacularly inept even by his standards and even free Hill Billy hats did not persuade. This was also (spoof) Black Tie night which was good fun.
Wednesday was also bright and sunny with a decent breeze and people went their various ways. Some circumnavigated Grindstone Island, a sort of rite of passage on the Wellesey event, some went to picnic at Canoe Point on Grindstone, some slightly further to Picnic Point on Grindstone, some including Mike under the bridge on the north side of the island on the US/Canada border, there being sufficient wind to sail back against the current. I sailed to Clayton with Dick Harrington in W887 in company with Tom and Diane Erickson in W275 – yes these numbers are correct! Of course as we all know visiting a port by sea (okay inland waterway) is much different and aons better than merely driving there. Like most of the harbours on the St Lawrence Seaway, the inner harbour at Clayton is designed for motorboats and personal water craft so was a bit tight for manoeuvring a dinghy under sail. We were grateful that Tom and Diane, who were just in front of us, had chosen a more difficult berth for themselves leaving us with an easier option. We meandered ashore and had a convivial lunch on the balcony of Bella’s Restaurant viewing the boats. Our meals were all fantastic and the only complaint was that the choices both the breakfast and dinner menus looked even better. An easy sail back – downwind and with the current – to join up with the girls who had gone walking with Lous de Bruijne.

Wednesday night was a free night to give the organisers a bit of a rest. A gang of us drove to the picture postcard village of Fineview for dinner and were so impressed that we resolved to sail there the next day.

I had originally arranged to do a booze cruise with Monica and Miriam in their Mark IV but Tom Erickson was sailing single handed so I jumped ship and joined retired music teacher Tom in W275, a boat very much set up for singlehanded sailing in the Wayfarer tradition and still bearing the scars of a particularly hairy capsize last time out.

Our destination was the village of Fineview on the south west of Wellesey Island. We sailed out of the dock and beat to windward in a pleasant Force 3. Again it was warm so shorts and T shirts were the rig of the day. We had decided to sail through the Narrows between Wellesey Island and Murray Isle purely to save a bit of time. The Narrows is perhaps a quarter of a mile long by 50 yards wide but the it is very steep sided so the wind does swirl somewhat. We loosely tracked Monica and Miriam in the dark blue (aren’t most of them!) Hartley and Patty Kuntz and Robin Allardyce sailing Patty’s white hulled, green decked W3140 ‘Green Side Up’ who were both nosing into the land searching for the entrance. In the event Monica’s chart reading/intuition/luck of the Irish prevailed and we followed her into the narrows. She managed to sail all the way but we with less patience utilised a few deft strokes of the paddle. Soon afterwards the picturesque village of Fineview hove into view. The excellent organisers had already reconnoitred this and advised that the public jetty was ‘just to the left of the gas (petrol for motorboats) station’. This was about 50 yards square with a five yard entrance. We rounded up into the now increasing wind and ran in under the genoa rolling it progressively away to slow down and to join Monica and Miriam on the wide wooden slipway designed I guess for jet bikes. Others arrived including Mike and Lorraine sailing with event organiser Alan Asselstine in W7346 and we all enjoyed a companionable lunch in the newly rebuilt and aptly named ‘The Guzzle’ restaurant. Us West Country folks were pleased to see that the loos (sorry washrooms) were equipped with Dyson Airblade Vs hand dryers

Just as we were settling our bills we were informed that the forecast for the next few hours was not brilliant so we sped back to our boats. Tom hoisted the main with one reef while I pulled the boat to the mouth of the small harbour to make departure in the onshore wind easier. We sailed off with half genoa, the rest rolled away on the Aero Luff Spars furler. What a magnificent piece of kit this is – the half rolled genoa set perfectly and ditto as we progressively dereefed all the way to full genoa. The first half hour was a bit wet particularly for me as I had not taken any oily trousers with me but we beat into the narrows and current assisted were soon through shaking out the reef as we ran back home, arriving in brilliant sunshine and a temperature of 25C. Dick and Jane were sitting in their boat quaffing wine. Tom said ‘I can offer a warm beer’ to which I responded ‘I can go better – I can offer an ice cold one’. (Sailing with Monica and Miriam I did not want to be empty handed in the hospitality stakes so in my bag had jettisoned my waterproof trousers in favour of cans of Bud and drink coolers). What a nice way to end a great sail.

The Wayfarer North American Championships were taking place that weekend so the racers packed up their boats that afternoon. For the evening Dick Harrington had arranged dinner at a winery on the US mainland about eight miles away. What superb value for money – a brilliant buffet and all the wine you could drink for 35USD! I meant to ask, but could be forgiven in the circumstances for not doing so, how they manage to grow vines in a region which must be bitterly cold in the winter – the North American sailing season finishes at the end of September. We had a great table sharing with Dick and Jane and Tom Goldsmith and AnnMarie and included in the entertainment was a rehearsed version of the Dick Harrington song.

On the Friday morning the last briefing included singing – ‘America the Beautiful’. I didn’t sail and Rae and I visited the other American Thousand Islands tourist town of Alexandria Bay which is the departure point for Heart Island and Boldt Castle. The Prussian born self made millionaire (from hotels – the Waldorf Astoria was his brainchild) George Boldt started to build the castle on the island as a gift for his wife but she died suddenly in 1904 and construction halted. It was later taken over by the US equivalent of the National Trust and restored in line with the original plans. Shuttle boats take you back and forth. Because the water level was so high the Boldt Boathouse was closed so we were unable to visit his collection of dinghies, skiffs, yachts and motorboats.

Lorraine expressed a desire to sail with legend Ralph and, ever the gentleman, he obliged with yet another visit for him to Canoe Point. However with so much practice he did beat Mike at skittles. For the evening Margie had organised a proper American American supper. Before he left Dick had donated to Mike and Lorraine the wherewithal to produce a venison chilli and very good it was too. Pre-prandial drinks were held at the Harkins/McKelvey campsite which has to be the best situated on the whole island and no you cannot have the number of the pitch! I produced a couple of bottles of Famous Grouse whisky and we survivors finished this off.

In all a great week’s sailing and socialising. The Thousand Islands is a great location for boating and there is plenty for the non sailors to see and do. Are there really a thousand islands? The definition in the region of an island is that it must be above water 365 days a year and have at least one tree. In all there are 1864 which meet this criteria.

And it is easy to tack on a holiday before and/or after the event. Rae and I flew to Toronto, drove to Niagara where we met up with Mike and Lorraine who had spent time in New York, and drove to Gananoque (Gananawkkway), which is one of the Canadian Thousand Island tourist towns, did the event on Wellesey Island and then we went on to Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa flying back to the UK from there.

There were just over 70 participants and 30 boats so there was no problem getting a sail. There was one CL16 – a sort of Wayfarer copy designed by Canadians Henry Croce and Ken Lofthouse and a solitary GP14 who came along for the fun. The average sail number of the Wayfarers present (excluding the three Mk IVs) was 2672 and the lowest was 275. There were nine boats with sail numbers less than 1000, four with numbers less than 2000 and seven with numbers less than 4000. The Wayfarers were a bit different to what we are used to in the UK – very much cruising orientated and often set up for single handed sailing. Most of the boats were immaculate (long winters in the garage) though gear could sometimes be a bit dated but you have to remember that these guys, when they depart the event, are back to sailing Wayfarers on their own without club or peer support so there is no such thing as a sails/equipment arms race. Dinghy and sailing boat orientated chandlers are also in short supply but more than a few spoke very highly of the mail order service of our own Pinnell & Bax. Even as cruisers they were pretty hot on rig tension and most used a cascade or a tackle as opposed to a Highfield Lever. Some did away with forestays (against the class rules I know!) and spinnakers were not common so furling was straightforward. Quite a few had their painter rigged from a closed hook halfway down the bow and led it ingeniously back to the cockpit in such a way that it prevented the jib sheets snagging on the bow mooring cleat.

In articles such as this it is customary to thank those who arranged and managed the event – I do this wholeheartedly and enthusiastically and not only because it is customary. Special thanks though must go to the brilliant organiser, Alan Asselstine, to Tom Goldsmith who orchestrated magical social events, to Uncle Al – Al Schonborn for being so entertaining, for producing a brochure with the rally participant mugshots and for distributing all the photographs taken (below average club sailors such as the writer should also heed Al’s book ‘KISS the dinghy!) and to Margie McKelvey for helping us with our accommodation and for organising our first real American Supper. I don’t know who to thank for the weather but it was fantastic all week although a touch more wind would have been welcome. A couple of days after the event the heavens opened and several campsites used by the group were flooded out. It had also rained heavily for several weeks prior to the event so much so that Lake Ontario was overfull (in contrast to Chew!) sterilising some jetties and slipways. But to lower the lake by one inch would mean that water levels in Montreal nearly two hundred miles downstream and built on an island would rise ten inches.

What a superb week this was BUT chatting to Ralph Roberts I commented ‘What a brilliant event – you have a hard act to follow with the next one’. He said ‘John – I aim to raise the bar even higher for next year’s event’. We can’t wait.

So Chewfarers please note the 2018 event which is being run by Ralph will be held on the Norfolk Broads in early September.

John Kelly