In the early days of yacht racing in the Inland, getting to a regatta was often as challenging as the competition at the regatta.
|In the early days, the chore of transporting boats to regattas fell to hired hands or the boat crew. Boxcars were the norm for those wealthy enough to afford rail shipment. But even that mode had its own difficulties. There was the challenge of sliding a sailboat into a boxcar through a door in the center of the car, an awkward angle at best. And, as Minnetonka A-boater Stu Lemon recalled, "It got so hot in the box cars that the wooden seams opened up."
For those traveling shorter distances—by horse-drawn cart—the sailboat crew usually made the trip. They would lift the boats and lay them on loaded haywagons. During the trip to the regatta site, the crew would use much of the hay to feed the horses. At night, the transport/sailing crew would sleep under the wagons. When they reached their destination, they would drive the horses into the water and launch the boat, wagon, hay, and all. After the regatta, with the wagons fortified with a new supply of hay, the trip home would begin, at an average twenty miles a day, recalled Charles "Cuppy" Goes of Lake Geneva.
The method of transporting boats to regatta sites began to change in the 1920s. As touring cars came onto the automobile market, sailors fitted them with trailer hitches and built homemade boat trailers. Some were converted farm trailers, others created out of old car frames. Held together, sometimes with nothing more than baling wire, the trailers formed entourages that bounced their way across the gravel roads connecting the Inland lakes. A trip from Minnesota's Twin Cities to Oshkosh could take two days.
Travel to and from an Annual Regatta could be fraught with drama, as the Pillsbury family of Minnetonka found out one year. Historian Virginia Brainard Kunz tells their story in the Minnetonka Yacht Club's centennial history:
One year, coming home from a regatta in Wisconsin, trailing his A-boat behind him, John Pillsbury (he denies it—says it was Eddie; Fred Chute says it was Eddie) tied up traffic for miles on the famous Hastings spiral bridge over the Mississippi. The downward spiral of the bridge on the Hastings side of the river was smaller than the neck of the boat. Halfway down the bridge, the boat on its hay-wagon-type trailer jammed.
It was Sunday afternoon, the temperature was 90 degrees in the shade, the nearest bridges were St. Paul or Red Wing. Backed up traffic stretched out for miles to the east and the west. Sidestreets in Hastings and Prescott were blocked and the bridge was solid with cars that had followed the boat down the bridge, as well as those going in the opposite direction on the way up. They were bumper to bumper, their radiators boiling over, they wouldn't start, they were unable to move backward or forward, and they were stuck—for hours and hours.
There were no brakes on these massive trailers, and often the combination of a long-tongued trailer and a 38-foot A boat created a 50-foot behemoth that likely weighed more than the car that pulled it. Radiators boiled over with some frequency, and the oil used to control the dust on the gravel roadway regularly found its way onto the bottom of the boat—or into the protective canvas that covered it.
Perhaps the most remarkable trip to an ILYA Annual Regatta didn't occur on Wisconsin or Minnesota highways, but on Lake Michigan.
The Annual Regatta of 1921 was again held on Lake Winnebago. According to the Pine Lake Yacht Club's centennial history and the Milwaukee Journal, the honor of Pine Lake sailors had been insulted mightily by the refusal of Neenah and Oshkosh sailors to consider holding the Annual Regatta on the "tiny frog pond" the Journal called Pine Lake. Since Henry Meyer was at the ILYA board meeting that unanimously voted to go to Oshkosh, one wonders whether the Pine Lakers might have been playing the newspaper for a little extra bravado.
Nevertheless, to prove that lack of lake size does not equate lack of seamanship, Henry, Chris, and Arnold Meyer, John and Edward Pritzlaff, and Hugo Biersach decided to sail their A boat Dorla from Milwaukee to Winnebago. The route would take them north through Lake Michigan to the Sturgeon Bay Canal, through the canal to Green Bay, and down through the locks of the Fox River to Winnebago.
A challenge was sent to the Oshkosh and Neenah clubs, but no evidence can be found that either club took the invitation seriously. Only Neenah responded, with regrets that no boat was available.
So Biersach, the Meyers, and the Pritzlaffs loaded aboard a supply of sandwiches, a blanket for each, and secured an Evinrude outboard motor to some makeshift brackets on the stern. At nine on Sunday morning, August 14, they sailed out of Milwaukee harbor alone.
Sailing north in a stiff breeze, Chris Meyer—voted mate by the crew—began logging the voyage by writing on the brand-new mainsail. Off Fox Point, however, the breeze freshened and they took two reefs in the main. At Port Washington, they took one more reef, and shortly after that, the jib came down for good. With all six on the high side, Dorla flew past Sheboygan.
As they closed on Two Rivers, they drew some comfort from the presence of a powerboat following behind. Yet the powerboat turned into harbor as they sailed past Two Rivers. At dusk, the heavy breeze faded away. They started the Evinrude and took turns standing watch and trying to sleep on the deck. Shortly after, however, the watchkeepers roused the sleepers, and at about ten-thirty that night they put into Kewaunee for dinner.
Setting off again, they encountered a fog that forced them to stay close ashore, and they fetched the entrance to the Sturgeon Bay Canal at about four-thirty in the morning. Midway through the canal at Sturgeon Bay, the crew went ashore for a hot breakfast. To their surprise, the hotel-keeper told the group, "There's a lady here who asked to be called when you came in." But before the call could be made, Mrs. Sophie Meyer, matriarch of the Meyer clan, appeared. Like a mother hen, she had followed the progress of her three sons and son-in-law from her chauffeur-driven Hudson Super-Six, driven along shore parallel to their northward course. Only after dark did she abandon her watch and proceed on to Sturgeon Bay.
The morning of August 15 saw Dorla exit the canal and motor into Green Bay—windless, but with heavy rollers that battered the scow hull. Hugging the shore, finding refuge where they could, they closed on the city of Green Bay, where the wind was rapidly piping up. With no time to remove the motor or reef the sail, Dorla howled into the mouth of the Fox River and down to Green Bay under full sail.
The ever-watchful Sophie Meyer had dinner for the boys, and they made the first two locks before running aground on a bank of dredge spoil. Their second eventful day ended at the hotel (no doubt at the insistence of their guardian angel).
Up at six on August 16, Dorla and her crew negotiated the remaining locks and made Neenah by around three o'clock that afternoon. As they nosed into Lake Winnebago, however, they encountered a strong west wind. Anchoring behind an island, the crew took two reefs in the main and set off for Oshkosh. Arriving at the Oshkosh Yacht Club that night about seven, they were greeted by Winnebago sailors who were deep in their own regatta preparations.
Dorla and her plucky crew went on to finish third in the 1921 championship, including a dunking from a ferocious line squall that capsized thirteen of the fourteen entrants. But the dunking failed to wash Chris Meyer's carefully written log entries from Dorla's mainsail. It remains intact to this day, carefully stored on Rocky Point, Pewaukee, in the Meyer-family stable.
2018 Regattas - send your confirmed dates
- 25- ILYA Board Meeting - White Bear, MN
17-18 - Adv. RC Course - Geneva
- 6 Rules discussion - Harken
- 7 Judges Course - Bruce Martinson - Harken
- 28-29 Basic Race Committee Course - John Strassman
- 5-6 Cedar, IN Icebreaker
- 18 - Bilge Puller South Meeting
- Bilge Puller North Meeting
- 19-20 E Spring Regatta - Lake Geneva YC
- 9-10 Wawasee E Scow Regatta - Wawasee, IN
- 22-24 US Sailing JOs - Okoboji
- 23-24 MC Wisconsin Championship - Pine Lake
- 25 - LBSS Opti - Beulah
- 26-27 - TRAP X - Pine Lake
- 29-July 1 - US Sailing JOs - Lake Forest
- 5-6 Quad Lakes - Beulah
- 9-12 GLSS Dinghyfest
- 14-15 ILYA MC Invitational - Nagawicka
- 14-15 ILYA E Invitational - Geneva
- 16-17 XTreme X Regatta - Oshkosh
- 16-19 Area K Jr. Championships - Sheboygan
- 21-22 ILYA C Invitational - Beulah
- 21-22 WYA X - Cedar
- 23 - ILYA No Tears - Beulah
- 25-28 ILYA X Champs - Pewaukee
- 29-31 ILYA Opti Champs - Pewaukee
- 3-5 WYA C - Okauchee
- 12-19 ILYA Championships - Minnetonka
- 12-15 A/MC Scows
- 15 Bilge Pullers Dinner
- 16-19 E/C Scows
- 21-22 National MCSA Junior Championship -
- 23-26 MC Nationals - Pewaukee Yacht Club
8-9 George Dorn MC - Beulah
22-23 NNN Beulah C Challenge - Beulah
- 29-30 Polar Bear Regatta - Lake Davenport Sailing Club