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Published: Wednesday, 7/12/2006

Boaters compete for bragging rights

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The first group of sailboats heads to the finish line during last Wednesday night's races, which are held every week at North Cape Yacht Club in LaSalle, Michigan. The first group of sailboats heads to the finish line during last Wednesday night's races, which are held every week at North Cape Yacht Club in LaSalle, Michigan.
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LASALLE, Mich. - It is quarter past six on a Wednesday evening, and the sailboats are chugging into Lake Erie.

The evening is perfection: blue skies, puffy clouds, fresh wind, dark water, bright hulls, laughing crews. From here, the Toledo Harbor lighthouse, with its distinctive black roof and tan brick, is clearly visible on the horizon. Beyond it, a Davis-Besse cooling tower sends steam skyward.

Despite the warmth of the night, many of the boaters wear jeans and jackets against the wind they know will become chilly on the open water. As they head out to the lake, they chatter and drink and think about the race ahead.

As the boaters motor onto the lake, they become part of a long-standing tradition. For years, on each Wednesday evening in the spring, summer, and fall, the Toledo Beach Marina has run sailboat races. They don't qualify the boaters for other events, said marina manager Marshall Gill. Instead, the races provide some much-needed midweek fun.

Liz Swisher keeps an eye on the dock during sunset. Liz Swisher keeps an eye on the dock during sunset.
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"They win a trophy or a flag," Mr. Gill said of the competitors. "And bragging rights."

The names of the boats speak to the escapism of it all. One by one, they sputter by: Breakaway, Group Therapy, Time Machine, Send in the Clowns.

A couple raise their sails before they leave the channel between the marina and the lake, but most rely on diesel power to bridge the short distance.

As the boats head out and the sun slowly sinks, activity on the shore increases. A trio of children pick their way onto the rocks to do some fishing. A mother duck gauges the right moment to guide her two ducklings between the boats to the other side of the channel.

Nathan Derry looks out from the sailboat Wildcat. Nathan Derry looks out from the sailboat Wildcat.
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Off the crushed-shell and sand beach, a teenager struggles to get upright on his sailboard, defeated time after time by the strengthening northwest wind.

From the clubhouse, an old Santana tune drifts with the breeze. By 6:45 p.m., dozens of boats bob on the lake, gold and white sails raised, moving into position. A couple of stragglers join them, and within 15 minutes, the horizon is all sails leaning into the wind.

Just minutes later, the spinnakers go up, a rainbow of sails designed to take advantage of the moving air.

The boats race away from the shore on another glorious Wednesday on the lake.



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