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Published: Saturday, 2/16/2002

Boating industry optimistic despite concerns about security, low water levels

BY SHIRLEY LEVY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Sailboats compete in the Mills Trophy Race from Harbor Light to Put-in-Bay in June. About 150 boats entered the race. Sailboats compete in the Mills Trophy Race from Harbor Light to Put-in-Bay in June. About 150 boats entered the race.
FRASER / BLADE Enlarge

For weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, recreation was the last thing on people's mind.

But studies carried out soon after the national tragedy showed that people had changed their priorities. What they now value most, the studies showed, is spending time with their families and doing things together that don't require long-distance travel.

Americans' resiliency and determination to enjoy their freedom didn't surprise John Brenner, manager of Toledo Beach Marina's powerboat sales.

“People were hurt and angry, but they were determined to go on with their lives, as the President asked them to do,” Mr. Brenner said.

At first, fears about the weak economy and rising unemployment, combined with concern about low water levels, heightened the industry's uncertainty about the future.

“Orders stopped from Sept. 12 to Nov. 5,” said Skip Dieball, owner of Greiner Sails. “Dealers were very nervous in October. There was a drop across the board for everyone. But we came back very hard in November and December, and our sales for 2001 ended up higher than last year.

“Nine-eleven might make a difference to many people traveling to regattas around the country, but it hasn't had an impact on Toledo boaters' enthusiasm for their sport,” he said.

“Locally, I expect the same number of people, if not more, to participate here because boating is a wonderful escape.”

And Lake Erie sailors can find plenty of action at home. Highlights of the 2002 sail racing calendar include:

  • Toledo Yacht Club's Invitational Race for the Mills Trophy Race, first held in 1907, on three Lake Erie courses ranging up to 75 miles, on June 7.

  • Jolly Roger Sailing Club's Cattail Regatta, held in early June, draws one-design and cruising auxiliary classes from a wide area.

  • Lake Erie Race Week, a five-race series featuring closed-course and distance events at various clubs, will open with Jolly Roger's Buccaneer Race June 22. Other events include a revised Brest Bay Cup that starts and finishes at North Cape Yacht Club, June 23; an Olympic triangle race at North Cape, June 28, and Ottawa River Yacht Club's TI-MI Race, June 29.

    The Inter-Lake Yachting Association Sailboat Regatta at Put-in-Bay, Aug. 3-7, provides an opportunity to compete against crews hailing from 149 ILYA-affiliated clubs from Detroit to Buffalo. The casual cruising class, introduced last year, will be continued.

    Inter-Lake, the governing body for racing on Lake Erie, also organizes Junior Race Week, to be held July 21-25, and the ILYA Powerboat Regatta, July 30-Aug. 3.

    The 140 mile Trans-Erie Race, one of the few races that alternates courses every year, will start in at Erie (Pa.) Yacht Club Aug. 26 and finish at Grosse Ile (Mich.) Yacht Club.

    Port Clinton Yacht Club will be the site of two national championships. One is the U.S. Youth Multihull Championship, to be held in Mystere 4.3 sloop-rigged boats with spinnakers, July 12-13. Winners will be named to the U.S. Sailing Youth Sailing Team.

    The Interlake Sailing Class Association National Championships, as well as the women's masters and junior class national championships, also will be held in Port Clinton, Aug. 11-15.

    The International Lightning Class North American Championships, the U.S. qualifier for the 2002 Lightning Worlds, will sail out of North Cape Yacht Club Aug. 10-16. The event will be preceded by the women's, juniors, and masters North Americans, Aug. 8-9.

    The Detroit National Offshore One-Design Regatta, May 31-June 2, and the Bacardi Bayview Mackinac Race from Port Huron, Mich., to Mackinac Island, July 13, attract many participants from the Toledo area.

    The Associated Yacht Clubs, an umbrella group for 29 clubs in Ohio and Michigan, coordinates the local racing schedule and organizes rendezvous and poker runs for the powerboat fleet.

    For the past decade, AYC has been primarily a social group, said Frank Hojnowski, its immediate past commodore. However, the organization recently joined the Boating Associations of Ohio, a political lobbying group, and is becoming more proactive.

    “We pay a lot of taxes for fuel used in boats and are trying to get the state to return a bigger percentage of our share for improvements, such as dredging projects and building harbors of refuge,” Mr. Hojnowski said.

    High on the list of priorities is a harbor of refuge program similar to that in Michigan, which has a safe harbor every 15-34 miles along its coast.

    Easy access to state park marinas and prime cruising destinations are among the charms of boating on Lake Erie.

    South Bass Island, Kelleys Island, Cedar Point, and Sandusky are among the most popular destinations. But boaters also enjoy cruising to Leamington or Pelee Island, in Canada, or heading north through Lake St. Clair to Lake Huron to visit Mackinac Island or explore magnificent Georgian Bay.

    Toledo's International Park is the home of the Toledo Rowing Club, which has its boathouse and dock near the park entrance. In addition to numerous recreational rowers, the membership includes over 300 high school athletes, 75 rowers in masters categories (ages 27-70) and a new combined crew with rowers from the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.

    SUMPRO, an annual rowing program that is open to the public, is held on the club dock early in June. The club holds an annual fall regatta on the Maumee River. Last year the regatta featured over 50 events, including a 3-mile race, and drew at least 150 boats representing 30 high schools, community rowing clubs, and colleges.

    As boaters look forward to spring, low water is still a concern. In late January, Lake Erie was five inches below its average level and four inches above the level last year.

    The outlook for the coming season is uncertain, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Of more immediate concern, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, is the impact of potential security tightening on American waterways. Related bills establishing a program to tighten security for U.S. ports have been introduced in the House and Senate.

    “The bills have been floating around for several years, but they are now getting increased attention,” says Chief David Scott, commanding officer of Toledo's U.S. Coast Guard marine safety office and captain of the port. “My guess is that some version of this thing will pass. The maritime and security component of this country's defense mission is very important, and I think that Congress will recognize that.”



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