Six sailboats lined up at the start of the Mills Trophy Race as an announcer counted down from five. When the shot went off, they started across Lake Erie to the finish line hours away, while a second class of boats readied to leave in the next 10 minutes.
The sun was shining yesterday on about 140 boats that came from more than 10 cities in Ohio and Michigan to sail in the 87th Mills Trophy Race, hosted by the Toledo Yacht Club and the Storm Trysail Club. Participants in the first of 16 classes started near Toledo Harbor Lighthouse at 5 p.m., hoping to reach Put-in-Bay by midnight. Those in the last class aren't nearly as fast.
"They get there after the sun comes up," said spokesman John Laver, who watched the activity from his boat.
Mr. Laver noted that the weather seemed decent this year, though some sailors might prefer stormy weather with more wind. Last year, a thunderstorm forced some sailboats to change their course, and one boat capsized.
The race includes more than just sailing. Participants also enjoy a week of social activities, including a reception to honor the Mills Masters, those who have sailed in at least 25 Mills Races.
Colleen Sanders, a Toledo Yacht Club member and a regular volunteer on the pin boat marking the starting line of the race, said the race was more about having fun than winning for some people.
She told a story about a friend in the race who said he planned to use his motor - illegal in the race - if there was no wind, even at the risk of disqualification.
"[Sailing without wind] is no fun," she said. "They're not supposed to motor, but they're going about six knots if they don't motor, which is not very fast."
Many of the club members, most of whom own powerboats and therefore are ineligible to compete in the race, volunteer their time, sometimes taking shifts to help dock the sailboats as they reach Put-in-Bay, she said.
The race includes four courses of different distances - the Mills course, Governor's course, President's course, and One-Design course - depending on the size and type of boat.
After the race, participants wind down today at the Crescent Tavern, celebrating and sharing their experiences.
The weekend concludes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. when the winners are presented with flags.